English and Special Needs Education

PHONICS
Recently, I had the privilege of being allowed to teach phonics to some of my students at my special needs school. I can’t express how elated I am now.

One of my students has started reading some of his very first words. ALL BY HIMSELF. Not perfect, but OH GOD does it feel like a miracle.

I also use phonics as a way of oral therapy. Some of my students can’t really speak much, so using phonics is a great way to introduced new sounds to them even if they may be incapable of producing some of the sounds I teach.

Teaching phonics has been so enlightening. I now know how difficult it is to create sounds. I don’t take it for granted anymore and had to go allll the way back to the start and relearn the phonics for myself so that I could teach the material in Japanese.

And then, there are the confusing sounds that I’d long taken for granted. E makes a kind of “eh” sound but at the end of Snake you dont say Snak”eh”. It’s silent. Or the “OO” sound. Moon and book. So different.

How do I teach it to students who study English long after getting used to Japanese which has very standard pronunciations?

I’m coming to terms with all this while teaching at sepcial needs while questioning all I ever learnt as a child. The more I teach, the more I’m in awe of children.

So, at this point, the teachers and I have come up with a phonics dvd. Hardly professional, but better than Katakana English anyday. Honestly, I wish I were more qualified for this… so I try to do research on my end. We’ve called it “Phonics for Life” and it’s meant to have 7 parts to it…with each level teaching a different set of phonics. In between though, we create some “Let’s Read” episodes where I piece together the phonics they’ve learnt, to create words. This way, we feel, the students will start seeing that they have the ability to read more things once they start using phonics!

Slooow and steady.
The risk, at this point, is my desire to teach as much as possible to these students who don’t get much time with me. It’s a risk because, if rushed, students tend to forget the sounds they learnt earlier. So, often times, I have to slow myself down to make sure the basics aren’t forgotten.

All this is increadibly scary. We’re making these 1-take videos filled with my improvisations.  In one “episode” I dropped my pointer and did a little hum to myself. Apparently, this set off a huge outburst of laughter in one of my students who wouldn’t stop trying to imitate it for a LONG time. He asked me about it, the next time he saw me.

“What was THAT all about???” he asked me.
“What was WHAT all about???” I asked, confused.
“That hum thing you did when you dropped the pointer!” he said, accusingly.
“Oh, that! That was all improvised! I mean, come on, give me a break!” I replied to my dissatisfied client.

Sometimes, I try to make-up some funny explanations for the pronunciations. For example, NG. I’ve gone done the unspeakable by introducing toilet humor into pronunciation work with Elementry students. NG, I’ve explained, is the sound one makes when they’re constipated and want to take a dump. Not sure I wanna know how they’ll react after watching it. Apparently, though, some of my students enjoy repeating what I teach them throughout the hallways for an entire week. ._. sorry…it just HAD to be done.

DRAMA
Soon after staging the charity play last year, one of the JTEs at my school approched me and suggested that we could try doing them with some of the Junior High students. The first play we did was fairly simple. The students (2 of them) requested me to write about arm-wrestling and I created a 3 or 4 page drama. Rehearsing it though, took a long time.

Taking things for granted has become a bit of a running theme in my life, these days.

Saying a line should be a quick 5 second job, right?
Wrong.
One of my students battles extreme tiredness in class and has speech difficulties (A-kun) while the other can’t talk verbally and doesn’t have full control of her hands (B-san). Both are also wheelchair users.

So, everything that might take 2 minutes in a professional rehearsal space takes an entire lesson here.

How we tackle this is taking things step by step.
First, we explain the story to the students, line by line.
Then we record my voice and B-san practices selecting the lines on cue.
With A-kun, we practice and try to film him before he sleeps.
Finally, I take the video clips and try to piece them together as nicely as possible. TRY.

‘BUSINESS’ ENGLISH
With the high school devision, we began a new ‘business’ English plan. I was talking to my JTE one day and was asking him about possibly teaching English that was more practical for them. Most will go on to work in factories, convenience stores or small shops.

He seemed to be really interested in this idea, so we embarked on our project to teach students shop/customer service lingo.

Is it a more stressfull lesson for students? Yes.

Is it also more practical? Most definitely.

I see them push themselves a lot more now and in return my JTE and I try to take the lessons slow.

We show them practical usage of what we teach by doing mock-up shop playacting. The JTE and I are customers and the students take on the role of shop staff.

We’re currently in the process of teaching them how to identify ingredients or what a  product is made of. It’s incredibly satisfying.

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Special Needs is not easy. My energy levels shift throughout the day…some Tuesdays are a million times better (or worse) than other Tuesdays. Teaching here however has been most educational and eye-opening and I count myself extremely lucky.

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