The Education Show is coming very shortly (20-22 March) and I have to say it has improved immeasurably over the years. Although it is on my doorstep at the NEC in Birmingham it used to be my least favourite show. I felt it was very unfocused offering everything form sink plugs to robust crayons to school visits and the latest high tehc offerings from computer manufacturers. It is now a lot more fun.
Things I have loved in recent years have included seeing the tallest man in the world folding himself up to get in a lift, seeing Peter André lecturing a group of head teachers about why ‘Education is Very Important’ and seeing a man demonstrating the delights of wok cookery. What with the flashing chopper, hissing oil and sizzle of vegetables it must have given school bursars and staff health and safety reps much to think about.
This year the Ed Show has gone all cerebral on us. Not the Fonz or a footballer but instead Professor Brian Cox on Thursday. Presumably he will be talking about Life the Universe and Everything and How Things Can Only Get Better. And indeed they will. Because on Friday we have the lovely Dara Ó Briaindiscussing the importance of Maths & Science.
I have lined up nine seminars I want to cover including Dyscalculia Strategies and Solutions, Introducing Enterprise to Children through Play and Working with Children Who Have an Acquired Brain Injury.
I notice that this year there are 33 exhibitors for science but only 6 for food. Sadly, the man with the wok has had his day.
We will look back at the reading policy of the early years of this century with amazement and disbelief. Why do we waste children’s time getting them to read words which are not words? The government policy on reading is totally prescriptive, opting for synthetic phonics where letter sounds are learned and blended in order to ‘read’ text. Children are tested on this at KS1 and will be remediated if they have not mastered the art of sounding out nonsense words correctly. So children get penalised for reading -im as him because they are using their knowledge of the English language to make sense of a nonsensical word.
Teaching children to correlate letters and sounds, and to blend sounds into sequences, is decoding. It is not reading. Nowhere in their future life will young people need this skill. Instead we will expect them to read for meaning, read critically and gather inferences from text. So why don’t we teach them these skills from the off?
Durham University researcher Andrew Davis used to be a primary school teacher. His research shows that children who are starting to read when they enter school are actually disadvantaged by synthetic phonics. He argues those well on their way to reading will be bored witless by reading books featuring only words for which they have been taught the phonetic rules in class.
The Department for Education is sticking to its policy: ‘Research shows overwhelmingly that systematic phonics is the most effective way of teaching reading to children of all abilities, enabling almost all children to become confident and independent readers. Thanks to the phonics check 177,000 six-year-olds will this year get the extra reading help they need to catch up with their peers.’
Another way of looking at this is that 177,000 seven year olds will discover they are failures at the end of this school year
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.I 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.
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.
The impact of iPads and Androids on the world of AAC was the big theme for the Communication Matters annual conference at the University of Leeds last week.
Communication aids which can play back pre-recorded speech or generate synthetic speech have revolutionised the lives of many of the 300,000 children and adults in the UK who will need Augmentative and Alternative Communication at some point in their lives.
Many people who need AAC have severe and permanent physical disabilities from birth as a result of conditions such as cerebral palsy. Others have degenerative conditions which leave them unable to speak.
It is a disgrace that in a wealthy country such as Great Britain children and adults are being left without the power of speech simply to save money.
One solution is to find cheaper alternatives to the specialist aids. In recent times, companies have started to develop apps which will work with iPhones, iPads, Androids and other tablet devices.
Good news you might think. The trouble is that the users need support, training for themselves and their carers, robust devices which will bounce off pavements and ongoing research and development to make the next generation of communication aids the best that they can be. Buying a tablet online and downloading an app does not even begin to address these problems.
Catherine Harris, Chair of Communication Matters, summed up the dilemma saying: “It is an exciting time for the sector. Developments in adapting technology have increased the range of options for people and the growth of access methods, such as eye gaze, provide people with alternative ways to use their equipment. However, these developments need underpinning by comprehensive assessment, funding of equipment and longer term support services if they are going to be really effective.’
Look at this picture. What do you see? Ordinary people going about their everyday life. At last: an inclusive book!
Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alex Strick illustrated by cartoonist Ros Asquith shows a day in the life of a boy who is sports mad. Max also happens to have a hearing loss. He lives in the world most of us inhabit where there are people of different races and religions and some who have disabilities and additional needs.
There is so much you can do with this book. Use this page as a stimulus for discussion, drama and creative writing. Here are some suggestions to start you off.
1 In groups choose names for the characters.
2 Which character will find it hardest to go shopping?
3 Which character will face the most prejudice?
4 Choose one character and create a Day in the Life. Write or perform it
Gok Wan, famous for his programme How to Look Good Naked, once advised a young deaf girl: ‘Don’t be self-conscious of your hearing aid! Embrace it and show it off!-Maybe you could customise it with some fabulous diamante, to really make a statement out of it.’
Now young people can put his advice into practice.
On the Buzz, a forum run by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), has a section called Ear Art with ideas for designs and ways of using nail foil stickers to cover hearing aids or cochlear implants.
The forum is where deaf young can find out about events around the country and meet their contemporaries online. It can decrease social isolation and give them ready access to events and links to other online resources such as Your Local Cinema , a one stop site with information about showings of subtitled films.
The Buzz also provides guidance for young people who are trying to make plans for their future. Paul’s story is about going to college and becoming more independent while Sam’s story is about taking up an apprenticeship. Priya’s story will resonate with many young people at this time of year as it is about tactics and resources to counteract the stresses of preparing for examinations. See stories here.
He has done stand up for Comic Relief, trekked across a desert in northern Kenya and is one of the best known voices on Radio 4. But Peter White MBE, Disability Affairs Correspondent for the BBC, was not an early adopter of technology.
‘I am not a computer expert and not an especially good problem solver,’ he told a packed audience at the annual general meeting of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) in London. Like many others he was slow to embrace technology which he attributed to an understandable and all too common ‘fear of the new’.
However as a blind Braille user he was also exceptionally adept with old technology. Despite the cumbersome nature of the Perkins Brailler, he succeeded in the competitive world of media. producing and reading his own scripts. ‘I was a fast Braille reader and won awards,’ he said. ‘In fact, I was praised by TS Eliot and patted on the head by the Queen Mother.’
What converted him to computers was the increasing realisation that he was not a ‘good colleague.’ He could not collaborate with sighted people at the BBC because they could not read Braille and he could not see print. They needed to find a format which would work for both blind and sighted writers. Fortunately a technology enthusiast took him in hand and pointed out that he was missing out on a lot of good books if he just relied on Braille.
Early attempts to use the technology were not always plain sailing, Fifteen minutes before going on air for his In Touch programme, the Braille Embosser linked to a printer ate his script and he had to improvise. On another occasion his script was printed out in Grade 1 Braille. ‘It is very difficult to adapt if you have if not read it for 30 years,’ he recalled, ‘so I used a mixture of reading and desperate ad libbing: not an ideal combination if you are trying to explain the complexities of the benefit system.’
Despite being a convert to technology, Peter is concerned that new developments leave disabled people behind. Access to the digital world is as important as the right to text books or to equipment. The Equalities Act and Disability Discrimination Act have given disabled people physical access to buildings but he is calling for legislation to compel manufacturers to provide equal access to their products and services.
BATA supports this stance. With members drawn from charities, commercial organisations and specialist schools, BATA provides expert and informed opinion and impartial advice to government departments and agencies. They are calling on government to improve the availability of communications aids and assistive technology in schools.
‘As I get older I get more enthusiastic about the potential of technology.’ said Peter. ‘Speed of development must not leave blind people behind. New vistas have opened. It is crucial these opportunities are not snatched way.’
‘Technology, Special Needs and Disability ‘- Peter White MBE ,Disability Correspondent, BBC was sponsored by BATA member Noel Duffy from Dolphin Computer Access
Nasen was 21 last week and like all 21 year olds they had a bit of a knees up. This one was really good as it was at the House of Commons and the guest of honour was Roberta Blackman-Woods MP.
Nasen has long campaigned for better training for teachers and in the last two years they have worked with over 4000 SENCOs. The feedback they have received shows that teachers do not feel confident that they can cope with the increasingly diverse range of needs in schools today.
‘We need to ensure that teachers are supported and empowered to deliver the first class education that all children deserve, no matter what their abilities are,’ said Lorraine Petersen, nasen’s CEO. ‘We have come to rely very heavily on additional support- Teaching Assistants and Learning Support staff– often resulting in the least qualified being responsible for the education of the most vulnerable young people.’
Nasen is now to launch its Every Teacher campaign, with three main objectives, drawn from Sharon Hodgson’s recommendations in the Labour Party SEN Review:
• Every new teacher should undertake a minimum module on SEN as part of their initial teacher training to support them in identifying and intervening with pupils
• One inset day per year given over to promoting good practice on inclusive teaching, sharing experience and knowledge of SEND
• SENCOs should to be part of the Senior Leadership Team
The campaign is very timely. SENCOs and teachers will soon have to cope with many changes to special needs provision: new SEND legislation, the single school based assessment process, the introduction of Education, Health and Care Plans with optional Personal Budgets, radical changes to school funding plus the growth in academies and free schools will all provide huge challenges to educational professionals over the next two years.
It’s good to know that nasen will be looking after their interests.
I have always loathed the voices on speech synthesis. I know disabled kids who think it is a laugh to sound like a Dalek but I think it’s sad and particularly depressing for adults who might have all their materials for a degree course read out in a robotic voice. But voices are getting better and I have two good news stories
First JISC TechDis commissioned CereProc to create Jack and Jess, two new high-quality voices that can be used with text-to-speech tools. The big story is TechDis has managed to obtain a wonderful licensing agreement so that all staff and learners in publicly funded post-16 education in England should be eligible to download the voices free of charge.
That means that if you are studying in Adult & Community Learning; Further Education; Higher Education; Offender Learning; Sixth Form Colleges; Specialist Colleges; UK Online Centres; Voluntary Sector; and Work-based Learning you won’t pay a penny. Ask at your education centre or college now.
Alistair McNaught, Senior Adviser at JISC TechDis is excited about the prospect of real voices for the estimated 4.5 learners out there who could benefit. ‘Now hundreds of thousands of print impaired learners have a decent voice to listen to while they are studying and won’t be embarrassed if they want to access talking materials while they are out walking or doing household chores. The stigma about using such software tools vanishes. This will have a massive impact on their productivity and confidence.’
Click here for more information
Voices for children
It’s not just adult voices which are improving. Rosie and Harry were shortlisted for the BETT ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions 2013. 74,000 children and teens in England cannot speak for themselves and need a voice for their assistive technology. Rosie and Harry are the first English voices for children. Acapela Group and AssistiveWare best known for former BETT winner Proloquo2Go have pioneered the development of these voices which in time will become available in other products too.
Harry sounds pretty normal but Rosie is definitely Home Counties which means girls will sound more like Hermione from Harry Potter than Lisa Simpson. More news here.
Anna Reeves, National AAC Coordinator for England said, ‘These new voices will further transform the lives of children who cannot speak and the lives of those around them. It may be the very first time that families hear their own children speak with a child’s voice – you can’t put a price on that.’