Category Archives: Learning Support

Reflections on Year 6 Camp 2017

Into the Wild.

Emotions run high when ten and eleven year old children go on camp.  Especially when there are 130 Year 6 children going together. There is excitement and apprehension, and everything in between. On camp there are tears and laughter. Some children seem barely consolable one minute- tearful and homesick – and excited and involved the next.

Swing bridge on camp
Swing bridge on camp

The year 6 camp involved 4 days away, with 3 nights in a hotel near Kanchanaburi. Activities included hiking, and a swim below a waterfall. There were adventure activities such as a flying fox and a swing bridge. There was also a group challenge activity. Children could also choose biking, cooking, archery and rock climbing from a range of options.

Raft building on camp
Raft building on camp

Camp gives opportunities to all kids. It gives them opportunities to bond with their peers and make new friends. It also gives them opportunities to challenge themselves. For some this may be overcoming the fear of being away from family in a new and unfamiliar place. For others it may be trying new activities.  A swing bridge is a cause of great excitement for many, for others it’s a source of fear and trepidation. For one child success is running across as fast as possible, for another it is finally getting across after twice falling in.

Waterfall fun
Waterfall fun

As a teacher who supports children who sometimes struggle the change is palpable. The tears of night two – when tiredness after two long days gets the better of many – gives way to the excitement of an action filled day three. The children who were sobbing and needed someone to talk through their fears last night, barely notice adults today. They are having too much fun, and they are making new friends.

These small steps towards independence make the (teacher’s) 18 hour days worthwhile. Once children  have achieved something, they don’t look back, and hopefully the next challenge that they face will feel less daunting.

 

Are international schools suitable for all children?

Within an international school community people are always on the move. Globally mobile families with children may stay in one place for a number of years or may need to move after a couple of years. People working for international businesses and the self employed may find that they have to move as market conditions dictate.  And these moves can be sudden. Diplomats, military and NGO employees may have a fixed term posting. Teachers in international schools typically work on renewable contracts of one or two years and have to decide early in the school year if they want to renew them. As families move they need to find a new school for their children. These highly mobile people are sometimes called ‘global nomads’ and their children are sometimes called ‘third culture kids’ or TCKs.

There are many advantages for children as they move from one international school to another, or in and out of a national education system. They get to experience different cultures and may be exposed to an international perspective that may be lacking at ‘home’. They are likely to have friends from many countries, and get to visit amazing places. For many children it is also an opportunity to add another language to their mother tongue, with some children becoming proficient in two or more languages. These children often become resilient and independent as they adapt to new circumstances and make new friends.

But not all children are the same and some may find this flexible lifestyle does not suit them.  Some children may find the transition to a new school difficult. Others may find an unfamiliar curriculum and new language demands too much to handle. Some children will have learning challenges, for example dyslexia, and others may have social or emotional differences. The greater the barriers to learning, the greater the challenge. Many international schools may not have the level of support that is available in the national systems of higher income countries. There may also be a stigma attached to learning differences in some countries that is not usual at ‘home’.

It is true that more and more international schools are able to meet a greater range of individual children’s needs and very many children will gain a lot from an international education. Parents need to be aware of their child’s needs and make sure that the school that they choose is able to support all of these needs. This support must continue to be available as the child moves through her schooling.

In a small number of instances an international education may not be the best fit for a child. They may be happier and more successful with the support networks that are available at ‘home’. These networks may include family and friends, as well as educational support. If this is the case parents should not be afraid to put the interests of their child first. Their choice may be between going to a city with a suitable school, or staying at home.

What do you think?

Why transitions may be difficult for children on the autism spectrum

We need to understand that children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties with transitions – moving from one activity to another.

Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties with transition – moving between activities – at school. It is well documented that changes to routine are difficult for such children and that they can become fixed on one activity and have difficulty shifting their interest.

In any school day there are transitions, for example around break times and lunchtimes, or  heading to PE or music. There may also be transitions involved where there are visitors to school, such as visiting speakers and assemblies. These transitions may also be accompanied by changes in environment and possibly sensory issues. It is common for children on the autism spectrum to have sensory issues associated with touch, sound and vision.

There are also ‘vertical’ transitions as children move from one year level to the next. These transitions are particularly critical as children move from primary to secondary school and from school to adult life.

It is essential that schools attempt to minimise the stress that these transitions cause to children.

What steps can we take to reduce the stress of transitions for children on the autism spectrum?

We all need to remember that all children have their own needs and that these differences are especially apparent with children on the autism spectrum. The first step is to find out where the difficulties are for the individual. Once we have this information we can begin to find ways to ease transitions.

  • Establish a  routine and stick to it
  • Give ample warning when the routine needs to be changed
  • Give a timetable showing where transitions take place – a visual timetable may be appropriate
  • Avoid sensory overload where possible e.g. at an assembly, moving around the school
  • Have materials organised and accessible to move to a new activity e.g. have a workstation where the child can sit, with all the necessary supplies in place
  • Have a buddy, who can model the transition and remind where necessary
  • Keep instructions direct and unambiguous, you may be taken very literally
  • Parents and teachers need to work together – parents can share their knowledge of their own children with teachers

Sometimes a child on the autism spectrum may have limited or fixed interests. Try to incorporate these interests into school work and home activities, as this may allow the child to learn to develop new skills.

Other posts: what is autism? | sensory issues for children on the autism spectrum – vision

 

Dictation and Reading Tools – on a Mac

Here are some built in tools that allow the Mac to read aloud and turn our speech into text.

Text to speech (reading) on a Mac

This cool feature is built into the Mac operating system. You may need to activate it. Here’s how:

Quick step-by-step

Open System Preferences > Dictation and Speech

Choose : Text to Speech

Check: Speak selected text when the key is pressed

Current Key: option + esc

Window showing text to speech options
Window showing text to speech options
How does it work?

Select (highlight) the text that you want read to you. Press the option and esc keys together. The text will be read out loud to you.

Part of Mac keyboard: opt and esc keys
Part of a Mac keyboard showing the option and escape keys

If you would like more details, including how to change the voice you can look at this video. The uploader also talks about how this helps with his dyslexia.

 

Dictation on a Mac

Quick step-by-step

Open Preferences > Dictation and Speech

Choose: Dictation – On Button

Press fn (function key) twice

Dictation Dialogue Window
Activation window showing where to turn dictation on
How does it work?

Open your word processor (e.g. word), click the cursor for where you want to start. Press the fn key twice. Speak normally and the text should begin to appear. You will most likely need to do some editing on the text but it is a good way of getting your ideas written down.

Part of Mac keyboard showing function key
Mac keyboard showing function fn key

 

Read & Write for Google Chrome and Drive

These settings will not work with Google Chrome or Drive.  Herer are some videos to add an extension that will work with Google.

Here’s a video about how to add the Read & Write for Google – Chrome Extension

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaxxeWnlBdk

Here’s some more info about how to use the Read & Write toolbar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msKY6jTY7kY

Characteristics of an Effective Teacher

I came across this passage recently in an article about autism and thought it made a great summary of some of the characteristics of any effective teacher:

Our respondents suggested that effective teachers were flexible but predictable. They had high expectations but were not too harsh or critical. They set clear rules but were still child centered. They allowed for differences but didn’t ignore similarities. They provided support without creating dependency. The teachers who made a difference for the respondents in this sample seemed to balance these tensions. In many ways, what makes a teacher effective for children with Asperger Syndrome are the same behaviors and characteristics that make a teacher effective with other children. However, the presence or absence of these characteristics may hold special significance for children with Asperger Syndrome.

Sciutto, M., Richwine, S., Mentrikoski, J., & Niedzwiecki, K. (2012). A Qualitative Analysis of the School Experiences of Students with Asperger Syndrome. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities , 27 (3), 177-188.