Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Z is for Zillions of Z words!

Well I’ve made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge – every letter of the alphabet has been duly posted and now it’s
 So I thought as it is the last post, I would write a poem based on the letter z about the children I work with and some of their special needs  - see if you can guess what each one might possibly be (answers right at the end of the blog).

Z is for zig-zags
As I look at the words on the paper and they float about all over the page
Z is for zebra
My favourite animal I can talk to you about for hours instead of doing my maths
Z is for Zebedee (from the Magic Roundabout)
My nickname ‘cos I bounce about and can’t sit still in class when I'm writing
Z is for zips
Which I struggle with when I have to put on or take off my coat
Z is for zoning out
Only for a few seconds but I still miss things in class and it's all a muddle
Z is for zero
On my test paper
Cos I didn’t understand the questions and there was no one to help
But Z is also for the zest and zeal
My teacher tells me I have in lots of other things I do
and finally please remember
Z is for Zenith
The success and power I will have if I'm given the right support and understanding.

A really big thank you to all those who have become followers during this month or have commented on my posts – I have so enjoyed becoming part of the A to Z community and opening myself up to a whole lot of new blogs and experiences.  If you would like to leave a comment about this post or maybe which blogs have become special to you during the challenge please do so – I’d love to hear and please do keep popping back and visiting me in the coming months.

TpT Resource is Z is for Zoo

Answers - Possibly: dyslexia, autistic spectrum, ADHD, dyspraxia, epilepsy, a whole range of learning difficulties

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Y is for Yesteryear in special needs education

Until I began teaching, I didn’t really have an understanding of the education provided for children with special needs that had been going on through my childhood and early adult hood.  I remember being quite horrified when being told the history of special needs provision in England during my one afternoon of SEN teaching lectures given as part of my teacher training at university.  

I couldn’t really remember anyone with special needs at school – some children learned at a slower pace than others, some didn’t seem to get maths or writing very well but we were all part of a class with one teacher to provide for our different learning needs.  My only experiences of children who might have disabilities came in books that I read so the first real child I met who was “disabled” was in my last year of primary when I changed schools and they had been badly hurt in a car accident which had affected their physical mobility as well as their intellectual ability.  They did not seem to me to be a particularly nice person – saying rude and hurtful things to me as the “new”girl – and I have to admit I did not like her.  But then when I learned about the system of special schools, where many children had been sent whatever their perceived “disability” was, I realised that in effect my schooling had taken place in a very segregated environment.

My research into special needs has necessitated me finding out much more about the views in the past of how special needs education should or could be delivered.  It does not make for pleasant reading but then again I do not feel the present education system which is trying to close special schools (that have improved so much over the past twenty years) and send children into mainstream without the support they need is a fair or just one either.  
My fears are not so much for the primary aged children but for those going into the mainstream secondary schools (ages 11-18).  I know that it is the general mixing with other pupils at break and lunch times that is the most worrying for children there – bullying occurs – isolation and low self-esteem take over for many of the most vulnerable.  In lesson time, they are often placed in smaller classes but with children that have major behavioural issues so they feel unsafe and the quality of the teaching is compromised by the routine disruption.

We have made great strides towards a more inclusive and supportive education for those children who need extra help by learning from the mistakes made in yesteryear but we must make sure that we do not allow these children to be left to flounder in the future due to lack of finances for special schools when that is the correct environment for that child.

Please let me know what your views are on whether special schools and mainstream should both exist in our education system?  Do you have any personal experience as parents, educators or students as to what would be your perfect learning environment and how transfer to secondary schools could be made better?

TpT product hot off the press is Y is for Yo Ho Ho Pirate Odds & Evens game

Monday, 28 April 2014

X is for Xpress

 is for …. –  you know I was so worried about what I would be able to post for this letter but luckily I have found some special needs info to share all with the word Xpress in – so here goes today’s post!

As the itunes website says:

 “The ‘Autism Xpress’ has been created to help promote greater awareness about autism spectrum disorders. It is designed to encourage people with autism to recognizes and express their emotions through its fun and easy to use interface.”

I loved the info-graphic on the College Xpress site all about special needs – So Visual!!! 

Check it out and find other information at:

For lots of research and articles on Autism head over to Medical Xpress where you can peruse at your leisure.

And finally Sped Xpress - a website for parents and teachers over in the USA that deals with a number of special needs issues

If you found any of this at all helpful – let me know or if you have any other info on special needs education you would like to share please post a comment below.

My TpT Resource X is for X Marks the Spot Treasure Map Reading Game

Saturday, 26 April 2014

W is for Wobble Boards, Widgit, Wheelchairs & Walkers and the World Wide Web

For those of you who don’t know, a wobble board is a special type of cushion that can be placed on the seat of a child that helps maintain their concentration.  Well that’s the theory!  It is also useful for helping develop core stability.  They have been found to be particularly useful for children with ADHD due to their unpredictable surface the child has to concentrate on sitting and is therefore less prone to fidgeting.  I am about to introduce them as such a tool around our school so I will tell you what I found the reality was in a few weeks time!

Widgit is a communication program that allows symbols to be produced along with text.  There are many downloads available and they can be very useful in supporting children’s reading and understanding of text across a whole range of needs and ages.  It offers the potential to increase independence for many children in understanding instructions and knowing what steps to progress through in a class situation if the child is given support in learning the meaning of the symbols.  See the website for further details:
Wheelchairs and Walkers in school provide additional help to children who need this due to their medical condition.  However, children should be part of the process about as and when they would like to use them - often it might be at playtime for extra support or mobility, at other times it might be of the extra support when seated (wheelchair) for better fine motor control (writing at a table) or if the child is tired and feeling floppy.  The OT (occupational therapist) will assist parents and schools in getting the correct equipment and as the child grows the walkers and chairs change.  Other children should also be told not to fiddle, sit in or push the chair or walkers to prevent damage either to the child or the equipment.

And finally for the letter W...I can honestly say I do not know how I would have been able to support children with special needs if it wasn’t for the World Wide Web and the information that I can access from the comfort of my own home.  Research papers, other school’s polices and paperwork, the views and practices of teachers from around the world have allowed me to provide educational resources and teaching that would not have been possible twenty years ago.  The wealth of information out there is amazing but it still needs finding and refining to suit the individual children I help to support.  The reason for my blog is to help connect to others and bring information to my door as well as hopefully offer some support to others out there also seeking answers.  Long may it continue!

TpT resource is W is for winter birds upper and lower case alphabet match

Friday, 25 April 2014

V is for Volunteers

My journey into teaching came about through becoming a parent volunteer in the nursery when my eldest child began attending (another mother and I shared child-minding service – she would look after my littlest and I did likewise for her so we could both give two hours a week).  Washing paint pots, clearing clutter, listening to children read were some of the things I did and when my oldest transferred to primary school and my youngest was in morning nursery I split my volunteering between the two schools and graduated in to a year one classroom as a parent volunteer one morning a week as well.  This led to becoming a teaching assistant in the school and then going back to university to gain my post graduate teaching qualification and begin my career as a teacher. 

So I know how rewarding it can be to volunteer and I know as a teacher how wonderful it is to have the services of dedicated volunteer parents in the class.  I also know how not everyone sees things this way!  However, the added pair of hands, the extra pair of eyes and ears and the various talents volunteers bring with them into the classroom all helps to organise a busy class.  I have often asked parents to volunteer to join in for the occasional “making afternoons” – building ships, bridges, Tudor houses, papier-mâché Greek vases, musical instruments, sewing pencil cases etc or for supporting on school trips and mums, dads, grandmas, granddads, uncles and aunts have all trooped through my door willing to support their child (as well as a couple of others!)  This more individualised support is invaluable as it allows children to experience things they would otherwise not be able to both inside and outside the classroom. I also like that years later when I meet parents of children who have since left my school they remind me of how I "collared" them into coming in and showing off their talents and what they learned by being in the class!

Times have changed since I was a parent volunteer and all parents that wish to volunteer on a regular basis now have to be CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked before they can begin volunteering in school.  There have been various articles written in the press about how this can put some parents off volunteering but if children are going to be mixing within the classroom and school halls with adults on a regular basis then it is a reasonable precaution to take to safeguard them to the best of our ability.

Since becoming the SENCO at my school, I have also asked certain parents if they would be willing to give some extra support for children with special needs and we have talked about the need for confidentiality and the need to understand the position of the parents of these children so that no-one is upset by the offer of help.  I always tell volunteer parents that there are plenty of opportunities in school for them to be placed in different areas so if they find it hard working with children with SEN then they must tell me and they can be offered alternative work.  It is far better to learn where your strengths lie rather than be shoe horned into something that doesn’t fit!  There are about 50% who after trialling it for a few weeks, ask if they can be rotated elsewhere because at the end of the day working with children who do need that extra support is a demanding task but the other 50% who continue have been able to see that the tiny steps the children make are the equivalent of climbing giant mountains in what they have achieved and feel incredibly grateful to have been on that journey with them.  I also have to say that what has impressed me is the extra support those volunteer parents have given – bringing in extra resources they have had at home or even making resources as they have got to know the children better, playing to the children’s interests to improve their learning. So to all the parent volunteers out there, a very big thank you for all that you do. 

TpT resource is going to be V is for Verbs (same resource as yesterday but I'm afraid needs must!!)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

U is for United, Unique, Units and Underpaid

In my school, the children are united in their wish for everyone to be a part of their school – as I have already written about in earlier blogs I am immensely proud of their understanding of everyone being unique. We celebrate our differences and we find it difficult to understand when or where this was or isn’t always the case.  However, I know this is not true of all the teachers in the school – some do believe that certain children should not attend mainstream and even though I also wish that some would be given the chance to attend a special school that would fulfil the teaching and learning they require – this is really a tiny minority (less than 1%).  For a lot of our children with special needs having their peers around them fulfils them in the way that is most important to children – they have fun, have social interaction and they play well together – let’s forget learning for a moment.  These interactions are not always available in certain classes in special schools so it is a case of weighing up again what is right for that particular child and not how some would do – lump them together and send them elsewhere.

Some mainstream schools have “units” attached to them – these are often called “additional resource bases” now.  In theory, certain children will be educated here in small classes for certain lessons based on their particular special needs (e.g. autism unit) and will re-join their mainstream peers for other lessons during the day.  I obviously do this to some extent with having small groups withdrawn for maths and literacy during those lesson times or for supplemental lessons during afternoon classes but there is a much wider group of children going out (and this included Gifted and Talented) so there is not the same stigma attached that could happen if it is only a particular group that is educated in the “unit”.  I would imagine that once again each school is different in how it uses its “Unit” and the quality of teaching that goes on – I have visited a few in my time and some were wonderful and some not so (more like a detention centre!)

Lastly, I get on to the subject of underpaid.  I am not going to bang the gong for teachers but I do want to stand up for those many countless hundreds of thousands of Teaching Assistants around the world who are doing an incredible job helping to support children and teachers.  Those many that have got qualifications (including degrees) that far outweigh some teachers and for the most part are being paid on some of the lowest levels because that is what the job was advertised at (countless years ago) but doing way more than the job now entails and all because of their love of helping children succeed.  I too was once one of these being paid as a Level 2 (the levels begin at 1) despite being qualified as a teacher and working towards my MA whilst planning and teaching daily literacy for a group of twelve children with a range of special needs and EAL as well as co-ordinating art and being a TA for three teachers.  No these TAs do not want to become teachers (many have other commitments in their lives especially raising their own families) but they should be paid a wage commensurate with what they actually do.  All I get told is that if they want to be on a level 3 then they need to be in front of a classroom of kids holding the fort when the teacher is away – this is not where their skills lie and is demanding in a totally different way as well as needing completely different skill set. 

I’d love to know what you think – particularly those who are working as teaching assistants – are you afraid you will lose the job that you love doing if you push for a higher level or are you always being promised an increase but it just never seems to come around?

TpT for the day is U is for UFO Irregular Verbs game:

I have to thank the A to Z Challenge for giving me the extra push to make my products available on the TpT site – April has been my most prolific month since I started – mainly because I have had to create or upload for certain letters of the alphabet – like today!!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T is for Training

A short post today – school holidays mean swapping school jobs for home jobs unfortunately so I have a garden and home to do maintenance on today as time is running out before I return to school!

raining for SEN is expensive, time restrained and not very practical – or so it appears to me.  Course leaflets regularly come into my pigeon hole at school but very few offer what teachers need and the cost is normally so prohibitive to a school’s budget (sending one member of staff for £199 for one day’s training is not realistic when we also need to pay another £200 pounds in costs for a supply teacher!) that often I just put them straight into the recycling bin.

Training for teachers needs to be about how we manage special needs within a classroom setting rather than a general awareness of a particular need or a day of being geared to how to best teach that one child forgetting about all the others in the class.  More courses need to be laid on for our support assistants about managing groups, new ideas in special needs education and trying out resources.  

Some training has been brilliant such as Talkboost this was for both teachers and TAs with quality resources given on the day and for the whole class delivery as well as specific groups based on improving communication for some of our youngest children in school which would have major benefits as they proceed through their education.  I also attend free seminars given by a variety of specialists and teachers (private and public) at the Education Show once a year.  Their ideas often come from their own experiences and have been tried and tested in real classrooms with real children.

Free training should in my view be offered for the benefit of all – why should a school be penalised if they have children with special needs – why should they have to pay more for their training than a school which does not have such needs but both are measured by the success of all pupils?  Remember that every time a teacher goes on a training course their class has to be covered so there is always a cost to the school whether the training is free or not!

I would also like to be able to disseminate training in my own school on a regular basis but this would need to be after school and with all the other things teachers do after the children go home – sorting resources, marking books, parent meetings, running clubs for children it is very difficult to find the time for such meetings to occur.  Our once a week staff meetings which normally last up to 1 ½  hours are already packed with new government initiatives, whole school data and assessment analysis, moderation meetings and learning about the latest ICT and curriculum packages so special needs training is way down the list.

I’d love to know how others feel about training – maybe let others know about any useful tips you picked up on your latest course or about how you disseminate training in your own school – what are the best ways to do this?

TpT resource T is for Telling the Time – I have just reduced this in my store!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

S is for Special, Successful and Sufferance.

As you have probably gathered by now, I think that the vast majority of the children I work with (or have worked with) try really hard and put in so much effort whilst they are at school.  The odd one doesn’t but I often think that is because they can see the reality of their situation – they see their peers able to do the things they are trying to learn and after a while they give up trying because it is just too hard – I’d do that too (I well remember trying to clear a high jump set well above my shoulder height that the other taller girls could do but I couldn’t – when it came to my final turn I just walked up and pushed the pole off the bars – needless to say I got a detention!)  These children often have the ability to do other things well and enjoy life outside of school so to them school is a place they would much rather not be and see no use for.  I wish I could change the school system for children such as these to accommodate them to play to their strengths but the education side is firmly set on improving grades in maths, reading and writing above all else.

Some of the students have had amazing ways of doing things that I couldn’t fathom (one child could manipulate complex shapes so well they could put patterns together upside down and back to front in a fraction of the time I could – yet they would struggle to name a 2D shape if asked).  Many have such kind and thoughtful feelings towards others, they make super support workers for younger children or they have such innovative ideas/sense of humour way beyond their years. 
It is the children that make going to work in a school the greatest job on earth.  I love their enthusiasm, their instant feedback, their new ideas, the un-diluted lust for life they possess – they give me so much joy in the work that I do that it helps balance the adult perspective within the setting of grinding out grades and keeping paperwork up to date and neatly filed!!

Each child is special and because of this every child has special needs – who amongst us can say we never struggle with learning anything new?  The good teachers amongst us try to adapt our day to day teaching with differentiation, visual aids, small group work and if we see that certain children need more we try other things out of our bag of magic tricks and ask others for increased support (enter my team and I).

I try very hard each day to make a special moment for all the children lives I touch so that they have this chance to see themselves as successful and enjoy that particular part of the school day knowing that for some that may be the moment they can relive when things are not going so great at other times.

I am always looking into the future for all the children I teach – I want them to be in employment, raising a family, having friends and being part of society in a productive way.  The 3Rs is only part of the whole to be successful in life so changing education to give everyone an equal chance at a successful outcome is what I would like to see.  School shouldn’t be a place of sufferance for some – school days should be the best days of our lives! 

My TpT resource is S is for Spelling Summer words:

and the Sing with me Sight Words TpT shop

where this month Heather Rice is donating all of her earnings towards providing a play area for a shelter who cater for children who have been abused.

Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Resources, Responsibility and Rhetoric

Listed below are two websites that as well as TpT I often turn to for those resources that can make such a difference to students who find the normal process of learning difficult. - lots of great resources for a very wide range of specialist needs and all free - lots and lots of great lesson plans and ideas plus resources by teachers who have created and used them

Responsibility – who should be responsible for improving the outcomes for those children with special needs?  Is it solely the responsibility of the school they go to?  What about the education authority and the extra specialist services it could provide for those who need it?  Children are in the family home three times more than they are at school so what learning takes place there?

As I have previously commented, the UK government’s new proposals include making teachers even more accountable for the progress of children with special needs but teachers are also responsible for the other children in the class to maintain their test scores and for the gifted and talented to be further pushed – so the reality is that if the teacher is not going to receive any extra support or help how is this going to happen?  I’d like to be another 6 inches taller but just setting that as a target is not going to change anything!!

I feel that we are once again heading into the realm of government rhetoric rather than a real change for the better in special needs education.  I have recently been reading an article looking at the American education system and the changes over the past few years which I think sums up what I feel will happen here in the UK too.

TpT resource is R is for Reading:

there is also one for English (U.S.)

Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Provision, Policy, Practice and Parents

In the UK, major changes are under way in the provision of special needs education.  Due out in September there should be a new Code of Practice that will govern how schools will provide and educate children with special needs. It proposes that schools must teach students of all abilities in a mainstream setting by personalising and carefully structuring lessons.  Teachers will become responsible for all of the children in their class and must provide the required differentiation to allow them to succeed. They should regularly assess and develop students' progress and will be held accountable for this.

Various articles and the comments on them show the polarisation that is now taking place between those in government and those in the actual teaching community.  The way forward appears to be a top down approach with reductions in funding, an insistence on teachers doing more and disparaging remarks about the quality of support assistants working with children with special needs.  Parents are given the false hope that all will be much better but are also slated for wanting more individualised support for their child.

I feel as if I am swirling around about to go down the plughole.  I care passionately, I work with support staff who also care, I listen and try to encourage parents to fight for what their child needs and all I can see is a wide chasm opening up where these children are going to lose out because they are not allowed the education they deserve due to lack of funding and unrealistic expectations placed on the shoulders of their class teachers and parents given false hope that things will be better.

I recently attended a local authority conference about the proposed changes and me being me raised the question of just how many parents had been informed about the changes proposed because in my school no parent was aware until I told them.  If looks could have killed I think I might have been dead!

Please let me know your views on our changing educational systems wherever you are in the world.  What government legislation is making a positive difference?  Are you struggling with financial issues in implementing educational changes?  Let’s share good practice and please forgive my moanings.

TpT resource P is for Pempi’s Palace – please visit my store and hopefully find something you can use in the education of children!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for Ofsted and Outstanding

In teaching, we do not get taught how to teach children with special needs except for perhaps half a day out of our entire time at university if you do the post graduate one year entry as I did.  You are reliant on gleaning advice on what may work through asking other teachers, consulting with parents and trawling the internet.  When you become SENCO every other teacher thinks you have the answers to all the problems and that’s just not the case.  Even having gone on a master’s course for SENCOs over here in the UK which now officially all SENCOs must go on and pass within three years of becoming a SENCO (the SENCO Award) it is mainly about the history of SEN and how we manage some of the paperwork involved instead of how to best teach children with special needs.  I know the reason - because there is no sure fire way for any of these unique children and all of us have to try different methods before one seems to catch with learning something in a particular way but not necessarily the same way for another thing so how can we possibly be taught what to use for those with special needs.

So enter Ofsted – the equivalent of the name Voldemort in the Harry Potter stories – a name no teacher wishes to utter in fear they will descend and castigate the school.  They are supposed to be the UK government’s way of maintaining standards but in my experience they only have a cursory glance at what is the actual make up of a school and make judgements purely on figures that have to be above national average for a school to be rated good whatever the intake of the school.  Those schools with an intake (such as my own) of children who come from families with a poor education themselves, no-one working and less than half in stable relationships must be on a par with those middle-class families from the leafy suburbs!!  Both my daughter’s and son’s schools (rated outstanding) only take those who pass their entrance exams which immediately puts you in the top 5% of the country and certainly I wouldn’t class some of the teaching as outstanding at my daughter’s school. 

I also return to the question of how Ofsted expect children on the SEN register at my school to make the same progress as their peers yet at a special school it would appear another scale is used and those children do not have their results published.  During our last Ofsted inspection, the lead inspector told me I should concentrate on not allowing children to come to our school who had special needs – and I don’t think they were joking!!  Trying to be an outstanding school, based on figures, where children with special needs (who despite their best efforts) still bring the average down is to my way of thinking near impossible.  I desperately want to give the children at my school the best education possible suited to their needs and as I unsuccessfully argued with Ofsted there should be a value placed on the smiles of the children as much as their intellectual ability to pass tests of maths and literacy!

Please let me know about the outstanding teaching your children receive and what that equates to in your eyes?

TpT resource is O is for Ordering sizes:

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Nessy, Numbers and Nursery Rhymes

This is my second post of the day in order to catch up with the Challenge and be back on track for Thursday.

Nessy is a program aimed at children with dyslexia that I wrote briefly about in my D is for Dyslexia post earlier in the A to Z Challenge.  Due to my limited funding, I only have one copy bought two years ago but my dream would be to have enough copies for all 15 of our ICT suite computers plus another couple of laptops (I’d like the laptops to be SEN only if I’m spending imaginary money!!)  As it is the start of a new fiscal year I will be requesting another 5 copies (we’ll see how it goes) and then it might be possible to have a Nessy group scheduled for 6 children set up for the next half term this summer!  Yipee!!
Nessy basically is a computer programme that helps build children’s learning through understanding and repetition of the main rules of spelling by playing lots of computer games and the reward of collecting food to grow your own little Nessy from egg to beast.  I hasten to add that this type of program helps all types of children (not just those with dyslexia) come to terms with the vagaries of English spelling – how I wish it had been around in my day!

I am not saying this will automatically make children with dyslexia be able to read and spell in line with their peers but I do think this programme gives those children a better understanding and embedding over time of strategies that will help them make sense of the English language.  It certainly gives them a sense of immediate achievement when they play the games and has helped a number of children (particularly boys) overcome their dislike/fear of literacy.

If you are interested please check out their UK website –
I know they are also available in the U.S. now and have a youtube channel

N is also for numbers which is where a lot of children experience problems lower down the school and are brought to my attention as having a possible special educational need.  Understanding number is a huge area and if children have missed out on those precious nursery rhymes and songs which help their rhythm and repetition of counting both forwards and backwards e.g. 1,2,3,4,5, once I caught a fish alive, Five little ducks went swimming one day, One man and his dog, There were ten in the bed etc they are already at a huge disadvantage.  Part of my special needs groups for maths lessons are to do with learning such songs (and you would surely be shocked by how many 6 and 7 year olds do not know them!!)  Putting the names of numbers to amounts is the next large step and confident and exact counting (one to one correspondence) takes time to build up – it also requires the presence of an adult to ensure they are doing this correctly!  Next the writing of numbers is another whole skill in itself for young children and many will continue to write numbers back to front before this skill becomes secure.  I wish I had a pound for each child that is referred to me with the teacher’s question “does this mean they’re dyslexic?”  Practice, practice, practice is a whole lot of what is needed and meaningful learning to ensure children understand that number has a place in their everyday lives – building up the sequence of numbers on a clock face, price labels, house numbers, how many pencils are there and is there enough for everyone?

If you have a clever tip to share on making numbers easier for young children to understand and use please let me know.  Also share your number nursery rhymes and songs and we could maybe build up a bank of them to share later on in the A to Z Challenge.

TpT resource is N is for Number Bonds (or Addends):

M is for MLD (Mild Learning Difficulties)

Sorry I was unable to post yesterday as no internet connection so I am making two posts to catch up - please forgive.

In the U.K. when a child is entered on to the special needs register the SENCO must put which need the child has: specific learning need, speech and language, behavioural or a learning difficulty either Mild, Moderate or Severe.  Designating the category of MLD is often what I am left with if I do not think the child’s need fits into any of the aforementioned categories but the definition states that MLD is for those children who have “significantly below-average general intellectual functioning”.  These children may experience difficulty with reading, writing and comprehension and have poor understanding of mathematical concepts. They are likely to struggle with both the content and presentation of their work and will need constant reinforcement.  Obviously the children I am putting on to the register and discussing issues with parents are falling behind their peers and struggling in class but do they really have a MLD?
My next problem is – what can be done to help them?  I have read so much and most is exactly what I try to do but it still doesn't move their learning on to catch up with their peers.  It is also extremely difficult to once again fit their learning styles and amount of repetition needed into a mainstream primary school although we are constantly told by the government that “Quality First Teaching” will solve all problems!!  I am hopefully attaching a link to a document about strategies that help for those who are looking for a check list but I have to say I still feel that the way in which these children are still expected to make the same progress and teachers are held accountable for this is ludicrous.  Surely if children make the same progress as their peers they do not have special educational needs!

A shorter post than normal and forgive any ravings (probably due to the anaesthetic I am pumped with after dental surgery earlier today!)  Any help or insights gladly received.
TpT resource for M is Measurement

Sunday, 13 April 2014

L is for Learning Support Assistants, Language and Literacy.

I am sorry but I am going to be off the grid for the next couple of days and as it is Monday over here in jolly old England I will post early knowing it will show as Sunday on the blog.

Ionce was a LSA and so began my journey into teaching.  I worked closely with a wonderful teacher who taught me, respected my strengths and allowed me to spread my wings and a kind, insightful headteacher who valued all staff and wanted them to be the best that they could be.  I loved working with children in small groups, doing exciting, interesting things with them and creating resources to help them learn and I got the total joy of having time to spend with them that allowed them to talk to me about what they had done, liked, wanted out of life etc. 
When I became a teacher this changed, due to the numbers of children in my class, and I couldn’t give the more individual attention when children needed it and I had to rely on my LSAs to do this.  Good LSAs are worth their weight in gold and I have been privileged to have worked with so many.  Caring and compassion are values children need to have around them to allow them to take risks and not be afraid of failure. 

I find now that time for LSAs to have conversations with children is rapidly diminishing too in this world where we are striving to educate children in every second they are at school.  It is sad that things that mean so much to children can have no time to be spoken about and I fear that this will lead to further problems for many of them that have no other adult they can turn to in their lives.  It is no wonder that when I go into the dining hall I have many children saving me a space next to them so that we can chat and they can tell me all about what has happened to them!

If children do not have the language skills they need as they enter school, they stand a big risk of falling rapidly behind their peers.  Not understanding what others mean because you do not have a wide enough vocabulary and not being able to communicate with others because you have not developed the social conventions and skill of language causes many problems including those relating to behaviour.  As I have previously blogged, we are now in the process of screening all children and setting up language interventions for those who need it in our early years (3-5 year old) classes. 

However, we still have many problems associated with language in our older years and trying to give children the same language as their peers when they have missed so many intervening stages is really difficult.  Time spent in small groups with LSAs gives many of these children the chance to be understood and refine their language to express themselves adequately but they need a lot of time to practise this and this cannot be provided in a mainstream school involving class lessons where the teacher has to deliver lessons with pace built on the majority and not the minority.  This is where the support of other LSAs working within the class is so important to be able to restructure language for those children so that they understand what is happening or what is expected of them. 

I recall very clearly the literacy lessons I taught many years ago, to my class of 30 children, centred around Ted Hughes’ “The Iron Man”. I had a child joining the school age 9 from a different country and very little English – I endeavoured to draw as Ted Hughes read his book (thank goodness I had a tape recorder and a tape to play!) The attention of all children focused on the drawings including the particular child I was doing this for and their remembering was so much better particularly when they re-enacted chapters we had read out in drama and dance because they truly understood what the words meant and even the child with little English was engaged and could join in to a great extent.

TpT resources L is for Literacy

Check out

Saturday, 12 April 2014

K is for Kinaesthetic

When you are looking for ways to improve learning for children, kinaesthetic teaching has to be tried.  There are three main ways of teaching – VAK for short:

But for many teachers the main way is still auditory “talking to / at “ the children with some visuals thrown in for good measure.

Having the children do something helps them to understand the process or even figure it out for themselves and this aids their learning and recall.  Which leads on nicely to the famous quote:

Boys make up almost 70% of children with Special Educational and more boys have lower grades/behavioural difficulties in the earlier years of school than girls. Is it because of their learning style?    Girls tend to have developed an auditory learning style by the time they are at least nine with boys reaching this about two years later.  Look at the chart below and see the challenges some children face and yet with kinaesthetic teaching they can learn incredibly well.
·         Sitting still and completing solo tasks
·         Listening
·         Spacing letters in handwriting
·         Interpreting nonverbal communications
·         Interacting positively with peers
·         Problem solving
·         Controlling impulses
·         Writing legibly in cursive
·         Spelling, particularly if instruction involves a phonetic approach
·         Recalling what was seen or heard
·         Recalling visual images
·         Expressing emotions without physical movement and gestures
·         Sticking with one activity for long periods
·         Activities that involve movement
·         Large motor skill activities
·         Art activities requiring physical movement, such as sculpture and woodworking
·         Field trips that involve physical activity
·         Real-life experiences
·         Dramatic activities, role-play
·         Dance and sports
·         Physical relaxation exercises
·         Frequent changes of learning groups
·         Hands-on activities, working with manipulatives

If anyone is interested in learning more about this type of learning and things to do then these websites might be of interest.

The TpT resources for today's letter K are brought to you courtesy of Heather Rice - she has some wonderful resources for learning using VAK so check her store out

K is for Kitty in the Paint -

Friday, 11 April 2014

J is for Jungle, Jargon, Joy and Jigsaws

Jungle – you may well be asking - what on earth does that have to do with special needs education?  Well it’s a really amazing blog by Tania Tirraoro - Special Needs Jungle – that I came across when I began life as a SENCO (Special Needs Co-ordinator).  It can be a jungle out here in Special Needs for parents so she brings together plenty of news, reviews and insights in to how parents can receive the help their child is entitled to.  Sometimes it makes for difficult reading as a teacher because we don’t come out in a very positive light but it is always beneficial to see things from parents’ perspectives and I think it is an amazing blog – so even though she’s is not taking part in the challenge go and check it out!

Jargon – is the bane of everyone’s life.  I remember in my first IPM meeting (called and organised by my predecessor) having to ask the other professionals who had gathered there in the room what the initials actually stood for (Initial Professionals Meeting!)  We all agreed we would probably get along well as I was obviously not too shy in showing my own ignorance and I had a great desire to learn!  Please feel free if there is anything in these snippets I write you don’t understand just comment and  ask me because it is so easy to fall in to the trap that everyone knows what you’re talking about.

Joy – I have already talked about the immense pleasure you get in seeing a child understand something for the first time or be able to write a word independently using their phonics or learn how to use the number square to help themselves work something out.  I have been in other professions before I became a teacher and there is nothing like it.  My husband always says he sees my job as being his way to giving back to our community – he supports our family financially with a job that pays well but is for its own means – whilst I go out to give the support and fun the children in my school need for a very poor salary compared to the hours I work.  I think I get what he’s on about and I certainly wouldn’t trade his job for mine whatever the financial incentive!

And finally Jigsaws - which I love to use with all children either doing numbers 1-20 and the alphabet in their early years.  Children love jigsaws and finding the right piece is a skill all by itself.  For special needs children, jigsaws can be a very good way for independent learning or assessment and I love using them as an interactive resource for many things.  My freebie TpT product today is my "One Less than" jigsaws - can the child find the number that goes before the given number between 11 and 19?  Enjoy!!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

IEPS and Inclusion

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan that should be used to help everyone in a school plan and teach specific targets related to an individual child. It should be reviewed on a regular basis (once a term) to review the targets that have been set and consult with all those involved with the child on next steps.  In the UK there isn't a standard format for IEPs but they should include targets that are SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Note the word individual.  I have worked in schools where there have been more than half the class on IEPs but there have been groups of at least six children with the same IEP targets – this is not IEP territory!!  Provision Mapping for children on School Action (the first tier in Special Needs) is the way I prefer to do things – which means that those children who need some specific help in certain things e.g. learning phonic digraphs – are placed in smaller groups either within the class or given outside class support and therefore learn with others according to their needs but these are not individual needs.  I am not a lover of paperwork - I prefer action – so wasting precious time on writing IEPs which will do nothing is not my cup of tea.  Planning and timetabling extra support and resources for a group of children who can then progress through their particular learning difficulty is important and works well.  My paperwork then only needs to record the provision I have created and the children who are receiving it.  Parents are notified so that they can talk through any anxieties or concerns they may have and any extra support they may wish to give at home.
IEPs are therefore drawn up with the child in question to work on skills and learning objectives specific and individual to that one particular child.  I am pleased to report that all twins at my school with the same diagnosis receive individual IEPs because all children have different strengths and weaknesses – they are INDIVIDUALS!!!!!
I recently talked through an IEP that had been given to a child who has just transferred to our school with medical needs.  My own initial response to it was that that it didn’t appear to match the child I had observed over the first couple of weeks at our school and I was not best pleased when discussing it with the child it came to light that they had had no say in what it proposed as targets!  This child is an articulate 10 year old and quite capable of setting the goals they want to achieve and feel they need.  Needless to say, she and I are much happier with the targets she has now set and when these were discussed with parents they too felt they reflected their child’s needs to a much greater extent.  They were also proud that their own child had taken the lead on setting them!  One of my main concerns is that the school the child has transferred from has been classed as Outstanding!!

This child also hi-lights what Inclusion should mean in a mainstream school.  Talking over with them what they liked or disliked about school brought up a disturbing picture that this child had not been given opportunities to join in the same activities as their peers and had actually undergone bullying within their own class.  In my own school, I am responsible for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural cohesion of our school and all of my children who exhibit special educational needs are vital members of their respective classes.  The children are given a weekly dose by me in our assemblies of how we take care of each other, we celebrate our unique abilities, we take responsibility for our actions and we celebrate the wonderfulness of our world and our places in it.  I am incredibly proud of the children at my school because of their caring nature and their love of all things – our future looks bright with them in it and many of them come from less than perfect backgrounds – and we are all included.  No-one is left out and as I have previously blogged if provision does not meet the needs of particular children then other provision is sought out that does.  
Inclusion means we are all together as a school – every child is equal – every child has rights and responsibilities – every child is given empowerment – every child is part of a class that supports one another and when there are problems for some children being able to do this we step in and support them to learn how to rebuild those bridges and make a cohesive unit.  However, inclusion does not need to mean that we all do the same thing at the same time – as individuals we have different needs and so we are supported in accessing those and if this means time outside the classroom that is what we do (this goes for our gifted and talented children too so there is no stigma attached). 
I’d be delighted to know your thoughts on today’s topics either as parents of children with SEN or as educators so please share.
Today’s resource is I for Interactive – get children learning phonics by reading and manipulating cupcakes on plates for a tasty treat in small group work (part of my Provision Mapping phonics programme) – Enjoy :)