Spotlight on a speaker - PETAA's 2021 Leading with Literacy Conference: Powerful Practices for All Learners

Professor Linda J. Graham and Haley Tancredi: Looking below the surface to understand impacts of language, literacy and attentional difficulties

Linda J. Graham is Director of The Centre for Inclusive Education and a Professor in the Faculty of Education at QUT. Her research investigates the role of education policy and schooling practices in the development of disruptive student behaviour and the improvement of responses to children that some teachers find difficult to teach. Currently, Linda is co-leading the Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage project with A/Prof Jill Willis “Improving Outcomes through Accessible Assessment and Inclusive Practices." Linda is also Chair of the Inquiry into suspension, exclusion and expulsion processes in South Australian government schools, and co-convenes the AARE Inclusive Education Special Interest Group (with Dr Kate de Bruin and Ms Haley Tancredi). She has appeared in numerous print, radio and television media and is a strong advocate that inclusive education is a foundation platform for broader social inclusion and the development of an inclusive democracy. 

Haley Tancredi is an educational speech pathologist with over 15 years experience in schools in NSW and QLD. Haley is also a PhD candidate on the Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage project at QUT, where she is investigating the impact of teachers’ use of accessible pedagogies on the classroom experiences, engagement and learning outcomes of students with language and attentional difficulties. Her previous research investigated the impact of education adjustments for students with language difficulties, where students were consulted and had a voice in the adjustments that were designed and implemented.

Linda and Haley, together, will deliver a plenary session, and a workshop session, at PETAA's 2021 Leading with Literacy Conference: Powerful Practices for All Learners. Read our interview below to find out more about Linda, Haley and about their session, and don't forget to register for the Conference, taking place on 15 -16 October online, with extremely limited passes available to attend in-person at the Aerial UTS Function Centre in Ultimo, NSW.

You’ll be speaking at our 2021 Conference, ‘Powerful Practices for All Learners’. What does that phrase mean to you?

Powerful practices in inclusive education are those that (i) students say “work” to help them learn, engage, and feel included, (ii) enable teachers to provide accessible learning experiences for all students, and (iii) are supported by the research evidence.

Unfortunately, out-dated practices like “teaching to the middle” still take place in Australian schools. We know that teaching to the middle means many students—including those with language, literacy, and attention difficulties—will not be able to access the curriculum or make use of their teachers’ pedagogical practices. Teaching to the middle also risks students’ right to an inclusive education not being upheld.

When teachers understand the common characteristics of language, literacy and attention difficulties and the underlying cognitive processes that impact on students’ learning, they can design teaching and assessment practices that are accessible to all students. That’s powerful!

Can you tell us what attendees can expect from your sessions?

In our keynote presentation, Looking below the surface to understand impacts of language, literacy and attentional difficulties, we will discuss some of the common characteristics of language, literacy and attention difficulties and describe the underlying cognitive processes that impacts on students’ learning. We will also discuss how teachers can use this information to minimise or remove barriers using accessible learning and assessment experiences in their classrooms. We are also going to invite participants to complete an interactive quiz, which aims to put theory into practice!

In the workshop Developing student profiles to plan and implement inclusive practices, we will dive a little deeper and discuss how teachers can (i) build profiles of students with language, literacy, and attentional difficulties, (ii) map the presenting characteristics of exemplar students to identify potential barriers, (iii) explore how teachers can use accessible pedagogies and relevant adjustments, and (iv) discuss how teachers can use student consultation and professional collaboration to support inclusive practice. 

Can you tell us about a time that you saw positive change in the classroom from embracing these ideas?

In previous research, we investigated the perceptions of students with language difficulties about how their teachers’ increased use of adjustments supported them to understand teacher instruction and access the curriculum. Students reported a reduction in barriers to learning, increased engagement in their schoolwork, and positive emotional impact. In practice, this meant they were happier in class, more productive with their schoolwork, and received fewer behaviour referrals.  

If you could change one thing about Australian classrooms, what would it be?

We would love all teachers to be aware of their obligation to consult students with disability when designing and implementing adjustments, and for them to know that consultation has practical benefits! Consulting students can help establish positive student-teacher relationships and often students have important and practical pedagogical refinements suggestions to share.

What's one thing every teacher could do right now to make their classrooms more inclusive?

Using inclusive language is something that we can all start, right away. This means using person-first language (e.g., “students with disability” or “student on the autism spectrum”) and speaking about students’ strengths. The way we speak not only reflects but affects the way we think, and this simple change has the potential to make all school environments more inclusive. Plus, it costs nothing!

Join Linda, Haley and the rest of our brilliant speakers at the PETAA 2021 Leading with Literacy Conference: Powerful Practices for All Learners. Register now to attend online, or join us in-person at the UTS Aerial Function Centre in Sydney on 15-16 October 2021.

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