Exploring Sustainable Development and Diversity at Key Stage 4

Students with severe learning difficulties react well to hands-on activities and to learning about other people to whom they can relate.

A collaboration between Global Link and a special needs school in Lancashire brought a global dimension to lessons by exploring two topics: Sustainable Development and Diversity.

The idea behind the project was to create learning materials suitable for students with severe learning difficulties at Key Stage 4 and above. Most of the existing materials, while cognitively suitable for these students, featured much younger children, and were therefore difficult for them to relate to.

Sustainable Development Project

Shopping bags designed by students
Shopping bags designed by students

Organisers chose this topic because it addressed concrete matters that students could grasp easily, such as waste reduction and recycling.

The project entailed craft activities, role-play, and a visit to a household waste recycling centre. Different stimuli directed the lesson every week. For example, students were presented with a bag of shopping, and then had to decide what to be done with the packaging that was left over. Later they had to decide whether packaging was made of plastic or not, and discovered that plastic doesn’t decompose. They also had to match recycled products with their original forms.

Students also designed their own shopping bags, and enacted role plays of going shopping and saying “no thank you” in response to shop assistants saying “would you like a bag?”

The students, who go shopping every week as part of preparing them for independent lifestyles, now use these bags on every shopping trip.

A teacher noted that the students were very involved because the lessons were interesting and included “loads of hands-on activities.” In fact, since then, the teacher remarked, students have made reference to information covered in the sessions at other times.

Diversity Project

This topic was chosen because students were accustomed to leading somewhat restricted lives, without socializing independently. Therefore, they were not familiar with meeting people from different places and backgrounds.

Students learned about diversity in the UK by watching a multimedia presentation about four teenagers of non-UK heritage: a refugee boy from Kosovo, an Anglo-Chinese girl, an Egyptian girl, and a Sudanese boy whose parents were refugees. The teenagers talked about their lives, their likes and dislikes, their hopes for the future, and their backgrounds. The idea was to give students something relevant; so rather than showing them children from other countries playing traditional games, they saw people living in the UK who were doing things they could relate to themselves.

Students were also presented with a box of things representing each person featured in the video. These related to their hobbies, and included items such as CDs, mobile phones, etc. Students also had the chance to try food that represented the person’s heritage in some way. Students therefore had concrete items that they could hold and directly relate to the person they had just seen.

One teacher was amazed by how much the students enjoyed the lessons and remembered details, saying that the box of objects met Profound and Multiple Learning Disability (PMLD) needs. And with food and drink, the teacher added, “you can’t go wrong!”

This project helped students achieve the following…

The sustainable development project built students’ self-esteem, because at the end of it they knew of definite actions they could take to help. By learning about reducing waste and recycling, they learned how to put it into practice and make a positive impact.

Teachers remarked that the diversity project engaged the students even more than they had expected. One young man enjoyed the food in particular, although he usually never tried anything new. Mainly, the students enjoyed discovering they were similar to other people their own age, and liked doing the same things, even though those people might look different.

This project also raised the following challenges…

The biggest challenge these projects raised was dealing with the wide range of abilities among the students. Classes included students with severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties. Making sure that everyone got something out of it required giving a lot of emphasis to inclusion and making sure no one was left behind.

Find out more

Global Link: For further information, visit: www.globallink.org.uk.

Global Link teaching resources:

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