A personalised approach supports refugee students by looking at their strengths, interests and specific learning and wellbeing needs.
A comprehensive assessment of each student is necessary. Obtaining input from all personnel involved is vital and should include the English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) teacher, school counsellor, school learning support officer (Ethnic), year adviser or stage coordinator, and student welfare coordinator. A personalised approach is best coordinated through the school learning and support team.
Collect information about students
Collecting information about a student's background and life experiences, family situation, health and wellbeing, interests and talents can help the school plan appropriate support. Information about a student's English language proficiency, literacy and numeracy levels and prior schooling can inform the school about the need for modifications to school routines, programming and assessment practices, additional learning support programs and curriculum options. It can also inform schools about professional learning needed by teachers about the impact of refugee experiences on learning and behaviour, effective pedagogy and strategies for differentiating teaching and learning.
Plan the support
Many refugee students have emotional, welfare and other educational support needs as a result of their refugee experiences and disrupted or limited prior schooling. Developing personalised learning approaches for refugee students can help ensure that information about students is collected and support is provided by people with the appropriate expertise and area of responsibility.
The video on individual learning plans shows how schools can develop targeted support through personalised approaches to learning.
The following templates may assist schools to develop student leaning plans for refugee students:
Communicate with relevant staff
Communicating relevant information about refugee students assists their teachers to better understand the behaviours and learning needs of their students.
Each school should establish a distribution list for essential information about newly enrolled students. This list could include the school counsellor, school executive, welfare team, year adviser, class teachers, EAL/D teachers and careers and transition advisers as appropriate.
Before distributing information, schools should establish procedures to ensure that information is treated confidentially and the privacy of students and their families is protected.
Differentiate teaching and learning
School executive and all classroom/subject teachers need to be made aware of issues impacting on refugee students' ability to engage with learning and to consider ways of differentiating assessment, programming and teaching for refugee students for a period of time. In some cases it may take considerable time for students to participate actively in learning – they may require a ‘settling in’ period.
All teachers of refugee students share responsibility in meeting their emotional, social and learning needs, and should consider the impact of English language proficiency on academic progress.
Students who can communicate well in informal situations but who have limited listening, speaking, reading or writing skills in academic English, can face difficulties participating in learning and assessment across the curriculum. Lack of previous education or disrupted schooling can mean that some refugee students operate at literacy and numeracy levels well below their peers. They may also have considerable gaps in their understanding of curriculum concepts, school routines and expectations.
Teachers will need to differentiate assessment tasks and activities within their teaching and learning programs to allow students to access and demonstrate understanding of stage appropriate outcomes despite differing levels of language and literacy.
See how teachers provide authentic learning contexts for refugee students and differentiate teaching and learning in the video Rich tasks.
Monitor student learning and wellbeing
The school’s learning and support team should assess and monitor students’ requirements and progress.
Some refugee students adjust quickly and easily to life in Australia while others take longer. It is important to allow time for this. During this period of adjustment, students may appear withdrawn and distant, unresponsive, moody and easily provoked to anger or aggression. They may also be often absent from school. They may have other physical symptoms such as headaches, skin conditions, intermittent nausea or respiratory ailments such as asthma.
These reactions may be linked to trauma in the past or to current anxieties about loved ones who are not in Australia. They could also result from the stresses of resettlement in a new country, or may be linked to adolescence and inter-generational conflict. Any of these concerns and responses can disrupt students’ ability to concentrate on learning at school.
Refugee students' capacity to cope with past traumatic experiences varies greatly. The degree to which the learning and wellbeing of a student is affected by previous trauma depends on:
- the severity of previous experiences
- the number of traumas and the length of time they were suffered
- whether parents or close family members were killed, injured or disappeared
- the resilience of the individual in adjusting to new environments
- how well the student's carers are coping with their trauma, resettlement and anxieties about family members in the home country
- how well the individual student is being supported in their new country at home, at school and in the local community.
Recognise progress and achievement
As students settle into their new school and community, and develop greater English language proficiency, it is important to recognise their progress and their achievements. This can be done through providing positive feedback, publishing student’s work, involving students in leadership initiatives and bringing their achievements to the attention of the school and broader community.