This is done, for example, at KIDZ, „Kinder Interventions- und Diagnostikzentrum“ (“Children’s Intervention and Diagnostic Center”) at the University of Potsdam, which offers a movement-oriented training program. It has the meaningful name "WAchSe" (GROW), which is an acronym of the German words “wach, achtsam und selbstreguliert” (alert, mindful, and self-regulated). “We support the children in becoming more aware of themselves, becoming active, and managing their problems,” says the head of KIDZ, Satyam Antonio Schramm, clearly distinguishing this approach from medical diagnostics and psychotherapy. Here, it is much more about giving the children a sense of achievement and strengthening their self-confidence and their confidence in their own abilities.
With an inclusive perspective
Schramm is a psychologist and Professor of Inclusive Education with a special focus on emotional and social development. The objective of his work is to develop support concepts, test them in practice, and transfer them to schools through the training of future teachers. “WAchSe” – the training program for children with attention problems, developed together with the psychologist and occupational therapist Dr. Bettina Arasin – is a good example of this integrated approach: It is used at KIDZ, supervised by students, evaluated by a doctoral student and discussed in teaching, and then taken to schools by the university graduates who have been trained in inclusive education.
Special education teacher Anne Menke, who is researching the effectiveness of the program in her dissertation, explains the interplay of theory and practice. “When the students do the exercises with the children, they experience themselves in a different position, reflect on their role as teachers and can thus gain a better understanding of their future profession.” Menke is doing her doctorate within the project “Professionalization - Practical School Studies - Inclusion,” with which the University of Potsdam participates in the nationwide Quality Initiative Teacher Training. The results of her research will directly find their way into inclusive education, which is becoming increasingly important in Potsdam’s teacher training programs. Today, there is a specialized degree program both for the primary level and the lower secondary level, which is geared to special education, but takes an inclusive perspective.
For students admitted to the new program in fall 2020, KIDZ will provide an important field for practical work. They will be able to test new support and intervention concepts and discuss how these can be effectively integrated into their teaching. For the benefit of research-based teaching, they will also have the opportunity to test participants, conduct additional studies and based on these, write their theses.
“Together with the students at KIDZ it will be possible to investigate a larger number of cases under controlled conditions,” Menke says. She limited her analysis to 60 girls and boys for her doctoral thesis, but is observing their development all the more closely. Using a randomized control group design, she measures the effects before and after the training program to be able to describe them: Have the children become more attentive? How does the intervention affect their motor skills? In what way has their social behavior changed?
Perseverance until the goal has been achieved
“The girls and boys mostly come to the university at the request of their parents or following the advice of schools,” Menke says. Four to five children, who are between six and ten years old, together complete the weekly training, which consists of a total of twelve units. In the beginning, it focuses on becoming aware of one’s own body and centering oneself, for example with a sun salutation from yoga. After stretching and muscle-building exercises, the children are asked to exert themselves more and more - not just for a short moment, but continuously. “Exercise is a very important element here,” Menke says. As in sports, it is generally important to set yourself a goal and persevere until it has been achieved. But that is exactly what is difficult for these children. That’s why they get a family letter for every training session with instructions for exercises they can do at home and tips on how parents can motivate and support them. Another important training element is partner and group games in which the girls and boys have to cooperate, for example in building a human pyramid. “They learn what it means to be able to rely on each other,” she says. Last but not least, the program includes tricky puzzles and concentration exercises, in which several things sometimes have to be mastered at the same time. And each new training session increases the level of difficulty. “Sitting cross-legged and balancing a rocker board with closed eyes demands your full attention. Those who manage this will grow from it.”
KIDZ - the Children’s Intervention and Diagnostic Center - is an institution at the Inclusive Education Department of the University of Potsdam headed by Prof. Satyam Antonio Schramm. Its aim is to combine research, practice, and education. Since 2017, it has been offering diagnostics, support, and counseling for children and adolescents as well as their caregivers with regard to various special-needs priority areas of inclusive education. The aim of KIDZ is to provide practical, research-oriented training for students and to also create effective care services for the region by providing innovative prevention and support concepts.
Prof. Satyam Antonio Schramm studied psychology in Valparaíso (Chile) and Oldenburg where he also earned his doctoral degree. Since 2016, he has been Professor for Inclusive Education at the University of Potsdam with a special focus on emotional and social development.
Anne Menke studied special needs education and rehabilitation sciences in Hanover. Since 2017, she has been research assistant and doctoral student at the Department for Special Education with a focus on emotional and social development.
This text was published in the university magazine Portal Wissen - One 2021 „Change“ (PDF).