Interview with Caroline Bateman from Achieve Now

Caroline will be running KWDA’s June 2016 Event – ‘Harnessing IT for Dyslexics’.  Here she is interviewed by Emma on behalf of KWDA to give us some background on her passion for helping dyslexic learners fulfil their potential through IT.

Caroline Bateman is a passionate believer in the power of IT to help level the playing field for children and young people with dyslexia. After seeing first-hand the transformative impact of technology on her own three dyslexic children, Caroline was inspired to empower other dyslexics. Her learning technology consultancy, Achieve Now, provides support and advice to parents and schools on the IT available, and helps them to navigate a path through the bewildering range of solutions out there.

What first led you to believe that IT could be the answer for dyslexics?

My middle child George is severely dyslexic. In Year 6, he took pre-tests for several schools. Each said that he was very bright but his dependence on a reader and a scribe meant he wasn’t able to have a place. Petrified I wouldn’t be able to find my son a secondary school that would meet his needs, I took a sabbatical from my job in IT, fired up by a belief that there just had to be some technology that could make a difference to George. I equate it to the fact that I am as blind as a bat, and if I had lived at a time before the invention of glasses I would have had a very different life. I felt sure that IT could play the same role for my son.

Being honest, at first George was resistant to using the technology I had found, as he much preferred we continued with me reading everything to him rather than using the software to help him to read for himself. But my other two children also need time with Mum, and I couldn’t continue to spend every evening focusing so much time on George. And I knew we needed to persist with it so that George could become an independent learner. Eventually, he saw the benefits too and is now doing very well, academically.

How receptive are schools to embracing IT?

I have seen an incredibly varied response. Some schools seem very reluctant to try something new. I find technology simple and intuitive, but for a lot of adults it is quite tricky. Other schools have been very receptive.

After researching solutions for my children I volunteered to share what I had learned with the staff at George’s school.  Some parents heard about the teacher training and requested a parents’ workshop, which I delivered. Some of those present were teachers at other schools and asked me to do training there as well. It led me to realise there was a real demand for what I did, and that is how Achieve Now came into being.

What are the main obstacles to educators using IT?

In secondary schools teachers often see the need to support dyslexic students but young people can be reluctant to cooperate. In their teens, the desire to fit in can be stronger than the desire to succeed academically, which can be a huge barrier for young people to use helpful technology.

Finance is another issue. Many schools and parents assume technology will be costly. However, so much of what is available is free. I have heard Ed Psych’s and Specialist Teachers recommend expensive MAC Books and Read and Write software. My view is that those solutions might be right for your child in the future but there are a lot of free or cheap solutions out there. You don’t start with the Rolls Royce solution.

Is there a danger of children becoming too reliant on IT?

I talk about the pros and cons to using every solution in my workshops. When you consider which technologies to use, I recommend always starting with the end in sight. If you know your child will not qualify for a scribe or reader in GSCE exams then you need them to develop their independent reading and writing skills. Where I have far bigger concerns is the number of children who can use a laptop in exams but are not learning to touch type. Or are allowed to use an electronic reader but have not learned to use it properly. These technologies are great in helping to  level the playing field for dyslexic students in exams, but only if they have been skilled up to use them properly.

I could wax lyrical about the excellent typing packages available, but the issue is how to motivate children to use them. The later you leave it, the more likely young people are to say that they can already type fast enough. But the truth is that however fast they think they can type it will be slower than touch typing. We need to make it fun and competitive for them to learn – rewarding them for improving speed, accuracy, the amount of time they spend practising etc.

Who can IT help?

Wherever children are on the dyslexic spectrum, technology can make a big difference to them. Nowadays, solutions have been developed that can help children work on their organisation skills, research, revision and exam techniques. To develop reading ability there are fantastic options such as talking books that highlight the words as they are read to you. For writing, there is a huge range of software packages for everything from spelling and punctuation to note taking and essay structure. I would also contend that IT can help any child who is struggling, even if they are not dyslexic.  Multi-sensory personalised programmes can benefit any child.

So, how do you choose which technologies are right for your child?

There is a bewildering range of IT solutions out there.  It is so overwhelming just scrolling through search results, before you try to figure out what each does, how much it costs, what device it works on, how it compares to a competitor’s product etc.

The workshops are designed to fast track this process.  Attendees benefit from the hours and hours of research done for my family and the many children I have worked with. After workshops I email attendees the talk together with links to the IT I have referred to. But a friend who came to one of my workshops told me that she simply hadn’t had the time to research each link and see what was best for her child. I see that a lot. I have people coming to the workshops three times in succession for the guidance they need. So, I have now developed three different workshops that provide a more focused look at technologies, rather than giving an overview of everything out there: Harnessing IT for Dyslexics, Harnessing IT to achieve more, and Harnessing IT for exam success. I also offer remote consultancy – providing individual guidance via the telephone or Skype.