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Thanks to @nwinton for the photo.

Here is my talk on Digital Storytelling and Dyslexia that I gave at TeachMeetLothians11 last night and here’s a wee summary for those of us who can’t bear audio files (me!):

I talked about the false dichotomy between the purists who regard anything but print as being beyond the pale to the techno-zealots who declare that print is dead. This debate is only useful if it challenges assumptions and makes us think about literacy now.

I quoted extensively from Bill Boyd  here when I said that the ability to read in itself is meaningless as it begs the question, ‘The ability to read what?’. The ability to read and the ability to access texts in all their forms are not mutually exclusive.

My thesis was a familiar one – at least to this audience: we must teach children to thrive in this century rather than preparing for the last. The need for creative and critical thinkers is never more desperate – and it is learners with dyslexia who are often able to think laterally beyond the confines of the conventional. That’s why I like them!

I talked about membership of the ‘Literacy Club’: membership of which in the past was dependent on children’s ability to move through a set of hierarchical skills – something that learners with dyslexia find hard. Reading is a life long endeavour which develops in confidence and competence the more it is practised across increasingly more diverse and difficult texts. The children I teach have often failed spectacularly at traditional reading but  flourish with the broader range of texts we are urged to use in Curriculm for Excellence.

I went on to talk about digital storytelling, Inanimate Alice in particular; reprising some of my thoughts already posted on this blog (all in 7 minutes!).

I finished with the wonderful quotation from Thomas West and make no apology quoting once more:

We should encourage diversity,

  • not only to be civil,
  • not only to be respectful,
  • not only to be humane,
  • not only to be just,

 but also because we have  a particular stake in diversity.

We want there to be people who have

  • abilities that we have not ever tried to measure because we didn’t know that we needed them,
  • abilities that may be in no way associated with the abilities and talents that we now measure by formal or informal means,
  • abilities we don’t yet know we need.


 TM was at the Scottish Book Trust’s headquarters on the Royal Mile. What a beautiful venue! And thanks to Fearghal and the team for organising such an invigorating event.


Great CDP opportunity on Literacy and Numeracy

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CPD about Additional Support for Learning

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From the National CPD Team

Join the many educators who are taking part in an online CPD event week beginning 13 June.

Each evening at 7 pm, the CPDStepin Summer Summit will feature at least one CPDMeet on the theme of Additional Support for Learning:

* Monday 13 – Suzanne Morris, Understanding and supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

* Tuesday 14 – Margaret Orr, The relationship between CfE and ASL legislation and David Watt, HMIE, Inclusion Journey to Excellence resources

*Wednesday 15 – Hilery Williams, Understanding and supporting children with dyslexia

* Thursday 16 – Kate Coutts, Child at the centre or centre of the child?

For more details and sign-up, please see the CPDStepin Summer Summit on Glow

Mind Mapping with P3


Every Tuesday morning this term I’ve had a lovely time working with all 12 Primary 3s in a small school.

One child has significant dyslexic difficulties and we felt he would benefit from Mind Mapping as a tool to express his ideas, circumventing the barrier of print. It seemed daft to teach him alone so the whole class experienced the programme.

The Curriculum for Excellence outcomes around the class theme of Rivers were:

Organising and using information

  • I can select ideas and relevant information + organise these in a logical sequence LIT 1-26a

Creating Texts

  • I can convey information and share my opinions in different ways. LIT 1-28a/ LIT 1-29a

I had shown them the various components of the Mind Mapping software, Kidspiration: Open, Main Idea and sub-topics, Library (of pictures), Link Symbols, SuperGrouper – setting a background picture, Symbol Maker, changing font style and colour and changing the background colour. They spent several sessions playing, inventing fantastic fish, grouping various creatures that live on or by rivers in order to get to know what the software could do, etc. Some taught others how to import pictures from the internet.

They also explored WordTalk: installing, adding Heather’s Scottish voice, again altering the font and colours, listening to separate words, sentences and paragraphs, using the speaking spell check and synonym finder. I also showed them several MS Word shortcuts using the ‘Ctrl’ key.

They spent the final session mapping information from an article (The River’s Story ) on to Kidspiration. Identifying key concepts is a most difficult task but all these children managed it superbly well.

They then copied and pasted those key words and phrases into a mind map.

It was thrilling to see how successfully they manoeuvred between the 2 documents; how well they co-operated with each other in deciding which words and phrases were most important and how easily they manipulated the software to which they had only recently been introduced.

 But the greatest pleasure for me was this:

Makes it all worthwhile! (and they loved my shoes!!)

Inanimate Alice and Me 3: ‘Education is all a matter of Building Bridges’


Today, having studied the 1st 3 episodes of Inanimate Alice (though one of the children has viewed the 4th at home) we focused on summarising and characterisation: we made Wordles about ourselves and then about Alice. (And the praise they heaped on my wee story when we took a quick peek at it was very flattering. Suddenly they saw that it might be possible to become a published author!)

Laura Fleming quotes the novelist and teacher, Ralph Ellison, in a fascinating post. Ellison (whose book ‘Invisible Man’ was hugely influential in my study of American history years ago) once stated that ‘education is all a matter of building bridges’. He spoke about ‘the importance of crossing religious and cultural divides to build bridges of opportunity for all learners’.

This is as crucial today as it was in 1963.

Laura continues: ‘All too often children feel a disconnect with school’;  and this is exacerbated when specific difficulties hinder fluent reading, comprehension and expression of understanding.

The Curriculum for Excellence approach (project-based learning, grounded in real-world problem-solving through investigations and explorations of learners’ own passions), enables them to create cohesive and fluid links between subject areas.

With Inanimate Alice it feels as if the kids are connecting learning with their own personal experiences more than they do when reading print. This is not a criticism of their dedicated teacehrs. The books they are given in school are chosen very carefully so that they are high interest level /low reading skill, of course. They access fact and fiction aurally (with text to speech software, peer or adult readers, audiobooks) whenever possible and have many other interventions in place to support literacy. They perform understanding in various ways to circumvent the barrier of print.

Their peers and teachers are, on the whole, tolerant of their requests for help in recalling instructions or identifying correctly the nature of the tasks; support in decoding and encoding those elusive symbols; helpful in keeping them on track and relatively organised. When they get tired from concentrating so hard, when their words and very thoughts get muddled, when the exertion of keeping up becomes unsustainable and they act out in frustration, then sometimes their companions react negatively; understandably.

However hard we all try, at times they still feel that they are failures.

One of the reasons why I became excited – and am becoming increasingly so –about using transmedia storytelling with learners with dyslexia is partly the obvious thrill for us all of doing something different that doesn’t reinforce their reading difficulties. Avoiding too much of the stuff that they are not good at, while developing critical thinking skills leads to higher levels of engagement. Higher order reading skills can be developed even when you struggle with print. All can learn to Make Predictions, Ask Questions, Make Comparisons, Look for Patterns, Make Pictures/ Visualise, Summarise and Evaluate: these are not dependent upon fluent decoding skills.

But the interaction the children have with Inanimate Alice is now ‘transmuting into a real desire to communicate. It is straddling the divide between the skills I want them to learn and the content in which they are interested’. We are building an environment (in the one short weekly hour we spend with Alice) to connect technologies, language, curricula demands and the world outside school. The children are beginning to believe that they can create and share their learning with other children, with their parents and teachers, and ultimately with the wider community.

Transmedia builds bridges that allow will our children to cross into their futures and hopefully empower and encourage them to create bridges of their own. (Laura Fleming)

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …


… was how I began my presentation at BETT last week.

I had been invited by the British Dyslexia Association and iansyst.com to talk about dyslexia friendly schools and the use of digital technologies.

But I started with a story just to set the mood (of which more later). Nobody fell asleep even though it was after lunch and Olympia is a crazy and tiring place to be at conference time.

I then talked a little about the process some schools in East Lothian have embarked upon whereby the whole staff commits to working towards pledging to be a Dyslexia Friendly School. We audit practice, identify areas for development and evaluate progress.

I make 2 assumptions:

  • Difficulties are almost entirely created by the context and conditions in which learning takes place.
  • Digital technologies can minimise or even remove literacy difficulties altogether. ICT not only assists access to the curriculum but enables learners with dyslexia to personalise their own learning.

The central component of my presentation was about what we mean by the term ‘literacy’ as our interpretation has implications for the fundamental beliefs and practice we have taken for granted for a long time, and has profound implications for learners with dyslexia. TheBig Debate’, in simple terms, is that between the purists who say that literacy is about the written or the printed word and the techno-zealots who claim that print is dead.

I proposed that neither is accurate, and that literacy is a constantly evolving process; one which must encompass new technologies and approaches to accessing ideas, experiences, opinions and information.

I quoted the Curriculum for Excellence definition of literacy and illustrated the different and complex forms of text available to learners today. An exciting new notion to some teachers in England was that CfE is described principally in terms of outcomes for learners rather than inputs from teachers and that this inevitably changes relationships between teacher and student; I would argue for the good

My story was about 2 youngsters; Matilda, a fluent and enthusiastic reader and writer but one with a relatively fixed mindset, and Leo whose formal literacy skills were undeveloped but who took risks with his learning – mainly out of school using multi-modal platforms and media. I claimed that it was a youngster like Leo who is more likely to be a successful learner in the long term as he is a critical and creative thinker whose skills will be highly prized in the Information Age – just as long as he manages to survive school with his sense of self worth intact.

I described how Leo constructs his own meanings and performs understanding using the tools with which he is familiar, and with real audiences in mind. These of course cross arbitrary divisions between age + stage and subject boundaries that he finds so irksome in school.

I addressed the notion of the Literacy Club, very familiar and comfortable to the likes of Matilda (and me). Up until very recently acceptance and membership of this club has been defined by the thickness of the book, the speed of the tongue, and the amount one’s brain could hold (at least until test time rolled around.)

Comprehension was something that happened when the work with words was done.

It’s a club from which learners with dyslexia have been excluded for too long.

If we base teaching on a conceptualization of reading as a single line of development from simple to more complex tasks, it will perpetuate the myth that reading is over and done with by age 7 or 8; unless you’re stupid.

Reading is a life long endeavour, that develops in competence and confidence the more it is practised across increasingly more difficult and diverse text. In an era of new literacies we are in a simultaneous state of learning to read and reading to learn. So I asked, ‘Who’s in the various literacy clubs?: Blog, Twitter, Wiki, YouTube, Transmedia…’

I posited that we were all emergent readers when we encounter new texts and media that push the boundaries of genre, form, format, and mode: on and offline? My experience with Inanimate Alice is an illustration.

I concluded with a quotation from I know not where:

‘Confusion is an enlightened reaction. If anyone is not confused then s/he is missing some of the details’.


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I’ve been planning my seminar, ‘The Dyslexia Friendly School: best practice with multimodal texts’, for BETT11. I can’t recall why I gave such a pompous title way back in the summer when I was asked to present a seminar but never mind.

I have only been to BETT once before, although I attend SLF (SETT as was) every September and find it the highlight of my CPD calendar. I am really looking forward to it despite the fact that I shall still be jet lagged from my holiday in Argentina (only 6 more sleeps!).

As the world’s largest technology in education show, 2011 is BETT’s 27th year and provides a platform for showcasing the very best technology in education solutions.  Not just that, but the event also provides visitors with an opportunity to source advice on managing the change that has resulted from the coalition Government.  New feature areas, zones, exhibitors and seminars now mean that for 2011, BETT is bigger and better than ever before.

Anyone interested in attending my seminar can now register for a place online at http://www.bettshow.com/bett11/website/SeminarDetail.aspx?semid=Reg70.

More information can also be found about the show at www.bettshow.com.

I shall make sure some of my handouts appear here in due course.

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