Papa don’t preach – how SENCOs can effectively support staff

Nobody likes a know it all. Certainly not me. However, as SENCOs we have to be experts (well semi experts) in a range of needs: dyslexia, ASD, ADHD to name a few. The nature of our job is to advise, and this is where the balance needs to be found. Advising, not preaching.

In my corner of the country, in order to get support from outside specialists, we have to attend meetings to present the child’s case, discussing what support has already been tried and its effectiveness. Fair enough. Yet, as the years have rolled by, there has been an ever increasing demand for supporting paperwork. This is a real bug bear of mine as it has taken me further and further away from the classroom.

The classroom, in my opinion, is where a SENCO should be. Supporting from within, able to see first hand what the child’s needs are, and thinking through, bearing in mind the demands of the other children, how support can be realistically achieved.

If we can work alongside out colleagues, observing, providing group support from time to time, chats after school etc, then any advice we then give is more likely to be well received, especially if we take the time to properly demonstrate and follow up.


Time is my most precious resource, and time is what I want to give to teachers and TAs. Time to build trust and relationships, not someone who is just crunching numbers.

So what is the answer? Work smarter. Be precise and concise on those dreaded forms. Create templates which can be adapted and individualized. That way a balance can be found, and we’ll be able to spend that precious time in class.

Image created with Communicate in Print – Widgit software

SEN – The golden thread

The Golden Thread? Well, as they say, what works for boys works for girls, and in my opinion, what works for children with SEN works for all – albeit with differentiation!

So, what do we as teachers “do” and how does this “thread” fit in?

  1. Assess
  2. Plan whole class teaching and learning
  3. Plan questioning
  4. Plan key vocab to teach
  5. Plan tasks that encourage independent learning
  6. Make displays to enthuse and enhance learning
  7. Plan interventions
  8. Mark
  9. Feedback
  10. Assess…and so it goes on

SEN should be the thread that runs through the above ten activities. It’s just good, well thought through planning and differentiation, ensuring all learners are supported and included by whatever resources e.g. visual, concrete, human etc.

The job of the SENCo is to support teachers with ideas of how to make this happen. For example when teaching narrative writing, linked to the Stone Age, use images and key question words to aid story planning:

Woolly mammoth scene




What doing?

What happened?

Other  pictures could be used to stimulate ideas and this approach could be used across the class, but would be especially helpful for children working at P scales or the old Level 1. Pictures / key words could be drawn/ written to help answer each “W” question. Then a recordable device could be used to enable the child to tell their story. If appropriate, the child could then be supported in transcribing it.

This would support the following for writing:

P8 – joins in group story writing, dictates extended text for a picture

1C – uses pictures to plan story events / writes simple sentences sometimes using punctuation

Hopefully, by breaking the story writing task down like this, supporting with visuals and key question words, working memory will be freed up, enabling the child to just focus on one element at a time,  not be overwhelmed and be successful!

Image credit – Image made with Widgit – Communicate in Print

Reluctant writers? Give them a post it note!

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend an Alan Peat Non Fiction writing conference. If you ever get the chance, go to one of his conferences – you won’t be disappointed! I learnt so much, not just about writing, but so much of what he advised would help children with poor organisational skills, poor working memory and so much more!

One of the things suggested was to use coloured post its to enable children to group and categorise information after brainstorming. I used a role on the wall activity for the brainstorming.

Cinderella role on wallAfter that we used coloured post it notes to group our thoughts into 6 different categories. The following lesson we did the same for an Egyptian version of Cinderella and later in the week the children chose a couple of topics to write about in depth.

Cinderella categories

This lesson worked well for the following reasons:

  1. Children who would normally need copious amounts of cajoling to participate and write got straight into the task. Why? I think it helped their organisational skills by breaking the task into manageable chunks.
  2. All children kept to task and were keen to work through step by step, then get their work displayed up on the wall.
  3. The novelty factor! Something different to whiteboards!
  4. When we started lesson 2 there was the visual reminder of how we had worked through the task the previous day, and the children were even more confident.
  5. It led nicely into writing. The children had a better concept of paragraphing through the colours and could choose just a couple of areas to compare.

Thank you Alan Peat, plus all of the experts I’ve met along the way who have taught me about dyslexia and ways to support in class.

Spelling lists – to send home or not?


The short answer is yes in my opinion.

Why yes? It appeases many parents, plus could do some good if spellings are correctly differentiated and children / parents are provided with well thought out activities to engage with the lists. Plus, it makes an easy homework task for a teacher to set.

However, will the children retain their learning the week after the test? My experience says probably not unless certain approaches are taken.

For example, a previous colleague once advised me that the only way to learn lists was to start small and build up weekly, relearning past words. E.g. Week 1 set 3 words to learn, repeat the same words in week 2 but add one or two more. The idea was to continue in that vein for the whole term. I never was brave enough to implement that (Ofsted loomed and I was Literacy co-ordinator at the time). However, it probably would work. Yet, it doesn’t sit well with our new (well not so new) 2014 curriculum complete with copious word lists for our children to learn. There just aren’t enough weeks in the year!

What I find does work is what I have called syllable spelling and finger spelling.

Firstly, I teach the children to break words into syllables – either clapping them out, counting on fingers or the chin drop method – place your hand under your chin, say the word slowly and count how many times your chin drops:

e.g. “remember” = re…mem…ber = 3 chin drops – 3 syllables. I normally use a combination of syllable teaching strategies, just to mix it up a bit to stop me (and the kids!) from getting bored.

Next when teaching the approach I demonstrate how to draw syllable lines – in the case of “remember” draw 3 lines. Then, sound out the first syllable using your fingers. It’s a good idea to map out each sound onto each finger by touching it – see photo for what I mean! Say each sound as you map the sound. “r…e”


After that write the sounds onto the first syllable line. Repeat with the next syllable “m..e..m” making sure you touch each finger and say the sound out loud. Then write it onto syllable line two.

Finally repeat the above for “ber” and hey presto, you have spelled your word.

Okay, when the children are using this approach independently, they may not be completely accurate, but when combined with good phonics teaching and classroom resources such as word books to try out spellings and table top resources such as phoneme mats, children, in my experience, significantly improve their spelling ability.

Cross curricular – it’s important to keep the syllable approach plate spinning across the curriculum. I use it for example in maths when teaching new content e.g. “numerator” getting children to syllable count and try on their whiteboards to spell it.

So, send spelling lists home? Yes! But teach children (and parents) this approach and provide ideas for games to play and everyone will be happy!

These ideas are not my own I must say, they are collected and adapted from the truly excellent training I had on Sounds Write, plus advice from specialist teachers!