Coming in June 2022!
The Learning About Neurodiversity at School (LEANS) resource pack for primary school teachers and pupils
Working together with educators, community members, and schools, the LEANS project has developed free classroom activity pack for mainstream primary students and their teachers to learn about neurodiversity. Neurodiversity means that we are all different in how we think, feel, and learn, because our brains process information differently. We evaluated this pack in Scottish primary schools September-December 2021, to see how well it worked at teaching neurodiversity concepts in real classrooms and supporting inclusive attitudes. Now, we are finalising the resources ahead of our launch. The complete LEANS resource pack will be available as a set of downloadable files for free, forever, for everyone.
You can join our mailing list to stay informed about the upcoming release and our launch events.
At the bottom of this webpage, you can find information on LEANS project phases, our team, and links to project talks and media.
Please join us for our launch event!
We’re hosting a free online launch event to introduce the LEANS resource pack. What’s it all about, who is it for, and why teach about neurodiversity anyway? Speakers will include educators from the LEANS participatory design team and members of the research team. While this event is focused on UK educators and what they may need to know, registration is open to the public and all are welcome—educators outside the UK, community members, and researchers. Please join us!
Online, Tuesday June 14th 16:00-17:30 GMT
Register for your free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/296255757947
The launch includes extended time for audience questions and discussion (last 30 min). This event will be recorded, and publicly available afterwards.
Problems with registration? Please use the “contact the organiser” function on the Eventbrite page.
Children learn about societal issues, like climate change or religious diversity, at primary school. Organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Oxfam provide downloadable resources, ideas for classroom activities, model school assemblies, and information videos to help teachers educate children about key topics for society. At the moment, there aren’t similar resources for talking about neurodiversity, and how these differences can affect people’s learning, daily lives and school experiences. This lack of relevant materials contributes to a lack of understanding within schools, and consequent challenges in classroom inclusion.
The vision for LEANS was to create teacher-delivered materials that could educate primary school pupils about barriers to learning, using the concept of neurodiversity as a framework. Neurodiversity provides a positive framework for talking about conditions and types of difficulties that impact learning, and celebrating differences while recognising support needs.
This work is closely allied to several of the “Top 10 research priorities for learning difficulties”, identified in joint work between the Salvesen Mindroom Centre, University of Edinburgh, and James Lind Alliance, particularly those priorities related to training for educational professionals, quality educational environments, and preventing stigma and bullying.
The LEANS resource was created during 2020-2022 by a neurodiverse group of researchers and educators, under the leadership of researchers at the University of Edinburgh. We used a range of processes to capture lived experience and practical expertise in education and support for young people. Our goal at all times was to create a resource that would:
- effectively educate a whole mainstream primary school class about neurodiversity
- not cause harm or distress to individual pupils in the class, especially neurodivergent pupils, nor to school staff members
- be practical and straightforward for teachers to deliver, even those new to neurodiversity concepts
- include respectful representations of diversity in general, including ethnic, gender and disability diversity
- be feasible within the resources (budget, time, expertise) of the project
In this phase we constructed a leadership team, before applying for funding. The team is a neurodiverse group which includes researchers in education, participatory design and psychology, a teacher, a family support practitioners, and a neurodivergent youth representative.
The leadership team helped to write or review the original funding proposal for the project and to make decisions about the early stages of the work, after it was funded. From the proposal stage, LEANS was firmly committed to involving educators and the neurodiversity community in the project. LEANS was funded in order to create a teacher-delivered resource about neurodiversity for mainstream primary schools (focusing on ages 8-11). However, unusually for research, our funding did not commit us to the exact content that we would include in the resources, or the type of resource we would make (e.g. videos, a book…).
Before launching the design phase, the leadership team did set big-picture goals for a LEANS resource—whatever it ended up looking like! We decided early on that LEANS could not target factual knowledge alone, but also needed to concern itself with people’s attitudes and actions in the school context. What do they feel and believe, and what do they do (or not do) as a result? We summarised these as our know-think-do goals:
- KNOW: To increase knowledge of neurodiversity terms and concepts.
- THINK: To create more positive attitudes towards neurodiversity and differences,
- DO: To increase individuals’ positive and inclusive actions within the school community, following participation in the LEANS curriculum.
The main goal of the design phase was to determine “what to make” for the LEANS resources, and why. Neurodiversity isn’t yet in national curricula, which meant that there was no clear map for what “teaching about neurodiversity” should include, or learning objectives for pupils. This meant that the design phase of LEANS needed to determine…
- The concepts/content to cover
- Definitions of key terms that we would use
- The media or format of the resources that we would create (e.g. videos, a book, a game, arts activities…)
- How the resource would be organised
- Types of information we would need to provide for teachers
We recruited a neurodiverse team of educators to work with us in designing the content, structure, and format of the resource. We circulated an advert for participatory team members and invited applications. Applicants were selected from that pool on the basis of their range of lived experience (i.e. different forms of neurodivergence) and professional expertise in education. We also looked for evidence of capacity to commit to the full design process, and knowledge of neurodiversity and associated concepts. The selected team members came from two UK nations and from Ireland.
The team took part in a series of iterative participatory design sessions over summer-autumn 2020. These were all delivered remotely, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and led by two members of the project leadership – both researchers. The earliest part of the process involved generating the draft Key Points, which summarise the core ideas to be learned in each Unit of LEANS. We revisited and refined these Key Points throughout the rest of the process, making sure they were still fit for purpose.
The participatory design cycles each focused on a broad, school-related topic, such as classroom experiences. They combined structured individual preparation work with decision-focused team meetings. Design team members independently submitted ideas – initially for topic-relevant content, and then for activities which would support teaching of those topics. Then, these ideas were reviewed and filtered by the researchers (e.g. combine similar ideas), and presented back to the group at an online meeting. Team members would help select from the list of candidate activities, review potential harms, and refine the initial ideas to help meet the project goals.
In addition the participatory design process involved a mid-point review of materials to check adherence to our project goals, feasibility for school settings, and coverage of planned topics. At the end of the phase, the project leadership team also reviewed all the materials and evaluated their suitability to meet the project goals. These review phases led to substantial changes in our plans, in terms of what to cover and how to organise it.
Having created a package of outlined resources, the project then moved into a consultation phase. We consulted with four main groups of people via different means.
- Student / newly qualified teachers: The trainee teachers received copies of teacher handbook guidance and 1-2 units of activity instructions, and then discussed these in detail in a “feedback session” with a project researcher. This was to help us ensure that the resources would be accessible to relatively inexperienced teachers, and that activity instructions would provide the right level of detail.
- Experienced teachers: As above, teachers received copies of teacher handbook guidance and 1-2 units of activity instructions, and then discussed these in detail in a “feedback session” with a project researcher. This was to gather the opinions of teachers with substantial classroom experience on feasibility of the resources, supporting pupils around this topic, and interacting with parents. We also wanted to check that our instructions, written for those new to neurodiversity, would not be “talking down” to experienced teachers.
- The neurodiversity community: We created and circulated a survey, specifically recruiting neurodivergent people and those with an interest in neurodiversity, including parents of neurodivergent children, and educators. The survey included elements of LEANS including: the project aims; term definitions and key points. However the survey did not incorporate the full LEANS materials (classroom activity instructions, stories, teacher guidebook) themselves as these were already much too detailed to be shared in a survey.
- People from marginalised and under-represented groups: We created a diverse cast of characters who would appear in LEANS stories and illustrations. We then reviewed this draft cast with the goal of ensuring respectful representation of different ethnicities, cultures, genders, skin-tones, body-types and disabilities. Through a series of interviews, our ‘representation consultants’ helped us to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes, and to have the best chance that children across the UK would be able to see themselves in the resource materials.
Following the participatory design and consultation phases, the resources were further developed, restructured and finalised for evaluation over a series of months, turning reams of notes and examples into fully-written-out content for teachers. During this time, the project leadership have been in frequent contact with our participatory design team members, other teachers, and also a neurodiverse network of children in the target age-group. These people have reviewed materials on an ad hoc basis as needed, checking for clarity of instructions and ability to meet our project goals – including minimising risks to pupils and staff. In this phase, we also welcomed our talented and committed illustrator Claire Hubbard to the project team, creating the images that bring LEANS to life.
The first version of the LEANS resource pack was evaluated across eight classes in four Scottish primary schools, from August-December 2021. Schools were recruited by advertising to the LEANS mailing list and on social media, and underwent several rounds of discussion with the researchers before formally joining the study, as an equivalent process to the self-evaluation we encourage schools to undertake on their own before deciding to use LEANS (this tool will appear near the start of the teacher handbook).
A main purpose of the evaluation study was to see how LEANS “worked” in real classrooms—both in terms of practicality, and in terms of successfully affecting what pupils know, think, and do. Pupils in the class took a pre-test quiz before encountering any LEANS content, and later post-test quizzes. We compared those two points to find out if there appeared to be any changes in their knowledge, and in the attitudes they expressed. As we could not directly measure children’s actions, we also included short scenario-based questions asking what they thought were the best or most helpful courses of action.
The quantitative part of the evaluation study was pre-registered, and you can find further details and copies of the quizzes here: https://osf.io/38jrh
The multiple-choice quiz data was supplemented by interviews with some child participants, in addition to free-response quiz questions asking for feedback. We gathered unit-by-unit “diary” feedback from participating teachers, as a key source to assess feasibility and identify needed revisions.
As of March 2022, we are still turning data into reportable results. Please stay tuned!
2021 was an extraordinarily difficult and demanding year for schools across Scotland, the UK, and the world. We offer our sincere and heartfelt thanks to our participating schools, who showed such commitment to LEANS in the face of so many other demands. We are equally thankful to all schools and individuals who reached out and offered to support LEANS evaluation in other ways.
Following the evaluation study, members of the research team and the original participatory design team have been at work revising the resource pack. Per teacher feedback, a major challenge was to trim down the instructions, simplify preparation, and also shorten the pupil-facing stories about our fictional neurodiverse classroom. Now, our graphic designer is at work, making the materials clear and easy-to navigate!
The final resource pack will be released online, for free, in June 2022 and will be available worldwide. Join our mailing list to make sure you don’t miss the release announcement and our online launch events! Send an e-mail to email@example.com to join, subject line “mailing list”.
TV: LEANS on Channel 5 news! March 23, 2022
LEANS was featured in a Channel 5 news segment aired on March 23rd, as part of a longer series on neurodiversity. The clip shows a sneak peek of an activity from Unit 2, Learning and Thinking Differently and some short interview content with LEANS researcher Dr Alyssa Alcorn. Many thanks to Mayflower School, Tower Hamlets for hosting us and the film crew! See the clip on twitter here, via Channel 5 news.
Talk: “Neurodiversity-affirmative education for autistic learners”, March 2022
LEANS PI Professor Sue Fletcher-Watson delivered the Centre for Research in Autism and Education annual lecture. View the recording on YouTube.
Talk: Overview of the LEANS project, Dec 2021
Lead LEANS researcher Dr Alyssa Alcorn gave an overview talk on the LEANS project so far (including a sneak peek of some evaluation study feedback) as part of the seminar series at the Centre for Research in Autism and Education, at the UCL Institute of Education. You can view the recording on Youtube.
Podcast: LEANS on the British Educational Research Association (BERA) podcast, Dec 2021
Professor Sue Fletcher-Watson, the PI of the LEANS project, discusses neurodiversity in the classroom and LEANS with Nick Johnson, Chief Executive of BERA. Info and listening links here.
Evaluation study pre-registration (October 2021)
We pre-registered the quantitative elements of our school evaluation study on OSF, including file uploads of the bespoke measures (quizzes) our team created to assess the neurodiversity concepts taught within LEANS. While the school study also includes some qualitative data, that is outwith the pre-registration.
Problems with the direct link? Search “LEANS” from the OSF home page, then use the left-side menu within the results to show registrations only. We should be within the first few registration results.
Talk: Autistica conference, July 2021
A ~15 minute talk about the LEANS project and our design process as part of the Autistica research conference (online). Presented by Professor Sue Fletcher-Watson. This talk is part of a longer recorded session. Follow the link, open the description, and click her name to jump to the start of that talk.
Poster: INSAR conference, May 2021
“Learning about Neurodiversity at School: Key Concepts for Communicating Neurodiversity to Primary School Children, from the Leans Project Co-Design Process”. May 2021. Poster focused on our design process, and the concepts covered in the LEANS curriculum.
- Links to publicly accessible abstract book, see page 392: https://www.autism-insar.org/page/2021AnnMtg
- Link to an image of our presented poster: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1L8mb8G3W231kTFDSDGfKVf8orD0dGj2x/view?usp=sharing
Fergus Murray of AMASE (Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh) is a consultant on the project team and also contributed to developing the grant proposal.
When forming the adult participatory design team, we actively recruited neurodivergent education professionals, and they comprised at least half of the team members. In the project consultation phase (phase 2), we actively recruited neurodivergent individuals and their family members for consultation study participation.