Moving on…

I’m leaving my dream job. 

Literacy Co-ordinator for DASP (a partnership of 12 first, 3 middle and 1 upper school in the Dorchester Area). 

Running an alternative curriculum for students who come out with me on Tuesdays.

Teaching yr 9 mixed ability English. 

SLE for the Dorset Teacher School Alliance.

And base leader of our specialist, LA funded, provision for students with speech and language difficulties. 

I love every element of my job, the comprehensive, Thomas Hardye School. the staff and the students. 

Why am I leaving? I said to the Head recently that I was having cold feet and how I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. He wisely told me that staff who felt like this were usually the ones who had done the right thing and that it was the teachers moving on with no mixed feelings he worried about more. 

But, the nearer to the end of term it becomes, the sadder I’m feeling about saying goodbye to the students and staff. I am also realising however that I have made the right decision. Much as I adore my job, I spread myself thinly and never quite feel I am doing any of my roles justice. I now know from my involvement with #WomenEd that I can strive for more, that I don’t need to think ‘it would be better if…’. I can dare to keep searching until I am in an even better job. I wanted to be able to focus on a single idea without distractions; I wanted to make a national impact rather than just a school one and I think I’ve found the place to do that in. I have dared to say out loud exactly what I want to achieve and not be concerned that I may sound arrogant, or listen to the voices in my head saying ‘who do you think you are?’. I’m done settling for ‘pretty good’, I want ‘nearly perfect’.
I was invited to join an expert advisory group scrutinising training materials for The Driver Youth Trust (DYT) and was struck by the insistence on including SEND alongside literacy. Their non-profit making values which had one aim; to improve education for children with poor literacy made me want to work with the DYT  as I knew I could have an impact.

After Easter I begin my new role and it’s very exciting. I want to empower teachers in mainstream to support students who have literacy difficulties and get the message across that some simple adjustments to classroom teaching can remove complex barriers to learning. 

The Driver Youth Trust provide free resources on their website. I know as a teacher that ‘free’ is a welcoming word so please take a look. Let DYT know what you think and if there are resources or advice you need, contact us. We’re listening. 
http://www.driveryouthtrust.com

Day 18 – Who needs handwriting anyway? #28daysofwriting – Assistive Technology

Having poor handwriting in the grown up world is not taboo – not like being unable to read anyway. We tend to joke about bad handwriting; doctors and teachers are professions renowned for scruffy handwriting.

For a child with illegible writing in school however it can be utterly miserable – there’s no pride, just shame, frustration and pain as they tire more easily.

I teach handwriting and it can be improved (I find particularly around 14, instruction in cursive writing can make a difference). One idea courtesy of Neil McKay from Action Dyslexia (donhttp://www.actiondyslexia.co.u k) is shaded lined paper – either made in Word or with a ruler and highlighter – just highlight half the line. This makes a real difference for those with visual perceptual difficulties. Some schools have asked the reprographics department to print booklets for students.

While I advocate the teaching of reading and handwriting I still maintain that barriers should be removed as much as possible to level the playing field.

Most schools allow students to word process these days, in fact if the student is to type for exams, they must, as it needs to be their normal way of working.

Typing on a laptop however does not allow (without considerable effort anyway) the student to fill in worksheets, exam papers or forms.

If only there was a way to take a picture of a form and then type into it……there is and it’s free.

Snaptype has been designed by Occupational Therapists and it’s fab (Thank you to @fiona_peters1 for telling me about this app).

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There is also ClaroPDF which does cost but is a bit fancier – you can upload a PDF, type in it and then use Daniel to read it out to you in text-to-speech.

I’m wondering how long it will be before this can be used in exams – would be perfect for many students.

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So please look out for those students with illegible handwriting – are they reaching their full potential? Or are they in a lower set due to being judged on handwriting rather than ability? Can we take the handwriting out of the equation to see how well they do without it?

Would love to hear any good news stories about these apps and how they’re used in schools.

Day 14 – Assistive Technology – VoiceDream – #28daysofwriting

Wow, we’re half way through. When I started this I wasn’t really sure if I’d make the 28 days but I’m feeling more confident now.

It’s a real discipline to write everyday and I’ve enjoyed it.

I have had a brilliant response from people for the assistive technology series – thanks to all those who have chatted, retweeted and encouraged me.

I love the collaborative nature of @staffrm – it feels positive; sharing and caring. Ah stop me I’m becoming sentimental but really, this is why I’m in teaching and why I love education.

Back to the iPad and VoiceDream.

Yesterday I looked at in-built accessibility for the iPad (Day 13) and I have covered free electronic copies of your class text books from Load2Learn (Day 8).

VoiceDream is an advanced reader – £6.99 on app store.

http://www.voicedream.com

It will read any text – you can open PDFs and docs within the application and it has a browser function too.

You can use a variety of colours to highlight background page, the row, the word before it’s read and the word after it’s read.

A great feature is Original layout and Text layout – the images below show the doc in the two formats by just a tap of the screen.

There are various voices and you can change the speed.

Something which is hugely important for some students is blanking out the text so only a small part is visible. VoiceDream gives you the choice of 5 lines, 3 lines or 1. (Lines Visible)

The first image show 1 line highlighted with widened character spacing.

Character spacing may be important for your poor readers – there is some tentative research showing that character spacing (not just size of text) can help.

There are many other features; translation, autoscroll and it’s easy to use.

I would definitely recommend this text to speech app- it’s thorough, has been carefully thought about and built with love I think.

Appropriate on Valentine’s Day.

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Day 12 – Clicker6 – Assistive Technology – #28daysofwriting

Crick has a very big stand at Betts. They are a very big company in the SEN world. This can make you suspicious – is it all flashy bang wallop?

I don’t think so, in fact I think Clicker is one of the best Assistive Technologies for young, struggling readers and writers. I’m not on commission – I do have a free copy but in my job I get free copies from all companies so this is not unusual – no, completely without personal gain and, I hope, not being lured in by the mega company status (although they did give away lovely cup cakes this year at Betts) I think Clicker6 is marvellous.

Crick give excellent support once you’ve bought the product with a huge online library of learning grids already prepared. These cover most of the curriculum and are being constantly updated.

Two downsides:

1. Cost – so if you invest make sure proper training is given to staff and students to maximise impact.

2. To use all its features it can be complicated for the staff (not for the student) it’s the preparation of learning grids etc – Clicker offer whole day training events – I should go on one really – so again, if you’re going to invest, I would send someone on the training.

There’s nothing worse than seeing great tech bought in a school and then no-one using it. I bore myself going on about this – especially when I see students struggling who would benefit from something in the cupboard which no one knows how to use.

So, what is it?

Clicker6 is a child-friendly, word processor with an advanced text predictor, excellent text-to-speech and with word banks and learning grids. For me, this is what makes Clicker6 so special – you can create a word bank for any subject then the student can toggle between a normal key pad and the pressing of whole words linked to the subject they are studying. It speeds up the writing process because the student doesn’t need to type every letter. The software reads it back easily, so the student is constantly writing and reading what they have written.

Clicker6 has many other features – making books, phonics lessons and a built in camera and library of pictures.

Who is it for?

Clicker6 is generally aimed at the younger student; I would use up to approx year 6/7 depending on the maturity and ability of the student.

After this, other software might be a better option (toolbar and speech recognition – see days 3, 4, 9 & 11).

Crick do offer four apps however, one of which, WriteOnline is very useful for secondary aged students – I will blog about these separately in my #28daysofwriting – Assistive Technology blog series.

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Day 11 – ClaroReadplus – Assistive Technology -#28daysofwriting

I’ve written about a free text-to-speech (Balabolka day 4) and how it’s incorporated into MyStudyBar (also free Day 3). I’ve written about a commercial one (ReadWriteGold day 9). Now it’s the turn of Claroreadplus – another paid for toolbar.

The choice between this and ReadWrite is mainly preference (I think ReadWrite is a little more intuitive).

Claroread’s features include:

Text-to-speech – will read documents, email and Internet

Reads 30 languages

Word prediction (including high frequency words, phonetic and learns subject specific

Spellcheck including homophones

Dictionary and thesaurus

A listen later option to read text into an audio file

Scanning OCR function

Includes ClaroIdeas – mind mapping, a ScreenRuler and ClaroCapture – captures images and text from web pages and documents for references

clarosoftware.com/cl…

Claro offer a 15 free trial

Day 10 – AudioNotetaker – Assistive Technology – #28daysofwriting

Prefer your notes in audio? That’s all very well but it’s difficult to go back to organise and highlight relevant sections.

This great piece of kit treats audio like text and it’s a brilliant idea.

I first discovered AudioNotetaker by Sonocent at Betts 14 and have watched them grow since.

Good products do and the proof in the pudding is use and popularity I think.

I must be honest, while I love AudioNotetaker, I am still getting my head round it but it’s partly having time and the need to use it – I can really see its potential. For high order skills mixed with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, I think this is enabling.

Here’s a quick video describing what it does:

youtu.be/ms5XQFIdwnQ

Also Sonocent do regular webinars and would do one for you if you ask nicely I’m sure.
OK, this is advanced tech but for some, it could make their studying life so much easier.

Does your school use Planet eStream? This would be perfect alongside AudioNoteTaker.

And if you don’t mind being recorded, your lecture notes would be useful – especially for revision.

A few other videos for interest.

youtu.be/naQTCdk2gbY

youtu.be/8MWZHSDY2X0

And here’s their website:

sonocent.com/en/the_…

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Day 9 – Assistive Tech – ReadWriteGold #28daysofwriting

TextHelp is one of the biggest commercial providers for text-to-speech and their ReadWriteGold is very fancy.

You know we’re always moaning about white goods? Knowing that washing machines do a gazillion things but we only use the 40 degree mixed wash?

ReadWriteGold is a little like this – yes it reads text to you but my goodness it does so much more.

When I show teachers they often comment that they would like it for teaching – it does do smashing stuff which is why it costs money compared to the (still very good) free MyStudyBar. (Day 4 blog).

It’s worth talking to TextHelp though as there are options – site license etc (I don’t do money so I can’t expand).

What it does:

Reads text and has screen capture to read from the Internet

Predictive text (including prediction from a word bank)

Homophone checker

Verb checker

Similar words

Dictionary – reads definitions

Spell checker

A lovely picture dictionary which can stay at corner of screen – if a student types ‘globe’ a picture of globe comes up

A particular favourite of mine – a tense checker – you can put ‘drive’ in for instance and all options come up with a clock to show past, present etc (dyslexia is a language impairment and tenses can be tricky)

A pdf aloud option

A scanner – scan anything in and it can turn into a word document (even a picture of text from your phone)

Various tint screen, screenmask and ruler options

Translator -French, German, Spanish and Italian

Great highlighting tool – you can highlight sections in 4 different colours then the tool bar will collate then into the separate colours

A fact folder – great for bibliography (includes hyperlinks and pictures)

A key word collector – will pick out words from a document

Speech maker – audio/MP3

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some features but my 28 minutes are up.

If you want to invest in a toolbar – this really is a great one and worth asking for a trial.

Oh, I forgot – there is a teacher setting to switch off the dictionary etc for exams. Don’t forget students can now use a screen reader for the reading section in English paper but NOT a human reader.

http://www.texthelp.com/north-america/our-products/readwrite/features-pc/reading-support

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