Our target group, adult learners with intellectual disabilities or learning difficulties, share a number of characteristics that we have taken into account in the development of the activities and the production of the materials.
The first and foremost characteristic of our target group is that the group is very diverse: one size will never fit all.
Our solution to this problem was to make the curriculum as flexible and as adaptable as possible. Teachers can select the units and activities that they want to use and can adapt worksheets, flashcards and all other materials to meet the specific needs and/or interests of the participants.
Ready made English
Our target group may not be aware of what language is, or how people use language. They may have no or limited grammatical awareness (word order, sentence structure, etc.), even in their native language. They may not be familiar with grammatical concepts (noun, verb, sentence, past tense, article, etc.).
Therefore, the English included in the curriculum, is ‘ready to use English’. Our focus is on the pragmatics of English: how to introduce yourself, how to use ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, how to order in a restaurant. We did not include grammar lessons or grammar explanations. The curriculum introduces the participants to ‘ready made’ everyday English, and encourages them to practice and use these words and phrases in realistic, everyday contexts.
Motivation and attention
It has been our goal to make the materials highly motivating in and of themselves, with easy successes and (almost) no risk of failing. The units are divided into small chunks, with a lot of variation. In a lesson, the teacher can alternate group activities with individual or teamwork, learning activities with games, written work with songs.
To keep the participants motivated and interested across lessons, each unit starts with a video of Mike, Jill or Peter talking to the participants about the unit’s theme. These video stories have a very simple and predictable set-up: ‘talking heads’, only one head at a time, and nothing to distract the viewers from the speaker. The stories are monologues in easy English, about the families, friends and hobbies of Mike, Jill and Peter.
These video stories have two objectives: firstly, the videos introduce the learners to ‘easy’ English, spoken by native speakers. Secondly, the video stories provide the participants with a continuing story line – almost a ‘soap’ – about three persons who they can identify with. The teacher can use the participants’ curiosity about Mike, Jill and Peter as an effective motivator for many activities: what do you think Mike wants for his birthday? Why is Jill laughing?
Learning and memory
Because of their intellectual disabilities, our target group learns more slowly and needs more repetition. To deal with the learning and memory problems of the participants, words and phrases are presented in small steps, with repeated demonstrations and frequent repetition. All activities are highly motivating and personal, all have direct links to the lives and interests of the participants. In addition, we have developed tools that teachers can use for explicit rehearsal of vocabulary and phrases: flashcards, a dictionary, and interactive computer activities.
Non-speaking persons will be able to participate successfully, in most activities; we have included suggestions on how activities can be adapted to meet their needs. For learners who use alternative communication aids, we recommend that the teacher (temporarily) adds English words or phrases to the device of the participant.
Although many of the activities use written text (on the flip chart, the worksheets, the dictionary), reading and writing are not required for successful participation in most activities. In some instances, another participant or an assistant may be needed to help a learner who cannot read or write, to complete a worksheet. For many activities, we have included suggestions on how the activity can be adapted for non-readers, or non-writers.
Learners with motor problems can participate successfully in most activities. Activities that ask for specific motor responses (e.g. charades, Simon says) may be less appropriate and will have to be adapted to meet the physical abilities of a specific learner or group of learners.
Learners with a hearing loss can participate successfully in most activities – if attention is paid to room acoustics, visibility of the teacher and the speakers, and to the sound level of the video. We do not think that the curriculum is appropriate for Deaf learners.
Learners with visual problems can participate successfully in most activities – if attention is paid to lighting in the classroom and to the readability of worksheets and computer screens. Blind users may be able to participate, but we have not tested the materials with them and we have made no special accommodations to meet their needs.
Intellectual or learning disabilities
Last but not least: the curriculum does not have a minimum entrance level with respect to learning or intellectual abilities. During the pilot courses, the materials were tested with learners of a wide range of intellectual disabilities. It is our experience that the success of the course always depends on the skills, the flexibility and the motivation of the teacher. In Part I of the Teacher's Guide (you can download a .pdf file of part I, here), teachers will find background information, as well as practical tips and tools that will help them to use and adapt the curriculum successfully, for a wide range of learners.
For our target group, we chose a communicative approach to teaching English as a foreign language. More specific principles and methods that we selected – and adapted – for our target group are the Lexical approach and Total Physical Response.
For more information, see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/ methodology/lexical_approach1.shtml http://www.tpr-world.com/ and the English without Frontiers Teachers´Guide.