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Our next Parent Workshop will be on Monday 22nd April at 9.30am. This is the first of a four part course for parents about Autism. In session 1 we will be exploring what is Autism.
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Oaklands School

Building Foundations for Fulfilling Futures

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Oaklands School

Building Foundations for Fulfilling Futures

Reading

The Teaching of Reading at Oaklands

 

As all Oaklands pupils have Special Educational Needs and EHCPs, we have established an inclusive definition of Literacy, including reading. In their article Inclusive Education for Learners with Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties in England (2006) Penny Lacey & Jeanette Scull write: ‘For the most profoundly disabled learners, to be inclusive, literacy must also embrace the use of objects as a kind of text, and perhaps even see someone learning to anticipate a favourite activity as learning to ‘read’ what is happening.’ We see our children responding and anticipating to objects of reference and familiar signs and phrases as readers of their world, and celebrate and assess this as part of their learning and skills. .

 

We have defined three interlocked Worlds of Reading that every Oaklands child fits within. All of our children start with at least Reading the World skills and over time we aim to induct them into the more complex and reciprocal Reading the World of School and Community. Our children with the least cognitive delay from their chronological age (Cherry pathway) will be working within Reading the World of Words and Books for much of their time at Oaklands and their literacy lessons will look the most like a mainstream English session. However, we will also continually work on their ability to communicate both functionally and to express themselves as this is key to their independence.

 

Early skills: As the majority of our pupils are working at beyond the Engagement Model level of interaction, we build on their existing ‘world reading’ and attention skills to enable them to become keen visual and auditory discriminators and express their wants and needs. Through rigorous explicit teaching of early reading skills including phonics, pupils build their reading skills to encompass multiple text types and their speaking & listening skills to better able to use their chosen voice. We understand that active listening may look different for a neurodivergent child who may give peripheral or no eye contact but show listening through other gestures. Their speaking may be through Makaton, PECS or non-verbal means; this is not seen as a barrier or deficit. Their chosen voice is a tool which can be developed and enhanced throughout our curriculum and actions definitely speak louder than words in many of our classrooms.

 

Although Nurture and some Willow children will not be cognitively ready for formal Phase 1+ phonics, they will have a rich diet of songs, rhymes and language to build up their language schema and prepare them for accelerated learning once their brains are ready for more complex language skills building. We cannot predict how far our children will develop as communicators and readers over the course of their lives, and so we want to give them a good grounding in high quality communication and develop a love of reading.  

 

For this reason, all children will have reading for both pleasure and for comprehension as part of their full curriculum. Even though some children may not grasp the full narrative of a book text, there is a lot of research that shows the positive impact of story and book sharing on language skills acquisition. Autism seems to affect how easily autistic people can build generalisations and quick shortcuts to understanding compared to neurotypical peers. Khrishnan & Johnson’s 2014 report states: “Between birth and adulthood, there is a large 3-to-4-fold increase in the total volume of the brain. The increase in volume cannot be explained by the addition of neurons as the vast majority are in place at birth. However, there is a dramatic increase in size and complexity of the dendritic tree of most neurons after birth”.  The dendritic tree is the links between neurons, the pathways to carry and interpret information, and it appears that these branches grow differently in brains experiencing speech language and communication difficulties, including ASD. By using high quality stories and songs in class, we can support the development of important language and knowledge-based connections through repetition, narrative learning and dialogic teaching. Our brains are also very economical and if not demanded to attend to more complex systems will happily stay with easier processes and content, i.e. if allowed to only play with water all day, a child will find more complex or abstract learning harder over time. By ensuring all of our children have exposure to high quality suitably challenging texts we will promote their brains’ elasticity and build language frameworks for later life, even if we don’t see that development in action whilst enrolled at Oaklands. Narratives also help us become more social: One common idea is that storytelling is a form of cognitive play that hones our minds, allowing us to simulate the world around us and imagine different strategies, particularly in social situations. It teaches us about other people and it’s a practice in empathy and theory of mind,” Joseph Carroll at the University of Missouri-St Louis, quoted here.

 

More detail on the specifics of how we teach reading can be found in the Literacy Handbook on the main Literacy webpage

 

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