‘Absences leave holes in learning’

“Most school systems are based on the assumption that learning is sequential and successful outcomes are the result of regular attendance.”  John Howson in TES (14/01/11)

The disruptions in attendance experienced by teachers and pupils due to the recent weather and now flu viral outbreaks have brought this home only too well. The coming months will demonstrate how well  teachers and pupils are able to bridge the holes.

Howson’s analysis of available data suggests that “the percentage of special educational needs (SEN) pupils who are classified as persistent absentees is always higher than the average for all pupils.”

“..for those who want to come to school but cannot do so, often for reasons of illness, we need to find a way of ensuring technology can help.”

Not every home is equipped with the technology to ensure all young people are included even when they are ill but many do. School edubuzz blogs had some lovely suggestions for activities during the snow closures. Teachers and pupils can keep others informed and included while they are absent with illness through the use of imaginative Apps/ photos /videos,etc. Try www.wallwisher.com ; www.glogster.com. Any other ideas?

Google Apps supports isolated learners

At a recent CPD session at Knox Academy, several teachers experienced using Google Docs for the first time.

We tried using an application which would allow a pupil at home to type on something set by a teacher, e.g. a Past Paper. The teacher can send responses and explanations back.

One Guidance teacher planned to put her learning straight into practice to support a pupil in his final year of school. While undergoing medical treatment which will keep him at home and in hospital  over several months he can keep in touch with teachers and peers by participating in pieces of work online.

Look at the Youtube clip Googledocs in plain english for further direction.

Feeling sleepy?

“It is an overlooked fact that children get an hour less sleep every night than they did 30 years ago.”

says Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in “Nurtureshock: Why everything we Think about raising Our children is wrong”,Ebury,(publ.)

The Guardian (23/11/10) printed extracts from the book which raises questions for us as educators and parents.

“Children’s brains are a work in progress until the age of 21….much of that work is done while a child is asleep.”.so.”the lost hour seems to have an exponential impact on children that it simply doesn’t have on adults.”

“Some scientists theorise that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in the brain structure -damage that a child cannot sleep off.”

Dr Sadeh, clinical psychologist at Tel Aviv University, carried out a study on 77 children aged 9 and 11 and found that “a loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to the loss of 2 years of cognitive maturation and development.”

Even a shift in sleep patterns at weekends for under 5’s drew Dr Paul Suratt (University of Virginia) to the conclusion that ” Sleep disorders can impair children’s IQ as much as lead exposure.”

“Tired children can’t remember what they have just learned because neurons lose their plasticity and become incapable of forming the new synaptic connections necessary to encode memory.”

“Tired people have difficulty with impulse control, and their abstract goals such as studying take a back seat to more entertaining diversions.”

“A tired brain gets stuck on a wrong answer and can’t come up with a more creative solution, repeatedly returning to the same answer it already knows is incorrect.”

“Sleep deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine.”

Adolescents’ brains do not release melatonin until 90 minutes after everyone else so they fall asleep later and are sleepy at school in the morning. In Minnesota an hour’s delay in school start time resulted in a boost in Maths and verbal Sats scores and higher levels in motivation and lower levels of depression.

Google Docs for isolated learners

Recently at a CPD session at Knox Academy several teachers practiced using Google Apps together.

One application which is useful in supporting a pupil who cannot be in class, perhaps due to illness, is to paste and send them a Past Paper or other document which they can work on at home. The teacher can type on comments as the pupil is working rather than sending it back and forth as you would with email.

A way for a pupil to keep in touch with peers, is to work from home on a document while classmates type from school. A group can participate together on a Powerpoint or other document from various computers in various locations simultaneously.

One Guidance teacher was eager to put her learning into practice in support of a young man in his final year of school who is undergoing lengthy medical treatments. He can now communicate with classmates and teachers from hospital or home from a lap top and can progress in subjects with a better chance of achieving his potential.

The scope for creating learning opportunities is exciting.

To learn more look at Youtube Googledocs in plain english

“Blogs and Online diaries should be part of school curriculum ” says Thinktank

Charles Leadbeater introduced his lecture at the Scottish  Learning Festival on 25/09/08 with a You tube clip of a teenage boy playing guitar in his bedroom. The clip had had 49 million hits!

A report in the Guardian 6/10/08 points out the claims of the Think tank, Demos, (with which Leadbeater is associated), that young people “are being failed by adults who are not paying proper attention to this new medium.”

“The study.. considers how their enthusiasm and skills can be encouraged.”

“The report makes recommendations to help adults cope with the changing online environment and calls particularly on schools to help youngsters understand the long term implications of living their lives in a semi-public way.”

“Schools should prepare young people for an era where CV’s may well be obsolete, enabling them to manage their on-line reputation .” says the report, “we need an educational response that extends beyond the focus of safety towards broader questions of privacy and intellectual property.”

I was personally concerned about the information my teenage daughter was relaying about herself on Facebook, especially when she realised that her boss had added herself as a friend.

Politicians see youngsters as apathetic and unreachable, according to the Guardian.

“The (UK )government is pouring money into this because they feel young people should be making themselves heard”…”but bloggers say it feels contrived.”

Barack Obama in the United States, on the other hand, is said to be the first ‘Youtube politician’ because “he gets that you can’t control it. His campaign team get that its about the enthusiasm”…”he encouraged (young voters) to exercise their creative urges online, instead of simply dictating his ideas to them.”

Mental Health of Young People

Many of the Young People referred for OUtreach teaching in recent years have been diagnosed with Mental Illness of various kinds. It can take some months away from school to recover. Those in school who are anxious or unhappy will find difficulty in concentration.

At the Scottish Learning Festival I came across some useful resources for schools in supporting the Mental Health of all pupils.

The Centre for Confidence and Well being offers the possibility of In-service training for teachers, and resources can be accessed on line at www.centreforconfidence.co.uk

The Samaritans have produced a DVD resource which can be used in Staff training or with classes. ‘Developing emotional awareness and Learning’ is well worth a look for lesson plans and ideas for PSD classes.

‘Glow’ will be invaluable for pupils who have to take time away from school through illness. The implications are exciting in supporting inclusion.

Relationships and Participation with Pupils and Parents

I listened to Charles Leadbeater at the Scottish Learning Festival and was excited by his notions of :”Learning with rather than teaching to pupils ;the learner as participant not an empty vessel; and community being crucial to the learning process”

I reflected on my work with a P.1 pupil who had cognitive difficulties. Her barriers to learning were compounded by social and emotional deprivation and her family had difficulty in providing an environment to offset some of the disadvantages she was born with.

Unfortunately working and learning with parents is time consuming and costly. Leadbeater says that we may have exhausted other avenues for further development in education except in “Personalisation and collaboration.” A redistribution of resourcing and flexibility of provision might reach pupils currently missed.

TESS (3/10/08), reporting on several speakers at the Learning Festival says the emphasis needs to be on “Relationships”.

Martin Rouse called on schools to focus on “relationships,respect and recognition”  while Professor Teese said that Scotland should be strengthening relationships within its schools.


Access to exams for all

For pupils absent due to illness in the weeks during exam preparation,
appeals and additional support procedures can be put in place in collaboration with Support for Learning Departments.

In 2007, for the first time, according to Chief Nurse, Janice McKenzie, at the Sick KIds in Edinburgh, in-patients were able to sit Standard Grades in English and Maths.

A pupil from Fife had her papers locked in the ward safe under great secrecy and security; while Chris Rainger, Support for Learning at Knox arranged to have the East Lothian pupil’s papers sent directly to my home address.

The designated exam area was in a room beside the phlebotomists’ tearoom, at the back of the haematology labs off Rillbank Terrace.

The ward play specialist wheeled the pupils through the Victorian building out of the back door and along the street. I invigilated, provided IT support and tried to keep the girls comfortable with cups of tea and hot water bottles as the temperature dropped.

Anxious to follow the SQA guidelines accurately, I packed up and posted off the papers at the end of each day.

Both pupils finished the papers exhausted but happy to have experienced this high point in their education.

Hannah’s mum said that, like any 15 year old, Hannah wanted to be able to share the experience with her peers.
She was able to discuss papers with friends on her return home and Hannah
went on to complete 6 more exams on day trips from hospital to school where special arrangements had been made . Her results were excellent.

With a ‘can do’ attitude and collaboration, inclusion can limit the disadvantages for pupils with medical conditions.

Settling Back to School after Illness

GIRLSometimes pupils have to be absent from school for extensive periods to have hospital treatment. This can be disruptive to the class but even more so for the individual pupil.

One example was a P.2 pupil who  was diagnosed with Leukaemia while attending nursery class.

As the chemotherapy treatment goes on for 2 years, with some hospital stays , the family learns to cope with the various effects of drugs which can alter behaviour, appetite and brings  nausea, etc . She had not had the opportunity to settle well into P.1 so P.2 was daunting for her.

Unfortunately a well meaning volunteer from a support organisation had decided to teach her to read by the ‘Look and Say’ method and not phonics so  she was feeling very confused by sounds and letters.

A swift phone call to the volunteer and a visit to meet her teachers began to clear the path for confidence to grow.

A conscientious probationary teacher sent me weekly emails detailing what the class was doing in school. The pupil was able to complete the same work at home whether it be making a cardboard cereal packet model of her house which could be put on the wall with all the others, or being on the same reading book as her group.


One happy child ready to return to school full-time with no further anxieties.

Mental Health and Young People: All In The Mind?

Children studyingWe all meet  some brilliantly inspiring characters in East Lothian Schools  and I don’t just mean teachers.

Some of the young people we teach are struggling to come to terms with illness and become anxious about falling behind in school work.

Occasionally they look well  but their illnesses are of a psychological nature and they need all the help we can give to ensure that they are well supported to achieve and reach their potential. Continue reading