Speech, language and communication are skills that are crucial to all areas of learning, as well as mental health and social participation. In 2008 the Bercow Report highlighted the need to implement strategic system-wide approaches to help increase understanding and awareness of SLCN. However, as the Bercow: Ten Years On 2018 review shows, we still have a long way to go to achieve this as public awareness remains insufficient and SLCN rarely features in national or local policies. The impact of this means that training and support for SLCN in schools is variable across the country. Too often support is planned and funded based on available resources, rather than what is needed. One example being the limited availability of Teaching Assistants/Learning Support Assistants due to cuts in funding, thus increasing the pressure on teachers within the classroom. Given the current economic climate, this is unlikely to change any time soon so we must find ways around these restraints.
Adopting a whole class approach
SLCN is common. The Communication Trust reported around 7% of pupils are likely to have specific language impairment and many more will have significantly delayed speech, language and communication. Inclusion should, therefore, be the aim when supporting children and young people with SLCN. Whilst this may require some time and preparation, this will allow teaching staff to address the needs of children and young people with SLCN as well as support those who may have not been identified.
Whole class strategies
The classroom environment
One thing for teaching staff to consider is classroom environment. Classroom environment is one of the most important factors affecting student learning. A positive environment is one in which children and young people feel encouraged to tackle challenges, take risks, and ask questions. Such an environment provides relevant content, clear learning goals and feedback, opportunities to build social skills, and strategies to help students succeed (Joan Young, 2014).
Practical tips to create a positive and inclusive classroom environment
- Establish class routines and explain carefully when there are changes.
- Regularly check that pupils and students have understood. You could ask them to repeat or act out the information they have heard.
- Praise and reward good speaking and listening. Give specific feedback to make it clear what you are looking for e.g. “well done for speaking clearly” etc.
- Establish turn-taking rules, perhaps using a bean bag to pass around the class.
- Allow an increased length of time for students to respond to questions. Use the 10 second rule – allow 10 seconds for the pupil or student to respond to an instruction/question.
- Establish a system for asking for help, such as a special card for the child to display if they don’t understand. Pupils and students should be encouraged to use their self-help skills and be praised for doing so.
- Limit the use of ambiguous, figurative language or phrases that have multiple meanings.
- Take time to explain idioms. Do not assume the child or young person understands.
- Model language. Repeat language used to give pupils and students the opportunity to listen to the language again and to help them process the language. For example, if a child says makes a sentence that is grammatically incorrect, model the sentence back in its correct form and structure so they have a chance to hear it.
- Explain ambiguous language and idioms. Do not assume the child or young person understands.
- Reduce the language load. Use bullet points instead of writing where possible.
- Promote a multisensory learning environment to support all the different learning styles. This could be reading to them, playing videos, audiobooks, practical work, role-play, visual support, giving both spoken and written directions to tasks, using relevant physical objects (e.g. using pretend money when teaching math skills) etc.
- Allow time for pupils and students to recap on what they have learned. It could be recapping on previous lesson at the beginning and then recapping on current lesson at the very end.
- Give pupils and students key words with their meanings on a crib sheet for them to refer to in lessons.
- Give pupils and students time to plan verbal responses to questions or class discussions.
- When reading long paragraphs or stories, prepare the class for what information they should be listening out for so that they can prepare themselves and zone in to the important parts of the language being spoken. Emphasise key words and moments in a text.
- Break instructions down into short, manageable chunks. Perhaps type these into Communicate in Print and project on to the whiteboard to further increase their success and independent working skills. Or you can use a task management board. See below for an example of a task management board designed for a cookery lesson:
- Use visuals and games to increase vocabulary learning.
Word webs are a great visual tool to promote development. See below for an
example. Word Aware also has a printable word web template and an array of word
games for you to choose from).
- Use mind maps to help organise thinking (see Tony Buzan books). It can be used in many creative ways – it can help them to learn concepts, such as the Food Chain or Types of Animals. Or it can help them to map stories they read in lessons or ‘All About Me’ activities.
- Use visual planning tools to organise and plan oral and written work. Colourful Semantics can be used as a sentence planning tool and Black Sheep has many resources to support narrative skills.
Suggested resources and books
Bercow Report: 10 Years On (full report) https://www.bercow10yearson.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/337644-ICAN-Bercow-Report-WEB.pdf
Bercow Report: 10 Years on (summary) https://www.bercow10yearson.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Bercow-Ten-Years-On-Summary-Report-.pdf
SLCN classroom strategies sheet by Twinkl https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-s-3363-how-to-support-slcn-in-the-classroom-strategy-sheet
Practical Strategies to Support SLCN by Amanda Baxter https://my.optimus-education.com/sites/optimus-education.com/files/amanda_baxter_2d.pdf
Classroom Strategies from The Communication Trust https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/media/267017/strategies_for_every_classroom_-_supporting_pupils_with_slcn.pdf
Encouragement in the Classroom (Young, Joan 2014).
Mind Maps for Kids: An Introduction (Buzan, Tony 2003)
Word Aware (Parsons, Stephen 2014)
Black Sheep – Narrative resources https://www.blacksheeppress.co.uk/product/secondary-talk-narrative-ks3-4/
Mind Maps https://kidengage.com/blog/2019/02/mind-mapping-for-children-how-to-teach-children-to-use-mind-maps/
Language Builders book series by Elklan https://elklantraining.worldsecuresystems.com/resources/language-builders-series