An Evaluation of Intensive Interactive Teaching with Pupils with Very Severe Learning Difficulties

Watson, J. & Knight, C. (1991) Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 7 (3), 310-25.

This article describes an exploration of Intensive Interaction by staff at a school for pupils with severe learning difficulties, in Edinburgh. In this one-year study, the researchers attempted to analyse the skills used in infant-parent interaction and apply them to their educational situation via Intensive Interaction.

The Participants

Six pupils with severe learning difficulties were studied over the school year. They were chosen to represent a range of age and ability. Some pupils exhibited specific idiosyncratic behaviour related to their special needs, physical condition and history, which were not shown by others. Six members of staff consistently worked on interaction with a given pupil over this period of time.

The Method

Staff were asked to behave as naturally as possible, and to introduce a toy or object that they felt would be interesting to the child at some point when they felt it was appropriate to do so. The beginning of the session was signalled by taking off the pupils’ shoes and leading them into the soft play area. The entire session was filmed, with the researcher holding the camera and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. The only interruption was due to extraneous noises from other pupils in the class.

After each session staff completed an interaction recording form, this involving outlining the sequence of events, identifying the best and worst parts of the session and commenting on how they felt the session had gone. Additionally, summaries of each session and detailed descriptions made from short extracts of video.

Sessions were usually terminated when the staff member decided that the pupil had had enough, on the basis of yawns or decreased responsiveness. Each of the six members of staff were interviewed individually after the videotaping of the study had ended.

The Findings

From this study it appeared that interaction was very important for the pupils, and staff emphasised the fact that ‘it builds a good relationship‘ and ‘there is confidence and trust that is built up‘. Staff also talked about other positive effects of Intensive Interaction, which included positive outcomes for the other pupils in the class; the staff being more relaxed and more willing to wait for a pupil’s responses; and improvements in staffs’ observation skills. In general, it was claimed that staff developed high levels of expertise, and that the interactive experiences ‘had benefited their pupils and improved their own working practice’. Staff also claimed that the positive effects of the interactive experiences ‘also extended to other pupils in the class’ as the staff had become ‘more relaxed, more tolerant, and more willing to wait for responses’.

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