Book review: Specific Learning Difficulties – What Teachers Need to Know by Diana Hudson (2015)

I came across this book at an ASE event as it was part of their book sales. A quick flick through told me I needed to have a better look so I blew my Amazon Prime no-rush credits (if you have Amazon Prime you’ll know what these are!) and bought the Kindle edition.

I was very nearly put off the book as the first chapters talk about being right and left brained, and about VAK.  For those of you who don’t read around, these theories have been discredited and put out to pasture.  (This would be a good time to plug the excellent Naked Scientists podcast again who have an excellent piece on this myth here)

If you skim over the dodgy neuroscience in the first chapters you get the nuggets of gold that are useful to the mainstream classroom teacher. The book goes through a variety of specific learning difficulties and identifies the traits of each one, and strategies that the teacher can put into place.  Experienced teachers (especially those of us who work in the SEND sector) are likely to be familiar with most of the information in this book but it does serve as a useful refresher with the information in one place.

Should you buy this book?  It isn’t a science book and is useful for teachers of all subjects (although it has a stronger secondary bias than primary). If you want to know more about the specific learning difficulties covered in this book (e.g. dyslexia, ADHD, ASD) then it might be worth picking up a copy, similarly, if you want a handy reference guide (PGCE tutor) then this could be for you.

The book is £9.50 for a paperback copy for members from the ASE bookshop (I know a lot of my followers are members).  If you aren’t an ASE member then the book is currently £11.40 from Amazon (£8.96 on Kindle)

There’s also an interview with the author here.

 

 

Does holding a degree in your subject really not affect pupil outcomes?

Just before the holidays, the TES reported on research from the DfE that suggested that there is no discernible effect of non-specialist teaching in science.

I’ve been a science teacher for over 20 years now but because of my setting, I find myself teaching AQA Additional Science for the first time ever.  This means I’m having to teach some content that I’ve never taught before in mainstream or special education.  The amount of time I have spent prepping these lessons is considerably more than I usually spend as I have had to do plenty of research as I go. Fortunately, there is a wealth of support available and combined with the fact that my students have target grades well below a C they are unlikely to be affected by my lack of subject knowledge.

I do a lot of background reading so that is likely to influence my teaching, as is my willingness to go the extra mile as well.  There is overlap between the disciplines of science so I suppose that stands me in good stead but I wouldn’t like the thought of facing a group of top set science students without the appropriate science knowledge to draw upon.

One certainty is that we are going to have a lot more data to draw on in the not so distant future as the number of physics and chemistry graduates entering teaching continues to fall.  I also wonder if I should be suspicious these research findings are released at a time of teacher shortages?

For those readers who would like to read the research paper you can find it here.

 

Building staff resilience and promoting good mental health

Schools are challenging places to work – those of us who work in schools are aware of the challenges faced by everyone in the education system.  As a school we spend a lot of time looking after our students but we also have to make sure we look after our staff.  On our inset day before the Christmas break we bought in the Nottinghamshire Educational Psychology Service (EPS) to run a session on staff wellbeing and resilience.

Whilst I don’t want to repeat all their content here (that wouldn’t be fair to the EPS) I have summarised some of the key messages in the hope that they will be of use to others.

If you don’t look after yourself you won’t be able to look after others.

In air safety drills you are always told to put your own oxygen mask on first – the same applies with mental health.  We get so wrapped up with the problems of others we can neglect ourselves.

Find strategies that work for you

Not everyone is the same.  Different people find different strategies work for them – be prepared to try more than one.

Diagram of emotional intelligence

 

Emotional intelligence – know your emotions and how to manage them. Strong emotions are very powerful – recognise the stages in your emotions – the assault cycle provides a useful structure/explanation of what is happening.

Learn relaxation strategies 

Find time to unwind and relax.  I find that a long drive to work coupled with an audiobook or music (depending on my mood and energy levels) works for me. Some people do yoga or meditation – find something that helps you to unwind.

Challenge unhelpful thoughts (Cognitive behavioural therapy)

Try to change your default thinking (for those that read my post on The Chimp Paradox this is a similar idea to reprogramming the computer in the model by Steve Peters). Ask yourself questions like “is it really that important?” or “what would happen if I didn’t let this thought bother me?”.  You then try to replace the negative thoughts with more positive ones.  There are plenty of sites on the internet with more details – google is your friend here!

Find outside interests- FLOW

Immersive hobbies (like sports, cross stitch or even candy crush soda saga in my case!).  From Wikipedia:

Schaffer (2013) proposed 7 flow conditions:

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. High perceived skills
  7. Freedom from distractions

Peer supervision – looking for solutions (focus based circles)

We were shown a technique for looking for solutions to problems that you can work through as a group.  Searching the internet reveals many variations on this technique – this is most similar to the version we tested. The version we tried had someone present about a problem for six minutes – during which only the presenter can speak (even if they run out of ideas the six minutes keeps running).  In our first run we discussed the problem of getting staff to put their pots in the dishwasher (photo above). The second step sees the presenter being silent for six minutes while ideas are brainstormed.  There is then another six minutes of dialogue and the final stage is to discuss the first steps for another six minutes (you are able to sum up or seek clarification outside the six minute windows).

This is a really useful technique and provides a very useful structure for discussing a problem.

Don’t give up

Remember that each time you face a problem, it will be easier to face a similar problem in future.  After twenty years in special education I subconsciously use several of these strategies and they do work.

Further reading

Look on the internet for Martin Seligman (video below)

An accreditation pathway for SEN students

download

I blogged recently about the lack of suitable courses for my students at KS4.   Having discussed the options with teaching professionals, the exam boards and my governing body we have decided to run with a single science GCSE (and entry level).

The rationale for our decision can be seen in this presentation which I put together showing the key points.

I’d be interested to hear what other schools are doing with their SEN students at KS4.

Why aren’t teachers sharing more?

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At the York Tweetup/Teachmeet I attended on the 22nd August, Alex Weatherall asked how we could work better together as a profession to share resources and ideas.  I’ve been asking this question since 2010 in one form or another.

My original answer to this was to upload the resources I used to my website. Initially I used a wiki to upload the resources but then I brought them within the main site using a WordPress plugin.  Many of my resources were uploaded to the TES site (where they have had over 600k downloads) but someone else did this for me (it was a huge job)

I’ve had to change the way that I share the resources on my site because the plugin I used wasn’t updated and posed a risk to the security of my site.  I put the resources in my OneDrive account and put links on my website but this is far from ideal as cloud storage is blocked in many schools (my own included).

I’ve since made hundreds of new resources that I’ve used to deliver Activate (ks3) and AQA Core GCSE but I haven’t shared these on my site.   Unfortunately the internet has become an increasingly litigious place and there is increasing competition for screen time and clicks.

My lack of time (it wasn’t always like this!) means that if I’m honest I’m not as careful about the source of my images as I used to be.  I used to meticulously hunt down creative commons or public domain imagery to use in my resources, now I check that they don’t belong to a stock imagery reseller and that’s about it.  The latest version of Office doesn’t help as you can insert creative commons images from Bing search but who goes to each site and checks the images are actually covered by a creative commons licence?  I also tend to ‘steal’ slides from different TES resources and use these within my own presentations – and it would be wrong to pass these off as my own.

I keep the working copy of my teaching resources within cloud storage and have been known to share folders when asked, however I just don’t have time to sift through all my resources to find out which are able to be shared.  I also lack a (free) technical platform on which to share them, one in which I retain control and I know won’t be closed down in the near future.

I know other publishers aren’t so careful.  Only this week I’ve downloaded resources from the TES with slides from Boardworks embedded in the presentation, or images that clearly display copyright information.

Schemes of work are tweaked to suit a department and resources end up being tweaked by conscientious teachers to suit their teaching style. Is there any value in sharing teaching ideas for individual topics and lessons instead?  I don’t have time to go to the IoP, RSC etc to find the best ideas when I might be planning for several year groups and topics each week.  If so what would a suitable platform look like?  Who would curate it and who would have access to upload materials?

We have come a long way, professionally and technologically, over the last few years but individual teachers (and departments) are still reinventing the wheel in schools all over country.  There has to be a better way of sharing what we do but even if there is many of us are lacking the time to put it into practice…