A decade of change

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How SEN publishers are adapting to embrace new technologies and meet changing educational demands

Over the past ten years, the world of SEN publishing has witnessed improvements in the quality of teaching and provision, as well as in the range of resources available to schools and teachers. Much of this has been driven by more recent but significant advances in the professionalism and qualifications of teachers.

There has been a much greater emphasis on supporting children and young people with SEN and disabilities through more training opportunities for all teachers and through the raising of the profile of SENCOs. Since the SENCO regulations of 2008, the role of this very important member of the school workforce has, necessarily, become far more strategic in offering support and advice to colleagues, especially in regards to implementing appropriate intervention strategies and selecting the products and resources that support them.

The increased professionalism of SENCOs and classroom teachers in regard to SEN has resulted in a more widely used and understood professional language of needs, as well as a more sophisticated usage of resources in different teaching scenarios. Rather than defining a child simply as a struggler or slow learner, for example, teachers now have the knowledge and language to specifically define a learning difficulty. Perhaps more importantly, they also have a wider range of resources to choose from and a greater understanding of how to use these to support specific learner’s needs.

Historically, SEN publishing was based on providing resources for teachers, or more usually part-time helpers, to use for withdrawn groups of children. The children would be segmented off into the hall, library or even a broom cupboard (wherever space was available) for a one-on-one or small group session. During this time, they would be missing out on the mainstream learning activity taking place in their classroom, falling behind yet further.

The resources gap

The story book format can really engage many young readers.In terms of the provision of resources, there has been extensive development in both the quality and the range of products for teachers of children with SEN. For example, in reading there were very few age-appropriate resources for struggling or reluctant readers. Reading series included series such as The Star Family, The Pirates Series and Fizz Buzz. Some teachers will remember the glory days of the first printed soap opera, Wellington Square, which did much to help raise the profile of the reluctant or struggling reader. It was following the introduction of these initial story book materials that we started to see a massive increase in the diversity and range of titles, including non-fiction and plays, designed to engage and inspire students with low reading ages, particularly boys. While we have seen significant improvements in both the quality and range of texts available over the past decade, the challenge remains for publishers to find a balance between reading level and interest level. This is particularly true for non-fiction.

Publishers have to consider a vast range of criteria when publishing within this sector, such as text layout, the balance between text and illustrations to support reading for meaning, and whether to print on cream rather than glaringly white paper to ensure visual accessibility. It is important also to consider factors affecting the engagement of reluctant boy readers whose profile has been raised in recent years in relation to government statistics. For example, the length of the text is crucial; many reluctant and struggling readers switch off immediately if a book is too long. The presentation of the text in chunks, and captions with engaging illustrations and activities, can make reading more appealing, particularly for boys. Themes that speak to children’s real interests are more likely to engage reluctant and less able learners than the infantile stories they were expected to read in the past.

In terms of publishing texts with accurate reading levels, readability formulae are still often used, but when striking the balance between reading level and interest level, the ultimate test is in class-based trialling. Trying out the materials with teachers and learners is always the best test on the road to getting it right.

New ways to learn

An increased interest in, and awareness of, multisensory learning has been another exciting addition to learning material over the past decade. Many resources, mostly designed for KS1 and KS2 learners, are now electronic, but many also encourage physical engagement through resources such as magnetic letters, ping pong balls, beanbags, tubs of artefacts and card games, to name just a few. Many of us learn by doing rather than by being told, so it is no surprise to see secondary school-aged pupils enjoying card games, board games and quizzes, especially if there is a degree of competition built in to the resource.

The use of technology has been a major advancement in the provision of published resources in general and in particular to support SEN, with the use of ebooks and screen-based interactive activities and quizzes. The launch of ebooks over the past decade has undoubtedly helped to encourage and inspire reluctant readers. A pioneering project run by Wolverhampton City Council and Rising Stars publishers showed that the difference between the reading of boys and girls is less marked with digital reading than in print. It was therefore recognised that harnessing boys’ relatively strong digital reading performance was a way to improve their overall reading ability and engagement. Budgets aside, SENCOs and librarians now have the luxury of choosing from a vast array of ebook libraries for readers of all types.

Thankfully, material is now available for an increasing range of learning needs and in an exciting array of formats for both print and screen-based learning and enjoyment.

Whilst there have been many welcome, and some might say overdue, changes in SEN publishing over the past decade, not everything has changed.

We still have the challenge of finding ever more sophisticated ways to ensure an accurate balance between reading level and interest level for each child and each text. Trialling with teachers and learners remains a priority too, but the pressures in the market to respond to identified needs means that publishers are working faster than ever and often with colleagues from around the world. Essentially, though, the business of finding the right resource to engage a specific learner has not changed; it’s just that we now have a much better quality and range of resources from which to choose.

It is heartening to see that over the past decade practitioners have been able to work with publishers to provide a richer and more dynamic range of high quality resources for SEN professionals and the learners they work with. There seems to be little doubt that the next ten years will witness even greater and speedier change resulting in yet more exciting opportunities for teaching and learning in this sector.

Further information

Gill Budgell is a teacher, researcher and a writer. She has worked with specialist educational publisher Rising Stars to develop resources for reluctant readers:
www.risingstars-uk.com

Gill Budgell
Author: Gill Budgell

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