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By Paul Nisbet on Monday 21st February, 2011 at 3:03pm
A few years ago Aileen MacIntyre, who teaches at Croftcroighn School in Glasgow, produced some 'symbolised' versions of Oxford Reading Tree books for pupils in the school who were struggling to learn to read. Aileen's books and work was featured in Examples of Best Practice in the 2007 Books for All Report. The idea of adding symbols to books intended to help children learn to read might seem unusual, but staff at Croftcroighn have found that the books help children with engage with the text, and they are sure that the books have improved the childrens' reading and word recognition skills.
Teachers might have concerns that children will rely on the symbols rather than learn to read the text, but the exact opposite seems to happen: for example, one teacher at Avenue End primary says:
"It is having a huge impact on their reading. It has helped with their recognition of high frequency words. They can now identify a lot of these words without the symbols. This is improving their reading and is now transferring to their writing."
Another advantage of the books is that they motivate children who are struggling to learn the words. Another teacher remarks that:
"These children were struggling with the reading scheme being used in class and were showing signs of losing confidence. Use of this innovative symbolic approach as an aid to word recognition has helped the pupils regain their enthusiasm for reading with definite signs of progress being made by them.
Aileen has now set up a company called Help Me Read to publish the books, together with worksheets, communication boards and record sheets to support teaching in class. The books are high quality publications, similar to the standard ORT books, and have Widgit symbols printed above the text.
The web site has information about who might benefit from the books, how to use them, an online ordering facility, and examples of how they can be used to support children with additional support needs, reading difficulties or English as a second language.
Most people think of alternative formats as being for example, Large Print, Braille, audio or digital books: Aileen's publications are a great example of how symbols can be used to make books more accessible in a different way.