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Teaching & Learning Tools

As a specialist school providing a fully individualised curriculum for pupils with specific learning needs we use a wide range of evidence based tools to support learning and development. 

Our learning goals and assessment systems are always built toward the specific needs of our pupils.  We employ the same approach towards teaching and learning tools.  This means that each pupil is taught skills that they need as an individual using learning tools that benefit them as individuals. 

We have tried to provide a short description of many of our tools below.  Please note however that we will use a tools beyond those described and that the descriptions provide only a brief overview.  If you are interested in learning more please speak to your class lead or BCBA.

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)

ABA is not so much a learning tool as a science from which many of our learning tools have been developed.  Behaviour Analysis is the science of understanding behaviour.  Applied behaviour analysis is the application of those scientific principles with the intention of improving the lives of those who ABA professionals are supporting.  ABA has been around for a long time and has been applied differently at different times and in different locations. 

If you would like to know more about how we apply these principles you can ask our staff team for more information.

If you are interested in finding out more about ABA in general you can visit the UK-SBA site.

Behaviour support plans

Behaviour support plans are documents which outline how we as a school (and sometimes how you at home) are going to support behaviour.   They are very specific but will usually include:

Behaviour for reduction with strategies – Sometimes pupils display ‘behaviour which challenges’.  This can be for a number of reasons and come in a number of forms.  For example, this might include physically aggressive behaviour or self-injurious behaviour.  When a discussion has been had and it is agreed that this behaviour should be reduced for the benefit of the pupil this will show in the behaviour support plan. 

At this stage the behaviour support plan will outline how staff can support the pupil to prevent the behaviour or how to respond if the behaviour should occur. 

Behaviour for increase strategies – in the majority of cases where we are working to reduce a behaviour we will also be looking to increase an alternative behaviour which has the same function for the pupil.  For example, if a pupil often hits because they find a situation stressful we might teach the pupil to request ‘leave’ or ‘break’.  The behaviour support plan would outline this as a ‘pro-social’ behaviour and methods for teaching it will be outlined in the document.

Natural environment teaching (NET)

Many of the lessons we teach at Chatten are in a naturalised setting.  This means that they are taught in an environment which replicates the real setting in which the skill is useful.  For example if we are teaching communication skills this will likely be done alongside an enjoyable activity where those skills are needed.  NET sessions can include anything from simple play with learning embedded to community trips or using our specialised areas.

Desensitisation programmes

For some of our pupils a particular situation or stimulus has become extremely abhorrent or stressful.  Sometimes this means that certain scenarios have become dangerous for that pupil or that they are unable to access certain situations or activities which are vital for their health and/or happiness. 

Situations might include things such as:

  1. A fear of dogs which leads to absconding when dogs are seen.  This fear then means the ability for the pupil to go outside in any environment they might see a dog is now dangerous.

  2. Abhorrence of having things in their mouths.  Such a reaction might mean that they cannot safely attend a dentist’s appointment and thus could develop serious dental issues. 

Where these situations occur we will work with the pupil to reduce the anxiety they feel around that particular stimulus.  This will involve very gradual exposure to the stimulus often paired with high levels of reinforcement until they are able to tolerate the stimulus to a level where it no longer poses a risk or barrier to health or well being.

Video modeling

Video modelling is a method of teaching in which an individual learns a behaviour or a skill by watching a video recording of someone demonstrating that behaviour or skill.

The model can be someone else (such as a parent or teacher, a peer or sibling) or it can be the individual themselves.

We might use this to teach skills involving multiple steps such as house hold or play skills.

Functional communication training

There will be time where a specific ‘challenging behaviour’ has a specific function for the pupil.  For example biting as a function to escape a scenario they find stressful.  On such occasions we would teach the pupil a new more functional way to have that need met.  For example, we might teach them a specific sign, sound or picture which indicates the need to be removed from a situation.   In these situations we practice with the pupil  by showing them the new method of communication and having them repeat it before being given access to the desired outcome.  With repetition they will then start using the new method.

Task Analysis

For tasks which involve multiple steps we will often break the task down into multiple small steps.  This is called a task analysis.  Such tasks include:

  • Cleaning teeth
  • Making a sandwich
  • Getting dressed
  • Washing hands
  • Making a cup of tea

After having broken down the task into multiple steps we then teach the skills one step at a time using prompting and/or modelling.  In this way pupils can learn individual steps of a task as opposed to the whole task.  This makes it easier for the pupil to learn and we are better able to see progress or where more help is needed.

Teaching leisure and play skills

Many pupils at Chatten have not developed leisure or play skills and are unable to occupy themselves for any amount of time.  Often they may not have discovered any preferences for play activities.  

In such circumstances we may actually teach a pupil how to engage in enjoyable play activities.  For example we may teach a child how to complete a puzzle, engage in drawing, block building, colouring or simple mobile games.  Once taught the pupil then has the option to engage in those activities during leisure time. 

This can be especially helpful outside of school when pupils often need to self-occupy while families are engaged in important household tasks.  This is also of vital importance in later life.  Sometimes such activities can be transferred into employment skills.

Visual timetables

Some pupils benefit from a visual timetable which outlines what their day, session or week will include. These help pupils who find not knowing what their day will include stressful.  Visual timetables can cover any amount of time and may be anything from actual items associated with an activity to simple written or typed words. 

Where possible we will try to teach pupils to become less reliant on these timetables or to tolerate surprises or ‘changes of plan’ on their timetable.  This is because the real world is often prone to unplanned changes of plan and we feel it is important to help our pupils prepare for this.


Prompting is a method of supporting learning and includes a huge array of different prompts. For example:

  1. Physical – actually physical contact is made to support learning (hand over hand)

  2. Gestural – pointing or nodding towards an element of a task

  3. Modelling- the adult models how to complete a task and the child imitates

  4. Vocal – actual vocal instructions or reminders are given

  5. Within task – perhaps an arrow or a thick border around the image that should be chosen or the correct answer is placed nearer.

Our aim is always to rapidly fade prompts so that the pupil is not reliant on the prompt to complete the task.  We may quickly move from a full physical hand over hand to a simple light touch or from a full model of the activity to a small gesture. 

Augmented communication systems (PECS, MAKATON)

An augmented communication system is a system beyond standard speech which support an individual to communicate.  These come in numerous forms some of which we outline below.

PECS - PECS stands for ‘Pictoral exchange communication system’ and is a system whereby a pupil has access to a book of laminated pictures which they use to communicate by exchanging the picture with a communication partner.  For example, they might use a picture of a biscuit to request a biscuit or they might express that they can see a rabbit by using the ‘I see’ image coupled with a rabbit image.

Electronic communication systems - electronic communication aids such as tablet computer applications or even eye-gaze software are sometimes used to enable people to communicate.  Sometimes this is as simple as typing or it might be an electronic version of a PECS book.

MAKATON – MAKATON is a simplified version of sign language designed specifically for people with learning difficulties.

Individual systems – sometimes the best form of communication for an individual is highly individual.  This could include using collections of vocalisations or idiosyncratic gestures which can be understood by the important people in the individual’s life.

Discrete trail teaching (DTT)

DTT is a method for initially teaching new skills whereby the teaching of the new skill is taught over a number of discrete trials before it is then taught in a new more naturalised setting.  This is sometimes sat at a table but could be in any number of other environments where there are limited distractions.  Usually this involves teaching or rehearsing multiple skills during a short period of time with regular delivery of reinforcement. 

For example DTT might involve a pupil sitting at the table and being given multiple short instructions such as ‘find this’ ‘copy me’ and ‘what’s this’ after which praise or rewards are given.  A new skills might be introduces using prompting and prompt fading. 

DTT is usually only used to introduce a new skills after which the skills is rehearsed in a natural environment.

Attention autism

Many of our classes use attention autism or (bucket time) as part of their teaching.  This is an intervention aimed at increasing pupils shared attention skills.  Often it involves a bucket with multiple stimulating items contained therein. 

There are a number of stages to attention autism which build towards shared attention followed by an activity which all participants attempt with some level of independence.

Sensory support

Many of our pupils will experience the world around them differently due to difficulties with sensory processing disorder.  We strive to adapt our environment to support these needs and provide activities which address these challenges.  Often this is done with the support of our occupational therapist. 

At the same time we try to help our pupils become more independent with the challenges posed by sensory processing.  We will therefore aim to help them to find ways to cope with sensory situations they find stressful by working on desensitisation or offering access to supports such as headphones or tinted glasses.  Where specific activities such as swinging and squashing are known to add support we encourage our pupils to learn to request these activities when they need them as opposed to relying on the activities being provided at specific times or intervals.