Free Explorer Bookpack for four-year-olds in East Lothian Council nursery provision

Every four-year-old in an East Lothian Nursery setting will be receiving an Explorer Bookpack filled with goodies to encourage a love of reading.

Adam Ingram MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years, launched the Explorer Backpack at a special event at North Berwick Community Centre, East Lothian on Wednesday 3 February 2010.

East Lothian Council and the Scottish Book Trust have created a free Explorer Backpack filled with goodies for four-year-old children to help them to move from nursery to primary with skills and confidence.  The packs are designed to encourage a love of reading in the children who receive them, and offer parents and carers lots of tips and advice about encouraging their children to read and learn at home. This is the first scheme of its kind anywhere in Scotland.

Using Clicker 5 in the classroom

I have long promoted the use of Clicker 5 to support independence in reading and especially writing. But I have reluctantly decided to abandon advising its use. Crick Software claims that,

Clicker is the proven reading and writing tool that helps pupils of all abilities to achieve success in reading and writing. Clicker is used on over half a million school computers and in over 90% of UK primary schools.


It is a fantastic resource, although the talking word processor aspect has now been superseded by WordTalk. However, in my experience Clicker is rarely utilised very much at all in classrooms.

Why is this? Well, either teachers are uninterested in supporting their reluctant readers and writers or the software is not user friendly. I don’t think it’s hard to choose which of these options is the most likely.

I have taught many children to access Clicker 5. Sometimes this has been relatively successful. Children can produce pieces of work that are largely coherent, well presented and illustrated without having to spell. It is unusual, though, for the use of Clicker 5 to become a central component of classroom activity independently.

I have been working this term with a group of 6 P3s (7 year olds) on The Ancient Egyptians. (Don’t ask my why this topic was chosen; seems daft to me but there we are.)

I located a ‘Find Out and Write About’ disc that I thought would solve all my planning problems. And, indeed, it is a lovely resource with 3 levels of difficulty, interesting information and clear illustrations.

Unfortunately, there is only one copy. So I did what all of us do, improvised. I borrowed the information – why re-invent the wheel? – to create grids for the children to work on in pairs. I have made many grids over the years but each time I have to re-learn the process. As I, like all teachers, have little time to prepare resources the grids turned out to be less user-friendly than I’d hoped.

I spent most of the first session sorting out the blips. That is, once we had managed to open the software. Just the admin involved took most of the initial lesson: turning the laptops on once they had been located; searching for someone who knew the logins after refreshment; helping little ones type passwords.

Following sessions were a whirlwind of activity with both myself and the support for learning teacher (who gave up her precious preparation time to help me) running between 3 pairs of children helping them to produce at most 8 lines of text. Yes, you read that correctly: 2 very experienced teachers working with 6 7 year olds became frazzled and frantic in five 45 minute sessions!

This is just not practicable in a busy classroom. Differentiating work is essential of course, but when the energy required in providing support far outstrips the end result we have to question whether it’s worthwhile.

I shall still use Clicker 5. The ‘Find Out and Write About’ and Talking Books software are terrific and can be used with small groups to enable them to access stories and produce a considerable amount of writing without having the drawback of poor secretarial skills hindering the process. I will also continue to recommend accessing extant grids available on Many teachers contribute their work to this site and they can be incredibly useful.

But I shall be much charier about recommending its use as a resource for class teachers to implement alone. It’s just not possible.

I’d welcome comments on this, colleagues.

Empathising with worms

A report in TES about East Ayrshire How to read between the lines  stresses the importance of higher order reading skills in non-fiction texts. ‘Empathising with worms’ is not sufficient but is a result of too much focus on fiction in the primary school, they say.

Fiction and non-fiction comprehension scores of P5s in East Ayrshire have soared in six months, thanks to a new literacy initiative

A literacy intervention programme for P5 pupils in East Ayrshire has seen their reading comprehension scores improve in six months by a massive 33 per cent in non-fiction and 15 per cent for fiction.

It is now being extended to all the council’s primary schools, and Anne Neil, a literacy consultant who devised the programme, is pursuing the findings with other authorities.

Graham Short, executive director of education and social services in East Ayrshire, said the initiative had the potential to close the attainment gap significantly. He predicted that its focus on non-fiction in the middle primary years would have an impact on secondary attainment, particularly in pupils’ writing.


Scottish Book Trust news

1. The Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books

28,000 children have registered already so it is the biggest year yet, and there’s still time to get involved. If your class is already registered don’t forget the deadlines: send book reviews by 30 October and votes by 13 November.

 2. Virtual Writer in Residence

The Scottish Book Trust is delighted to welcome Cathy Forde as their brand new Virtual Writer in Residence, who will be setting monthly creative writing tasks for use at home or in the classroom through to March 2010. You can watch and download her first two video podcasts – live on the site now!

 3. The Book that changed my life

Alongside the Scottish Book Trust  blog, an online library of stories and films of authors & illustrators’ book choices, new Book That Changed My Life resources have been created for schools.

The project is a great opportunity for young people to write a story to share with others. It can also be used to build a real focus on reading around your school. Young people have the opportunity not only to share their experiences, but also to collect stories from their peers, school staff, family members and members of the wider school community.

4. Bookstart in Scotland training days

New information is now available on the Scottish Book Trust website for several upcoming Bookstart in Scotland training events.


Research on the use of audiobooks with young people with dyslexia

In my personal blog I have summarised a research study on the use of audiobooks with learners with dyslexia here but I wanted to post the abstract here also in case others hadn’t seen it. The paper confirms what we knew already, which is comforting.

The objective of the  research study was to understand what benefits the use of audiobooks (both school-books and books of various genres, recorded on digital media) could bring to preadolescents and adolescents with developmental dyslexia.

Two groups, each consisting of 20 adolescents, were compared. The experimental group used the audiobooks, while the control group continued to use normal books. After 5 months of experimental training, the experimental group showed a significant improvement in reading accuracy, with reduced unease and emotional-behavioural disorders, as well as an improvement in school performance and a greater motivation and involvement in school activities.

Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Interesting use of the word ‘normal’ to describe printed matter. It’s a generational thing perhaps.

You can access the study by paying a fee. Anybody really interested is welcome to look at my copy.

Book festival event is a reminder of children’s real life trauma

Children in Scotland announces that Bronwen Cohen, Chief Executive of Children in Scotland will chair an event at this years Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sunday 23 August.
‘As research regularly shows that stress, family trauma and the effects of poverty are taking their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of Scotland’s young people, an event at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, chaired by Bronwen Cohen, Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, will generate a timely discussion about the value of featuring these real-life situations in works of fiction aimed at younger readers.
Children in Scotland has a long-standing commitment to researching and promoting the role of the arts and developing emotional literacy in young people, and the Book Festival event, ‘Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children’, taking place on Sunday 23 August 2009, at 6.30pm, will examine whether the experiences of a variety of children at risk, including runaways, orphans and young carers, should be used for entertainment, and to what extent authors treat such subject matter with the sensitivity it merits.
The panel of young people’s authors – Anne Fine, Melvin Burgess and debut novelist Rachel Ward, will spark what is set to be a candid debate.
Speaking ahead of the event, Bronwen Cohen said: “The arts in all its forms plays a vital part in the development of creativity, emotional maturity, and wellbeing for young people. Works of fiction, such as those we will be discussing, can offer new perspectives, and allow young readers to deal with difficult situations in their own lives. But, authors must take responsibility, treating the subject matter with sensitivity, not sensationalism.”’

Visual Literacy, Learning, Graphic Novels and Manga


Last night Jean Knox, Joan MacRae and I heard an interesting talk at the Book Festival with Dr Mel Gibson (no, not that one) talking about using Graphic Novels and Manga when teaching children and young people literacy skills.

She gave us a whirlwind tour of such books, few of which I had heard of.

I am aware of Colin McNaughton and Colin and Jaqui Hawkins as well as the comics many of us in the audience had known as children: Jackie (the immortal article ‘ How to Knit your own Pyjamas’ passed me by thank heavens), Bunty, The Eagle, Beano and Dandy. (My parents bought me ‘Look and Learn‘!) She stressed the point that modern graphic novels were available for all ages, interests and abilities and were to be viewed positively as serious sources of study. Comics are a ‘medium not a genre’.

I am a big fan of anything by Raymond Briggs and Mel offered fascinating insights into ‘The Snowman’, ‘When the Wind Blows’ and ‘Ethel and Earnest’. She not only illustrated the sheer breadth of subject matter and age range but also dissected their sophisticated and specific ‘grammar’. I had never noticed, for example, the variation in size of ‘panels’ which indicate the differences between the small events of individual lives and those on the world stage, such as the detonation of the nuclear bomb in ‘When the Wind Blows’. windThis is ‘campaigning’ and challenging literature at its very best and worthy of close attention. Other examples of political commentary are works by Joe Sacco,- his ‘Palestine’ is essential reading, as is’Maus’. One I did not know also comments powerfully on universal concerns: ’In the Shadow of the (Twin) Towers’

Mel forcefully illustrated the power of graphic novels as tools for serious study again and again; suggesting for example, that students compare and contrast the 3 graphic versions of ‘Macbeth’. After all, while the story remains the same interpretations differ – as they do on stage.

Many of these books not not just make the full text accessible they make it relevant. Mel quoted some youngsters who on discovering the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ rimewho wondered what the author ‘was on’ (laudanum/opium, dear). This work illustrates that these books can also be multi-layered :someone ’sits on a stone’ and, lo, there is Mick Jagger. Maybe the youngsters don’t get it but their parents will (or perhaps thier grandparents)! It is such ‘manic, powerful, active’ work that appeals to the emotions and often replicates the style of the computer games many young people play thus engaging them instantly. Examples are: ‘GON’, COWA’, ‘Skim’ and ‘Alice in Sunderland’.

Mel focused, on the whole, on those books that touch on major themes and complex narratives but she also referred to books that are just fun and so likely to engage even the most reluctant reader. She did make the point that at present there are few works for primary children and that those with text do not make concessions to less experienced older readers. However, publishers are ever more aware of the gap in the market and are beginning to produce books in lower case and with a more straightforward structure that doesn’t ‘play with the grammar of the page’ so much.

Mel ended her talk lauding the role of the school librarian and giving brief suggestions for teaching. These are being consolidated on her own website and she has also made substantial contributions to LTS. Check it out.

Finally, it was great to hear Bill Boyd’s question about differences between Scottish and English curricula – (she tried to be tactful but made it clear that she felt the curriculum south of the border was restrictive) asked virtually through Glow!


Scottish Book Trust news



Scottish Book Trust’s 2009-10 programme is quickly taking shape and they have information about FREE events for pupils. Upcoming events include authors Darren Shan (pictured), Betty Birney, the return of the brilliant Oisin McGann and of course, The Royal Mail Awards Ceremony in November.
Online Teachers in Residence Programme Scottish Book Trust is launching a unique professional development opportunity for a primary and a secondary school teacher offering them the chance to develop their classroom practice around creative approaches to literature and language in the classroom.


Working in partnership with Glow, they want to harness the experiences and knowledge of the Online Teachers in Residence to initiate and develop collaborative discussion with a wide network of teachers across Scotland. They are also working with the General Teaching Council of Scotland to ensure that participation in the programme will support a teacher’s application for Professional Recognition.glow


The Big Issue Goes to School For the past year the Scottish Book Trust has been working in partnership with the Big Issue Scotland on a campaign called The Big Issue Goes To School. They have taken high profile authors like Julia Donaldson, Patrick Ness (pictured), Vivian French and Keith Gray to upper primary and secondary schools in East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Dumfries & Galloway and Aberdeenshire.
If you are interested in hosting a Big Issue Goes To School event, please drop an email with the name of your school and the year group to
Doors Open Day – Saturday 26 September, 10 am – 3pm Scottish Book Trust is opening its doors on Saturday 26 September. You can visit the old Sandeman House building and award-winning garden just off the High Street, find out about all our projects, browse through the library, swap a book at the Book-Swap stand, or just grab a cup of coffee. There will also be a chance to tell us about The Book That Changed Your Life – we will be interviewing anyone willing to share with us the book that matters most to them….











Dyslexia Support Service yearly report 2008/09

There have been some mis-understandings amongst parents about the provision for learners with dyslexia within the region this session so I have listed the work I have carried out over the past academic year as the Outreach Teacher in the Dyslexia Support Service. I have:

  • Attended Staged Assessment and Intervention meetings (20 schools, 40 children).
  • Contributed to assessment of and planned for learners who may have dyslexic difficulties (15 schools, 58 children).
  • Delivered formal in-service training for teachers on Dyslexia Awareness; Mind Mapping; Dyslexia and ICT; ‘How we learn to read’ to all secondary schools.
  • Developed planning and organisational skills using Mind Mapping software (4 schools with groups in P6 and P7, whole P6 class).
  • Developed spelling strategies (1 school with P7 pupils)
  • Developed note taking skills (1 school with P5 pupils)
  • Developed visual and auditory sequential memory (4 schools with S1 individual, P5 and P6 groups).
  • Developed writing in Environmental Studies in 4 schools using Clicker 5 with in P3, P5 and P6 (small groups).
  • Exam preparation and revision techniques (1 school with group of S5 pupils).
  • Met with parents in addition to formal SAI meetings (10 schools, 25 parents).
  • Taught Speed Reading courses (2 schools with individuals and small groups in P7).
  • Supported students in accessing the Science and Modern Studies curricula through technology (2 schools with 5 S2/3 pupils).
  • Supported an S1 pupil in identifying strategies used by teachers that help her to learn and using this information to re-write the entry in the school handbook that is distributed at the start of every session.
  • Supported transition from primary to secondary school (2 schools).
  • Trained class teachers to use Clicker 5 (1 school staff).
  • Attended the launch of the HMIE document, Education for Learners with Dyslexia and disseminated its findings.
  • Set up a Glow Group about the service and continued personal development as a Glow Mentor.
  • Supported the Senior Management Team and Support for learning department in a large primary school in deciding on a vision for future planning using Person Centred Planning techniques.
  • Piloted the Dyslexia Friendly Schools Pledge (5 primary schools).


East Lothian Council (like may local authorities) has adopted the following definition of dyslexia (British Psychological Society 1999):



Dyslexia is evident when accurate and fluent word reading and/or spelling develops very incompletely or with great difficulty.


This focuses on literacy learning at the “word” level – i.e. persistent difficulty with letter sounds, blended, syllabification and rhyme – and implies that the problem is severe and persistent despite appropriate learning opportunities.  It provides the basis for a staged process of assessment through teaching.


This definition logically requires that three aspects be evaluated through the assessment process:


1.    that the pupil is learning/has learnt accurate and fluent word reading and or spelling very incompletely;

2.    that appropriate learning opportunities have been provided;

3.    that progress has been made only as a result of much additional effort and instruction and that difficulties have, nevertheless, persisted.


Points to consider

Dyslexia occurs independently of learning ability.  Children with learning difficulties can have dyslexia, as can those of high ability and everything in between. Dyslexia is also independent of social, ethnic and linguistic background. Decisions on identification must be made in the light of each individual child’s circumstances.