Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Royalty, Robots and Einstein's Brain

I have not blogged as regularly these past few weeks because my spare time has been taken up with schoolwork and undertaking various courses relating to SEN / SpLD including Elklan, Irlen Screening and the National SENCo Award - these courses are not really of the academic / theoretical variety but more focused on the practical, ground-level skills that SEN coordinators and teachers need. I recommend each one - although, with the benefit of hindsight, not in unison!

There have been a number of interesting articles in the media relating to SEN / SpLD that I've been favouriting as I come across them, waiting for a quiet moment to share them with colleagues. Here is a round up:

>> James Middleton and Dyslexia - The brother of Kate Middleton gave an interview with the Daily Mail recently speaking eloquently about what it can mean to have dyslexia. Interestingly, he said, "I would still choose to be dyslexic because I feel it helps me to see things in a different way," which highlights that dyslexic differences often run deeper than literacy skills, and that additional needs can come with additional gifts.

Running alongside this was another much less impressive article, from the Telegraph, which picked up on the interview. It is only worth noting for the aggressive tone in which the columnist writes about 'outting' James Middleton and for the way it foists some kind of responsibility on him for 'speaking up' for dyslexia.

>> The Unusual Features of Einstein's Brain - Following on from the article above, the Daily Mail published a report a few days ago about research into Albert Einstein's brain structure. This is something I was told about before by my lecturers whilst undertaking postgraduate study in dyslexia, but something I have not found much 'evidence' for in terms of published research / reporting. It could be a useful article to share with colleagues when talking about the concept of 'neurodiversity'. Albert Einstein is often cited in lists of 'famous dyslexics' but this can be misleading as he seems much more complex - and he was both uniquely and substantially gifted,which not all people with dyslexia are.

>> Sleep and Learning Vocabulary - Yet another good article from the Daily Mail recently (the paper, for all its faults, is quite good at reporting on childhood studies) highlighted research showing that sleep plays a major role in acquiring new vocabulary. The article reports on a study showing that children benefit from being  introduced to a list of key words, then being given a night to 'sleep on it', then returning to it the next day to consolidate their learning. In terms of what this means in schools, it draws attention to the concept of 'overlearning' - and practically, it highlights the importance of some intervention programmes / withdrawal groups, such as Toe-by-Toe and the Five Minute Box, running daily for students.

>> Time to Rewire Students? - I am not sure about the credibility of the programme reported in this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, and I am certainly not recommending it (yet!). However, it's interesting in that it turns a lot of what we think about how we should work with SEN / SpLD on its head. Instead of adapting the environment to meet a student's strengths alongside attempting to boost their  'coping' skills, this programme appears to focus intensively on 'mending' possible weaknesses that rest deep within the student. This brings us right back to the medical model vs. social model debate.

>> Youngest in Year Groups and ADHD - This piece from American broadcaster ABC News draws attention to a research project undertaken in Iceland which suggests the youngest children in year groups are 50% more likely to be put on medication for ADHD-type behaviours. The research did not conclude whether this was a matter of overtreatment of the younger students or undertreatement of the older students, but the discrepancy does provide food for thought about the significance of seemingly small differences in age within year groups.

>> Robots Not Teachers! - BBC Online published this article on their website a few weeks ago about a pilot study in the use of robots (which do cost more than a Teaching Assistant's annual salary) to help teach primary school children with autism. The most interesting point, for me at least, was the observation that autistic children in particular found robots more predictable than humans. I have found many young people with autistic-type difficulties interpret human interactions, and more specifically the diversity of personalities within a large community such as a school, as 'random' which in turn leads to anxiety. If anything, I guess it re-highlights the need for adults to maintain core routines and a level of consistency of approach.

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