Using “A Kind of Spark” to connect with students

Regular visitors to My Mashed Up Life will know that I’m a big fan of Elle McNicoll’s books.

McNicoll is dedicated to producing children’s fiction with neurodiverse characters at the heart of her stories. A Kind of Spark stars an autistic girl; Show Us Who You Are centres around an autistic girl and a boy who has ADHD; the main character in Like A Charm has dyspraxia.

Not only are the characters neurodivergent but McNicoll is autistic and dyspraxic herself.

I work in a college of Further Education (FE) with students who are retaking their GCSE English Language exams. Many of them are neurodivergent and need different approaches to preparing for the exams.

A big part of my job is to provide past exam papers for the students to practice. The problem is most of these exam papers are, quite frankly, boring, so it is a struggle to get the students motivated and engaged.

Recently, I’ve been creating my own exam-style resources. The one that has had the biggest impact uses an extract from the first chapter of A Kind of Spark.

Without me telling the students anything about Addie (the main character) many of them see themselves in her. They pick up on her anxiety and her sensory issues, noting that she might be autistic like them, as well as identifying with her struggles with handwriting, and empathising with her experiences of being misunderstood by a teacher.

I had hoped that students would at least find the extract engaging (which they have) and they have been able to analyse the text for language features, structure, and other elements required for the exam.

What I hadn’t expected was for the students to so easily and so quickly identify with Addie and her experiences.

I have requested that the college library buy a copy of A Kind of Spark so that the students can read the whole story and see themselves fully. Representation of neurodiverse young people is so important; books like these hold up not only a mirror, but also a window in which we can all get a glimpse of what it is like to experience the world differently.

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