Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Special needs and reading – links and tips for making books and reading more accessible

library 1Although I give more training courses on supporting children and young people with reading difficulties and other special educational needs than almost any other topic, it’s ages since I last blogged about special needs and reading.

I very much like Margaret Meek’s wise words: ‘Children learn to read by experiencing success.’

Clearly it is vital that children who struggle with reading have easy access to books and information that they can read. For significant numbers, reading from a device or computer screen is easier than reading print. Many SEN readers find fiction less daunting than non-fiction. Many like magazines. Lots enjoy picture books and graphic novels. HILO (high interest, low reading age) books are crucial. There are fabulous HILO books by top authors available from Barrington Stoke and other publishers.

I am often asked how to judge the readability of texts. Several systems are obtainable. Unfortunately they tend to contradict each other, and have been found to be largely inaccurate. A far more useful way of judging whether a book is appropriate is to talk to the reader. Readability is by no means only about the words used and the complexity or otherwise of the grammar, though these are important (as are font, text size, illustration and layout of the page). Readability is also about interest. Children with special needs – like everyone else – read more, read better and understand more when they are gripped.

Good, well-stocked libraries are of course extremely important for SEN readers – libraries with lots of accessible books, and no stigma in choosing them. (Please never use the term ‘Easy Reads’.) The photo shows a small part of the library at Wilstead Lower School, where I gave inset last week. I loved seeing children’s work everywhere – gives everyone a sense of ownership.

If you haven’t already seen it, Dive In is a valuable guide for dyslexic and reluctant readers from Dyslexia Action and Barrington Stoke. Well worth checking out the hints and book suggestions. Love Reading 4 Kids has a list of dyslexia-friendly children’s books too.

The Bookmark pages on the BookTrust website are consistently helpful for anyone with an interest in books and disability. I also find Interventions for Literacy and Literacy Action Net useful.

Scottish Book Trust has produced tips on sharing books with young children with additional support needs.

Let me end with another great quote. Peter Young and Colin Tyre tell us ‘Instead of finding out what they [struggling readers] can’t do and giving them a hell of a lot of it, we need to find out what they can do and give them the sense of achievement in doing it.’ Yes!