Monday, 10 December 2012

Special educational needs and libraries (plus HILO books)

I very much enjoyed giving training in Cornwall this week on the library and special educational needs. While I was there I saw the Cornwall Education Library Services mobile, which tours the primary schools in the county. What a lovely vehicle! Very SEN friendly.

There were great delegates on both courses, so all the group and plenary debates about learning difficulties and their implications for libraries, methods for supporting learning and reading, appropriate resources, and library layout and guiding were fascinating. The courses were predominantly aimed at primary school staff, but we had special school, secondary school and public library representatives too. Most of the issues and strategies we discussed were relevant across the board.

Multi-sensory, practical approaches are essential for making libraries welcoming and accessible for SEN children, developing their library and information skills, and promoting reading. Getting groups to sort piles of books into fiction and non-fiction, or alphabetical or Dewey order, depending on age and ability, is effective for helping SEN (and other) pupils understand library arrangement. Pictures and artefacts are valuable. One librarian has bunting with pictures as shelf guiding. Another has a huge toy bear in her library. She tells the children the bear loves books but can’t read, so they cuddle up and read to him. That same library has a reading den, nothing elaborate, just a table with a cloth over that reaches to the floor. SEN children love reading with torches inside. It makes them feel safe. At the other end of the cost spectrum, we heard about an amazing story garden, an indoor-outdoor space attached to the library. There’s a castle area with a story-telling chair, a Hobbit Hole with puppet elves, and lots more besides. I’ve been promised some photos. Can’t wait to see them.

Delegates explored lots of HILO books (high interest level, low reading age) from Barrington Stoke, Rising Stars, Ransom, Raintree, Badger, Watts and A&C Black. Attractive illustrations on the cover and inside, uncluttered page payout, well spaced text, non-serif typeface in a large enough font size and good quality paper were deemed essential. Plus writing that’s interesting, easy to understand and non-patronising. (Patience Thomson, Barrington Stoke’s founder, told a conference I attanded that children can read up to two years above their reading age if they are gripped by what they are reading. We also know that comprehension improves when children are reading something that interests them.) Many of the books fulfilled all these criteria, but several that looked good at first glance disappointed on further inspection, for instance graphic novels where it was hard to work out the order in which to read the dialogue, or the text was impossibly small, or books with shiny paper or paper so thin that the text on other side was visible through it. Many SEN children prefer non-fiction books to fiction, not least because they do not have to be read cover to cover. We discussed e-books too. What a wonderful difference they have made for children with reading problems.

I was delighted to show this animation on how dyslexia can affect reading from the Maggot Moon i-book. Such a graphic insight into the condition. Thank you Sally Gardner and Hot Key Books for permission to use this. For anyone looking for more information on learning difficulties, here’s an earlier blog on useful websites and publications. Load2Learn is a valuable new website to add to the list.