Monthly Archives: November 2011

Autism-thoughts of a father

I have never written a post about my family. About my eldest son’s struggles throughout his education with dyslexia, my second son’s autism, and the difficulties it has given him. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s probably because I know I can’t tell their stories in a few short posts. It’s a lifetime work! And it’s where to start.

Most recently though, my second son has been having a more difficult time than usual and it has got to all of us a bit. It’s heartbreaking when your son or daughter tell you they have no friends, no one wants to talk to them and they spend most of their time alone. Niall recently said to me ‘I just don’t want to be lonely anymore’.

All through school we fought to be heard, to be understood, to find people who really, genuinely wanted to help and are sympathetic to the difficulties. Niall was statemented at 9 years old when he was in Y5. Up to that point he had been simply regarded as difficult, naughty, cheeky, you name it. I am sure there were those who still felt this to be the case after he got a statement. Our parenting was called into question and what he was generally felt to need was some firm discipline. He had huge problems dealing with instructions, a pragmatic, semantic difficulty means he interprets what he hears differently. He used to panic as a youngster when he mum said she was just going to dive in the bath! Because his problems aren’t extreme it’s easy to think they’re not real, he has never wanted to share them for fear of sticking out. He declined any support throughout high school as in his first term an SEN teacher came into his class and said, in front of everyone ‘Come on Niall, it’s time for your ‘Let’s sort it out’ session.” He tried hard to fit in, to understand the social mores and be accepted.

School was always difficult to get right, not so much academically (although he really doesn’t get maths!) but more socially and emotionally. He interprets things literally, speaks out of turn and inappropriately, but is devastated when such misdemeanours are pointed out. Forging good relationships with staff proved hard and with peers even harder. He has one good friend who he has known since he was five years old but beyond this, he struggles socially.

He was recently told by ‘friends’ at college that no one liked him, they found his behaviour odd and didn’t know how to deal with him. We’re currently working through this with him, telling him that as people get older difference are celebrated rather than ridiculed, that his unique outlook and creativity will serve him well as he enters adulthood. I hope the constant encouragement and support from home can balance the difficulty he faces daily beyond it.


The learning will be televised

The introduction of monitors around school gave us somewhere to display our digital content.  A digital display board.


The children had been creating photostories and presentations at home and we were finding it difficult to share their work on any scale in school.   We decided to install screens around the place and scheduled the children’s work to play at key times during the day.   The children are used to the screens now and look forward to seeing their work being broadcast around school but I can still remember the look on thier faces when they were first installed.

I often tell the story of a disenchanted pupil in Y3 who with the support of an enlightened teacher learned to use photostory.   He persuaded his mum to come along to one of our parents’ workshops and less than a week later he was producing photostories for his maths and other films to support different areas of learning.   He loved seeing his work around school and it had a profound impact on his attitude to his learning.   Not only that, his friends saw the potential and got in on the act!   Soon we had children bringing in their own projects for us to broadcast across the school.

As with anything new, when we fitted the screens we weren’t quite sure of where we might go with them.   We began to test and stretch their capabilities and eventually felt we needed something more.    We were fortunate to meet CMS, a local media company who agreed to fit a green screen studio for us in school.   This gave us the opportunity to put the sceens  to much better use.   To not only share the children’s work, but also to create their own in-house films, adverts, vodcasts and more.   Some of the early projects were great fun and the children immediately saw huge possibilities   With the aid of twitter, an early advert made as part of a Y6 literacy lesson was used by a school in Bradford as a stimulus for a Y3 writing lesson! The children quickly turned the green screen into a roller coaster, a newsroom, the beach, a playground, outer space, you name it!!

Current projects include ‘Hawes Siders’ our school soap, ‘A story from School’ our answer to Cbeebies’ Bedtime story and the teaching and learning group are making a film about how children feel about marking – this is for staff and will be used at our next professional development meeting after Christmas.   The children find the green screen easy to use and it supports their basic skills development giving them plenty of opportunity for speaking and listening, reading and writing (planning, scripting and autocue feature as much in any project as filming and presenting.)   The green screen studio has enabled us to explore further possiblities in the use of technology to support learning, the screens enable us to share  this learning.   We also use a scrolling RSS feed on the screens to advertise class blogs and relevant information.   Custom widgets also allow us to screen house point totals, birthdays, awards, sports news and much more.   Live broadcasting is our next step, beaming in-house offerings across the classrooms and screens around school.   The learning will be televised!

What difference does it make?

Our international partnerships have developed over a few years.   We’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in Comenius projects and have also developed our own partnerships with school in Australia and China, but how do such partnerships benefit school?   What difference does any of this make?

If staff attend a course or training session they will invariably come back to school citing the informal chat and the lunch as particularly valued times, it enables them to network and share ideas.   The course content is often lost very quickly once back in school, making little lasting impact on practice.   Through British Council funded Comenius projects we have been able  to take CPD to a different level witnessing a profound and lasting impact on those involved.   Staff have gained so much of lasting value by visiting partner schools in Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and Finland.   Our current project will enable teachers and support staff to visit schools in Turkey, Estonia, Germany, Poland and France.   Once staff leave school the dialogue begins, once they arrive at partner schools the conversation develops, comparing, contrasting sharing similarities and exchanging ideas and apporoaches.

The impact of international work at a school and individual level easily outlasts the duration of the visit.  For those interested the opportunity to take part excites and motivates them, it puts a spring in their step and adds additional enthsiasm to their practice both prior to visits and after them.   The sense of purpose such projects can bring to the children’s work means they are also further motivated by an international peer audience.  The opportunity to develop an ongoing online dialogue has never been easier, the chance to share information never simpler or more immediate.

The work with our Australian partners has been documented here previously.   The opportunites to visit each others’ schools is obviously limited but the children have benefited from video conferencing and use of web 2.0 tools such as wallwisher.   We make good use of email and blogging too.   The new link with China is developing and again I have posted about this here already.   The children are fascinated by a culture so different to theirs.   They are thoroughy enjoying finding out all about school and life for children at our partner school in Beijing.   Along with our partner school, Robin Hood in Birmingham, we hope to be able to take pupils out to China by next summer.

For our pupils, finding out about other cultures and comparing them to their own is developing their cultural awareness and understanding in a way no PSHE lesson could hope to do.   The chance to work on international projects has given staff and pupils a global perspective and an opportunity to look beyond local practices and solutions.   It has given them an appetite for working across the world with peers who develop their knowledge and understanding and further their learning.

Can I come back to you later?







The first thing that impresses you about working with Tim Rylands is he doesn’t just talk about it, he does it.   Before we agreed to our two days with him as part of our Kaizen staff training and development, Tim urged me to put him in front of children, so that staff could see his ideas and approaches in action.   It meant a lot.   It gave him credibility with staff because he got up and delivered.   To sixty children at a time! Y2, Y4 and Y6.   Three demo lessons that had the children reaching for language and stretching their imagination like never before.   Staff were invited to get involved and enjoyed the opportunity to watch the children but also to immerse themselves in the virtual worlds being created.   It was great to see some of our more reticent children rising to Tim’s challenges, growing in stature and having a ball.   Staff observed Tim using a range of strategies to draw the maximum out of pupils, to plant a seed, to nudge, provoke and promote thinking.

One of the devices Tim used with the children was to speak to them, listen to them for a while and then ask if he could come back to them later – which he always did.   This enabled the children to think about what they were going to say next – a sort of drip feed that encouraged, prompted and helped them push their ideas along.   Facial expression, tone of voice and use of props all played a part in the demo lessons.   Staff took a lot away from the sessions and reported that it helped the next day make all the more sense.

Tim’s reputation comes from his fantastic work with Myst but it would be doing him a disservice to suggest it rests solely on this.   His work with the staff in our network took us beyond technology and gaming.  He paused scenes in a number of games and encouraged staff to think about what they could see, sense, feel, smell.  He asked them to picture scenes, take on the role of characters and imagine journeys, lives and outcomes.   Just as he had with the children the day before.   The same approaches could be taken with pictures and artifacts, through role play and much more.   At its core Tim’s work is about the art and craft of teaching, a creative, questioning approach used to great effect to draw the very best out of the children, to make learning an exciting adventure.