WIL Leadership Vignette 10:
What was learned from this:
Context of the event, experience or activity:
The University of Western Sydney is a multi-campus university in urban Sydney. It delivers a number of programs, including teacher education.
Description of the event, experience or activity:
In a partnership between Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) and the University of Western Sydney, pre-service teachers develop understandings of the learning difficulties of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they can reasonably expect to encounter students on the spectrum in their classrooms as they enter the teaching profession. One of the ways for pre-service teachers to learn is to work alongside professionals in the field (WIL). Through a grant, Aspect have initiated a Social Club network for children and adolescents with the aim of providing structured opportunities for positive peer interactions and social skill development in non-judgmental environments.
Pre-service teachers encourage social behaviours and provide general supervision and guidance. The future teachers organise exhibitions and project-based learning. At the same time, they learn how to quickly defuse disagreements between adolescents, how to praise and discipline, how to guide a student to do the right thing. Most importantly, they experience how adolescents with autism understand and interpret instructions differently from children who do not have autism.
The social club allows the pre-service teachers to acquire skills that make them more employable. For the pre-service teachers, exposure to the Social Club members significantly develops their pedagogical repertoire.One pre-service teacher, Steve, actively set out to broaden his understanding of ways students with ASD are reaching out to make links with their world. His story describes his bonding with one of the adolescents he met: ‘Jacqui’. Steve found that Jacqui, a 14-year old with severe autism, was not comfortable asking for help in class time as she didn’t like people looking at her thinking she was 'dumb'. At the Social Club, he made time to help her and as a result, Jacqui did not feel 'dumb' because she had gained enough confidence to engage with other members with ASD and with pre-service teachers like Steve.
The university unit collects reflections that demonstrate the pre-service teachers' learning about collaborating with parents, handling and approaching humour sensitively, allocating time effectively for tasks, keeping structure in lessons and conveying meaning clearly.
A survey was conducted with parents and with Social club members about the social skills learning of the school students. This provided evidence of learning from the social club participants. This evidence sat alongside the reflections of the pre-service teachers as evidence of their significant workplace learning.
Anne Power, at the University of Western Sydney, is co-ordinator of the Professional Experience 3 unit that encompasses multiple service learning/WIL strands.