Feed the Reading Beast

Summer break, we are so excited in the first week. We make plans and are full of good intentions, we think, “yes, this is the time to invest, I shall practice marvellous parenting. I will be engaged, positive, imaginative. I’ll encourage crafts, sports, and activities like reading”. And we do, right up to the point where we run out of steam.

After the first bloom of enthusiasm, the holiday seems likely to descend into sibling teasing, boredom, and hours and hours of screen time in darkened rooms. Once this pattern is established guilt and self recrimination will set in. The guilt, that I imagine many of us will soon be marinating in, will have resulted from the lack of boundaries around gaming and screen time. Outbursts of frustration and fury as the young people in the house sink deeper into the bedroom pit are ahead. The fetid fug of rooms where half eaten sandwiches and apple cores lurk become smell of summer. The devil makes work for idle hands. In many houses the devils name is Gaming, once we have welcomed him in, it is very hard to kick him out.

So how on earth do we achieve our aspiration of encouraging summer creativity, and in particular, encourage reading for fun? I know the answer that works for us; feed the beast. The best way to change behaviours is to find the thing that they love and if possible find a way to enjoy it and work with it together. A radical thought, but it does contribute to everyone’s mental wellbeing.

In the world of gaming, there are many marketing spin offs and merchandise options. Minecraft has an abundance of magazines and manuals on subjects ranging from combat to redstone contraptions. If you choose to embrace this challenge you are in for an interesting time. Last summer I found myself sliding into a surreal conversation about how to best construct a Nordic hall. We progressed to the best structural approach to make a suspension bridge. Fortunately, the U. K’s Ironbridge museums are not too far away my home, so I was able to feed the beast with a trip to Enginuity to look at ideas for materials and structures. I even found myself engaging intently on the value of building a T Flip-Flop and the merits of piston doors, knowledge I’d never expect to acquire.

My trips and activities plan continued to evolve. From manuals we moved to menus. If he can craft a pig from furnace to pantry, he should be able to negotiate a real world looking and cooking experience. I planned a day with time spent with a real pig, sheep, and chickens. We visited a farm shop and asked the butcher about primal meat cuts. We collected our pork mince and planned our dinner of homemade hamburgers on the way home. In Minecraft, making cake is a technically challenging procedure. It requires many components including eggs, wheat, sugar, and milk. They are combined and crafted with the added benefit of not putting on any weight IRL, which I am reliably informed means “in real life”. This may be so, but cakes in the real world are wonderful. So many recipe choices, decorating options, packaging possibilities, and then the trips out to deliver cakes to friends and family. A whole afternoon of fun inspired from reading a recipe book, followed by real cake eaten virtuously. 

My how-to advice for this summer is this. Think about the hook, feed the passion, and engage with the subject. The most important thing is spending time talking, sharing, and listening. Reading can be sandwiched into activities inspired by current interests. You may have to move out of your comfort zone and into theirs, but the result will be that you all will have much more fun. I hope you all have a wonderful summer holiday.

Four Essential Assistive Technologies For Your Curriculum

Building assistive technology into a future strategy for your students is an integral part of designing your curriculum for the year. Schools have committed to planning a structure for homework and frameworks aiming to deliver spiritual, moral, social, and cultural knowledge, all essential to the healthy development of a child. If however, EdTech planning is not in place, then your school is heading in the direction of a strategic learning gap. Assistive Technology in education, or “EdTech”, can give every student an advantage. Hopefully tools like visualisers, voting boxes ‘classroom clickers’, and tablets are already part of the wider strategy being employed in classrooms across your school. EdTech is no longer just for students with additional needs. It is a tool to raise achievement for all. There is a wealth of technology to embrace that can ensure that all students benefit. As you plan your strategy, it is important to ensure nobody’s needs are left unsupported, particularly SEND students who can gain the most from well deployed EdTech. Without strategic planning we could end up without the tools we need the most. We all know that value for money is an essential factor in our planning, so too is finding ways to maximise the benefits of our spending decisions. With this in mind, here is a list of four assistive techs that are SEND specific, but could be used as a schoolwide learning strategy.

1- AI teaching platforms

In more recent years, AI teaching has become more prevalent in schools. This kind of technology will be an integral part of all education at some point in the future, but right now it’s a fantastic tool for SEND students. With the help of this advanced AI, we can identify and address the weaker areas in their knowledge.

Platforms like CENTURY allow for a real-time analysation of student performance by creating sophisticated algorithms based on student response. Teachers can access at this information at any point in the students’ learning. Not only would this make it easy to track the success of SEND students, it can be used for ALL students. This whole school approach allows for a quick overview of usage and progress made. At the present time AI is at the spearhead of EdTech but there are other less expensive options that also have a huge impact with similar routes of access from home and school.

2- Online learning portals

Similar to AI teaching, online learning portals are a great way to keep track of your students’ progress while constantly updating their curriculum and extracurricular needs. These portals can be used from home and are the perfect tool for students that may have extended periods out of school for medical (or other) reasons. Not only will they not miss out on their learning opportunities, they can even collaborate with peers from home. This is obviously enormously beneficial for every student in school, not just those with extenuating circumstances.

One fantastic use of online portals is the manual control teachers can have over each student’s learning strategy. Everything you need; from homework, essays, and even revision, can be uploaded and tracked on these portals.

In programs such as Moodle and Show My Homework, deadlines and important dates can be assigned and highlighted in an online calendar, a useful feature the importance of which is highlighted in the next section.

3- Time schedulers

A skill that we often find underdeveloped in many students at all key stages is their time management. Knowing when a test is coming and how much time they should spend studying is essential support that makes a huge difference.

Abilia, an online scheduler, is just one of example of a great piece of assistive tech that could inspire a whole school approach. This support was originally made for students with ASD and ADHD. By scheduling their day-to-day activity, students are able to become independent where they otherwise may have struggled.

Previously, ASD students might have had a serious anxiety attack if their pattern were to change without warning. With the help of a detailed online scheduler, they can now be informed in real time of these changes to their day. A change in a regular teacher, form of transportation, study time, and any other daily activity can be updated well in advance to leave these students well prepared for their day. It doesn’t just allow teachers and family to update their schedule, students can also manage themselves while informing others.

This approach to independence and self-empowerment can be introduced schoolwide with easily downloadable planning aps to tablets and mobile phones.

4- Assistive Readers

Very few assistive technologies are accepted in examinations. Often, they require lengthy paperwork to be completed and need to be arranged and validated long in advance of the exam. There is an exception that can give many students a boost without the need for any additional accommodations to be made, not even a Form 8. Where students have weak literacy skills, the text-to-speech scanners like the ExamReader from Scanning Pens are the exception. Provided the pen has been used in advance of the examination, and has become a normal way of working, it can be used in any JCQ exam to support reading fluency.

The ExamReader also gives struggling readers the confidence to approach their exams independently. It reads aloud, or via headphones, any text scanned, in a clear and natural voice. Students in the U.K can sit any of their exams with their peers, and without any extra accommodations or a human reading assistant. This inclusion tool gives independence and provides a boost to student mental-wellbeing during exam periods.

For students with reading difficulties like dyslexia, this EdTech allows them to comprehend questions that they may otherwise have answered incorrectly. We also know that students reject human support because they do not want to repeatedly ask for help through embarrassment.

Fortunately this tool is not limited to supporting those with dyslexia, anyone is welcome to use them. That means undiagnosed or borderline dyslexics can use the ExamReader. So can those with weak literacy or slower speeds of processing.

Assistive technology is the revolution ahead. While you count your coins and choose your strategies, consider the maximum impact for all. Think universal and think smart!