Remote Conductive Education at Steps - my experience as a member of staff and a student by Reka Simandi

Remote Conductive Education at Steps - my experience as a member of staff and a student by Reka Simandi

Posted: Tue, 18 Jan 2022 14:44

Remote Conductive Education at Steps - my experience as a member of staff and a student by Reka Simandi

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PRACTICE BASED REFLECTION OF THEORY

REMOTE CONDUCTIVE EDUCATION AT STEPS

– MY EXPERIENCE AS A MEMBER OF STAFF AND AS A STUDENT

Reka Simandi

Introduction

When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, I was approaching the end of my first year of studying Conductive Education.

My practice placement and workplace, Steps Conductive Education Centre in Leicestershire, responded to the impact of the pandemic immediately and we started to work out how we could continue to support the families without putting the vulnerable children in danger.

Therefore, we adapted our sessions for remote delivery and have been providing structured sessions online since April/May 2020.

I wanted to share my experiences of this because, despite our initial scepticism, I think we have done a brilliant job of transferring the whole of Conductive Education to the online learning environment (rather than just the aspects we thought would work). Furthermore, it works!

From my perspective, the children and parents learn and develop just as effectively in remote sessions, some even more effectively.

I led and facilitated in online sessions for parent and child groups as well as our one school-age group throughout my second

year of study. As a consequence, my confidence, observation, and "use" of the conductive group have improved massively.

Therefore, I would like to discuss what I learnt from taking the Conductive Education methodology online, as well as some benefits, challenges and solutions.

Before Lockdown

Prior to the pandemic, children were able to attend one session (half a day) per week.

The typical daily routine included free play, circle time/assembly, a lying task series, snack time, topic specific play, sitting, standing and walking task series, and more walking tasks and free play out in the playground.

It was quite exhausting being involved in the many parts of the session, especially with as many as ten children attending some groups. It was also a very loud, busy environment and there were a lot of facilitators in every part of the session, sometimes three in addition to parents, just for snack time.

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Methodology in Remote Conductive Education

Role of the Conductor

Motivation is difficult anyway, but as a second year student leading an online session, it came with completely new challenges, for example the older, more mobile children who simply leave the room when they are not interested.

The solution to the problem of motivation was better observation and planning in a lot more detail. I learnt that the leader needs to observe both the personalities and the moods in the group and plan how they will connect with each individual and keep them engaged.

The atmosphere can help with keeping the children engaged but this is also difficult to create online. Although encouraged to 'unmute' themselves and speak whenever they wish,

all the participants are 'muted' during the task series in order to prevent microphone feedback/echoes and ensure that the task and rhythmical intention can be heard. This means that the leader must keep talking throughout the session in order to maintain the atmosphere.

A lot of confidence is needed to do this and the Conductor must keep herself in this confident state even if children are not participating, otherwise she will have no chance of bringing the group back together. I learnt to keep myself

"in the zone" and worry about everything that went wrong once the session was over; keeping the children engaged has to be the

leader's priority in order to achieve any learning.

Conductive Education should always be enjoyable but online, I found that the leader has to make it even more fun and relaxed in order to motivate children to take part from within their own homes. At Steps we did this by allowing the young people to use the chat function on

Zoom, for example some sent sums for the leader to solve in order to tell her how many children

were there. We also learnt how important it was to let the children have the fun they wanted

to have because it taught us a lot about their personalities. For example, one day a child had an 'alien' as his background during news time. Another day, somebody had a

life-size cardboard cut-out of Shawn Mendes in the room with her and picked it up and started carrying it around during the walking tasks.

We allowed this and even included 'Shawn' in the group to further increase the child's motivation.

As a result I found myself providing feedback to cardboard Shawn Mendes as well as the participants! This relaxed environment that we worked out how to create, worked wonders for the school-age children's active participation, and gave us greater insight into the children's motivations and influences.

In Conductive Education, we utilise a social constructivist theory base; children have to interact with the leader and each other in order to learn and develop their personality.

However, I found that the school-age group, who were all verbal, were very reluctant to speak to myself and to each other in the online environment. I did not know why this was, however I recognised that I also felt more

challenged in this online 'reality'. I reflected that I really connected with this group and made them laugh when they had been attending

face-to-face sessions, so I told myself, surely the whole situation is less terrifying when nobody is actually in the room with me.

It may sound strange but I overcame this problem by putting myself in "confident mode" whilst actively trying to come across as authentic 'me'. Once I was able to be myself (or at least fake being able to be myself), the children in the group had the confidence to be themselves.

This gave me confidence to adapt my facilitation e.g. subtly facilitating the interactions that I wanted to happen between children, for example asking them to show each other their toys on the screen to facilitate the beginning of a spontaneous conversation.

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The Conductive Group

The first point to be made about the online conductive group is that it is in fact possible to keep the group together (even though physically the children are apart) and use it to create learning opportunities. Of course it is more difficult for the leader to create the benefits of the group that she seeks, for example social interaction, motivation, healthy competition, comparators, and role models, but it can definitely be achieved with a little additional effort and consideration. The solution for me was to improve my planning to include everything

I needed to say to the group to keep them together. One of the most significant things I learnt during my year of delivering Conductive Education remotely, was that the benefits of working in a group do not just magically appear, especially not online; the leader and facilitator(s) have to make it happen. Sometimes, to keep the interest of the group, I had to give the children a lot of freedom in terms of how they completed the tasks.

I was concerned that this would have a negative impact, however, this was not the case at all.

In fact, it was highly beneficial for the development of independent problem-solving skills and progression towards orthofunction.

In the school-age group, where parents have minimal involvement, differentiation of facilitation and aims had to be very precise.

To create shared success, we often had to ensure that every individual could succeed without manual facilitation because, at times, no-one else was in the room with the child.

Daily Routine

The typical daily routine for an online Steps session is circle time; lying, sitting, standing and walking task series; a game or a challenge; individual feedback; sharing news; goodbye song. These sessions were actually not that different from the face to face sessions, in terms of opportunities for learning and applying skills,

however the time for these online sessions was only an hour to an hour and a half, compared to the face-to-face sessions which last around two and a half hours. The only tools the leader

has to teach with in the remote context are language and demonstration, there is nothing else she can do to help. The leader therefore has to be clever about how she creates opportunities for learning onscreen.

In face-to-face sessions before lockdown, children did get individual feedback from the leader at the end of the task series but it was rarely more than a sentence per child.

In remote CE sessions, feedback was a much more structured part of the session; the leader would provide group feedback, then give feedback to each individual, asking the facilitator and parents to share their observations too.

Receiving detailed and specific individual feedback really helped the children to feel proud of their own and others' achievements.

This then had a knock on effect on motivation as everyone in the group was able to feel important and valued.

Task Series

As the country went into lockdown during my first year of study, I had not lead any

task series face-to-face. Therefore, I observed and learnt from the conductors at Steps

and used my reflections and their feedback to help me develop my teaching style.

For most groups, it was possible to deliver all task series (lying, sitting, standing and walking) online. In order to achieve this, the parent/carer had to be given appropriate instruction on how to facilitate and what equipment from their home could be used within the session.

To assist with this process, and enable every child to participate from home, we sent "magic boxes" to each child by post. These boxes contained bells, a rod, and a ring, but not much else.

For me this reinforced the idea that equipment in CE can and should be multi-purpose;

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lots of furniture and items in the home can be used as physiological facilitators. Everyone has chairs in their home, whilst the Yellow Pages or other books can be used to create footboxes

of the appropriate height. The opportunity to demonstrate that everyday furniture and household items can be multi-purpose,

expanded perceptions and increased creativity and independent problem solving. One parent even found a way to keep her child's feet flat when lying in supine: by having him lie down so that the bottom of his feet were against the side of the sofa.

Rhythmical Intention

In these online sessions, the rhythmical intention was provided solely by the leader in order to prevent echoing or a delay between multiple voices. In order to support the leader with this, the facilitator used her non-verbal communication to help find and adapt the rhythm appropriately. For example, they could move their hands apart and together in the rhythm that she perceived the leader should adopt based on her observation of the group.

The facilitator's observations were extremely valuable; she was much closer to the screen than the leader who had to be further away in order to be seen fully while demonstrating the tasks.

The children's movements had to be observed closely in order to use the rhythm to ensure everyone was working at the top level of their potential at all times therefore; the bigger or closer the screen, the easier this was.

Facilitation

To enable participants to feel successful and experience a sense of belonging in online sessions, I give constant feedback that is linked to the group and individual aims and get the group to help each other with their aims. This facilitates interaction as well as creating opportunities for role-modelling and peer learning but, most importantly, is an excellent strategy to keep the group together and focused on what they need to learn.

In remote sessions, only one facilitator is needed. This suggests we may have been over-facilitating in our face-to-face sessions,

or not letting the parents do enough. In a parent and child group, the parents should be learning how to facilitate their child's learning and perhaps they were not learning as much as they could have if there had been fewer facilitators around.

Online, most facilitation is provided by the leader, however the facilitator may still facilitate the children if she has a suggestion to make.

The main role of the facilitator is to observe

the children sufficiently to support the leader in giving feedback and adapting her teaching

'in the moment'.

Some may believe that conductors cannot provide manual facilitation remotely but I believe that, indirectly, we have been able to provide

it. In parent and child groups, we suggest and explain to the parents how to facilitate their child.

Perhaps one of the most significant aids to this process was the 'demonstration doll'.

The demonstration doll is a regular doll, but with malleable limbs. Use of this doll enabled the leader to demonstrate how to facilitate the child, using the concept of enabling rather than caring. It took some time to learn how to use the doll to teach the parents, however once I felt confident with this, it became a highly valued tool. It also it meant that I did not have to lie on the floor and demonstrate all the tasks myself.

In the school-age group, we observed the equipment and furniture in the children's homes and gave suggestions of what the child could use, thus providing both physiological and educational facilitation. We were able to break down tasks based on the space, equipment

and family members available to facilitate.

I discovered that many children could manually facilitate themselves; for example, some children who could not put their foot up onto the opposite knee, could initiate the movement and then use their hands to pull it into the correct position.

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Observation

Although onscreen, it was only possible to observe the children in 2D in a small square, with good communication between the leader and the facilitator, it was still possible to observe for everything we needed. Delivering online sessions has certainly sharpened my observation skills, but I can now identify several advantages to

on-screen delivery of CE. These include being able to 'see' the whole group in one place at the same time, which has helped me reflect and become more aware of whether I am really

keeping the group together, or if/when I need to adapt my teaching.

Other factors that impacted my observation of the group related to the number of children it was possible to work with, for example the more children on the screen, the smaller the image.

When I started leading sitting, standing and walking, fitting myself into the screen made me too far away to see the children well enough.

This problem was resolved by the very large screen that had been installed at Steps: basically a big TV with its own computer and camera.

Now we regularly use the large screen for both fully digital and blended sessions.

As I mentioned above, the larger the screen, the easier it is to lead a good session. As

observation guides everything we do, being able to observe better and more easily dramatically improved my feedback, facilitation and all aspects of my leading.

Learning Environment

One aim of CE is to enable children to apply their skills to different environments, which includes their home. One advantage of remote CE is that we can 'see inside' the child's house; we can provide advice regarding home applications immediately and we have the opportunity to observe how well skills are applied within the home environment. Furthermore, some children attend digital sessions from mainstream school, with a one-to-one or teaching assistant.

The impact of this is not only that the children

miss less school as they do not have to travel, but also that we can help them to apply skills and problem solve in their school environment. For example, it seems very important to me that children can sit correctly on the chairs they have at their school and are able to change their shoes and similar. This was not something we were able to do when sessions were purely face-to-face,

so this opportunity is one of the unexpected advantages of online CE sessions.

A big advantage of the online learning environment is that it is much calmer than a face-to-face session due to the convenient 'mute' button which can be used to prevent 'crying dominoes'. Similarly there are disadvantages, the main one being technical issues which must be solved quickly whilst trying to keep everyone happy and engaged.

Steps as an Online Practice Placement: Personal Reflection

I had a lot of fun learning to lead task series remotely, the demonstration dolls were completely new to us and took some time to get used to. I distinctly remember feeling very strange practising the task series alone with the doll but it was necessary and improved my ability to demonstrate.

I did both my second year practical exams remotely and both went very well so I think that proves that a student's skills can be developed online as well as the participants'. I have also been able to apply theories to digital practice; Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was particularly helpful in learning to motivate the older children for my Semester 2 exam, and of course it was very good to be able to motivate children during a pandemic because most of the population had experienced a decline in motivation due

to the isolation brought by the lockdowns.

I am very excited to lead a face-to-face session and much less scared now because I feel I have already done something much more daunting.

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Conclusion

Remote CE can be highly effective, and it is possible to include nearly every element,

including using the Conductive Group to facilitate learning and development. Our remote sessions thoroughly reinforced the importance of

constant observation as well as improving our observation skills.

We have now partially returned to providing face-to-face sessions but are continuing to provide online sessions too because they work so well and additionally enable participants who are not local to attend. We have also started providing blended sessions which have been highly convenient for people who live far away,

but also for those who are unwell, or those who simply do not have time to travel to the centre. The blended sessions are very new to us at the moment but I am sure they will bring even more learning opportunities for both the practitioners and the children.

Reka Simandi is a student in her final year on the BA in Conductive Education/QCS course at Birmingham City University/NICE Conductive College. She is also employed as a Trainee Conductor and Media Assistant at Steps Conductive Education Centre in Leicestershire.

reka546@outlook.com

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Ref: Conductive College Journal, Edition 4, November 2021.

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