Category archives: special educational needs

Monday, 3 October 2016

Dyslexia information, articles and websites for Dyslexia Awareness Week

daw_abdDyslexia Awareness Week starts today. What better time for a round-up of useful resources?

This is good on how to make sense of dyslexia.

Research on dyslexia and the brain shows, among other things, that children with dyslexia hear language differently and it’s this that impacts on their reading and spelling. Dyslexic brains are good brains too is also well worth reading.

These visuals showing what reading is like if you have dyslexia are fascinating.

Dyslexic and Loving Words is a moving film, with insights from dyslexic authors, storytellers, poets and academics, including Sally Gardner and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Nasen has guidance on supporting secondary students with dyslexia.

Excellent publishers Barrington Stoke have tips for parents and a useful app.

Do read Bev Humphries on using apps and tablets to support struggling readers.

Finally, some helpful websites:

British Dyslexia Association

Driver Youth Trust

Dyslexia Action

Dyslexia Scotland

Dyslexia SpLD Trust

Helen Arkell


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Supporting children with learning disabilities

I’ve just been putting together the handouts for a course for on effective provision and support for children with learning disabilities, a topic I feel passionate about. We will be exploring the needs of children with a wide range of learning challenges, the barriers they may face with learning and participation, and the implications, before going on to identify ways to maximise engagement, learning and enjoyment. This particular course is for a museum, but I also give lots of training on special needs for other cultural and heritage organisations, and for schools and libraries, and I find that many issues are common to all.

whistestop tourA Whistle-Stop Tour of Special Educational Needs by Clare Welsh and Rosie Williams is no longer in publication, though copies are still to be found. I have always found this section from it very pertinent and helpful:

‘As far as working with pupils with SEN is concerned, we must look at our assumptions and be prepared to challenge them.

  • the assumption that pupils will be at the same developmental starting point
  • the assumption that pupils will have the same knowledge
  • the assumption that because pupils have experienced something before, they will automatically remember it
  • the assumption that all pupils can understand the language that is being used around them
  • the assumption that pupils will have the gross or fine motor skills to carry out certain tasks
  • the assumption that all pupils enjoy social interaction
  • the assumption that all pupils will understand and respect standards of behaviour’

Wise words. Assumptions and stereotypes are dangerous things. Every child has different needs, even if they have the same diagnosis. A flexible, listening approach is vital. So is a calm environment in which every child feels safe and supported. Many children with learning difficulties have very high anxiety levels. Change, in particular, can be scary. For children on the autistic spectrum, and plenty of others, providing information – preferably with photos – in advance so they know what to expect from new experiences and new places makes a huge difference. Noise, crowds and clutter are very stressful for some. It’s great that lots of cultural and heritage organisations now offer specific activities or opening times to support children and families for whom these are a problem.

Like other children, most children with learning disabilities love getting involved. I will blog another time about inclusive participation strategies and the value of multi-sensory approaches.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Reflections on twenty years of training

YLG SE discussions 6#Hard to believe I’ve been a trainer for twenty years. It’s been a fabulous ride. Impossible to sum up succinctly, but pictures give at least a flavour.IMG_2219My path into training was accidental. I’d recently finished a master’s degree, and was doing a variety of reading-related work, when a head of libraries asked me for a course on how libraries can help children’s reading. It taught me a huge amount and was enormously rewarding. IMG_3483Gradually training took me over.Mayflower 1I still love giving courses and inset on ways to engage children in books and reading, whether for very young children or much older ones, whether very able, or with reading problems, or anywhere in between, and whether as training for librarians or teachers or early years practitioners or parents and carers. YLG SE author panel 2Running courses on effective provision for children and young people in school and public libraries and museums gives me enormous pleasure too.IMG_1277I have been immensely lucky to have been asked for courses on all sorts of issues that matter to me, special needs, for example, and looked after children.AHtraining1 It’s been great to work with practitioners in a whole variety of sectors: education, libraries, museums and more. I’ve learnt such a lot from that. baby at CyMAL courseAlong the way I have met so many fabulous and inspiring people.Picture 009#There have been some great training venues over the years – lots of lovely schools and libraries, and some awe-inspiring museums. Giving courses in castles has been fun, and the race course was pretty spectacular. But nowhere before or since has beaten the circus tent I once gave a workshop in.Letterbox courseAny sadnesses? One in particular: the tragedy of library and school library services cut-backs and closures. The impact on children will be dreadful.Picture 009#That aside, training continues to enthral me. No two courses are ever the same. I never know what to expect, and that’s really exciting. I never stop learning.    IMG_3483

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!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Supporting children with learning difficulties in museums – my course in Qatar

tileI felt immensely privileged and touched to be given this tile by a delegate on the UCL Qatar course I gave last week on working with children with learning difficulties in museums. It was made by a young Qatari man with very severe learning disabilities. His needs were not met by school, but working with an artist in a cultural organisation released his abilities, and enabled him to express himself. What a fantastic illustration of the positive impact arts and cultural engagement can have on SEN children.

I had an amazing time in Doha delivering the training. The delegates came from five different museums, one of them well-established, the others all in the planning stages. Because the course was five days long, we were able to explore issues in depth. There were so many fascinating and important debates about the needs of children with all sorts of learning problems and the implications for engagement with museums, and about effective methods for supporting their learning and enjoyment. It was great to have time to share a wide range of case studies. We talked a lot about autism-friendly approaches. I found the discussions on multi-sensory learning especially interesting, and the plans groups produced for inclusive activities and events were truly exciting. The lists of components of successful practice that each delegate came up with on the last day were extremely impressive.

3D printsWe were very lucky to have the use of some wonderful artefacts commissioned by UCL Qatar. These 3D prints of the lid of an Egyptian canopic jar are amazing. They are different weights, sizes and finishes to enable a variety of learning methods. A fabulous way for children to experience history.

And these puppets, based on two very special and precious exhibits in the Museum of Islamic Art, made by the Little Angel Puppet company, and ably demonstrated here by Annie Rowbotham from UCL are superb. They are used to help children learn about conservation. The children ask the monkey and falcon questions, and the answers come via a ventriloquist. Such a brilliant idea. They are also going to play a role in museum story-telling events. Approaches like these can be totally transformative for children who struggle with learning.monkeyfalconMany thanks to all the great delegates and to Qatar Museums and a big thank you to UCL for inviting me back to Doha. It’s a stunning city, so to end, a few photos: the souk, the royal camels against the inevitable background of cranes (they’re everywhere in Doha), two shots from the extraordinary falconry souk, some dhows, and the beautiful Museum of Islamic Art.souk at night 2camelsfalcon - souk 1falcon - souk 6dhowsMIA