Category Archives: awards

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Growing the next generation of readers

What is the role of a library in a special school where many young people are likely to have literacy problems? Liz Millett obviously knows the answer. She has just won a School Librarian of the Year Award.

Winner Liz Millett at school
Liz Millett Winner of a School Librarian of the Year Award

Liz works at WeatherfieldAcademy in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, a special school for students aged 7 to 19 with moderate learning difficulties and additional complex needs. Many of the children come from backgrounds where reading is not a priority. She set up the library in 2009 and her role is to make sure that the 3,000 books will fire up the 112 pupils and turn them into enthusiastic readers.

Nowadays there are so many different forms of entertainment that reading for pleasure is not high on many children’s agendas. Liz finds she gets the best results by tapping into their interests so she spends time talking to children: ‘One of my students, a 13-year old girl, improved her reading levels by 23 months in a year. Once I realised that she loved horses I found her collection of horse and pony books and she just ate them up. At the moment I know that one little boy is obsessed with lorries so I pick books out for him.’

Liz has set up a rewards system to motivate pupils. She had built a relationship with Weatherfield’s local public library and adapted the idea of the Summer Reading Challenge. Children are given a set number of books to read and those who persevere and meet the target are presented with a certificate in assembly. There is also an end of term Library Trophy for the most enthusiastic reader.

She tries to encourage parents to enjoy reading too and this can be hard work as some of them have problems with literacy. Like most special schools, WeatherfieldAcademy takes pupils from a wide area and many live up to 20 miles from the school. Liz builds personal connections very slowly and encourages them to email her as the school is promoting an online facility for children and parents to choose books together at home.

The school’s uses the Creative Curriculum up to Year 9. Last term’s topics were ‘Sport and Life’ and ‘Health and Fitness’.  Liz helps teachers to find appropriate resources and creates displays to reinforce topics. She also ensures that each pupil develops information literacy skills to the best of their ability, with colour-coded shelving alongside the simple Dewey system so that pupils can find their books independently.

The School Librarian of the Year award recognises the fact that Liz has made such great progress since taking over the role in 2009: ‘I’ve been given more and more responsibility over the years and I’m always busy but the difference you make to individuals makes it worthwhile.’

 

 

 

All this and Jo Brand too

The BETT awards are almost upon us and I can nearly get into my posh frock to join the glitterati at a new venue, the Brewery at the Barbican. This year we are in for a real treat as the awards will be announced by Jo Brand. Even if your company doesn’t win, you are assured of a good night out.jo2I have been looking down the list of finalists seeing who I would like to see win in some of the key categories. This is a purely subjective approach. I am not going to support anything which deals with assessment in any form as I now believe that this is just another way to cosh teachers, parents and children into submission and give them an inferiority complex.

There are many shortlisted products that I know and love. I am running two sessions on Audio Notetaker for dyslexia learners on the Sonocent stand C470 on Thursday at 1.30 and Friday at 2pm and they are on the list for the ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching section. I am of course familiar with all the products in the special needs category and I am delighted to see other old friends such as 2Simple, Twig’s TigTag, TextHelp and the Yes Programme.

But there are many products which I am less familiar with. Here is my top ten to look out for:
1. For early years one good choice would be Rising Stars Switched on ICT, a step by step approach to get young children using ICT in meaningful ways. I like Rising Stars and have written about some of their other products especially their e books.
2. I like the look of TTS Group’s Mini Mobile Phones: ‘Children will delight in developing their language using this set of 6 realistic mobile phones. Colour co-ordinated buttons make for easy use.’ This will at least stop children using their parents’ boring old iPhones. They have also been shortlisted for:
3. The NEW Ultimate Timer, a rechargeable stopwatch with a simple to use, lapsed time function. Anything which saves looking for batteries will be welcome in the classroom.
4. For primary I am going to opt for 3P Learning Reading Eggs a library with over 1,500 eBooks, for specific year groups, as an intervention/catch up tool and to support EAL and SEN requirements
5. Another good choice is Espresso Education – Espresso Coding that teaches students to code and make their own apps to share with their friends and parents. This will help children develop skills for their future working life which so much of the National Curriculum singularly fails to do.
6. For secondary I am going for English and Media Centre’s Arctic Adventure which works on ipads and has authentic video material, images and blogs from the Catlin Arctic Survey.
7. For ICT Tools for Teaching and Learning I like the idea of IGGY ,an online educational and social network for gifted 13-18 year olds from across the world with content for maths, science, history, politics, creative writing and life skills, and a safe environment for students to exchange ideas, debate and learn.
8. It’s a pity FlashSticks won’t be at BETT because the product looks excellent. It combines low tech post-it notes, foreign language vocabulary and smartphones. The notes are colour coded to help with gender recall (blue notes for masculine words, pink notes for feminine words) and a Free App channel means users can wave their smartphone or tablet over any note to call up a quick pronunciation video.
9. Visual Education’s Wordwall lets teachers make easy learning activities for interactive whiteboards. Apparently you pick a template, type in your content and with a few clicks you’re done. Alternatively pinch some ideas from their online community.
10. Finally I am on the look out for good maths resources this year so I am hoping that Jumpido will do the trick. It is billed as: ‘an exciting series of educational games for primary school. It combines natural body exercises with engaging math problems to make learning a truly enjoyable experience.’

If your product is in the running for an award, good luck. If not, then just enjoy the entertainment. I am sure Jo Brand will be very good value.

Pupils to paint a picture with words in the Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge

nltPupils aged 7 to 14 are being invited to take part in a fun new descriptive writing competition from the National Literacy Trust, Alison Wilcox, creative writing expert and author of Descriptosaurus, and publishers David Fulton Books from Routledge.

The Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge is asking pupils to write either a story or a non-fiction description of an event or place – without using any dialogue! Developing descriptive language to communicate effectively is an essential tool across the curriculum. History is concerned not merely with dates and facts, but with describing and interpreting past events. In geography, children need to be able to describe the world around them. In science, they need to observe carefully and then be capable of describing what is happening in an experiment.

The competition will provide teachers and librarians with resources to support the development of children’s descriptive writing skills and will encourage pupils to explore and experiment with descriptive language. The piece of writing they produce can be on any topic, giving teachers the option to either give their pupils free reign to choose what they want to write about or integrate the competition task into a current class topic.

Entries should be no longer than 250 words and will be judged in three age categories:

1. Lower Key Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4)

2. Upper Key Stage 2 (Years 5 and 6)

3. Key Stage 3 (Years 7, 8 and 9)

Alison Wilcox will judge the competition entries alongside Routledge’s editor, and pupils who enter will stand a chance of winning: • For themselves: £50 worth of book vouchers and a brand new tablet computer • For their school: £250 worth of David Fulton/Routledge books, membership to the National Literacy Trust Network and a school visit from Alison Wilcox to run writing workshops for the pupils and training for staff The shortlisted entries will be read by thousands and will feature in a gallery on the National Literacy Trust website.

Susie Musgrove, the National Literacy Trust’s Schools Officer says: “It is so important that young people are equipped with the skills and vocabulary to effectively describe and interpret the world around them (and in their imaginations!). We hope that the Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge will support them to develop these skills and vocabulary, whilst having fun with language along the way.”

Alison Wilcox, author of Descriptosaurus, says: “I am really excited about this competition as I am passionate about the power of descriptive language to enable children to develop the vocabulary and techniques to communicate their ideas and express their individuality. The restriction of the word limit to 250 words should enable the children to focus on their choice of words, and experiment with sentence structure and length to develop their text into something which they are proud to share with an audience.” The competition’s deadline is Friday 8 November – good luck with the Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge! To take part and download the teacher’s resources visit: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/descriptosaurus

I am honoured …

txh

I am delighted to receive Texthelp’s Dyslexia Champion Award for 2013. The award recognises, ‘someone that goes beyond the call of duty to help people with dyslexia and promote awareness.’ It is the first time my work in the field of dyslexia has been recognised.

I taught for many years at Coventry Technology College and for five years ran the BEN Unit, a large basic skills unit with over 500 learners, so I came across plenty of people of all ages with dyslexia and soon came to realise two things. First they were mostly really clever because they often hid their problems from family and employers and managed to cope with all the written text that life throws at you. Secondly that dyslexia was much more than a spelling problem or even a reading and writing problem.

I have written 5 books about dyslexia, including How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child published by Crimson Publishing which looks to bridge the gap between home and schools. Right now I am finishing off a series of conversation cards for Fink  called Dealing with Dyslexia at Home and Dealing with Dyslexia at School

When I worked at Becta the government agency for ICT I came to realise that technology could help people overcome the problems associated with dyslexia including literacy, short term memory and organisational issues.

Technology can help people be more independent. It ensures that their text is legible (not always the case with handwriting), can easily be edited and looks professional. But technology now is so much more than just the word processing software of a few years ago. Now it can read text, provide a picture dictionary, change the colour of text, help learners with study tools and fulfil many more functions.

TextHelp is one of the world’s leaders in the field of dyslexia software. They are in the vanguard of developers who make software easy to use for people who struggle with reading and writing. They don’t make ‘special’ software. They create tools which open up the web and standard software to everyone.

TextHelp are experts in ICT and dyslexia and I am honoured that they have recognised my contribution to the field.

FREE Science unit for every UK school

Tell your friends. Sunflower is offering a FREE science pack to every single secondary school in the UK. Click here to register your school

Back before Christmas I had a very nice breakfast in Canary Wharf. It is not the sort of thing I usually do. In fact it was the only time I have breakfasted there but I was meeting Elizabeth Kelly, Director of Schools Operations. We were there to talk about the new science curriculum and the units they were producing for Sunflower for Science

Sunflower has animations for DNA, Natural Selection, Electromagnetic Spectrum, Chemical Reactions and Heat Transfer modules which many teachers enjoyed at Bett his year.

Obviously I was interested in the special needs angle but in fact Sunflower’s materials are differentiated so they cover everyone from young people struggling with basic concepts in science to those who are on the gifted and talented register and are aiming for University or a career in the sciences.

Atoms and ions, bonding, diffusion and the periodic table are just a few of the units for chemistry and many pupils will enjoy following the story of the carbs, fat and protein in a pizza. Every programme comes with worksheets activities, quizzes and sample lessons.

‘One of the key features of Sunflower Science,’ Elizabeth told me, ‘is to make sure that teachers can deliver modules in scientific subjects outside their own specialism.’

Schools can buy one module at a time, ideal for those on a tight budget, but why not start with your freebie?

Caroline Wright, BESA and the House of Lords

Caroline Wright of BESA
Caroline Wright of BESA

Tonight I am meeting Caroline Wright face to face. I interviewed her for Merlin John Online 
We have emailed and talked on the phone so much that I feel as if I know her quite well but in fact we met just once – very briefly – at the farewell do for Ray Barker.

Caroline is not the new Ray. Nor is she a replacement. One thing I have learnt is that as the new director at BESA Caroline will put her own stamp on the organisation. She has a formidable pedigree with extensive overseas experience which will be of great benefit to the UK software community but she also has great charm

Most importantly she has a very clear set of values: ‘Education matters and is always likely to be featured in the first few pages of a newspaper because it is relevant to most of the population. We have all had an education and we nearly all know someone who is having one now. The role as a director at BESA ticks every box for me. I love education and this job lets me be part of a team and puts me back at the heart of strategy and delivery.’

Tonught I shall enjoy being BESA’s guest at their annual House of Lords reception.

Ray Barker retires from BESA

Last night was the end of an era for the British educational software industry as Ray Barker, director of BESA, retired.

Ray worked as a teacher, a multimedia publisher and ran an Education Action Zone before joining BESA. He was chair of judges for the BETT awards and was a regular commentator on changes in government legislation which affected the purchasing power of schools.

There are many ‘experts’ in the educational software industry but Ray really knew his stuff. He was a great networker, very pragmatic and found ways of making things work, often against the odds. He was a good friend to the special needs community. He had a particular interest in literacy and was keen to see a division of spoils which gave everyone a more equal chance. He was a very talented political animal and will be much missed. His successor at BESA is Caroline Wright who has a wealth of experience in government departments as well as in the public and private sector.

At his farewell do at the City of London Club, many representatives from the press, software companies, schools and key educational organisations turned out to wish him well.

Pictured here from left to right are are Ann Crick, Sal McKeown, John Crick (Crick software), Ray Barker, Mick Archer (former editor of Special Children magazine), John Galloway (journalist and adviser in Tower Hamlets), Carol Allen (special needs adviser for North Tyneside) and Amanda Peck from Mayer Johnson software

Let the Games Begin!

MissionMaker software

I do like it when children get a chance to make and do, instead of just being consumers. I particularly like it at Christmas when companies are falling over themselves to sell us things we do not want, need or even like.

So I was very pleased to see that Immersive Education which produces the award winning games-making software MissionMaker is solving parents’ problems with a special offer in the Sunday Times.

Just think – instead of your children engaging in acts of bloodthirsty warmongering online, they can create their very own! If you have a creative in your family they can make the professional 3D computer game of their dreams because the software comes with a library of backgrounds, audio and video and special effects as well as props and characters.

Even better they can share the games with their friends online. With a bit of luck this will guarantee a calm and hassle free holiday period for families with gaming enthusiasts.

Until the end of December 2011 parents can buy MissionMaker for just £25. Find out more HERE

Be a creator this Christmas, not a consumer!

Final Countdown to BETT special needs awards

The shortlists for the BETT awards have been announced and there are seven candidates left in the running for the ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions award:

Soundbeam 5, uses motion sensors to help those with physical, sensory or learning disabilities to create music. http://www.soundbeam.co.uk/
VOICEYE, Forcetenco makes Word documents accessible to those who need learning print or speech support www.forcetenco.co.uk/voiceye

shortlisted- resources for deaf people
Signed Stories

Signed Stories, ITV SignPost. At last, there is a nomination which benefits the deaf community. It has a host of stories with a strong visual appeal in British Sign Language (BSL) and subtitles to be shared with hearing family and friends . http://www.signedstories.com
Something Special – Out and About, BBC. To celebrate the 100th episode of the very popular programme Something Special the BBC has a new website with lots of accessible games and of course Mr Tumble http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/somethingspecial/games/somethingspecial-outandabout
Boardmaker Studio, Mayer-Johnson comes with device overlays and starter templates for hundreds of activities including maths surveys, quizzes and games. Students can record and playback their own audio recordings for speech and language activities. http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-studio/
Matrix Maker, Inclusive Technology. This has a mass of templates, symbols, pictures and resources. It will help teachers and therapists make communication overlays as well as worksheets, timetables labels and games. http://www.inclusive.co.uk/matrix-maker
Smooth Talker from Inclusive Technology is a really simple single switch communicator for special schools and early years settings. It will help children to develop basic communication skills http://www.inclusive.co.uk/smooth-talker-p4946

All will be revealed at the awards ceremony on Wednesday 11 January 2012 at the Hilton, Park Lane, London and on this site on 12th January.

Real Training recognises the most special school

There is some amazing work done in special schools and yesterday I met many teachers from schools shortlisted for the TES Award for Outstanding Special Needs School of the Year.

The finalists were:
The Bridge School, Telford, Shropshire
Frank Wise School, Banbury, Oxfordshire
James Brindley School, Birmingham
Newman School, Rotherham
The New School Butterstone, Dunkeld, Perthshire
The New School at West Heath, Sevenoaks, Kent

Pupil from Newman School shows Lorraine Petersen and Sal a magic trick

This award was sponsored by Real Training which specialises in online training courses such as the National Award for SEN co-ordination, an essential qualification for Sencos and the Certificate of Competence in Education Testing which means schools can use in-house expertise to assess children.

The ceremony took place at Park Lane Hilton with comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner as host. I was sitting with Lorraine Petersen, CEO of nasen the professional body for special needs staff. One young man from Newman School in Rotherham is a member of the magic circle and entertained us between main course and pudding with card tricks.

Mark Turner far right with winning school

The winning school was New School at West Heath in Sevenoaks, an independent school with a therapeutic unit which specialises in treating children who are severely traumatised. The school’s motto is “Rebuilding damaged lives” and they work with children from all over the country who have been abused or neglected.

At the end of the ceremony Lorraine Petersen turned to me and said, “Every day the government criticises schools and says the standards are not high enough. Events like this prove just how wrong they are.”

Mark Turner, Managing Director of Real Training, was delighted with the awards. He said, “I am so proud that Real Training can sponsor an award like this. Today, we have seen so many positive examples of excellent work in special schools which turns children’s lives around.”