I got in a taxi the other day and the driver asked why I was in Norwich. When I explained that I was giving a course on making reading attractive to children and young people with special educational needs, he told me about his literacy difficulties. Despite not getting on at all well at school, he managed to teach himself to read with Winnie the Pooh. His family got so sick of reading it to him time after time, he set to work to do it himself. He had the book on loan from the library for a year, but he got there. He still has a very soft spot for Winnnie the Pooh. Writing and spelling were another matter. It wasn’t until he was 42 that he was diagnosed with dyslexia. He was a very inspiring man, determined not to let his problems get in the way of what he wanted to achieve.
It was interesting in this context that so many of the discussions on the course focused on finding the individual approach that works for each child. With a mix of KS2 and 3 teachers, TAs and librarians from both mainstream and special schols masses of good practice was shared. We talked about discovering what most fascinates each child, and producing reading materials to suit. Reading buddies who empathise with and support them can make a huge difference. Several delegates shared successful strategies involving visual aids: videos, photos, puppets and artefacts can really help comprehension and enjoyment. Audio books in guided reading have been very effective in one school, giving children with reading problems access to books they cannot yet read for themselves. Assistive technologies are tremendously useful, whether it’s something as simple as the right coloured overlay, or e-books, which have made reading enjoyable for the first time for so many children. There were lots of ideas for making the library more SEN-friendly, and very useful methods for involving parents and carers and the wider family. I especially like the idea of home/school reading challenges which value all sorts of reading: cereal packets, maps, recipes, magazines and lots more. It was good too to talk about appropriate ways to spend pupil premium funds. There was avid debate as small groups explored piles of books and discussed their suitability and their potential uses. The one pictured here emerged as a particular hit.
Training on this topic has become the most popular of all my courses. This was a return visit on the subject for Norfolk Schools Library Service, and they’ve already got a waiting list for next time round.