## Good Practice in Autism Education

I recently completed the FutureLearn Good Practice in Autism Education course, and this is a website they recommended for as a place to find and share examples of good practice from all over Europe:

Project Amuse

I haven’t had chance to check it out properly yet, but it looks as though it could be useful.

## 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.

## When is a test not a test?

It’s amazing what a difference a word makes. Say the word “test” and people fly into a panic: I don’t know it! I can’t remember it! I hate tests!

This year, instead of doing tests at the end of a unit, we have had quizzes instead. Now children are not stupid, and if you just swap the words “quiz” and “test”, they still know it’s a test. So we had real pub-quiz style quizzes. The children wrote their team name (which had to include their own name) at the top of the paper and then huddled their arms round it to stop anybody else copying, and before we started they had to switch off their invisible phones.

I put the questions into rounds and read them out in my best Quizmaster voice. For a bit of extra authenticity I made one of the rounds a picture round…. In fact the only thing we lacked was the chance to play a joker for double points! And at the end I announced the “winners” who won a round of applause from the rest of the class.

The children loved it. In fact if anybody was off sick on the day of the quiz I had to delay announcing the winners, because next lesson the children who had been absent would beg for the chance to sit in the corner quietly and do the quiz on their own!

Did it make the children who didn’t win feel bad? Well, actually – no. Because it was a bit of fun not a test, there was no pressure and I found that even the children who found the subject more difficult did really well in the quizzes. Sometimes they even won!

During lessons they became more willing to admit if they didn’t understand something, so any uncertainties and misconceptions could be dealt with more quickly. They became more willing to take risks because they knew that making mistakes wasn’t a disaster – it was just a step on the road to the learning – and this helped them to learn even more. And the more they learnt the better they did in the end of unit quiz.

At the end of the year the children voted the quizzes the most fun thing they had done in that topic, and as I looked at the class I knew that every single one of them had made more progress than I had imagined possible.

Would this work with every class? I don’t know. What I do know is that for this particular mix of children, turning those end of unit tests into quizzes made the children happy, relaxed and enthusiastic learners.

## M is also for … Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes.  I do, your parents do, your teachers do and I’m sure you do, too.  Of course, nobody likes making mistakes and they wish they hadn’t made them, but really they are nothing to be worried about or scared of.  That’s particularly important with mistakes in your school work.  Even if you carry on learning and studying your whole life, you’ll still make some.  What you need to do is understand why you made the mistakes and, most importantly, understand what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  In other words, you have to learn from them!  So how do you do that?  Let’s take a look at the different kinds of mistakes you might make.

The easiest to understand and fix is a mistake you make because you weren’t concentrating.  That’s when you write the wrong word, spell an easy word wrong, put the wrong answer to a maths question you know the right answer to, or you haven’t read the question carefully.  I think all of us have made mistakes like that!  The way to fix them is simple – make sure you are always concentrating when you’re working.  It’s especially important with homework, because there are so many other things happening and that you could be doing at home.  But if you concentrate, the work is easier, you’ll get it finished faster and you make fewer mistakes.

The second kind of mistake is if you aren’t confident about things you’ve been taught or you haven’t answered that kind of question many times before.  The way to stop making these mistakes is to make sure you take time to learn the things your teacher asks you to (especially spellings and times tables!) and keep practicing what you’ve been doing in lessons.  That way, the information you need will be in your head and you’ll understand how to answer different types of question.

Another kind of mistake is if you wrote or said a wrong answer because you just don’t know the right one.  That’s OK – nobody can be expected to know everything!  Teachers prefer you to have a try than sit there silently or just write nothing.  And they will be able to tell you the right answer – you have to remember it for next time!

You’ve probably noticed that the solutions to all the mistakes so far are things that you need to do yourself.  But for some mistakes you need help.  That’s when you don’t know why you made the mistake, perhaps because you just didn’t understand the question or didn’t know how to find the right answer.  If you want to stop making this kind of mistake, you need to ask your teacher to explain it to you.  Don’t be embarrassed – asking for help means you want to do better and learn more and no teacher will mind you asking.

Mistakes are part of life, especially when you’re young and learning.  The important thing is not to feel bad about yourself but to think about what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes again and again.  Whether you can do it on your own or with help from your teacher, there is always a way to fix it.

Related posts: L is also for …   N is also for …

## Learning Chinese

As readers of this blog will know, I love learning new things.  Last summer I spotted an advert for a course in Chinese for primary school teachers, and as MFL (modern foreign languages) is my specialist subject, I decided to sign up.  Throwing myself in at the deep end, I promised my new school that I would set up a lunchtime Chinese club, so I had to make sure I really did learn some!

I must confess, I was a bit worried.  I mean – Chinese is really difficult, right?  It’s doesn’t even have an alphabet, just thousands of characters.  But it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I imagined.  Obviously, it takes years to learn to speak a language fluently, so I have only learnt the basics, but this is what I discovered:

–          It’s a subject-verb-object language, so the word order is the same as English.  This already makes it easier than some languages.

–          The verbs don’t conjugate (i.e. there are no different endings depending on who is doing it – like he lives, they live in English, or il habite, ils habitent in French.

–          There are no articles (English has ‘a’ and ‘the’; French has un, une, des, le, la and les; Spanish has un, una, unos, unas, el, la, los and las; Chinese has nothing)

–          There are no tenses.  In Chinese, the verb remains exactly the same and you know whether it’s past, present or future from the context.

This simplicity actually makes it ideal for primary school children to learn.

Like any language, it does have its peculiarities and difficulties, such as the tones (the way your voice goes up or down for certain words) but this is no more challenging than getting children to understand the concept of nouns having genders (Chinese doesn’t have those) or that ‘you are’ might be ‘tu es’ but might be ‘vous êtes’ depending on who and/or how many people you are talking to.

Of course the characters are tricky but the children in my club really enjoy drawing and practising them, and they have the advantage that children are not influenced by how the word is written, so in general their pronunciation is better right from the start.  The fact that the language isn’t written with an English alphabet doesn’t faze them at all.  (In fact, I also run an Ancient Greek club and the children there are also fascinated by the fact that language can be written using different symbols.)  We all enjoy making up little stories to help remember the characters.  On the course I did, we learned a little about how the characters are made up, with radicals giving an indication of meaning and a phonetic element indicating pronunciation.

And there is far more vocabulary in some topic areas.  For example, English has mum, dad, brother, sister, grandma, granddad, while Chinese has different words depending on whether it’s an older or younger brother, a maternal or paternal grandmother etc.  But for the moment the primary aged children I am teaching only need to learn the ones they require for their own family.

The children and I are really enjoying learning together, and although I will never be fluent in Mandarin, you never know – one of the children I am teaching may be inspired to study it further and become fluent in the future.