Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Mind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion

One & StrikerMind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion was a fascinating and important a discussion hosted by Inclusive Minds and IBBY UK at the London Book Fair. Authors Sarah Crossan and Peter Kalu joined inclusion ambassadors Emily Davison, Heather Lacy and Megan Bane to explore representations of disability in children’s literature. Portrayals in the past were rare and where they existed were often negative. The Secret Garden was not the only book with an underlying message that disabilities could be cured with positive attitudes, fresh air and exercise. The ambassadors spoke of the distress this caused them as children with disabilities that did not go away. The panel agreed that the situation is improving but that there is still a long way to go. Publishers often think children will be put off by characters with disabilities, but it’s not the case. Children are very open-minded.

More nuance and understanding about disabilities is needed. For instance visually disabled characters in children’s books are almost all totally blind, whereas in real life the vast majority have some sight. Sensitivity readers can help authors with authenticity. Depicting every character with a disability as good and/or inspirational is neither authentic nor helpful. Children with disabilities need books that show them ‘it’s OK to be you’.

A character’s disability should not be the main element of any book. Many readers of Crossan’s YA novel One, a sensitive and deeply moving story about conjoined twins, are so gripped by the plot and the characters that they forget the twins are disabled. She never knows whether that’s a good thing or not. She did a huge amount of research before writing the book, and found she had to get rid of her own prejudices. It had not occurred to her that conjoined twins would want to stay together. In Kalu’s book The Silent Striker the main character’s increasing hearing loss is an important part of the plot, but far from the first thing the reader knows about him or the key issue they care about. Because Kalu himself has hearing loss the portrayal is very natural. (Having recently reviewed the book for The School Librarian, I can vouch for this.)

It was useful to be reminded of the IBBY catalogue of outstanding books for young people with disabilities. These were the UK books nominated in 2017. The asterisked titles were included in the international list.

Ian Beck, Grey Island, Red Boat
Cece Bell, El Deafo
Anne Booth, Girl with a White Dog
Holly Bourne, Am I Normal Yet?
Tim Bowler, Game Changer
Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish
Cocoretto, Getting Ready
Cocoretto, Off to the Beach
Sarah Crossan, One *
Vanessa Curtis, Baking Life of Amelie Day
Susie Day, Pea’s Book of Holidays
DK Braille, Counting *
DK Braille, It Can’t be True *
Amber Lee Dodd, We Are Giants
Julia Donaldson, What the Jackdaw Saw
Mary Hoffman, Great Big Book of Feelings
Kim Hood, Finding a Voice
Pete Kalu, Silent Striker
Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis
Cammie  McGovern, Amy and Matthew
Gemma Merino, The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
Ann Rand, What Can I Be
Jackie Wilson, Katy

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Supporting children with learning difficulties in museums and libraries – useful websites, blogs, case studies and videos

ss GBI loved giving training on special educational needs at the fabulous ss Great Britain earlier this week. I give lots of courses on supporting children with learning difficulties for people working in museums and other cultural and heritage organisations, and lots for library staff too. It’s one of my favourite (and most frequently requested) training topics. I feel very passionate about inclusive provision.

I have found the following websites, blogs, case studies and videos useful and illuminating, and it occurs to me that others might too.

ABC of Working with Schools: Special Educational Needs
Asperger, Heritage and Archaeodeath
Astro Plane Force
Autism-Friendly Game Masters
Autism-Friendly Libraries
Autism in Museums
Autism in the Museum
Bag Books in Kent
Chatterbooks for Children with Dyslexia
Dimensions Autism Friendly Libraries Training Video for Library Staff
Disability Co-operative Network for Museums
Engaging Children with Special Educational Needs in Creative Experiences and Art 
Five Things I’ve Learnt About Accessibility
Going to a Museum
How Can Your Museum Better Welcome Families and Young People with Autism?
How Heritage Embraces Autism
Inclusive Galleries and Museums for Visitors with Special Needs
Kent Dyslexia Friendly Libraries
KidsHub Library Sessions
Making Museums Autism Friendly
Manchester Art Gallery Open Doors
Museum of Childhood Quiet Days
Museum of Childhood Visiting with an Autistic Child
Orleans House Gallery Octagon Club
Secret Museum: Film Production with Autistic Young People
See Dyslexia Differently
Sensitive Storytimes
Supporting Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs
Tom’s Tall Ship of Stories
Top 5 Autism Tips for Professionals: Autism-Friendly Museums
Working with Special Needs in an Art Gallery

Friday, 23 February 2018

Language and literacy news and articles

mso64805There have been lots of useful articles and reports about children’s language and literacy development and ways to support them published in the last couple of months. Here’s a round-up.

Important new research shows that engaging young children in conversation is more valuable for brain development than ‘dumping words’ on them.

An analysis has recently been published exploring whether screens help or hinder language development in the early years.

We know that children’s language and literacy is immensely enhanced by being read to, so it is sad to see that only half of pre-school children are being read to every day.

Reading aloud is of course not just important for young children. ‘Encouraging a love of reading in a culture of assessment’ by parent Brian Gesko is moving and valuable.

Disturbing National Literacy Trust research highlights a huge gap in life expectancy between children in areas of good and poor literacy.

Do read ‘The best way to start closing the attainment gap between poor kids and their peers? Reading, reading, reading’ by head teacher Colin Harris.

It’s also well worth looking at this article showing how literacy skills have significantly improved as a result of the reading for pleasure scheme in Renfrewshire primary schools.

Primary English lead Rachel Lopiccolo suggests five ways to boost reading for pleasure in primary schools.

There are valuable ideas in ‘Why every class needs read alouds’. I love this: ‘The read aloud is like the Swiss Army knife of literacy; it has multiple uses at every age and in every content area.’

The ever-useful Scottish Book Trust lists some creative ways to get primary children to respond to books.

‘Fascinating rhythm’ is interesting on the value of rhythm for dyslexic and other children for phonemic awareness, reading fluency and wider learning, and ways to embed it.

A new report that tells us secondary school students are reading well below their reading level has received considerable press coverage, for instance this Guardian piece. It’s important to note however that this research is based solely on data from the Accelerated Reader project, and many have questioned its accuracy as a national picture.

‘Don’t knock kids for rereading books. Encourage them to read, full stop’ is a thoughtful response to the report and its reception by the director of the English and Media Centre.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The benefits of rhymes and rhyme times

ORd6FI loved attending this very popular library rhyme time in Enfield some time ago.

Head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman recently said ‘Children who can sing a song and know a story off by heart aged four are better  prepared for school. Nursery rhymes provide a collective experience – and teach a little bit of social history to boot.’

I too am a big fan of rhymes, and of rhyme times, and with several courses on effective rhyme times this term and next, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to their benefits for children’s language and literacy development and more widely. I gave a synopsis in a previous blog. Here are some expert views.

‘Becoming aware of rhyming sounds boosts brain activity.’ Alice Sterling Honig

‘Research has shown a clear connection between the awareness of rhyme in toddlers and the development of reading skills. It is a better indicator even than the child’s IQ.’ D P Bryant

‘The better children are at detecting rhymes the quicker and more successful they will be at learning to read.’ L Bradley

‘The children best equipped to tackle serious books later on are the ones with a good grounding in the “nonsense” of nursery rhymes.’ Ann Henderson

And of course rhyme times benefit not just children. A fabulous example of family learning, they boost parents’ and carers’ skills and confidence. They change attitudes. They foster family bonding. They help combat isolation and build social cohesion. Importantly too, they create new, hopefully long-term, visitors for the libraries, museums and other settings that deliver them.

It is well worth looking at The Arts Council and ASCEL ‘Rhyme Time and Seven Quality Principles Toolkit’.

To end, a parent’s view, posted recently on Twitter: ‘First-ever Rhyme Time today and we all loved it!’

Friday, 12 January 2018

News and articles about children’s reading

Hampton LibraryThis is the very welcoming children’s area of Hampton Library in Peterborough, where I gave a course this week on encouraging a love of books and reading in the early years. I’m currently planning next week’s follow-up on supporting reading in the primary years. Because of all the training I give on children’s and young people’s reading, I always like to keep up to date with latest research. Here’s the news I’ve come across in the last couple of months, along with a number of valuable articles.

The government has pledged £120 million to tackle the early years word gap.

They are also planning ‘English hubs’ and phonics roadshows to boost literacy, news that has been met with a certain amount of cynicism and anger, in the light of mass closures of libraries.

Northern Ireland and England schools are now in the global top ten for reading. However, analysis by NFER demonstrates that the improvement on previous years is small and that England has an above average number of children who do not like reading.

New research shows that over 750,000 UK children have no books of their own, a worrying statistic as children without books are fifteen times less likely to be good readers.

One in five parents of primary children spend no time reading with their children and over half spend less than an hour a week reading to them. Meanwhile a third think their children don’t read enough books. If only they saw the connection! (I missed this news in September, so am including it here.)

Another new report shows that children’s levels of reading enjoyment and daily reading frequency are both lower than their levels of cognitive reading skills.

It’s always interesting and useful to see the annual International Literacy Association What’s Hot in Literacy survey.

Do read Geoff Barton’s article ‘I salute the teachers, TAs and librarians who inspire a love of reading in children for whom books are alien’. Great to see librarians given due recognition. I applaud this too: ‘We need also to celebrate schools that maintain a commitment to wide-ranging, joyful reading for pleasure, rather than texts deployed merely for comprehension and analysis.’

Rob Smith has written about the importance of letting children enjoy being read to and reading for themselves without always having to answer questions, write reviews, or do some other ‘work thing’.

School librarian of the year Lucas Maxwell has blogged for Booktrust about ways social media can connect students with authors they love.

Lots of useful ideas in teacher Jon Biddle’s two most recent blogs: ‘Ideas for encouraging peer recommendations in the classroom’ and ‘Reading buddies’.

I very much like Imogen Russell Williams’ article on the benefits of illustration in children’s books, which includes excellent book recommendations.

Teresa Cremin has written a valuable piece on the need for teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature to be widened.

Finally, again from Lucas Maxwell, a tale of reluctant readers and a book.