Monday, 17 September 2012

Quotes from the Paralympics

I think it's important we continue to celebrate the summer of sport, particularly the London 2012 Paralympics - and particularly so in schools where they can be used to challenge stereotypes from an early age and motivate students. We have created a display on our main corridor to do this, using quotes from the speech delivered by Stephen Hawking at the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. I have uploaded to TES the bits and pieces I've made for displays over the past year, which can be accessed here.

Below are some more inspirational quotes I've collected throughout the past week. These might be useful for assemblies or reflections during form / circle time. 

"If the Paralympics have accomplished anything it is confronting people with the abilities that disabled people have. It's also an indicator of progress. So many people have come here; they don't have to pay money to come and watch disabled people play sport. They are here because they want to be here, because they see it as a worthwhile event. I think that people were ready for the Paralympics," 

(Luke White, Paralympics wheelchair rugby star) 

“It was absolutely amazing and I think that the Paralympics has scrubbed out that line that there’s always been between disabled and able-bodied athletes,”

“All of the Paralympic and Olympic athletes were mixing and I think that the Games have stopped people looking at disabled athletes as just people with illnesses or disadvantages.” 

“I’ve already had so many messages from people saying that I’ve inspired them to get back in the pool or back on a horse and that’s just amazing. That’s always been the main goal and I’m so glad." 

(Stephanie Millward, winner of 5 medals in Paralympics swimming) 

"Paralympians have overcome so much - they have fantastic stories to tell.”

"Swimming saved my life - I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't been able to get in the water and compete.” 

"There might be others out there who don't reach Paralympic level but that is not the point.” "It is about giving you something. The Paralympics are giving people hope." 

(Margaret McEleny, former Paralympian and swimming coach) 

"I think this is going to inspire disabled children and adults to get into sport,"

"It is also amazing when able-bodied adults and children come up to me and say we've changed their perception of disabled people and inspired them to do sport as well.”

"We have the can-do factor, and us doing what we do I think inspires people to just try that little bit harder, whether they are able-bodied or disabled.” 

(Lee Pearson, Paralympics veteran and dressage star) 

I have grown up in a positive household. I’m a normal person, just a lot smaller. I get on with it. Everybody should do that. You only live once and you need to enjoy life, to go out and achieve whatever you want to.” 

(Ellie Simmonds, Paralympics teenage swimming sensation) 

“I think back to Ivan. As every parent, you think about all the things they can’t do, but at the Paralympics they are superhuman, you see all the things they can do.” 

(David Cameron, British Prime Minister) 

“Although we have many differences, there is one quality we all share, one thing all of us have in common: human spirit.” 

(L/Cpl Rory Mackenzie, Afghanistan War veteran and Paralympics Closing Ceremony participant) 

“We were watching human beings overcome what we had always assumed was a basic limitation of our species to break a barrier that was physically or psychologically insurmountable. We were watching a triumph of the human spirit…” 

(Boris Johnson, Mayor of London) 

"In this country we will never think of sport the same way and we will never think of disability the same way," 

"The Paralympians have lifted the cloud of limitation." 

(Sebastian Coe, Chairman of London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games committee) 

”My motivation, one of my motivations, is I truly believe I was meant to do this journey," 

"I want to do my nation and my family proud." 

(Martine Wright, 7/7 survivor and Paralympics volleyball star)

And last but not least, a fantastic Paralympics picture slideshow from BBC Magazine, with commentary from US broadcaster John Hockenberry.

Monday, 10 September 2012

CCET Follow-Up

From the end of March to the beginning of August, I have worked intensively on the Certificate of Competence in Educational Testing (known as CCET) delivered collaboratively by Real Training and Dyslexia Action, with accreditation from the British Psychological Society. The course was funded by the National Scholarship Fund for teachers and support staff.

I could already access many of the 'closed' standardised assessment tools used by educational psychologists due to my existing postgraduate qualifications in SEN and Dyslexia, but felt this course would both refresh my understanding and skills - and develop and validate them further. Having now completed the course, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking to go down the same CPD route, particularly colleagues who have to organise access arrangements. Although I would add that it is not a box-ticking exercise and requires real investment of time working in school - and brainpower - which is probably what ultimately makes it so useful.

As side note, at school I struggled at Maths due to being placed in a set too high for my ability, and certainly some of the theory took me back to a place where my brain seemed to immediately ache when looking at certain equations! I guess that's just how many of our students feel when confronted with tasks others can do with ease, and perhaps something we need reminding of from time to time. To help myself, and any colleagues who experience the same difficulty with Maths, I have put together 'revision guides' for this aspect.

Since undertaking the initial four day intensive course in Sheffield, I have assessed around half a dozen students on a 1-to-1 basis - not just to meet the criteria for a CCET pass and subsequent British Psychological Society registration, but more importantly, because the students concerned clearly needed some kind of support plan or intervention but we weren't entirely sure of the nature of their additional needs. The kind of things we were coming across was underachievement in written work in particular subjects (but not others), lack of concentration in particular classes, signs of anxiety and frustration with learning, and on a few occasions, an existing diagnosis for a specific learning difficulty that just didn't seem to fit. With each one, the assessments have confirmed suspicions, challenged existing opinions and, most important of all, pointed to a more targeted way forward. And, crucially, finely-detailed assessment of this kind can prove to be a powerful tool in encouraging students to understand themselves better as learners.

As with much of what I do, I tend to really focus in on the project at hand. As a result, I have spent great time and energy over the past few months trying out new tests (which I have profiled on an at-a-glance A4 document) and developing resources to assist with formative assessment in school - to make it as reliable and accurate as possible, and as easy to deliver as possible (keeping in mind that as a SEN Coordinator, I have a dozen other plates to keep spinning at the same time). I've also developed resources to help make the results of assessment, and subequent reports, as accessible as possible to parents.

I have to say a big thank you to the educational psychologist I work with, Michelle, who has been a constant source of advice, support and encouragement. What we hope to gain from this is a system whereby I can undertake a first wave of 'industry standard' assessment, thereby filtering our referrals to the educational psychology services and other agencies so those most at need are prioritised.

All the resources I have developed are now on TES:


Who Wants A Replay?

Last night saw an deeply moving end to the Paralympic Games - and a fitting finish to a summer of amazing sport overall. There were so many highlights, so many bits that left you wanting to rewind. It's also heartening to know 1 billion people tuned in from across the world.
The good news is the entire footage is already on YouTube:

The Paralympics in 2012 was rightly described as the 'greatest ever' with 19 more nations competing than in Beiijing, rising from 165 to 184 to participating countries. In Rome in 1960 just 23 countries took part.
It was also the first Paralympics where all tickets were sold at full price, totalling 2.2million - an incredible feat when compared to Sydney in 2000 where the majority of tickets were given to schoolchildren. Television and internet audiences have broken records with 6.7million British viewers tuning in to watch Britain's Jonnie Peacock take gold in a 100m showdown with South Africa's Oscar Pistorius.
Ahead of last night's opening ceremony, Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, was quoted as saying:
“Being asked to play at the Paralympic closing ceremony in our home town is a huge honour.. We can't actually imagine a bigger honour. This will be the biggest night of our lives.”
Rihanna, who also starred, said:
"Being at the Paralympics is the biggest honour... These athletes are gladiators and are a true inspiration to me..."
Sebastian Coe, London 2012 chairman, said:
"I don't think they will ever see disability in the same way again..."
Whilst, Liz Nicholl, UK Sport chief executive, said:
"The London Paralympic Games will be remembered as a time when we saw ability first and disability second."

(H/T: Global Briefing and BBC Sport)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Pistorius Shift

Most people I've spoken to about the Paralympics are tending to watch it on and off - a majority tuning into the highlights on Channel 4 each evening. I think it is a pattern no different to Olympics viewing habits or any other international sports tournament for that matter. It perhaps represents a shift with Paralympians moving towards parity with Olympians.

Yet there is an argument the shift won't stop there. The focus of attention this week has tended to rest on Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius and his claims Alan Oliveira cheated (for which Oscar Pistorius later apologised, though only for the timing) by using prosthetics longer than what his legs would be if they were intact, thereby increasing stride length.

I think though, before we go further, attention needs to be drawn to Alan Oliveira who had the limelight taken from what was a fantastic achievement in the T44/43 200m race - the BBC has published a good write-up on him.

Alan Oliveira, Champion

The controversy was arguably fuelled by a possible undercurrent of unease towards Oscar Pistorius for his desire to compete in the Olympics. This is allegedly coming from some Paralympians who quietly believe he views their tournament as second best and by Olympians who quietly fear the continued development of technology that has gained him access to their tournament - as Dominic Bastulto notes for the Washington Post, there is a possible shift towards viewing Paralympians as 'more than human' rather than 'less than human'. This is a great thing about the Paralympics, it challenges our perceptions from various angles.

This particular issue also raises an interesting aside question, if a little more daydreamy and less practical than what I usually post on this site, about the development of technology to assist people with disabilities. And this does not necessarily need to be confined to the 'purity' of sports competitions, it could also eventually apply to the 'purity' of exams. The question is, at what point will technology move from having a  therapeutic role to an enhancing role?

For example, as the Ideas Bank blog of Wired Magazine geekily discussed this week, would you swap your biological eye for a bionic one with additional functionality? This is of course just futurology, but it got me thinking further - if there were a readily available pair of glasses that followed a student's eye movements and read aloud into their ear, would this address an inherent difference / difficulty such as dyslexia, or move the user's capacity to learn beyond that of peers?

Ultimately though, it's a muse, a question we don't yet have the luxury of having to confront - because there's a long way to go yet, as Chris Bryant points out in his column for The Independent.

On a more practical note, I've recently been exploring greater use of technology to support students in my setting, particular those with needs such as dyslexia, autism, hearing impairment and visual impairment. The technology section of the RNIB website has proved particularly informative. And there is some interesting observational commentary about the uses of iPad for children and teenagers with ASD scattered across the internet. This 'Free Ipad Apps for SEN' list from is also well worth a look.

I think that whilst education naturally has a long way to go with assistive technology, the Paralympics creates a healthy optimism that it can only get better and better. And as Steven Stanhope rightly highlights in his blog entry for the Washington Post, technology developed for 'special populations' tends to find use across the population (an argument I often use with SEN teaching strategies). This is another reason why we should celebrate the difference SEN and disability bring, rather than view them primarily as difficulties to be cured.