Educationalists and ICT suppliers gather in London this week for the annual BETT exhibition, the largest education and technology show of its kind in Europe. While dedicated suppliers of assistive technology are increasingly rare at this four-day event (25-28 January) there are still products to be found that will be of interest to those working with children with special educational needs (SEN).
For SEN specialists the best starting point has to be Stand SN90 where you will find staff from nasen — the national association for special educational needs — the UK’s leading professional association for those working in the field of SEN. nasen itself will be offering free online training for all education professionals from April 2017 so this is an ideal opportunity to find out more. Visitors can also take advantage of its special show offers: a 20 per cent discount on membership, free resources and essential information for school leaders.
Additionally, the Learn Live: SEN theatre at Bett is always one of its most important features. On each day there are four short presentations — ranging from 30 minutes to an hour — showcasing some of the latest research and best practice. They also provide a welcome opportunity to take the weight off your feet from time spent visiting the stands.
Specific Learning Difficulties
So who else to visit? Among the other 900+ exhibitors there are certain to be some that would warrant your time depending on your precise needs. Here we’ve listed a select group of those with products designed to support children with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD). These cover issues such as pupil engagement, home-school relations, short- and long-term memory problems, dyslexia, dyscalculia, note taking and exam preparation. Check back when BETT is over for news of other products we’ve identified that might be of interest.
Fiction Express (stand A406)
How can we engage and inspire reluctant and struggling readers? Many of them find books and the very thought of reading one cover to cover daunting. So how can we introduce these children to the wonderful world of literature?
Fiction Express is an interactive e-book platform where students vote to determine the story’s plot. The story unfolds in short but gripping weekly chapters and students can vote each week to determine what happens next. Fiction Express publishes three brand new e-books each half term at different levels — reading age 6+, 8+ and 10+ — and, because it never mentions the ages of the children in the stories, they can be read by older children reading below their expected reading level without them feeling patronised. The vocabulary is carefully controlled while an interactive glossary helps readers with the more difficult words.
Each weekly episode is also accompanied by a PDF of teacher resources containing text comprehension questions, ideas for extension activities in writing, art and drama, picture resources, and printable puzzles and worksheets.
Markit Education (stand 32, Bett Futures)
SEN students, as all students, have varied learning needs, generally encompassed by a need to see positive outcomes, a need to be enthused, and most importantly a need to work strategically and simply (with logical processes being the most preferred method of thinking). These are often not all catered for in the restrictions of the exam specifications and the speed at which students are required to learn. Markit Education offers a solution that focuses on these needs through two strategies.
Firstly, it scaffolds complex exam-style problems in a way designed to help students fully understand how to deal with the problem and the reasoning behind it. It also focuses on developing students’ deductive reasoning skills, whilst giving them a method to follow and apply to all future questions. Secondly, it raises confidence and the feeling of achievement for all students by ensuring they end up at the correct answer, whilst learning is achieved at every step through immediate feedback within each stage.
Educater (stand G150)
Effective communication between families, schools and outside agencies is critical for supporting children and young people with SEND. This was the case back in 2014, when Educater launched its SEND module off the back of the SEND reforms which were part of the Children and Families Act. These reforms highlighted a need for a culture change that would place the views, wishes and feelings of young people with SEND at the heart of decision-making processes. Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), which are replacing statements, were born from this, to help focus on what supports the child or young person’s needs in order to achieve their goals.
Two years on and many would say we are still waiting to see this change in culture. According to an informal review compiled at the request of former education secretary Nicky Morgan, communication across the board still isn’t where it needs to be. The report highlights families suffering due to local authorities, schools and healthcare teams failing to come together. This view is supported by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission’s ongoing joint inspections of local authorities where, in places like Rochdale, they found parents and carers in mainstream schools reporting concerns around a lack of information on available support and poor communication.
For this culture to change, there needs to be a solution, one which technology may be able to help with. Educater says it’s SEND module helps create a person-centred approach with a strong emphasis on positive engagement with children and their families, by providing an electronic EHCP management system. This, they say, creates a central focal point for schools and outside agencies to contribute to SEND processes.
Monster Phonics (stand G367)
SEN education has undergone an EdTech revolution which has transformed the potential of educators beyond recognition. Accessibility to learning resources has been widened; educators now have greater knowledge of how text formatting can enhance accessibility for dyslexic learners. Using larger sans-serif type or weighted fonts, wider line-spacing, a coloured background and removing clutter from a page improves readability. Not only can this be used in print, we now have hand-held devices that can transform whole books or webpages in seconds. The more refined, natural-sounding text-to-speech further increases access to learning. To help pupils put their thoughts into words, educators have new ways of record-making, phonetic word-processors and even speech-to-text on Google. Never has it been quicker to look-up a spelling or find a synonym.
However, with all these changes, Monster Phonics says we have yet to make the most of the overlap between SEN education and technology, particularly when it comes to teaching spelling and phonics. ‘Without a doubt, we all agree that teaching is at its best when it is multi-sensory,’ the company says. ‘Monster Phonics is a revolutionary, multi-sensory, phonics programme that uses colour to link spelling and sound. This visual teaching approach combines colour-coding for the most difficult aspects of phonics — long vowels, tricky and silent letters — with Monster sound-cues. This means that we can draw and paint words in colour, build words out of magnetic letters or even in 3D models. Monster Phonics helps children to reach that light bulb moment, of “So, that’s what’s happening in that word!”.
Gebo Kano ehf (stand A431)
Everyone has a need to express themselves and everyone gains from channelling their creative side. Unfortunately, individuals with SEN are often left out of creative writing because it is assumed to be too difficult. These individuals are often afraid to express themselves out of fear of being criticised for spelling or other technical errors. This can cause writing anxiety even if the individual is in other ways creative.
Teachers can address these students’ needs by using strategies that encourage writing and expressions in individual ways. One approach is finding tools that allow students to focus on their ideas instead of worrying about the act of writing. The app ‘Word Creativity Kit – Creative Writing for kids’ (iOS 10.8 or later) from Gebo Kano (they’re Icelandic) is one tool that has been used to encourage students with special educational needs to express themselves.
The user is given a handful of random words to use for their writing, thereby minimising any worry about spelling and allowing them to focus on the creative task. Additionally, users can get help with grammar because in one touch they can change the form of every word in their work. If in need of more words, users can get them from lists of random words categorised by word class or by adding their own words to the projects by using Siri and reading them out loud to add them to the page. Students practising reading can also let Siri read the words in the project back to them helping them to hear the correct pronunciation.
‘Word Creativity Kit – Creative Writing for kids’ clearly impressed the judges for this year’s BETT Awards as it’s now a Finalist in the Educational Apps category.
ConquerMaths (stand A455)
Maths is often the most challenging and stressful subject for those with special educational needs. Each situation requires a subtly different approach with individual learners benefiting from working at a pace that is comfortable for them. ConquerMaths empowers each learner by giving them the ability to control the pace and delivery of each maths lesson; they can stop and rewind the teacher any time they need to recap or repeat a concept.
Diagnostic tests help to seek out areas of weakness and guide learners to the most relevant resources, helping them to plug any previous gaps in knowledge and move forward. Also, knowledge is reinforced after each lesson with appropriate interactive questions and activities that adapt to the ability of the individual.
Often, something as simple as the background colour of a resource can be off-putting. ConquerMaths aims to make each learner as comfortable as possible by allowing control of the visual aspects of the members’ area. All work and activity in ConquerMaths is recorded in detailed reports so you can quickly monitor or download progress.
Used in SEN environments, ConquerMaths has been instrumental in helping learners to achieve significant passes at GCSE where traditionally they would not even be entered for the exams. Above all, ConquerMaths is designed to build confidence and remove the pressure of learning maths, by encouraging mastery and eliminating deadlines.
GCSEPod (stand B118)
GCSE Pod works closely with education specialists across the UK and when one of its team visited Northern Ireland to deliver ‘Literacy training using GCSEPod’ to over 25 literacy specialists, they were delighted to hear about how GCSEPod was having an impact on their learners, especially those with specific literacy needs.
One story was about Adam, who struggles with English and was offered access to GCSEPod to support him with his dyslexia. Adam’s class were studying Animal Farm; a specialist literacy tutor says, ‘The novel was perplexing Adam and he was neither enjoying nor understanding the story and the context.’ Adam’s tutor asked him to watch one of the Animal Farm Pods for homework prior to the next session, and when she revisited Adam she was astonished to discover that he had watched all of the Animal Farm Pods and he was very enthused and described it as ‘a great story’.
Ciaran is another student who is supported by the regional literacy specialists and Ciaran performed poorly in his mock exams. Ciaran’s grades ranged from Cs and Ds, through to a U in biology. After these disappointing results, the team identified that Ciaran had additional learning needs specifically relating to the speed of processing, and therefore he qualified for additional time in his GCSE examinations in the summer.
As part of the support package, Ciaran was given access to GCSEPod and downloaded all the Pods for his subjects. He used the Pods daily, listening to them on the bus on his way to and from school. In the summer, Ciaran achieved a grade B or above in every GCSE subject and a grade C in biology. The opportunity to repeat the Pods helped Ciaran to develop his understanding and improve his long-term memory.
A company spokesperson said: ‘It was a pleasure to see the enthusiasm and pride as the literacy specialist recounted these stories to the team of SENCOs, literacy leaders and co-ordinators who were at the training event. When a resource can have such impact on an individual’s outcomes, it really does have a powerful life changing effect; it transforms the opportunities ahead for them and their future!
As for the rest
These are just a few of the many products — new and old — that you’ll find at BETT 2017 to help address the learning needs of children with SpLD. If you’ve time for more or you are looking for something more specific go to the Bett website and click on the Exhibitor List tab at the top of the page. There you’ll find a full list that can be filtered in several ways. Choose SEN Specialist from the drop-down list under ‘I’m A…’ and the 919 exhibitors are reduced to a more manageable 151; choose English/Literacy from the list of Subjects and you are left with just 72. That’s still an awful lot of stands to cover in a single day’s visit but we wish you luck in finding what it is you’ve come to see. And if there’s something you missed do let us know and we’ll see if we can cover it in Special World.