Learning braille

As regular readers of my blog know, I love learning new things. As a teacher, I think it’s important to continually put myself in the position of a learner so that I never forget what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table.

I recently set myself the challenge of learning braille. A friend of mine and her mum are braille teachers and I asked them to teach me As I don’t see them often I said I would teach myself some of the basics first so that they could then teach me the more complex parts, and I promised to write my friend a letter in braille when I had managed to learn some. I’m really glad I decided to do this, as I have learn so much more than just a new way of writing the alphabet.

First of all I downloaded a fantastic app called Braille Tutor and started learning the alphabet and numbers. I also used these lovely resources from Twinkl, and these (also from Twinkl), some of which were great from practising the alphabet in context, rather than just a letter at a time. The first thing I realised was that when I first started I was confusing some of the letters for each other.

Take a look at these two letters and you’ll notice that they are very similar. The i and the e are mirror images of each other.

 

Now look at these and you’ll notice they are like two sides of a square being rotated anti-clockwise by 90° each time.

This gave me a much better understanding of what it must be like to be dyslexic because I mixed up the i with e, and d, f, h and j in a similar way to how people with dyslexia confuse m with w, and b, d, p and q. Even though I knew that these were different letters and that the orientation was important, somehow my brain just kept flipping them over and turning them round.

Learning to read braille has reminded me of how much understanding you lose when you have to decode every word instead of reading fluently – I had to keep taking breaks to mentally recap what I had just read. I always encourage weaker readers to pause and consolidate what they have read before moving on, but my experience reading braille has shown me that I actually need to make them do this much more often with smaller chunks of text.

Once I was confident with the alphabet and numbers I decided it was time to try writing a letter to my friend. I quickly decided that a braille printer was waaaay outside my budget, and so I bought a slate and stylus from Amazon instead.

This was my second lightbulb moment.  Anyone who works in education will know the frustration of marking work and finding that there are no capital letters and very few full stops.  I wrote a post some time ago about this (Why do they do that?) but I now have some new ideas to explain this….

I knew exactly what I wanted to write, and I sat down to compose my letter. Half-an-hour later and my first three attempts were languishing in the recycling bin. I mentally crossed out most of what I had planned to say, and sat down again to write a very basic note. It took me an hour to write 5 lines, and when I read back over what I had written, I noticed that I had missed quite a few capital letters and some punctuation. Obviously I know how to use capital letters and full stops, so what on earth had gone wrong?

The problem was that it’s hard to write braille. You have to remember what the pattern of dots for the letter you want to write is and then you have to reverse it (because with a slate and stylus you work from right to left and mirror write, so that when you turn the paper over the embossed dots are the right way round) – and remember some of those letters are hard to tell apart anyway! You have to make sure that you have placed the stylus in the correct part of the cell and you have to use just the right amount of force – too much and you just poke a hole in the paper; not enough and the indent doesn’t show through clearly enough on the other side. I found I was concentrating so hard on all of this that there was no brain power left for anything else, such as remembering to add in the symbol that means “capitalise the next letter”, and so on a couple of occasions it just slipped my mind.

I’m sure it must be like this for many children in our classrooms, and this experience has helped me to understand exactly how much effort goes into writing a simple sentence. Hopefully, it will also help me to think of new ways to help them so that they become able to express what they want to say, instead of limiting themselves to what they feel able to say, and so that their punctuation is accurate more consistently.

There’s still so much more I need to learn for braille. I still have the contracted form to tackle- I haven’t even mastered double letters yet so that may take a while. I’m glad I’ve made a start though. It means I can send my friend Nicki letters from time to time instead of only ever communicating by text/email and I’ve improved my teaching practice at the same time.

35 activities for children in your own garden

I have noticed over the last few years, that fewer and fewer children know much about nature. In fact a few weeks ago I was surprised to discover than none of the children I was working with in school knew what a buttercup was.

I know it’s hard to find time in busy lives to get to the park or walk in the country, so here are a few suggestions of things that can be done without leaving your own garden.

 Important notes for the adults
This post contains lots of ideas to help your children connect with nature in your own garden. There are also ideas included for linking some of these activities to maths, English, science and art. Your child may need help or supervision carrying out these activities. These activities are suggestions only – it is your responsibility to ensure that it is safe to carry them out. Although I have used the websites and apps suggested, I have no control over their availability, content or any adverts that are placed on those sites and I cannot therefore accept responsibility for them.

Important notes for the children
There are some suggestions of things to eat in this list, but never eat anything you find in your garden without checking with an adult that it is safe to do so.
Make sure you ask an adult’s permission before doing any of these activities, and especially before visiting any of the websites or downloading any of the apps suggested here.
Always wash your hands after touching things found in your garden.

Thirty-five ideas of nature-related things to do in your home or garden.

  1. Race two raindrops down the window pane. Describe the path they take – straight or curvy, fast or slow?
  2. Count ladybirds in the garden. How many did you find? Make a tally chart of how many have two spots, four spots, etc. What was the highest number of spots? Which amount of spots was most common?
  3. Close your eyes outside for two minutes. What sounds can you hear?
  4. We talk about the seven colours of a rainbow but they don’t really have 7 colours. Look at a rainbow. What colours can you actually see?
  5. Choose two pretty stones from the garden. What is the same about them? What is different about them? Look at the patterns. Draw one of the stones.
  6. How many different coloured butterflies can you see? Have a look at a butterfly identification chart- can you identify any of them?
  7. Place a blade of grass between your fingers and blow. What sound does it make? What happens if you use a thicker or thinner piece of grass?
  8. Look at the flowers in the garden. Either find one for each colour of the rainbow, or find 3 the same colour and order them from lightest to darkest.
  9. Make a daisy chain.
  10. Touch the soil on a dry day. What does it feel like? Touch it again after it has rained. Describe the difference in texture (how it feels).
  11. Watch the bees. Which sort of flowers do they like best?
  12. Count how many different sorts of birds visit your garden. How many can you name? If you don’t know what sort they are, have a look at the RSPB site to try to identify them.
  13. Open the windows early one morning and listen to the bird song.
  14. Plant some meadow flower seeds to attract the wildlife to your garden. Don’t forget to water them on the days it doesn’t rain.
  15. Make your own rain gauge and measure the rainfall. If you measure it over a few days, you could draw a graph of your results.
  16. Eat your lunch outside.
  17. Look for spiders webs. How many different sorts of spiders did you spot?
  18. Lots of people don’t like wasps. Find out about wasps and write down one reason why we should be grateful to them.
  19. Tie a ribbon to a stick. Which way is the wind blowing? Watch it for a few days. Does it always blow in the same direction?
  20. Plant some runner bean seeds and wait for them to grow – don’t forget to water them if it doesn’t rain. When the beans develop, you can pick and eat them!
  21. Ask five different people what their favourite flower is and why. Write down their replies.
  22. Make a bark rubbing.
  23. Lift up a stone or log. How many different insects do you see? Note which insects like which habitats. UK Safari is a useful site  to help you identify what you have found.
  24. Count the number of petals on different flowers. How many arrangements can you find? How many had 3 petals? How many had four? How many had 5? How many had more than 5? Draw a bar chart to show your results.
  25. Lie on your tummy and look at the grass. Have a look at the tiny insects you can see. Can you see any more if your use a magnifying glass?
  26. Smell the flowers. Which one do you like best?
  27. Make a collection of leaves. Pay attention to the size, colour and shape. Are they smooth, prickly or furry? Are the veins (the lines running through the leaves) hard or easy to see? If they are leaves from trees, see if you can identify them from the Woodland Trust website or download the free woodland trust app.
  28. Watch a sunrise or a sunset to find out which direction is east/west. Remember the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Paint / draw what you can see, or write a description/poem about it.
  29. Plant some nasturtiums. They are climbing plants, so they look really pretty growing up walls and fences and you can eat the flowers and leaves on bread and butter!
  30. Look at the clouds. How many different types can you see? Have a look at the Royal Meteorological Society website to help you identify them. What colours can you see? How quickly are they moving? Can you see any pictures in the clouds?
  31. Grow your own potatoes.  Grow your own potatoes has some instructions for how to plant them and some instructions for how to look after them.
  32. Make a sundial. You can also do this with a stick in the ground instead of using a board and a nail, and by placing a stone where the shadow falls each hour, instead of marking the board with a pencil. Don’t forget to paint the numbers 1-12 on the stones!
  33. Enjoy a thunderstorm. Work out how far away the storm is. Is there sheet or fork lightning or both? Learn how to spell the word lightning (tip – there’s no ‘e’ in it)!
  34. Look at the sky at night and try to pick out some constellations. SkEye is a useful app for knowing what you are looking for, or you could try the Astronomy Now website.
  35. Feed the birds. Make sure that if you decide to put out peanuts, they only go in a proper peanut feeder – otherwise very small birds can choke on them.

 

Roald Dahl Day

September 13th is the birthday of Roald Dahl – the genius who dreamt up Willy Wonka, the Big Friendly Giant, an oversized talking centipede and Miss Trunchbull. And since 2006 it has been the date for celebrating his life and works.

His books have made the leap from paper to film and to the West End, and almost everyone has a favourite. I remember asking one of my 11 year old pupils once what his favourite Roald Dahl book was and to my surprise he said, “His autobiography.” Having read it on his recommendation, I have to say that I admire his taste and fully agree with him. Dahl writes about his own life with the same quirkiness as he writes about Oompa-Loompas and magic fingers.

Roald Dahl day can be celebrated by reading, dressing up, writing revolting recipes – the sky’s the limit. And if you can find the right button in the Great Glass Elevator, why even stop at the sky?

Boxing Up

This is a technique I learned on a training course for 1:1 tutors, and it is designed to support pupils who find it difficult to come up with ideas and to structure their writing. An example in its most basic form would be using the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill.

boxing up 1

 

 

 

This boxes up into the simple story:

boxing up 2

This could become:

boxing up 3

 

 

This second story follows exactly the format of the first, but with enough details changed to make it a new story.

The source text can be carefully chosen to help with whatever the pupils are struggling with – eg a descriptive piece to help them use more adjectives, or to understand how to include similes and metaphors within a piece of writing.

This technique can be used as closely or loosely as needed to support the child, beginning by boxing up every few words, moving onto every sentence and finally every paragraph until the pupil is confident enough to structure a piece of writing unaided.

How to Study Smart: 20 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster – Daniel Wong

Most of us have to learn something new at some point in our lives. Thankfully my GCSE, A level and BA days are behind me, but I still like to do short courses and if ever a fairy godmother dropped a fortune in my lap I’d love to do a Masters in the future.

These tips, which I found on the Open2Study Facebook page are for everyone who still has exams to pass. I especially like the one about taking notes with pen and paper, because I always feel more creative with a pen in my hand than a keyboard at my fingertips.

How to Study Smart: 20 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster – Daniel Wong.