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

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The Last Post (on this anyway)

I’m responding to this where @thinkreadtweet replies to a blog I wrote about dysteachia.

We’re in danger of playing ping pong at who is the most successful at teaching children to read I know. But @thinkreadtweet says children with low intelligence cannot be taught to read and I vehemently disagree.  I’ve taught lots of students with SEN to read in special schools, FE college and in mainstream. To imagine children of a lower IQ can’t learn to read would be dreadful – I’d definitely be marching to a different tune if this were the case.

The trouble is when you attempt to highlight the exception rather than the rule you can get backed into a corner with a seemingly ridiculous stance:

‘No-one can read, there is nothing we can do for the poor loves’

The other side, the ones who insist everyone (who is clever enough) can read and dyslexia does not exist, become the do gooders.
‘I am challenging the low expectations of teachers who refuse to help these poor souls, this soft bigotry is why there’s an achievement gap between rich and poor – it’s not dyslexia it’s dysteachia bla bla’

I’ve had similar discussions regarding synthetic phonics. 

Me: ‘obviously phonics is an evidenced base route to reading but it’s not so simple – reading is complex, 50% of early vocabulary is irregular, oral language is key, analytic phonics really helps many children and we need familiarity of exception words. Creating a high stakes phonics check for year 1 teachers where the success of it is linked to their pay may mean a disproportionate amount of time is spent on learning how to decode ‘jound’ rather than immersing children into a language rich environment surrounded by real books (OK I went on a bit there).

Them: “Heretic – phonic denialist – you and your soft bigotry is why this country is riddled with illiteracy – it’s teachers like you who have caused the massive gap between the rich and poor’.

And so it goes on…

Progressive = Blob

Traditionalist = Tory 

Knowledge curriculum = Rows and Rote

Discovery Learning = chucked in a swimming pool when you can’t swim

I know we are getting into a cyclical argument of doom here so, I will correct a few inaccuracies in @thinkreadtweet’s post, watch Monty Python, then go to bed.  I’ve no doubt we will have to agree to disagree after this.

Firstly, my post where this all started suggested (for an articulate boy with dyslexia) a 1:1 systematic and cumulative reading programme alongside being taught with his typically developing peers in a mainstream English class. I did not say he wouldn’t learn to read but implied that putting him in a bottom set for English with students who, although read better than him, did not understand as well as him, was not addressing his specific needs.  

Secondly, Professor Julian Elliot never said discrepancy does not exist; he argues that using this as the sole marker for dyslexia, as a model, is unscientific and discriminatory. The Rose report showed that dyslexia can affect students across the ability range and cannot be identified via a pure discrepancy model but by deficits in phonological awareness, short term memory and rapid automatic naming. This does not however mean that there are no students who will have a disparity between their cognitive ability and reading/spelling. Of course these students exist! (And I imagine these are the ones Andrew was referring to when discussing non-responders).

Thirdly – Assistive Technology is not just for the physically disabled – what nonsense. There are many students (and lecturers) with specific learning difficulties at university using equipment such as Dragon Dictate.

Fourthly – when I write a post encouraging people to go to university despite having difficulties with reading and writing, how can that be low expectations? Especially when the other student I used as an example was going to be excluded because his dyslexia was ignored. 

As I repeatedly say, reading can be taught but many with dyslexia will still suffer from a lack of fluency or poor spelling – it is a life long condition. We try our hardest nevertheless to remediate the deficits. 

Day 28 – logic or instinct – let tech help – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting

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Well I’ve come to the end of my 28 day series. An idea started by @tombarrett and picked up and run with by @staffrm, @mrlockyer & @pepsmccrea.

And the final push I needed was @ictevangelist’s tweet offering a free Staffrm mug for anyone who manages the full #28daysofwriting.

I have been encouraged daily by @digitaldaisies who preferred the free kit blogs of the first 8 days. Penny works for a seriously underfunded alternative provision with very slow broadband – she writes about it here. digitaldaisies.wordpress.com/2…

@rondelle has also followed the series with lots of encouraging comments. @hrogerson has asked pertinent questions which prompted a blog from Foldr about eportfolios.

And the wonderful @Sue_Cowley has cheered from the sidelines writing 28 Days midway after someone was critical of the idea; concerned it produced poor quality writing. suecowley.wordpress.com/2015/0…

My SEN buddies, @cherrylkd, @nancygedge, @aspiedelazouche, @rachelrossiter and @chrischivers have been great retweeters.

I have made new friends on Twitter through the growing and lovely @staffrm. I have been invited to speak at an event in London, for a coffee and chat in Bristol and learned of new assistive technologies and iPad apps.

Writing is a bit of a demon for me; I’ll never find it easy and to complete the #28daysofwriting I needed to make it chatty – discursive essays take me too long – perhaps the complainer had a point.

Two awards from me, the first goes to the funniest – @ellen_ellenboss for a late night post after being out with her department – coming home tipsy she writes about her failure musing on how students feel. Even the # has an error – I love it. staffrm.io/@ellenmerry/bH3j6qA…

Then, dear Rory, @eddiekayshun. He has written poetic, autobiographical and pedagogical blogs. You name it, he’s covered it – I have enjoyed every, single one, especially his Corsican stories.

Oh dear, this has turned into a speech. I’d like to thank my Mum, my dog….

I hope my series has been helpful to some; I know what a difference assistive technology can make. 80% of my job is teaching children how to read, write and spell but despite this, I recognise that they need help to access the curriculum and record their work right now – not once they’ve learned.

It makes sense to help these children; would we deny them glasses or hearing aids?

It’s logical to help them.

RIP Leonard Lemoy

Day 27 – IPad and SEN in Secondary – Assistive Technology – #28daysofwriting

After the iPads & SEN In Secondary course, I like to finish with three points, the best toolkit. problems and take back to school messages.

1. Best toolkit

Here are four options:

i.

Book Creator

Snap Type

Guided Access

Inspiration

Paper53

ii.

Book Creator

Popplet

Jumbled Sentences

Mr Thorne’s

Telling the Time

iii.

Book Creator

Phraseology

Reading Champion

Spell board

Write online

iv.

Book Creator

ModMaths

Guided Access

Spellosaurus

Voice Dream (with Load2Learn)

Speak and prediction enabled in Accessibility and use with Dragon Dictation.

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2. Problems
a) lack of secondary reading apps.

I suggested Reading Champion and Lexia but no fiction. A gap in the market here I think? Gazoom do a lovely Level 1-6 Magic Key series for primary; something age appropriate for secondary would be nice. Any ideas?

b). Sharing work – take pictures, email or print all options but far better is an eportfolio – I mentioned Foldr (foldr.io/blog/2015/02/27/aweso…), Google Drive and Own Cloud – any other ways?

c) Teachers nervous of use – a small demonstration from SENCO or a confident TA to all staff may help.

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3. Take back to School messages

* This tech can enable; it doesn’t replace skills

* Toolkit of apps

* TAs need:

Training so they can help student.

Time to prepare word banks, electronic copies of documents and materials for students.

Access to ipads to practice.

I hope this helps and thanks to the SENCOs and TAs who helped create this.

Day 26 – #5 Simple Tips to Help With Reading from a Screen – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting

#youwillseehowdifficultitistoreadthiswithoutspace

There is a US study which claims to show that increasing the gap between letters may make reading easier for struggling readers. VoiceDream will do this for you (Day 14) but for most students this is not possible.

Some easier steps may help however:

1. A larger font – this can be seen just from children’s books to adult books but if you are showing a lot of text on the whiteboard, it would be useful if the font were 14 or 16 rather than 12.

2. The right font – evenly spaced sans serif font such as Arial or Tahoma is recommended. There is a free font called Open Dyslexic which can be downloaded. It then just sits in the font choices along with all the others in Word. Some students, those who report moving letters particularly, seem to like this font as it is weighted. Others however hate it and prefer Arial. It is worth encouraging students to try different fonts to see if it makes a difference.

3. Changing the background colour – this is one of the easiest things a student can do. Many seem to choose electric blue or pink – no idea why. A few of my students choose a black background with white or orange text. Again, if they say it helps, why not? I like buff – it just reduces the glare of the white background and makes reading less stressful (before anyone rushes to the comments box to tell me there’s no research, I don’t care, it helps me and seems to help the occasional student). Some teachers will change the background colour on their whiteboard to an off white or light pastel colour which is a nice gesture.

4. Underlining – this can really confuse students who struggle to read – not only are they trying to decipher the letters and the word but there’s another bit of print underneath to contend with. ALSO WRITING IN CAPITALS IS DIFFICULT TO READ.

5. Preferable to underlining and italics is to use bold and bullet points. This emphasises text without changing the shape of the letters. Big blocks of text with no obvious break can be difficult to read and breaking it down into smaller sections or text boxes (even with different colours) can help students. 1.5 line spacing helps.

If you want to research this further, work is being done by E.A. Draffan at Southampton University and JISCtechdis offer good advice.

Day 25 – #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology Series

I have been very postive about Assistive Technology so far but it would be dishonest of me to finish this series without admitting to the problems.

People sceptical of tech do have valid concerns and I don’t think I get it right all the time. On top of that, students change – technology they were quite happy to use in primary school may suddenly seem embarrassing in front of the big kids. The school might be larger making it harder to cart around a laptop to various lessons.

These are my top 5 problems.

Problem #1

Insufficient training – the student gives up because no-one has shown him or her how to use it.

Solution – build capacity within the school.

* Give a Teaching Assistant the title of Assistive Technologist – ensure adequate time and training so he or she can become the expert.

* Allow students using this technology to become digital leaders in assistive technology – they can teach younger students.

Problem #2

Teachers will not let student use the technology.

Solution

* a 10 minute presentation to all staff raises awareness of how the technology helps – be clear why a student requires the tech and how it should improve achievement – reassure staff that it is them who will make the final decision but maybe challenge, through debate, if teachers are preventing use due to an ideology rather than the best interests of the child.

Problem #3

IT department put barriers up preventing the efficient use of the technology.

Solution

This is difficult – it is IT’s job to protect the school but it is my job to ensure the tech I provide is fit for purpose. I have had some difficult conversations but usually find there is a solution we are both happy with. Explaining what I need and why, helps – equally I have learned to listen to IT’s concerns and ask questions if I don’t understand. The bottom line is that we are here to help children learn; if we can’t facilitate that then I am concerned. It’s like having a library which won’t lend out books in case people don’t bring them back.

Problem #4

Keeping a record of work and showing progress.

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Solution

@hrogerson raised this question and it is an issue. For students with SEN we ensure the TAs check students have saved worked, sent it to the teacher or printed it out. How to show progress? I can only say screenshot as much as possible and keep in photos. An eportfolio is an idea or Foldr has something called flinks with shared folders (freeyourfiles.co.uk/blog/2015/…). They offer a free trial. Owncloud is an open platform where students can access data from all devices.

@cherrylkd mentioned she uses Evernote to track progress – I’m hoping she may blog on this one day….(grovel grovel).

I don’t have a definitive answer on this I’m afraid.

Problem #5

Student will not use the tech because they don’t want to appear different.

Solution

This needs unpicking – why? What is the problem? Is there something else which would help? A tablet with text prediction may be preferable to voice recognition in the classroom. Or, do they need space to work away from others to use it?

Once all options have been explored and there is still resistance, I’m certainly not going to force it. I don’t think I’ve met a student who has rejected every option though and tablets have made this easier in my opinion.

I am sure there are other problems but I still think technology assists rather than hinders and it can transform some students’ lives.

Day 24 – the right equipment #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology

I have been writing about various technologies in this series so I thought it was time to give some examples of assessments highlighting students’ needs with examples of the type of equipment I’d recommend (these are not real students).

Samuel
Samuel clearly shows good understanding in class and contributes well to discussions. In addition, his spelling and reading are within the average range. This does not appear to reflect in his work however; Samuel is placed at Level 3 to 4 and he is in the lowest set for English.

Samuel’s handwriting maybe one reason for this lack of progress; his writing is difficult to read and he tires quickly. While I recommend he continue with his handwriting lessons, it should be noted that he has received instruction since year 1. Samuel is now in Year 7 and his handwriting has not significantly improved.

To prepare Samuel for word processing his exams, it would be worth encouraging him to use an iPad (with wireless keyboard) or laptop in lessons. This would take handwriting out of the equation. Samuel could type his exams when he reaches Year 11 but it needs to become his normal way of working. By introducing him to word processing now, this should allow him to become competent and fast at touch typing by the time he takes his GCSEs.

Sally
Sally has good verbal ability but her single word reading and spelling scores are in the ‘well below average’ range. This is affecting her accessing the curriculum and recording her work independently. Sally does not like to depend on a TA and, since moving to secondary school, this is becoming more evident. Sally also struggles with organisation and often forgets equipment and homework. This has resulted in a number detentions recently.

It would benefit Sally if she could use one of the school’s iPads with some assistive apps put on for her. I recommend:

‘Write Online’ so she can write using predictive text and have her writing read out.

VoiceDream which would allow her to have her text books read to her using text-to-speech. These should be downloaded from Load2Learn by her Teaching Assistant so Sally can access them easily in class.

Popplet would be useful for spider diagrams.

Dragon Dictate so Sally can talk into her iPad and it will type for her.

Merriam Webster dictionary so she can ask for any word to be spelled or to have the definition read to her.

There are also a number of organisational apps which may help Sally. Homework app to record her homework and set reminders. Timetable app so she can keep it on her iPad (Sally has lost her planner twice this term) or MyStudyLife, which is for scheduling, tasks and events.

John
John has Cerebal Palsy and cannot use his writing arm efficiently; he also struggles to sit comfortably requiring a specialised chair. In addition John has poor working memory and his skills in reading and spelling are in the low average range. His verbal skills are good and allowing for extra time to process, his understanding excellent. John is in Year 6 and it is important, at this stage, we enable him to work independently as much as possible. These recommendations are to include software he will use when he moves up to secondary school in Year 7.

I recommend:

A 15’4 screen laptop to enable clear vision when moving around.

Dragon Naturally speaking 12.5 (Nuance)

Headset with good proximity mic – wireless free due to movement in specialised chair – Bluetooth Voyager Pro UC – Planatronics

ReadWriteGold 11

Inspiration

AudioNotetaker

I hope this has given you a flavour of the type of technologies available for the various needs of students. It is about removing the barriers to enable learning.

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