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Pathway 1: Special education classroom for students with cognitive disabilities

This section is a real-life story of a professional experienced working with vulnerable children and youth. He has hacked and found a relevant pathway through the SELMA Toolkit. We hope this story will inspire you to do the same.

“I work in a special education classroom with seven boys aged 12-14 years, who all have cognitive and attentive challenges, primarily ADHD.

The challenges the students have, are, naturally, expressed in different ways. But as a group they all have in common high levels of impulse controlled behaviour and they struggle to filter and process stimuli and experiences.

This happens across all settings and communities, but in our experience, the students are particularly challenged in online communities, where, unfortunately, their behaviour often results in conflict, with them as offenders.

The SELMA Toolkit fits well with our curriculum, as many of our students more or less willingly expose themselves to, or participate in, the spreading of hate speech. This is due to the fact that they have difficulty deciphering online social codes and the consequences of their own behaviour.

So far we have been working with ‘Theme 1’: getting an understanding of what hate speech is and what it does to ourselves and others. This has been a very positive experience, and therefore we will explore some of the other themes as well.

We have used the SEL warm-up exercise ‘Naming and Sorting Emotions’. In order to make the exercise more manageable we changed it to using 12 emotions instead of 20. Our students have a hard time defining emotions which may seem easily recognisable to others. Too many different emotions would make this an unmanageable task. We want to challenge our students while at the same time making sure that they have the possibility of succeeding. It is okay if they have to stand on their tippy toes to reach a goal. But the goal must never be completely out of reach.

We have also added an extra element to the exercise. After having categorised the 12 emotions we let the students take pictures of each other expressing the 12 emotions. We then asked them to put the pictures on the RULER diagram together with the words. The purpose was to give the students an extra opportunity to identify and get acquainted with the different emotions, and to express themselves in a creative way.

We proceeded to the SEL exercise ‘Matching Emotions to Hate Speech’, which we completed as described, with the only change being, that we used the 12 words from before instead of the full set of 20.

After this we continued with the ‘Media Analysis’ focus, with the main ‘Xorg the Xenovian’ activity. Or that is, we did an exercise according to the same principle, but from the point of view of a 14-year-old boy who plays video games. We looked at specific examples of phrases gamers were launching at each other whilst gaming – for this, we took some screenshots online. We took this approach because we feel it is important to approach the topic within a context our students can relate to. And since all the students in this group are active gamers, these examples are both relevant and recognisable.

We proceeded to talk about what hate speech is with help from the ‘Media Production’ exercise ‘What is hate speech to us?’ We used the simple definition on the second slide. We spent an extended amount of time distinguishing general hateful comments from actual hate speech, and once again used screenshots of in-game comments as specific examples.

In this exercise we focused solely on trying to understand the definition, and did not produce our own. Instead we spent some more time changing the hate speech comments we had found, so they became more acceptable to use while at the same time expressing the emotion of, for instance, anger – an emotion several of the boys know very well, because they often experience it in gaming situations.

Our overall goal is to provide the students with tools to defuse conflictual emotions and situations. At the same time, we recognise this is a very challenging task for them. For this reason, we feel it is important to give our students concrete and more positive alternatives to hate speech, to avoid them using hateful comments to vent their frustrations.”