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Podcast | Season 1 | Episode 37: Supporting Students with Dyslexia through Assistive Technology

Listen to Sally Welch presenting the brilliant work that Frewen College is doing in assisting pupils with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia, through the use of Assistive Technology.

 ๐Ÿ“Ž Using Assistive Technology to Support Students with Specific Learning Difficulties

  • A look at Frewen College, a specialist school for pupils with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties such as dyscalculia and dyspraxia.  Many pupils also have speech and language difficulties associated with their dyslexia
  • Embedding the use of assistive technology throughout the school
  • How the right technology can improve outcomes for students

๐Ÿ’ก Sally Welch, Head of Frewen Prep School, Frewen College

๐Ÿซ This session was recorded live on 13th November 2019 in the SEND Theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

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Sally Welch
Thanks for coming to listen to this presentation. My name is Sally Welsh, and I'm really pleased to have been invited to come and talk to you all today about using assistive technology to support students who have dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. Part one is going to be a brief introduction to Frewen College. That's where I work, I've worked there across various roles and age ranges ranging right from age seven up to age 19 for the last 18 years. Then part three will be about how we can use assistive technology to improve outcomes for any dyslexic student.

Sally Welch
I should say at this point that I'm going to keep referring to dyslexia throughout my presentation. However, these approaches are also suitable for any pupils who have specific learning difficulties. So that will include dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and speech language difficulties as well. What I'm really hoping that people gain from this presentation are some strategies that you can take away and then use with your own students. Frewen College is a specialist school for pupils with dyslexia, and other specific learning difficulties. We've got 115 on roll, and of those 81 of our students have education and health care plans, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. I'm sure you're also familiar with the battles that many parents go through to get the right provision in place to meet their students needs. Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects skills in accurate and fluent reading and spelling. Assistive technology is a crucial aid to dyslexics in the classroom, and it can help with reading spelling, notetaking, studying organisation and time management.

Sally Welch
Dyslexia can mask the academic potential of students. Therefore assistive technology is vital in helping them to achieve their full potential. Many dyslexics under achieve in exams, but with the right assistive technology, we really can change all of that. So Frewen College is made up of three schools. So we've got the prep school, senior and sixth form. We use assistive technology with our pupils as soon as they enter the prep school at Year 3. Expectations around the assistive technology increase throughout the senior school. By the time our students are setting up their exams, and for our sixth formers, assistive technology is very much part of everyday life. We're really lucky it for him because all of our staff are trained to a minimum of level three, including the teachers and therapists and teaching assistants. We also have training in speech and language and communication needs. One of our most successful tricks of the trade, which I wanted to share with you today, has been to embed our expectations into our lesson observation sheets, so I thought you might find it useful to see one of those now.

Sally Welch
So this is just a section of one of our teacher observation sheets and they've been designed to ensure that the expectations about what makes a good lesson for pupils with specific learning difficulties are really clear to our specialist teachers. So we've considered a wide range of their needs, and then put some strategies which link anyway here just to read through a few examples because I realised they're very small. For our dyslexic students we've said that long distance work should be limited no farpoint copying. An example for ADHD is that movement brakes are used if needed and for speech and language, we've said thinking time should be given avoiding hands up. So we don't expect to see all of these in every lesson. But a strong lesson will have a variety of these strategies are appropriate to the people's needs. So for dyslexia, we've said assistive technology used for reading or writing if needed, and for dyspraxia, voice dictation and recording devices should be offered for recording their work. Of course, there's loads of overlap between the different needs and lots of different things suit lots of different pupils needs.

Sally Welch
So this leads on to part two, where I want to share with you exactly what assistive technology is. So this is B, she's one of our lovely sixth formers who's in the process of putting together her final coursework for her a level on politics, and she is very, very reliant on lots of assistive technology to help her do this. She's very severely dyslexic. So assistive technology can be software, hardware or devices that ensure independence and productivity. Speech Recognition really depends mind mapping software, computer based learning programmes, spell checkers, tablets, smartphones, really any application that can help them.

Sally Welch
So this is Isaac. And he's in the really early stages of mastering using dictation on Office 365 account, he just joined us in September, but already, he's getting quite proficient at being able to log on and find the right bit in Office 365 to do his written work. So Office 365 has been a really, really useful tool for us. So he's got the online version of Word, and that's got the all the assistive technology now embedded in it. The newest versions make it a lot easier to find as well. We found that sometimes the people struggle to find where the dictation and the read aloud functions are and so a really simple and effective thing we've done is to make sure that the voice dictation and the read aloud are both Well firstly enabled that's really important, but also that they're put on top onto the toolbar. And so that it's really easy for students to find. So if you want to use this kind of approach yourselves, or get the staff at your schools to use it, training is really key. Getting staff to be hands on with a different technology available is really vital, making it an expectation that both pupils and staff are using it in every lesson just as a matter of course. And once you find out what's working well for some of your students start to put all these strategies together to develop their dyslexia toolkits. The idea of toolkits is nothing new. But it's really important to make sure that there's a consistent approach for your students.

Sally Welch
Our dyslexia, toolkits are personalised, according to pupil needs. So this is Tim, and Tim has got his writing slope, his wobble cushion, pencil grip cream paper, it's got a little highlighter strip there, which just to highlight the bit of texts he's looking at, he's wearing his tinted lenses, and he's using the read aloud function to aid his research activity, but not all toolkits are tangible. For example, Tim also requires frequent movement breaks, and he requires additional thinking time when you're questioning in class. Toolkits vary enormously. For example, Katie, a year nine student who is only mildly dyslexic only need her electronic spell checker, which lives in her pencil case. That's all she needs. The spell checker can recognise her phonetically plausible attempts at spelling words, and then throws out the correct spelling. So she happily accesses the curriculum, we've just that. With 81 students on plans in our school, it can be really hard to keep track of what every single student needs. And also some of the items in the toolkit are quite bulky. And so to make it easier to manage the needs of the individuals, learning boxes are made available in every single classroom. So typically, they can they contain items such as these. So along the top there, you've got the coloured writing boards, the writing slope, the keywords, different pencil grips and the wobble cushion. In the middle here, we've got fiddle toys, sand timers, vintage coloured pages in their exercise books. Here, this is an electronic reader pen that you just run over the top of the text, we use those a lot in our GCSE exams. Then along the bottom, the coloured overlays a highlighter strip or word window. The Thera bands are really useful for fidgets, we put them around the legs of the chairs, and so they just bounce their leg against the chair whilst you're talking. We use a lot of blue tack as well. It's for us, it's about giving them permission to fidget because once you've given them that permission, it immediately takes away something but they're trying to control and they can focus more on the learning. And then lots of our students have mobile phones at vivo pens are good as well. Then, of course, the, again assistive technology. So we've got thinkpads at the prep school, which they can use with the headphones with the mics as well. So the toolkits and the learning boxes will change and develops as the pupils move throughout the school. It's about keeping it relevant.

Sally Welch
Of course, all of this input is working towards improving the outcomes for our pupils. So at Key Stage 2, it's important to recognise how the right technology can actually improve outcomes for students. A lot of the work we do is about exploring a variety of the dyslexia learning tools, encouraging pupils to see what works for them this September I just had a little chat called Oscar joy my classes in Year 4 and in a 30 minute English session, he will be lucky to produce one sentence handwritten, very distracting, very dyslexic. But having given him now the thinkpads and tech trained him up to us to do dictation, he can now present a whole story within that same same 30 minute slot. So he's absolutely delighted with that.

Sally Welch
A really effective way to get pupils to this stage is to explicitly teach skills to assistive technology. So to do this, we've developed assessment criteria for teaching the pupils how to use read aloud and the dictates functions. So I thought you might like to see an example of our assessment criteria. So as well as teaching the normal ICT curriculum, we've added these in a skills units. So for example, this is about this is my year three and four group teaching them how to use dictate and so they need to know that they need to edit in Word when using their tablets, they need to know to select dictation on the top bar before they can even begin and then they need to follow start, breed speak and stop because so often they press Start and start speaking straightaway and then it misses the first half of their sentence. And it's just about the training, press Start breathe, and then say your sentence. And of course, this is expectations lower down the school they will increase as the students move up to the school.

Sally Welch
Improving outcomes at Key Stage 3 is really about establishing the normal ways of working. This is so important to ensure that students can use these methods for their exams. Again, developing the personal toolkits continues. But at senior school, taking a cross curricular approach now becomes really important because you've got different teachers for all your different subjects. So in literacy, for example, pupils choose their preferred method of working during their literacy classes. In science, pupils regularly access science practice papers using assistive technology, which is then used in exactly the same way in the exams. It's not about just power shooting this stuff in just for the exam concessions needs to be there all through. In history, very literacy heavy subject pupils use read aloud functions to help access tricky texts when completing their research activities. At Key Stage 4, pupils are encouraged to consider what elements of their dyslexia toolkits can be used to assist them in life beyond school or the college. Learning independence is a really important skill at this stage. But it's the second one which is really essential. It's essential that staff can help pupils when their technology inevitably glitches during their exams and it is just the most stressful thing when you invigilating an exam and then you don't actually know how to help your pupil because the computer suddenly gone black and so again, this comes down to really good trading opportunities, getting staff hands on with the technology that they're going to be using with their students in the exam. Of course, you can't invigilate your own subject. So it's about making sure that they know across all of the other subjects as well.

Sally Welch
Then finally, exam concessions. We're lucky all of our pupils are assessed and offered a variety of access arrangements appropriate to their needs. Access arrangements are often based on their normal ways of working and on their dyslexia toolkits, which they've used been using throughout their school life with us. So, although all exam concessions are important, here, I've just highlighted the ones on assistive technology. So the interactive PDF exam papers really important means they can go in and they can edit the answers, but not obviously changed the questions. Online computer readers, the reading pens, which I've showed you earlier, typing with or without the spell check on voice to text is really important for this in the read aloud, with or without the reading pens, and the large screen computer based calculators that you can get as well. We're really proud of our pupils achievements. We know they're the lucky ones because they're the ones that are getting the right support. The pass rate at GCSE this year was 100%. Our proudest moment really is that our our pupils exceed their CAT projections by an average of just over one GCSE grade. So they're coming to us at Year 7 in the normal way they are CAT tested and all of our targets are set from the CATs. We don't set them from their current working levels because often they come into us with very, very low literacy numeracy levels. So we do go by their cognitive ability and as hopefully you can tell I do feel very proud of for their achievements.

Sally Welch
Which brings us back to this Year 12 student. He evaluated with us just a couple of weeks ago, and he was asked to just summarise his time with us. So my time at Frewen College, during my time at Frewen College, I experienced boarding at a school for the first time. It was a new experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I also had the opportunity to meet the sixth formers, which I did. The sixth formers were really fun, and I look forward to staying with them, if I go to Frewen.

Sally Welch
Really makes you think, doesn't it? I wonder what would be in his dyslexia toolkit, dyslexia, and all the other specific learning difficulties should not be a barrier to success. Rather, something to be nurtured, strengths identified and play to weaknesses supported. This approach enables students every chance of success as young adults and beyond. Thank you very much for listening to my presentation.