Intensive Interaction in the inclusive classroom: using interactive pedagogy to connect with students who are hardest to reach

Kellett, M. (2004), Westminster Studies in Education, 27 (2), 175-188.

In this paper Kellet looks at the pedagogical role of Intensive Interaction for students with severe and complex learning difficulties. She begins with an overview of the theoretical context of ‘interactive pedagogy’, and describes how Intensive Interaction can support sociability and communication development for the pupils who are the hardest to reach, with one case study (Finn) being used as an exemplar. Kellet gives some context as to how interactive pedagogies developed in response to ‘a growing disquiet that behaviourist styles of teaching did not promote real learning’.

Kellet states how Intensive Interaction ‘focusses on making the curriculum fit the student rather than the other way round’, and that the responsive nature of Intensive Interaction begins by ‘respecting whatever stage that individual is at in her or his development and celebrating what she or he is capable of doing’, with Intensive Interaction providing a ‘first point of connection which is at the heart of inclusive ideology’.

The case study: Finn was aged 6 and had severe learning difficulties. He was ‘passive’, with staff finding it difficult to engage him in any form of social interaction. He often lay on the floor or had his head down on a table, spending much of his time chewing his clothing, or other items he could get. A teacher and 2 TA assistants worked as a team in Finn’s class: none had any previous Intensive Interaction experience. All 3 attended a one day of Intensive Interaction training and were keen to try the approach.

Baseline data was collected for 6 weeks prior to any Intensive Interaction, after which Finn had a daily Intensive Interaction session of 15-20 minutes with a TA. However, after 3 months the class teacher changed and the Intensive Interaction sessions become less regular as the new teacher increasingly prioritised other activities. At weekly intervals (later reduced to fortnightly) over a 1 year period, 5 minute video observations of Finn were made during the Intensive Interaction sessions, and at other times, across both the baseline and Intensive Interaction intervention phases.

From the video data, eye contact, looking at/towards the face of the interactive partner, smiling, vocalisation, and ‘engagement’ (i.e. ‘a state of absorbed intellectual or emotional arousal and connectedness’) were coded, analysed and changed into %s for ease of comparison – with inter-observer agreement = 96.1%, and intra- observer agreement = 96.3%.

Findings: During the baseline phase the incidence of Finn looking at or towards the face of his interactive partner averaged only 5%. This changed rapidly once the Intensive Interaction sessions began and increased to a mean of 31% over the intervention phase. Similar progress was made in Finn’s ability to make social physical contact, increasing from a baseline mean of 2.5% to a mean of 28.2% in the intervention phase. The incidence of Finn making eye contact before Intensive Interaction started was virtually non-existent, but progress shown in this area was seen to be ‘extremely encouraging, given that eye contact is such an important element in sociability and communication’.

Increases in Finn’s ability to attend to a joint focus and his levels of ‘engagement’ demonstrated how positively Finn responded to the Intensive Interaction approach. A mean score of 14% in the baseline phase for joint focus increased to a mean of 67% in the intervention phase, with two high peaks of 93%. The data for engagement was also seen to represent ‘important evidence of sustained and absorbed social interaction’: a baseline mean of 2% changed rapidly once the Intensive Interaction started with a ‘steadily rising incidence marred only by regressions related to the loss of continuity of vacation periods’.

The importance of teamwork: Kellet argues that from of this research we should understand that ‘for interactive pedagogy such as Intensive interaction to be implemented with optimal outcomes then effective teamwork is essential’. Visible, tangible support for needs to be evident at the managerial level from the earliest possible stage, and also that senior management should be involved in ‘Intensive Interaction  workshops alongside staff who intend to practise’ with such training ideally done ‘as a whole-school exercise on a nominated training day, with senior managers visibly participating’.

Some final reflections: according toKellet, ‘for those students who have not yet learned the fundamentals of early social communication, developing sociability and communication is an essential first step in their learning.  Without it learning cannot become meaningful’.  She then goes on to state that Intensive Interaction is one approach within an ‘umbrella of interactive pedagogies’ that has been shown to be particularly successful.  This paper finally argues the case for its wider adoption in inclusive mainstream schools.

(*unfortunately Emma was off work for 3 months, and the effects of this are referred to in the analysis of the data).

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