No Excuses

When I watch those videos from the No Excuses schools in the US, I am scanning the room for the type of children I teach. The ones that have sensory difficulties; that really isn’t an excuse.  In fact it’s probably one of the most research heavy areas there is in SEND.

I see the ones who look slightly bewildered; that’s not an excuse either. The pace of some of the teachers’ chorusing would not be helping those with slow processing and/or language learning impairments. 

And I see the eye tracking thing.  Eye contact is very difficult for some students with autism (also not an excuse) and I often ask teachers who say a child is never listening whether they’ve checked by asking them. Some students (often with ADHD in my experience) might be concentrating when they are not looking at the teacher. Others are really listening while playing with Lego or fiddling with play doh. In fact,sometimes I think that when you ask a child to look at the teacher it might be when she is listening the least: have they noticed the mole on an eyebrow? Are they looking at the detail of a patterned shirt?

And then I see the students who are not following the words to the songs, and the chants and the recitals because they can’t remember the words; they are pretending by moving their mouths but they’re out of sync with the rest. These are the ones that are just about coping. I wonder however about the ones who have walked out, sworn at the teachers, won’t sit still, won’t keep quiet, I wonder about them – where are they? They exist, I know they do.  

What makes it better for children who struggle is a differentiated curriculum, an understanding of their needs, strategies to recognise why they blow and places to go when they do. Reasonable adjustments are not excuses.  

Dyslexia – How to help in Secondary School

Dyslexia – How to Help in Secondary School


My last blog explained the current definition for Dyslexia/Rose’09. .

Next week I will look at Dyslexia – How to help in Primary

What are the Indicators? requested by @suecowley will be the following week.


‘If you get SEN right in school you raise achievement for all.’


‘I know what to say but I can’t get it down on paper’ – students with dyslexia often say this and it impacts on writing.

I like the comparison to index cards: the idea that all the information is there but not in a neat, A-Z sequential order, rather, it is thrown all over the floor.

Concept mapping may be useful – it’s the ability to brainstorm first and then begin to plan thoughts into a linear, more ordered structure.  I love a programme called Inspiration This allows you to plan in a mind map or spider diagram and then press a button which changes it to a linear format.  I applied for my current job using this and it made the whole process less overwhelming.


Post-it notes are good too as they can be moved around; as a whole group exercise try putting them on different walls in the classroom – this really helps to cluster themes into subheadings/paragraphs etc.

Word processing helps due to being able to cut and paste – it takes away the finality of writing – think of those students who are constantly crossing things out, moving paragraphs around with arrows, using asterisks to add bits in.

Obviously grammar and spell checker is also an advantage.  Be aware of students who appear to have a wide vocabulary when they talk and yet their writing does not reflect this – it may just be that they try to use words they are confident in spelling.


Don’t assume students cannot comprehend what they are reading even if they cannot decode out loud to you.  I know this is controversial but I come across students with dyslexia who have single word reading scores in the ‘well below average’ range but comprehension in the ‘average’ range.  It is not reading in the decoding sense but it is reading.

Teaching reading skills to someone with dyslexia should be phonics based however,  due to phonological difficulties, learning words by sight is easier for many but this will not give them strategies to decode words they don’t recognise.  I advocate (but many disagree with me) a balanced approach. This encourages learning a bank of sight words for automaticity and fluency alongside a more structured, cumulative, multi-sensory phonics programme.

‘Oral language is the precursor to reading’ Snowling ’13.

Although students with dyslexia need support with letter-sound correspondence and phonological awareness, this will not help reading comprehension.  Dyslexia is a language based impairment so here, oral language is key.  And there is bucket loads of research to show spoken language work improves comprehension.

(There is however a difference between poor decoders/good comprehenders and good decoding/poor comprehension – crudely speaking the former may be dyslexic and the latter may have language impairment but there are many overlapping difficulties which does not make it so clear cut).

This by Snowling and Hulme explains far better than I can.

For a more practical look at language in schools, Chris Chivers’ blog is worth reading.  In fact for good, inclusive strategies all his blogs are useful.  In fact he should be in charge of education full stop.


While I think I can teach pretty much everyone to read, I do not believe this is the case for spelling.  Of course I am describing the very severe cases; for most while their spelling may never be perfect; they can get by with ‘near enough’. (a term coined by Neil McKay 2014)

  • Use colour – colour phonic codes, colour vowel sounds, colour different sections of the word – hell, colour everything.
  • Vowels are really important to teach and telling students that words cannot exist without them (including y) is too. Many students I see struggle with the spell checker or predictive text to help them as they miss vowels out.  Library for instance might be written ‘lbry’ which a computer won’t pick up
  • Chunking syllables maybe more useful to older students than phonic codes – if you examine your worst spellers in an Upper school/college setting, look to see if they have used the correct amount of syllables.  Often students with dyslexia will be quite a way off – recently a boy had written ‘fart’ meaning to write ‘favourite’.  The main letters are there and in order but it is only one syllable.
  • Prefix /root word/suffix – this is sometimes a useful strategy to build words ­and linked to word derivation makes it great for key words in subject areas.  Quick question for you with the word du jour on twitter at the moment.  What does meta mean? Now put in the root word and suffix for English – meta/physic/al poets and for study – meta/cognition – this deep analysis of words is interesting and may appeal (you’ll see at the top of the pictures I use a beautifully drawn stick person lying down – head/prefix – body/root and legs/suffix).



  • For subject key words – etymology can help – in Romeo and Juliet – Benvolio (good) and Malvolio (bad)  in Twelth Night – link to other words with same prefix – benevolent, malpractice etc
  • Proof reading – this can be a real nightmare for those with dyslexia – they may not be able to ‘see’ the errors.  I have found using something like Balabolka ( a text-to-speech app which highlights the words as it reads) can be really useful for proofreading or, try turning text into an MP3 so students can listen to it  (thank you to @JaPenn56 for this question).

Revision strategies (thanks to @scjmcd for this question)

  • I have mentioned spider diagrams and post-it notes – I think they help.
  • Turning text into MP3s allows students to listen to revision notes (Balabolka will do this and it’s free)
  • Help with time management and organisation – both these can be issues for those with dyslexia, so advice on  ‘how and when’ to revise is beneficial
  • Students may struggle to filter relevant detail for exam style essays so lots of practice with structuring and planning without having to necessarily write the essay each time
  • Mnemonics are like marmite but often loved  by students with dyslexia
  • Narrative – having a hook to remember information – ‘tights come down for stalactites’ (sorry but I never forgot once my Geography teacher told me this)
  • Using songs to help with remembering poetic strategies:

‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’ – pathetic fallacy

‘Lady Luck and Sister Vanity were not easy to ignore, opened up a door and let me in’ – personification

‘Light up like a candle burning when he calls me up, melt down like a candle burning every time we touch’ – simile.

More questions sourced by twitter

@Podgainy­_j – ‘How to verify the knowledge gap is shrinking?’

This is a tricky one – I have written about the Matthew Effect for poor readers here

Again, oral language is key: exposing children to books in other ways such as audio, reading to them, text-to-speech for subject based information.  These would all help but I don’t know if we can verify the knowledge gap is shrinking?  Stanovich argues that crystallised intelligence is affected by reading difficulties so you may wish to look at this.  (Does reading make you smarter/

@rashush2 ‘interventions or not? If yes, what helps?’

I have mixed feelings about this – if as much as possible can be done via Quality First teaching then brilliant.  Some students however do need support and 1:1 teaching by a specialist teacher is the Rolls Royce of interventions.  Small group work will never be able to pinpoint precisely each student’s difficulties but it is obviously a cheaper option.

What helps I have discussed above – what doesn’t help however is untrained staff.  This can actually do more harm than good.  The children with the most persistent difficulties need the highest quality support.

@evenicola1 ‘Is technology the answer?’

Assistive Technology has transformed the lives of many people with dyslexia.  There’s text-to-speech, speech-to-text, concept mapping, predictive text, even Captura now where you can take a photograph of any text and have it read to you. (I will blog on Assistive Technology)

I like the new livescribe pen which records lessons, allows you to handwrite and then change it to text with a swipe. One of my students has this and it’s wonderful.

All these technologies remove barriers to learning and often allow students to show what they are capable of without being disabled by reading and writing difficulties.

A few interesting Research morsels from The Dyslexia Debate – Professor Elliot

“Good interventions in early years reduces later incidence of problems but those left are more resistant”

“Effective interventions for young children result in lower success rates for adolescents with reading difficulties”.

“Phonics more efficacious for younger kids but still works for older children pp 127-129 and p 136 onwards but require more work with language and comprehension”.

This has became a marathon blog (hence why I’ve dealt with identification and primary separately) – if you have got to end – phew, well done.  Thanks for all those who asked questions, I hope I have answered some.

Break Prohibition – Welcome to my Speekeezee


This is how Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) works:

  • Fast and Furious
  • No other method
  • Do not look at pictures for clues
  • Do not guess – must sound out
  • Consistent, persistent, insistent – not a plethora of games and random strategies – that’s called mixed methods which is illegal.
  1. If it doesn’t work you just carry on until it does.
  2. If it still doesn’t work you are not doing it properly.
  3. If you think another method may work better or complement SSP you can’t. Remember no mixed methods.

Under the current prohibition any method of teaching reading which is not SSP is banned. So, I’m going underground – come to my Speakeasy where I will list some practical tips on teaching those students who just don’t seem to be progressing.

1. Taming Tricky Words Taming_Tricky_Wo_4cf04d1b6b40c_85x120

This is great and allows pupils to learn those high frequency words which are more irregular and cannot be decoded easily.   It gives them a self-esteem boost and in half a term a good bank of words allowing them to at least access some of the text based curriculum if phonics, past learning initial letter sounds is proving a challenge.

How it works

You show student a picture – example traffic lights and then read the word in a sentence.

So ‘go’ is ‘When the lights are green the cars can go’. The student learns to read words by association. IMG_0173

2. Direct Phonics

Actually this is a synthetic phonics programme but introduces a small amount of sight words with each book. It also combines phonic instruction with oral language and ensures students have opportunity for speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Book 1 – introduces letter sounds and CVC words, they blend and segment from the start. The other books (2 & 3) move through cumulatively with consolidation activities ending with polysyllabic words.  It introduces reading and writing and activities are linked to the reading materials.  Direct Phonics is very repetitive.  It’s simple to use and designed to be done in 20 minute chunks.

I particularly like this for older students who have reading difficulties.

3. Rapid Readers (RRs)

Cleverly designed to use the language students can read, then adds in some ‘tricky words’ which you go over together before they begin reading. They also have pictures and a summary at the beginning which teacher and student can go over together for a hook in.


And they experience reading fluently which feels like magic – it is a joy to see. There’s fact and fiction in each book and little exercises at the end on spelling, comprehension, phonics and a joke which I always laugh at and the older students look at me like I’m an idiot.

The books are age appropriate too which makes them ideal for secondary age. Rapid Readers and Rapid Plus also come with a CD to work with the book online (reading, recording etc) and some worksheets.

pedal_power_b rapid reader rapid reader

5. Swap cards

Again, phonic based (see, I’m not that bad) but a game (boo).

These are a staple in my kit (I even have a couple of boxes in my handbag for random opportunities to practise) –  they are loved by all my students – all ages.

There is every phonic pattern known to woman in SWAP cards.  Each player has seven cards and the winner is the one who gets rid of their cards first.  The words are colour coded so in this picture it is the ‘oo’ sound.  ‘oo’ is brown, ‘ue’ is blue and ‘ui’ is red etc.  The idea is you lay same colour cards down until you run out.  Each time you put a card down you have to say the word (important or it’s pointless).  If you run out but have a SWAP card, you can change to a different colour.


6. Minute a Day

A simple resource and good for homework.    These are phonic and sight word photocopiable sheets which encourage the student to read words or phonic patterns quickly in a minute.


7. Stiles

A nice game where you match numbers and patterns. It’s called a self-checking tray where students’ answers match a number. If they are correct students will be able to match the geometric pattern. Books come with phonic patterns, maths, comprehension – all sorts.


8. Barrington Stoke Books
Ah, these are age appropriate loveliness for older students – written with a larger font and better spacing, they sometimes do the trick to ‘get the buggers to read’ (thank you @suecowley for this phrase)


You’ve been attending my Speakeasy. Thanks for joining.

iPad apps I’d recommend for SEND – Primary

Last week I wrote about apps for Secondary SEND. This is a list for primary – there are many overlaps so excuse any repetition. I have also left some off such as BookCreator and iMovie so you may want to look through the Secondary list for some general apps.

There are loads so I’ve chosen a selection.

Cambugs 1/2
These are great apps to use diagnostically and for learning. Cambugs 1 is for letter sounds and Cambugs 2 for common digraphs and a trigraph ‘igh’.

What I like about this is that it has a sound hint so students, TAs, teachers and parents can all hear the correct sound. Many adults don’t know the pure phonic sounds and may include a schwa; ‘mer’ instead of a clipped ‘mm’ for instance. It means we are all sounding out from the same phonic song sheet so to speak.
The children love this app too as they collect a bug for every sound they learn.

Clicker Connect
This is a writing app with word banks and pictures for each word. You can even colour code sentence parts (I love a bit of colour me).


It has Text-to-Speech so students can hear single words or sentences being read in a synthetic voice.

There are so many other features, good support and free resources from Crick, the makers
of Clicker.

My favourite Maths app by far and it’s free. The visuals are superb and the idea great. Students journey through countries and when they have completed scenes they gain the country’s flag.


Dexteria apps
Designed by Occupational Therapists, these apps are a great addition to a writing programme. They concentrate on fine motor skills through squishing squashes and pinching peppers then crabs.


Twinkl Phonic Suite
Activities and games from Phase 1 to Phase 5 of Letters and Sounds. Includes DFE guidance and videos (handy to show volunteers and TAs)


I love this but a colleague of mine called it an abomination. For some kids though making blending, chunky, visual and noisy can make them just get it – maybe they could use headphones!


Modmaths – a brilliant app recommended to me by @fiona_peters1. It allows those with poor handwriting to record workings out without having to worry about reading their writing.


Hairy Letters
A good letter writing app appealing to young children. I have to admit to preferring to write my own using Paper53 and Explain Everything but for those really struggling with direction and formation this is quite cute.


Spellosaur and Spellosaur 400
Superb app where students can add spellings, record them and then do five, increasingly difficult games.




This is a good app to create visual timetables. You can create your own, include a timer and photographs from school or student’s teaching staff etc. If a student with autism has use of an iPad then I think this should be part of the toolkit.


Gah, there are so many but I’m going to finish with a recommendation from @SimonKnight100 for this bonkers app which I used for the first time today. Simon says his school use it for phonics, MFL, articulation skills, “the list is endless”. I tried using it with two students chunking com/pu/ter and com/pli/ca/ted etc following some work on suffixes. The results were very funny and the students were engaged and learning (I think).


Happy apping 🙂

Let’s get vis-u-al


Drawing an incident for a student with social communication difficulties is a revealing way to find out how the situation had been interpreted by them, and what might have triggered an unwanted behaviour.

Before the iPad I just used paper but now my app of choice is Paper53; designed for architects so I imagine my match stick people are virtual heresy.

It comes from Carol Gray’s Comic Strip conversations (author of Social Stories). Rather than using them to explain social situations before an event however I often use them to unpick an incident.

The more forensic the investigation, the more successful the analysis becomes and the more the student begins to link behaviours to triggers (making the connection is often difficult for a child on the Autistic Spectrum).

*I have changed parts of these stories to protect individuals but I hope they still reflect the usefulness of this approach*



This student had a melt down during registration and began running round then hiding under a table, refusing to come out.

The picture was interesting as we used colour to show feelings. The student was still red under the table – not feeling calm (blue) until we were chatting in another area. I had assumed under the table was a safe haven but anxiety levels were still high.

The main benefit of these pictures for the student was linking his anxiety and subsequent behaviour with the disappointment of not receiving the prize.


This student was in trouble for hitting another student.

She told me this had happened:


During our comic strip conversation it transpired that while she was going to her lesson some older students had thrown something at her.  She had not told anyone about this incident – to her they were unrelated.


During our session she asked me ‘do you think I might have hit him because my neck was still hurting?’.  Of course there is still no excuse for what she did but it is a significant piece of the social jigsaw which needed to be made explicit.

We talked about what choice she could have made:


The student thought that as her neck was still hurting (red dot), she could have gone to a member of staff to tell them what had happened.

Further Education


This student found drawing comic strips really useful and we would do one every time I saw him.  I probably learned as much as he did during these tutorials.

Here he explained how he’d got upset as he hadn’t understood the instructions during a practical work based session.  Many thought bubbles were linked to too much information, too much happening around him and the perception that everyone else knew what they were doing except for him.

We came up with targets such as asking staff to give instructions one at a time or asking a peer for help.

Comic Strips are not useful to reprimand a student but are great to explore triggers for a behaviour.

And you don’t need to be good at drawing as I demonstrate perfectly.

#sen tweeters


Here is a list I have compiled of #SEN tweeters – happy to keep adding, so please let me know of any – thank you

Featured image by @ChrisChivers2




@AntonyPowerMM @AdeleDevine @TheAsplands



@ASTsupportAAli @DownsSideUp @ria1984

@SENICT @SpcialNdsJungle @AspieDeLaZouch
@HeadTBAP @IPSEAcharity @kennygfrederik
@julesdaulby @OrangeJuiceSky @Carwardenhouse
@davewhitaker246 @NigelUtten @FuturesRosie@robjames09
@nancygedge @HumansNotRobots @springwellcss
@HYWEL_ROBERTS @90_maz @cazzypot
@MsOatcake @jwinchester25 @dansthunderbolt
@Mishwood1 @Lose_the_label @DiaryAutism
@wclou @trinityfieldsit @hdssg1 @jarlathobrien
@cherrylkd @judeenright @Nichola80
@copyiswritten @DrKateSaunders @deevybee @daisyrah @julianelliot11
@techczech @SpLDSpecialist @nasen_org @snowdropbooks
@SENChatUK @ChrisChivers2 @mathmatical
@JosephBaldwin @educationbear
@Teachanana @nmgilbrid @AmyPortier2



@MissBsResources @Markfinnis @JuliaGawn