Sunday, 14 October 2012

We Never Stop Learning

I was at Leeds Metropolitan University on Friday starting the National Award for SEN Coordination. I had previously started the same course at another university and found it to be over-complicated in terms of coursework, with very little support in terms of work-course-life balance. The course at Leeds Met, at least from the onset, seems much more practical and sharply focused.

There were a series of workshops throughout the day delivered by SEN Coordinators and teachers working in the field - with the final one being on dyslexia. I have previously undertaken postgraduate training in dyslexia and I think naturally you find yourself initially thinking, "I've done this already..." It could be interpreted as a kind of arrogance or complacency I suppose, but it is also borne simply out of the feeling time is so precious as a teacher and SEN Coordinator.

However, it never fails to surprise how you always learn something new when networking with colleagues.

Theoretically, the talk on dyslexia was particularly informative for me in terms of clearly distinguishing between working memory, short term memory and long term memory. I have long had a feeling memory drives much of the difficulties our 'dyslexic tendencies' and 'ADHD-type' learners face - and the next step will be to look into interventions and other means of practical support to address these issues.

The talk was also interesting in terms of resources, with a tip on software that can convert mindmaps into flow diagrams / writing frames - something I had been wondering about just the week before. We were also recommended the book 'The Dyslexic Advantage' by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide, which seems to follow on from an earlier book by Ron Davies titled 'The Gift of Dyslexia'. Through my recent work with mind-maps, I'd been wanting to scratch up on the non-literacy features of dyslexia (particularly the idea of linear and non-linear thinkers) and this suggestion seems to have come at exactly the right time.

Finally, in terms of developing further understanding of dyslexia in school, I was particularly grateful for the recommendation of the Kara Tointon documentary 'Don't Call Me Stupid' produced by BBC3 (which had completely passed me by). It's always useful to try view SEN / specific learning difficulties through the eyes of the beholder, and this does just that. I will certainly look to use clips from this in future CPD.

Dyspraxia - 'A Hidden Handicap'?

Following my previous post, I have since found out it is also 'Dyspraxia Awareness Week' in the UK which is focusing on raising understanding of initial indicators of the condition amongst parents of young children so that support can be put in place from an early stage. 

Here is a short NHS video about the condition:

The features of dyspraxia commonly overlap with other conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism. In my experience these often predominate as categories used to describe a child's difficulties / peculiarities, possibly because there is more awareness of them by parents and professionals. But as with any label, it is only useful if it points to a constructive way forward, and it may well be that students being identified as dyslexic or ADHD or autistic would in fact be better served by an additional or replacement identification of dyspraxia, with a view to then accessing the specialist intervention that goes with it.

Top Ten Quotes about ADHD

Following on from the last seven days which saw 'Dyslexia Awareness Week' take place in the UK, interestingly enough this coming week in the US it is 'ADHD Awareness Week'

Below are ten great quotes I have found that either speak directly about ADHD-type learners or have some relevance to thinking through what it means to be diagnosed with this condition. They might be good for SEN teachers trying to raise awareness and understanding of the condition in their schools - with emphasis on the fact that the traits of this particular area of human diversity are much deeper, and more interesting, than inattentiveness.

>> "I prefer to distinguish ADD as attention abundance disorder. Everything is just so interesting . . . remarkably at the same time.” - Frank Coppola

>> “AD/HD = A Dynamo, Highly-Driven.” - Joan Brennan

>> "If we run every class the way we run it for kids with ADHD, we'd probably have a much stronger education system." -  Robert Reid

>> "I don't think you can make a child have ADHD. A child is born with a predisposition, and the environment will make or break that predisposition." - Donna Palumbo

>> "The same right-brained children who are being labeled and shamed in our schools are the very individuals who have the skills necessary to lead us into the twenty-first century.  These children process visually and randomly, and think holistically.  They are intuitive problem solvers who get the big picture.  They thrive on visual imagery and stimulation; these "attention deficit" kids can spend hours with computer and CD-ROM programs that mirror their thought processes.  It's no wonder they are attracted to computers.  The use of computers is congruent with the way right-brained children think." - Jeffrey Freed and Laurie Parsons

>> “It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent.” - Vincent Van Gogh

>> "I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with a soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments." - Jim Morrison, musician

>> "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." - Henry David Thoreau

>> "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." - Frank Zappa

>> “They say a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. What then is an empty desk a sign of?” - Albert Einstein

In March of this year I delivered a training session on ADHD to colleague at my school, Thornleigh Salesian College. The entire session and accompanying resources can be freely downloaded here, and a quick view of the session can be freely accessed here.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Phew, Here Goes

Aside from the busyness of being a SEN Coordinator at this time year, I have also spent a great deal of spare energy (and evenings) developing some resources for supporting lower-attainment / SEN students in English.
In many ways this is not really an extra to the role as this is currently my particular subject area and day-to-day teaching commitment - plus I believe a central component of being a successful SEN Coordinator in secondary schools is to provide a substantial, specialist input into the development of subject areas. In short, we have to look beyond the walls of our Learning Support rooms if we are to truly make our schools inclusive.
However, I would say strategy and resource development - which requires a real focusing of brain power on finer detail - is very different to the 'operational' role of the SEN Coordinator which typically involves 'on-the-hop' problem solving and crisis management, and a lot of bureaucratic paperwork.
The resources I have uploaded to TES Resources this week hopefully reflect this commitment to whole-school inclusion and the care I have taken with them. They include a major piece of work around APP English Writing - an attempt to break down the official descriptors into more precise, practical steps. And from there, a look at how we assess written pieces of work in general - with a view to making them more 'Dyslexia Friendly'.
I have also uploaded a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) short guide to using PowerPoint in the classroom, again with my SEN Coordinator hat on, titled 'PowerPoint Killed the Classroom Star'. This has been one of those projects that I started a long time ago and have finally managed to finish.
Sharing resources online often feels like the final stage of the project, having already shared them with colleagues in school. And so now, I can rest a little and then re-focus on other things.
And as with all the resources I share online, I do so not to make any personal profit, but simply because I believe in the spirit of catch-free cooperation amongst teachers.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

What's it like to have (visual) dyslexia?

Coventry University have created this useful animation to provide an insight into the dyslexic experience:

It is worth pointing out that the video does tend to focus on the visual perceptual difficulties associated with dyslexia, and sometimes identified more specifically as Irlen Syndrome / scotopic sensitivity. There is more to dyslexia than this, as highlighted in this article from, but this video is nonetheless useful as a snapshot.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Top Ten Quotes about Dyslexia

This week in the UK it is 'Dyslexia Awareness Week', with the theme 'Empowering Teachers'. Although I suppose there could be an argument made that efforts to raise awareness of neurodiversity, particularly within our school communities, should be an an all-around-the-year project, these kind of themed weeks are good in creating extra impetus and connecting together people who share the same passion.

To mark the beginning of 'Dyslexia Awareness Week', I have compiled ten quotes either directly about dyslexia or with relevance to the 'dyslexic experience'.

>> “I was dyslexic before anybody knew what dyslexia was. I was called 'slow'. It's an awful feeling to think of yourself as 'slow' - it's horrible.” - Robert Benton

>> “The biggest problem with dyslexic kids is not the perceptual problem, it is their perception of themselves. That was my biggest problem.” - Bruce Jenner

>> "Being dyslexic can actually help in the outside world. I see some things clearer than other people do because I have to simplify things to help me and that has helped others." - Richard Branson

>> “I'm a human being, I'm not a machine. I'm 72. I'm dyslexic.” - Robert Blake

>> "Being dyslexic, I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read." – Tom Cruise

 >> “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life thinking it’s stupid.” - Albert Einstein

>> "It's a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!" - Andrew Jackson

>> “If children can’t learn the way we teach, then we have to teach the way they learn” - Robert Buck

>> “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I see and I understand.” – Confucius

>> “For too long, we've assumed that there is a single template for human nature, which is why we diagnose most deviations as disorders. But the reality is that there are many different kinds of minds. And that's a very good thing.” - Jonah Lehrer

Within my own setting I have tried to raise awareness of this particular type of learner with various training sessions, including:
There is also an interesting article published in The Telegraph today, by Sally Gardner, titled 'Ten Tips for a Dyslexic Thinker (like me)'. Coinciding with this is a short blog by Martin Chilton which looks at dyslexia-friendly books, focusing on the publisher Barrinton Stoke which we regularly purchase reading materials from at Thornleigh Salesian College.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

TeachMeet Bolton

This morning I put my name forward for TeachMeet Bolton on the 23rd Novemeber 2012. I have not come across this network before, but really like the concept behind it:
"TeachMeets are FREE, informal "unconferences", all about creating opportunities for those interested in education to take the lead, share practice, discover new ideas, network and be inspired all during the course of one CPD fuelled evening! Anyone can get involved, share great ideas they've trialled in their classrooms, ask important questions or simply sign up to take part in learning conversations. All are welcome."

"You can talk about anything that has inspired you, has worked well in class, a tool, a strategy, a topic... The list is endless. The one rule here is NO SELLING! Let's also agree not to cause any PowerPoint induced comas and remember technology may not always be your friend... REMEMBER: You do not have to present anything, you can always be an Enthusiastic Lurker!"
I'm currently undecided about whether to present or simply be one of the audience. I might look to do something around reviving mindmapping in schools - any ideas or opinions on mindmapping would be appreciated. Simply leave a comment...