Thursday, 9 May 2013

It's all about language!

The Marion Blank Model, a key model in understanding language development and learning.

The Reynell Attention Levels, highlighting attention as a key factor in language skills.

I've recently started uploading resources to assist with identifying and addressing speech & language difficulties within the secondary-age student population. These resources stem primarily from my learning and work on the Elklan Level 3 course, which around half of our Learning Support & SEN team attended voluntarily over a series of dark, cold evenings last Autumn. 

I would attend each Elklan training session immediately after nearly a full day of teaching lower-attaining groups and it began to strike me, in a simultaneously enlightening and daunting way, that the majority of my students had some kind of language-related difficulty. I would often sit there, feeling tired from a days worth of toil with fun yet hard-to-fathom students, thinking, "Eureka! It's all about language! But what on earth can I do about it?"

A commonly-cited statistic around young people in prison is that approximately 40 to 50% have a specific difficulty with literacy, what we tend to term as 'dyslexia'. However, it is worth noting that, according to the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists, around 33% of young people in prison have 'very basic' speaking and listening skills, with 70% of young people overall having some kind of identifiable problem with communication. Running alongside this are similar statistics around mental health, with 33% of young people with longstanding speech & language difficulties in turn developing mental health problems.

It is also commonly known that there is a higher prevalence of speech & language difficulties amongst children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. There are different perspectives on why this occurs, with some pointing towards quality of upbringing. Whilst this is valid, we must be careful not to wrongly & unfairly make a blanket judgement of parents in these situations. It is increasingly my belief that in our work around SEN we are often dealing with difficulties that span across generations, firmly rooted in a family tree. It stands to reason that - aside from genetics and biology - in those families in which adults have speech & language difficulties there can be inhibiting cycles we need to try go some way to breaking. For example, such a cycle could follow that an adult with speech & language difficulties tends to have experienced reduced educational & economic opportunities, in turn having to work longer unsociable hours, having less time - as well as lacking the language skills to act as 'teacher' - to spend with their children conversing and playing the kind of games that promote language development. And so in turn, the language difficulty persists.

I am in awe of speech and language therapists, and kind of envious, because of the vast array of skills they have in this area - I would go as far to say every secondary school and their feeder primaries should consider pooling some of their SEN funding to hire a full-time speech & language therapist. But regardless of whether that can happen or not, we teachers and support staff also need to be proactive in up-skilling ourselves in this area - and hopefully the bits and pieces I am starting to share via TES Resources will go a little way to helping with this.

My most recent resources around this theme include:

And the books I have found most useful in my reading around this area are:

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