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.

Transitions with Technology in your Pocket

Transition is a part of the educational process, it happens between years, between schools, between classrooms, and between teachers. It continues through every stage of the educational process and getting it right can make or break learning progression; it can support or undo emotional and wellbeing strategies.

Some students will have a lot of supporting information that travels with them. For these learners, additional needs may be well documented. The pack might contain an IEP(1), IBP(2), EHCP(3), or a ROS(4). If families regularly take part in wider discussions about health, care, or social needs with a wider team of professionals, the transition support package is usually very thorough. Transition can take place over many months and professionals may meet frequently to ensure learning needs can be met.

For the majority of learners, transition happens without an individual support package and without a learning or behaviour passport. This is because; in a busy school environment it is tricky to ensure that the strategies you have been using flow to the next teacher or school. Teaching is not a time rich profession and as such, with the best will in the world, some information does not get shared. Some of the work will be replicated, and often professionals spend a lot of time re-testing and re-presenting strategies that may have already been tried with students who are not typical learners.  

So what gets lost?  For the individual, it is the relationships with the class teacher that gets lost in transition. There are the strategies and nuances that cannot be quantified in a data-base, gems that flow from great teaching take time to crystallise. Think of a teacher who knows their students really well. They know that in order to establish an individual’s self esteem and willingness to learn, a fist bump and a smile is essential at the start of the day. They may have put in place simple wellbeing support, established basic routines and have soft strategies that enable a reluctant learner to take part. Tools like C3B4Me which encourages self directed learning or break out time with a Sensory Box may not get shared and if it does, it may not translate to the next learning experience.

So how can we manage successful transition and what is the most essential information to share when so many things are important? There is a huge list we could choose from that includes ensuring that friendships can be maintained, sharing emotional health concerns, or providing evidence of success or areas of gifts and talents.  All of these are important but, I would strongly suggest that the most important factor is ensuring that the strategies used for literacy are shared.

Literacy is at the heart of educational progress and when learning gaps emerge it is because the support that was previously in place and the routines and adaptations made to support literacy are not sustained after transition. Because of this many students with additional needs go through transitions with no flags raised.

This is my transition top tip to record the normal way of working in class that has been experienced. At the end of the day, ask your students to take out their learning tools and arrange them on the table top. You may find colour overlays, reading pens, writing slopes, pencil grips, traffic lights, volcano cards, or a card requesting use of speech to text software. Pop the learners name tag on each desk and take photographs of each work station. If you produce learning passports then attach the photo to the document. Other ways to share this information is to send the picture home to parents, and give a copy to the student themselves.

The best way to support successful transition is to support independent learning and awareness of the tools that are essential to that learner. When you have worked so hard to support students with great ideas and strategies through the year, make sure that they can still benefit from your insight. When your door closes and the next door opens you will know they have a literacy strategy picture that they can talk about.  

 

1. (Individual Education Plan)

2. (Individual Behaviour Plan)

3. (Education, Health and Care Plan)

4. (Record of Support)