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Recommendation 4 - Cognition and Learning for Pupils with Severe or Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties

The contents of this page are extracted from our Response to "Rochford Review: Final Report" that was first published in November 2016. The document can be downloaded in its entirety by clicking here.

The Report has looked at Cognition and Learning for pupils with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties, looking at how they develop and how this can be assessed. There are a number of difficulties in this area due to the time it takes to acquire new concepts and to establish them in a range of different contexts.

It recommends the approach suggested by the The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (CLDD) research project, released in 2011. The recommendation is to use seven areas of engagement to show development. Assessing the engagement allows teachers to monitor the varying degrees of attention, interest and involvement a pupil demonstrates.

The seven aspects of engagement are as follows:

  • Responsiveness: Assessment of responsiveness should evaluate any change in a pupil’s behaviour that demonstrates he or she is being attentive to a new stimulus or reacting in a meaningful way. This type of assessment is important for establishing what differing stimuli motivate a pupil to pay attention. This is a prerequisite for learning. It is particularly relevant for assessing pupils with multiple sensory impairments who have reduced and/or atypical sensory awareness and perception.
  • Curiosity: Assessment of curiosity demonstrates how a pupil is building on an initial reaction to a new stimulus, perhaps by reaching out or seeking the source of a new stimulus.
  • Discovery: Assessment of discovery provides information about the changing ways in which a pupil interacts with, or responds to, a new stimulus, sometimes accompanied by expressions such as enjoyment and excitement. Curiosity and discovery are closely linked. At a more advanced point of development they both help to demonstrate a pupil’s degree of interest in, and exploration of, activities and concepts. These both help to drive the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.
  • Anticipation: Assessment of anticipation should demonstrate whether a pupil is able to predict, expect or associate a particular stimulus with an event. This is important for measuring a pupil’s concept of cause and effect.
  • Persistence: Assessment of persistence measures the extent to which a pupil is sustaining attention towards a particular item or action and is therefore beginning to develop conceptual understanding. The ability to sustain attention is important for maintaining an activity long enough to develop the learning associated with it and for consolidating that learning.
  • Initiation: Assessment of initiation demonstrates the different ways, and extent to which, a pupil investigates an activity or stimulus in order to bring about a desired outcome. It is an important part of developing the autonomy required for more advanced cognitive development and learning.
  • Investigation: Assessment of investigation measures the extent to which a pupil is actively trying to find out more about an object or activity via prolonged, independent experimentation. This demonstrates a more advanced degree of autonomy than the other aspects of engagement and is important for ongoing learning.

The Report states that the areas should not be viewed in a strict hierarchical sense, but as a guide for assessing a pupil’s effective engagement with the learning process. The seven areas can be used as an observational framework, monitoring the pupil’s attention, interest and involvement in new learning activities.

Recommendation 4 states that all schools should have a statutory duty to assess pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning using these seven aspects of cognition and learning.

Over the last two weeks, it has been interesting to read how these seven areas have been interpreted. Some people have seen these as seven areas within Cognition and Learning, others have seen them as seven levels of attainment and others have seen them as a replacement to the seven levels of engagement as used by ourselves, Barry Carpenter and others.

In the principles section, it mentions the level of support the pupil may require, so the seven aspects are not a replacement to the levels of engagement. The CLDD use the seven aspects to assess a child’s interaction with an activity. Used like this, the seven aspects identify different aspects of a child’s learning and their interaction/engagement with the learning. The CLDD gave broad definitions on the seven aspects which helps identify how they should be used. The Rochford Review have created new definitions, targeting the pupils working on the non-subject-specific learning. When reading The Rochford Review’s definitions, a number of the areas require a certain level of cognitive ability before they can be applied. Responsiveness is the only area that the lowest ability pupils will be able to meet. The other areas will come in for pupils as they develop. The Report says the areas are not hierarchical so they won’t move from Responsiveness to Curiosity or Discovery, instead they will continue their Responsiveness skills and as they develop will start to gain skills in Curiosity and subsequently Discovery.


How Does this Affect B Squared?

This is good news for us, we had already identified a need for non-subject-specific learning for pupils working between P1(i) and P3(ii). We created a Developmental Continuum covering this range with plans to extend up to P8 at a later date based on the feedback we received from partner schools. The Report’s recommendation is in line with the work we have done, which reinforces our decision. Our Developmental Continuum covered the four areas of need under a different range of headings. We are now in the process of mapping the content we developed to the four areas of need and including the seven aspects of engagement for Cognition and Learning.

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