2nd December 2015

Why research practice-based learning?

Why research practice-based learning?  Cover Photo

Will Mercer, from Ruskin Mill Trust, explores some current thinking on why practical skills programmes are considered beneficial for those in special education.

There is increasing interest and research into the effects of learning through practical skills programmes that are driven by relationship-centred and contemporary apprenticeship models. The current focus on an academic qualification to populate the modern workforce leaves a considerable amount of people outside of mainstream educational options with subsequent ongoing, and often life-long, negative ramifications. Specialist provision has stepped in and pioneered bespoke methods to enable a wide spectrum of disempowered learners to have options of moving forward with their lives.

At the heart of these specialist methods, is an overriding belief that the brain can be worked with and developed throughout life and that it has the capacity to overcome areas of damage, trauma or developmental delay such as that diagnosed in Autism, ADHD, injury or a range of other syndromes. The question therefore arises: Is the brain plastic, able to regenerate in adulthood and re-programme itself by developing new channels of transmission that bypass normal pathways and synapses that appear blocked or damaged?

For those engaged in the field the answer is a resounding yes and one of the key pieces of research concerns the relationship between the brain and the hand, where it is proposed that brain development is influenced by sophisticated and sensitive information received from the hand engaged in real-time, productive activity (Frank R Wilson). Interaction with the environment through hands-on activity is therefore seen as the means to encourage brain plasticity and development capacity previously considered impossible or unlikely.

This relationship between qualitative physical activity and cognitive development to promote renewed self-confidence, improved social and communication skills, adaptability to change and greater social effectiveness, is the goal for all providers of special education whose vision is to maximise the potential for each individual. This approach supports a host of practical programmes and cultural and social scenarios whose focus is to feed, nourish and re-programme the brain.

This symbiotic and inter-related dynamic between head and hand is further nurtured by the support and enthusiasm of those engaged in teaching and caring. From parent and family, to school, social groups and friendships, the sense of warmth and wellbeing can only be engendered if positive support underpins the education and development of an individual. For many children and young people who suffer from negative role models, adding the socially binding ingredients of support and warmth to the positive boundaries and creative resistance met through practical activities and their multi-transferable skills, promotes wholesome attitudes and outcomes.

Entertaining a holistic approach to development therefore, should include a healthy combination of head, heart and hand or thinking, feeling and doing. It is hoped that the forthcoming MA in Special Education will complement and add to ongoing research into the relatedness of the human organism, and the effectiveness of pioneering approaches to enhance the quality of people’s lives. For further information visit: www.thefieldcentre.org.uk/ma

For more information about the Ruskin Mill Trust, click here.