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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Friday, 16 December 2016

An interview with... Alison Wintgens, Speech and Language Therapist Specialising in Selective Mutism

Approximate reading time: Under 3 minutes.

1) As one of the few specialists in the field of Selective Mutism, what was the driving force leading to choosing this as your focus?

As a speech and language therapist on a child and adolescent mental health team since 1990, my job was to work with young people who had both emotional/behavioural problems and difficulties with communication. Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder resulting in an intense and irrational fear of talking. It affects someone’s ability to communicate fully in many situations and can profoundly affect their lives, so it absolutely fitted the remit of my job and was bound to be something I needed to address.

I was struck however by the lack of information available on how best to assess and treat children and young people with SM; and also by the devastating effects if it is not recognised and well managed. It was then exciting and a great relief to meet Maggie at a conference where we were both presenting on SM; and to persuade her that we should write down our understanding and experience of working with SM and what exactly we were doing.

2) What has been the most motivating experience you’ve had with Selective Mutism, which has maintained your interest?

I haven’t had one particular motivating experience; my interest has been maintained over more than twenty-five years by sharing and developing my knowledge. Sadly many people still have not come across or even heard of SM. It is a great relief for children, young people and their parents who have come for help to hear that it is a recognised condition; they are not the only ones who have it; there are ways to get over it; and this is what will help. And it is wonderful to see the progress they can make when people in their educational setting understand SM, the pressure to talk is taken off and helpful strategies are put in place.

3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools, who may be supporting a child with Selective Mutism, or may suspect a child has Selective Mutism?

This can’t be answered simply in one top tip, but here are a few ideas!
-          Listen to what the parents are telling you, and if it seems the child can talk comfortably in some settings but not in others, find out more about SM.
-          Take off any pressure on the child to talk.
-          Support and encourage the child and find non-verbal ways that s/he can join in.
-          And read Maggie’s Link Magazine article ‘Shyness or Selective Mutism?’ for more tips!

4) With increased time spent on computers and phones from a young age, do you feel that this environment can hinder or help with the treatment for Selective Mutism?

This is a really interesting question. On the whole I think computers and phones are very helpful in the treatment of SM. Those with SM can benefit in many ways. When direct speech to some is not yet possible, they may feel less isolated by messaging and using Facebook. They and their families can get information about SM; watch encouraging YouTube videos; and post questions or comments to others in the same situation. And the phone can be used in a gradual controlled way to desensitise themselves from the fear of speaking.

Read more on Selective Mutism in Maggie Johnson's article 'Shyness or Selective Mustism?' in the Link Magazine, Issue 6...

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Friday, 2 December 2016

An interview with... Ruth Merritt, Speech and Language Therapist Specialising in Deafness

Approximate reading time: 3 mins, 30 secs.

1) You specialise in a range of communication difficulties, but what lead to your fascination specifically within the field of deafness?

In speech and language therapy you often have the opportunity to specialise in an area of work, since the breadth of scope of our work as therapists is so diverse it is difficult to hone our skills in all of the areas. I actually met an inspirational therapist when I was at university who sparked my interest in working with deaf people. I started work as soon as I could in a school for deaf children and loved it. I adore using sign language and I find deaf people’s views on people and life fascinating, as they are so much more visually attuned than hearing people.

2) What has been the most motivating experience throughout your career as a Speech and Language Therapist working with deaf people?

I think I love all of my work with deaf people, but possibly the highlight has to be seeing the faces of young children around 1 or 2 years old when they first have their cochlear implants switched on (one, or more commonly two devices which provide some hearing to individuals who have a severe to profound hearing loss; comprising of an internal part (which is surgically implanted) and external parts. The cochlear implant changes sound into electrical stimulation and this stimulates the nerve which then passes to the brain). Children’s reactions can be so varied but often their eyes light up as they look back and forth at their parents in the wonder of hearing something!

3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools, who may have a pupil with suspected hearing difficulties?

Something that is very important to understand is that hearing loss can be so variable. Some children may suffer from a fluctuating hearing loss resulting from fluid in their middle ears. This is very common and can be treated. These children can often be disruptive, inattentive and even a bit naughty in the classroom. Their speech and language may be slow to develop. Children with greater and more permanent levels of hearing loss may have developed compensatory tactics to cope with their lack of hearing. They are often more visual than hearing children and appear to “hear”, as they carefully watch what others are doing and copy them. Children who don’t say the “s” sound at all may well have a hearing loss and should be tested immediately. In fact if teaching staff ever suspect that a child has a hearing loss at all, they should note down their evidence for this and contact the parents to make an appointment with the GP.

4) From your experience with cochlear implants, what would your advice be for a teacher working with a pupil adapting to their cochlear implant?

This depends so much on factors like when the child had their implants and how much language they had before their cochlear implants were switched on. If they had some hearing before and have lost it or their hearing had deteriorated, they will need to relearn some of what they already knew. Revisiting words, songs and stories they knew before can be a powerful way to retrain their brain to decipher the electrical signal to make it meaningful.

One of the main aims in the early days is that they wear their speech processors (the external parts of the cochlear implants) at all times.  Sounds need to be introduced in a meaningful and tuneful way so that the children can learn to discriminate between different sounds. That is the hardest aspect of adjusting to cochlear implants as they are not like the popular myth- a “bionic ear” but actually require lots of input and support for them to learn to discriminate meaningfully between the sounds, and from this develop their speech and language skills.

Read more from Ruth in her article 'Glue Ear' in the Link Magazine, Issue 6...

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Friday, 18 November 2016

An interview with... Claire Vuckovic, Independent SEND and Inclusion Consultant, IncludED

Approximate reading time: 3 mins, 30 secs. 

1) With the recent petition for initial teacher training to include Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN), what advice would you give to a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) who has not had such initial training?

I learnt most about SLCN from talking to visiting speech therapists.  Listening to them talking about a child’s development and the difficulties the child was having, alongside the resources and strategies they were recommending helped me start to piece together how speech and language should be developing, where it can go wrong and what impact that can have on a child’s learning. Nowadays, there is some fantastic training available.

My main tip (and it’s a bit of a catch all!) is “be aware of your communication”, make sure you have the children’s attention, use clear simple language, use your expression and natural gesture and leave plenty of time for children to process what you have said. The more you use your “teacher voice” the more natural it will become, don’t underestimate how much these will support all the children in your class – not just those with SLCN.

2) What has been a key factor motivating your personal focus on Inclusion and Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

This has been an interesting question to try to answer! Thinking about it I have realised that it probably goes back to when I was learning to read myself – we had a reading scheme called “Wide Range Readers”. They were books of short stories and poems, some fiction and some non-fiction.  I was fascinated by the stories of Helen Keller and Louis Braille. My Dad had an elderly neighbour who used to communicate in rapid finger spelling and he taught me the alphabet when I was quite young (I never achieved the speed that my Dad and his neighbour could use, but I have got quite good at Makaton now).

I think I am also quite creative and a bit of a problem solver and I really like puzzling out ways to present or support learning in different ways for different children. Of course it helps that I have been doing this for so many years now and have had the benefit of so many knowledgeable people (not just professionals – families, volunteers and children themselves) but even after all these years I have yet to meet the same child twice, the only piece of advice that works for all children (even with similar needs) is – if it isn’t working, try it a different way!

3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools in order to maintain pupil centred planning with a variety of SEN pupils?

Oh good – easy one! Get to know the child – not their “condition”.
Talk to them about their lives outside school – what do they like to do, what makes a good day for them? Try to talk outside the classroom, maybe over lunch or on playground duty. Talk to families as well, what do they like to do as a family, what helps them get things done, or not. Listen.

I use the Helen Sanderson Associates website for information and resources and also to remind me how powerful Person Centred Planning is. 

4) If you were an NQT faced with preparing for your first OFSTED inspection, how would you maintain an inclusive environment and ensure that you ‘ticked all of the boxes’ for effective practice?

Sorry – if OFSTED are coming it’s too late. Inclusion is not something you do – it’s something you are.

On a more positive note – you can try to use some of your release time to discretely observe your class at work or play in your environment. Are they using all the resources available to them and maximising their independence? If you have a child with SEND are they accessing all the same activities as their peers and if not can you identify the barriers?

5) As an experienced independent SEND and Inclusion Consultant, do you feel that SEN provision and inclusion is improving, or are there still areas which require particular development?

From when I started out as a teacher – yes. However, I feel that while practice and understanding is improving, tensions within the education system are huge and increasing; measures of school accountability, changes in curricula, and performance related pay for staff alongside an increasingly stretched budget all make meeting the needs of children with SEND a very difficult issue for schools to prioritise.

Undergraduate SEND specialism teacher training degrees, such as ours at the University of Cumbria are unusual. It was disappointing to find that many recently qualified teachers still lack confidence in their skills and knowledge around SEND, that situation does not appear to have changed much over the years. Cut backs in many Local Authority Advisory Services to schools and Early Years Providers is also a concern and I wonder who is going to enable and support our teaching workforce to meet the needs of all children, as the Code of Practice requires.

HOWEVER! I think we could all support children with SEND by improving our understanding of communication and making some small changes to the way we deliver our teaching.  Some of the most effective strategies (as I mentioned above) are straightforward, free and when they are used consistently for a while become second nature.  So I think a drive to improve SLCN training is very encouraging.

Read more advice from Claire in her article 'New Term, New Teacher' in The Link Magazine, Issue 6...

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Friday, 4 November 2016

An interview with... Penny Anne O'Donnell, Consultant Speech, Language and Voice Therapist, Johansen Sound Therapist, Relaxation Advisor

Approximate reading time: 7 mins. 

1) With ‘Stress’ as your clinical interest, what are your favourite relaxation techniques that you implement within your daily routine?

This is such a good question! Often when you spend a majority of your working day discussing the science of stress and how to deal with it, it can be tricky to then listen to relaxation tracks without analysing them!

However, I practise my Calmness Breathing Technique before I even get out of bed in the morning. I find five-ten minutes of low placed expansive breaths can really help to calmly set you up and energize you for the day. Also if you don’t do something first thing it can get forgotten. Whilst doing this I practise my Gratitude Attitude where I think of three people/things/events within my life for which I am grateful. Gratitude and worry cannot exist at the same time so it helps me to feel calm and ready for another exciting day.

For me singing is incredibly relaxing, although I am not sure neighbours would agree, so I warm up my voice in the shower, and then feel safe to sing on route to work.

On route to work I also ensure I exhale each time I hit the brakes as it helps to keep my jaw, neck and shoulders relaxed.

When I can I walk outdoors, it’s a great mind clearer.

2) What has been the most motivating experience you’ve had working as a Speech and Language Therapist, which drives you to continue your research?

This is a tough one as each patient is on a different journey and it is a privilege to guide and support them.

Dramatic experiences include helping a wonderful 24 year old young woman who had not spoken a word since she was 4 years of age. We gently worked on her fears surrounding verbal communication and how to listen to and appreciate the sound of her voice. By the end of our work together she was speaking for the first time in 20 years. She enjoyed communication to such an extent that she went to university and qualified as an accountant.

As a firm believer in the neuroplasticity of the brain and the exciting opportunities it offers for therapy I continue to research into music and its effect on the brain. The work which excites me greatly is the auditory processing disorder work and assessment I carry out and music based therapy I provide, along with strategies for school and home environment.

With Stroke Patients one particular lady had been told she would never speak again. We worked through music and speech therapy and after 12 months of weekly therapy (with a few holiday breaks) she was speaking well enough to take on her role as chairwoman of her local luncheon club.

Oscar, 6 yrs of age, had never sat through a circle time and could not cope with children’s parties due to the noise and refused to swim or go into the school dining area, again due to noise. After working on desensitisation through music, within a month he was fully embracing all aspects of school and was awarded “pupil of the week”.

Looking at the mindset of certain individuals is incredibly inspiring. I was working with one young performer who, at 9, had landed her first West End role when she developed voice problems due to overuse and shouting on stage. Through working together every day for two weeks and maintaining modified voice rest (tricky at 9 years of age when living in a theatre house with the rest of the children) we managed to keep her in the show and she went onto win an Olivier for her performance. Sheer determination on her part.

3) With your interest in researching stress and its impact upon the voice, what would your top tip be for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs to reduce the ‘day-to-day wear and tear’ that the classroom environment entails?

Feed your voice well. Avoid tea and coffee and fizzy drinks. Maximise your water intake to hydrate the hard working vocal tract. Inhale steam when you get home to reward you. Remember posture try to keep head and neck aligned. Calmness Breathing and work life balance as per my flower of balance (see diagram below). Often you have very little control over the situations which arise in your busy working day, but you do have control over how you react to it. Look out for my Teacher’s voice and relaxation workshops.

Penny Anne O'Donnell's Flower of Balance

4) What would be your main tea-time tip for parents to support their child’s speech development?

Switch off technology. Give your full attention to that family meal and do not worry if one of the children cannot sit still long enough to remain at the table throughout the meal. As long as they are still partaking in the conversation. Try to establish good turn taking skills. Avoid too many questions and aim to speak about the here and now.

With younger children provide a running commentary on what you are doing as you prepare their tea and involve them in the preparation as much as possible. Most daily activities have the potential to become language rich tasks.

Penny Anne O'Donnell Johansen Better Listening Diagram courtesy of
Better Listening Diagram courtesy of

5) How can teachers encourage children not to strain their voices when shouting on the playground?

Safe Shouting by powering the voice from the centre and vocally giving it “Welly from the Belly”
There are three main areas to activate and one to relax:
   - Locate the chuckle muscle (also known as the diaphragm) place both hands in-between the ribs at the front and keeping your head still say a loud “SH!” You will feel a movement.
   - Keep your hands there and chuckle to yourself, again feel the movement. I nickname the diaphragm your chuckle muscle as when you have a really good laugh it aches.
   - Place your hands on your waist, blow a lip raspberry and feel the movement in your waist.
   - Place your hands below your belly button and pretend to sneeze. You will feel a gentle movement in your “Achoo Spot” When shouting aim to shout from these three areas or your “vocal support centre”.

To protect your throat keep it as open as possible. Imagine your favourite celebratory or historical figure arrives at your front door on a Saturday morning. Inhale completely silently through an open mouth and feel that happy surprise feeling at the back of your throat. Then think ten out of ten happy. Note how open your throat feels. Keep this open feeling in your mind before you go to shout and remember to engage your vocal support system. Also stand aligned like a super hero rather than leaning forward or jutting your chin to get louder. Think Wonder Woman.

Look out for Penny Anne's voice workshops and confidence camps. Have a look below at the Christmas Capers voice camp 20th December and Christmas Writing Competition!
Christmas Capers Voice Camp Warwickshire
Christmas Writing Competition 7-18 year olds

Read more from Penny Anne in The Link, Issue 6 here!

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Friday, 21 October 2016

Soundswell Speech and Language Therapy: Language Link as part of a whole-school approach for SLCN support

Soundswell Speech and Language Solutions

Approximate reading time: 2 mins.

At Timberley Academy we have been using Language Link as part of our whole-school approach to supporting pupils with SLCN for several years.

In KS1 all reception pupils are screened and intervention packages set up: rescreens take place at 6 monthly intervals.

In KS2 screening takes place for SEN pupils, children who are new to the school and those where staff have concerns.

Kyle joined year 3 in the third week of September 2014, with no accompanying information from his previous school, he was clearly distressed by the suddenness of his arrival.

Observations indicated that he didn’t always understand instructions and struggled to use grammatically correct sentences in speech and writing. Screening took place in early October resulting in a standard score of 72, (percentile 3). This indicated a moderate to severe delay in understanding spoken language.

The support plan highlighted the following areas:

- Concepts
- Negatives
- Verb tenses

Support for Kyle had a three tier approach:-

1. Weekly 1:1 with the school Speech and Language Therapist (verb tenses focus) allowing the SLT to monitor Kyle’s response to intervention whilst simultaneously targeting one of the problem areas.

2. Using the ‘groups’ facility on Language Link: twice weekly small group work delivered by SLT TA Karen (concept development focus).  The materials provided were supplemented with ideas and materials to capture the particular interests of the children involved.

3. On-going class-based support from Y3 staff.   

All Timberley staff receive training in universal strategies to support SLCN in the classroom. Language Link screening allowed staff to tailor the support to meet Kyle’s specific needs. However, following whole cohort screening, it became apparent that concept development posed a problem for a number of children. Staff were able to deploy a range of strategies which supported every pupil.

Following rescreen in the Spring Term, Kyle's standard score had increased to 84 (percentile 15) indicating a moderate difficulty in understanding spoken language. Class-work was judged to be only just below age-related expectations, with a significant increase in confidence to communicate with both peers and teaching staff.

At rescreen, Kyle’s problem areas were:

·         Association
·         Complex sentences

The Speech and Language Team reduced the support that Kyle received. Typically, Timberley pupils scoring in the ‘blue’ range do not receive specialist intervention from the therapist, but do receive small group or individual support from the SLT TAs. Kyle continued to be involved in small group work to support those areas still causing him difficulties.

Kyle flourished in the small group setting.  When screened again at the beginning of year 4 his standard score was 105, (percentile 62), i.e. within the normal limits for his age.

Language Link played a crucial role in supporting the school to meet Kyle’s needs in a targeted way, until he no longer needed anything over and above the support all pupils at Timberley get through the in class strategies used every day.

Written by 

Jo Williams (

& Karen Tresigne (SEN TA at Timberley Academy)

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Friday, 7 October 2016

SLCN Glossary 3, by Heather Stevens, SaLT

Approximate reading time: 2 mins, 30 secs.

Delay versus Disorder in the Context of Language Development
In a previous edition we discussed the difference between speech delay and speech disorder. In this issue we will be considering delay versus disorder in the context of language development.  Children’s language skills develop at very different rates and the children entering your Year R classes this year will show a huge variation in their ability to understand and use language. Although the rate may vary, there is specific pattern that we expect this development to follow. The rate at which children develop their language skills is affected by a number of factors. Research shows that the language of children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds develops at a slower rate than that of those from more privileged backgrounds. Birth order, gender and regional variations also have an impact.

If a child is following the normal pattern of development but at a slower rate than expected they may be described as having a language delay. If a child’s language skills do not reflect this normal developmental pattern their language may be described as having a language disorder or impairment. Because of this variation in normal language development it can be difficult to make a distinction between language delay and language disorder in children under 4.00 years.

The developmental tables on the Infant and Junior Language Link websites outline developmental stages. The ability to understand a word or concept develops before the ability to express it. It is important to note that children with receptive language impairments (impairments of understanding) have a poorer prognosis than those with predominantly expressive language impairments (spoken language impairments). It can be very difficult to work out the level at which a child is understanding through observation alone and it was for this reason that the Language Link assessment was developed. The assessment compares the development of a child’s understanding of language with that of his or her peers. Children who score between the 6th and 16th percentile may be considered to have a mild to moderate delay. The Language Link resources and programmes of work are targeted at this group of children and aim to support their development of understanding.

Children scoring below 6th percentile are said to have a moderate to severe delay. A delay of such significance often suggests a more complex language difficulty and for this reason we recommend discussing any child who scores in this range with your speech and language therapist. The Language Link assessments are not diagnostic tools and only your therapist, through detailed assessment, can diagnose a language disorder.

There is often a family history of language disorder and it usually affects vocabulary and grammar.  A child may have word finding difficulty, poor memory for new words and sentences and difficulty following instructions. Language disorder may also be associated with other neurodevelopmental disorders.

We will look at some of the other disorders that may occur with or present as language disorders as the SLCN Glossary grows.

Language Area Established Skills Emerging Skills Understanding Understands instructions with 4+ key words and complex grammatical structures Able to use a range of simple adjectives to describe objects and feelings e.g. colour, number and time words Can answer questions about stories they have heard Can understand complex grammatical structures e.g. Mia wants a drink but not blackcurrant' 'We will be going out to play after assembly is finished' Beginning to understand complex and abstract instructions. Beginning to sequence events and narrative using time words e.g. ‘first’, ‘last’ and ‘next’ Beginning to ask what words mean Starting to ask complex questions e.g. ‘Why are we going home?’ Spoken Language Asking a variety of 'wh' questions e,g. who, what, where, why Can describe events that have happened in the past e.g. ‘We goed there on holiday. We had ice-creams.’ Linking ideas into long complex sentences by using conjunctions 'but', 'because', 'so', 'if', 'then' Beginning to use language to explain and reason e.g. can explain ‘why’ something has happened Starting to retell stories in the right order Speech is easy to understand although some harder sounds and blends may still be simplified e.g. ‘r’, ‘th’, ‘sh’ and ‘y’ Beginning to use well formed sentences with complex grammar Social Greater awareness of themselves in relation to a group Enjoys make believe play Likes very simple jokes but may need them to be explained Shows interest in things related to others 'that's a nice picture Sanjay' Becoming aware of different speech styles and when to use them e.g. use one style when talking to Mum but different when talking to your teacher Beginning to choose their own friends Beginning to take on more roles within imaginative play Vocabulary Wide vocabulary continually increasing Includes abstract concepts and things beyond the child's own experience Interested in learning new words e.g. asks what words mean
       Visit The Link Online for this full downloadable table of established an emerging skills.

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Friday, 16 September 2016

How Communication Friendly Is Your Classroom? By Heather Stevens, SaLT

Approximate reading time: 2 mins, 30 secs.
How Communication Friendly is your classroom? Heather Stevens explores ways to maximise the classroom space to support language development.
If a stranger walked into your school what would be their first impression? How does your school welcome them?

Perhaps their eye would be drawn to your displays? Where would they see children working together? How easy would it be for them to identify the places that encourage children to talk?

The new National Curriculum recognises the need to improve oracy for all pupils. OFSTED’s survey, Removing Barriers to Literacy, reported that a common feature of the most successful schools was the attention they gave to developing speaking and listening. This also led to improved standards in writing.

Creating Communication Friendly Spaces

Effective communication friendly spaces give children a reason to talk as well as offering a place in which to do it.
The best spaces will have:
- A level of intimacy – e.g. a den, tent, large cardboard box
- Lower levels of background noise
- Role play opportunities that encourage dialogue through sharing or co-operation, e.g. shops or work places, telephone conversations, gardening, etc.
Former Communication Champion, Jean Gross, highlights the importance of identifying places to talk throughout the school. She suggests carrying out an audit of your environment to identify areas that are hotspots for encouraging talking and those which need to be developed to make them more communication friendly.
Some things to try: Communication Friendly Classroom
The Elizabeth Jarman Trust has developed a tool-kit called “Communication Friendly Spaces” which focuses on ‘de-cluttering’ the learning environment to support children’s listening and speaking skills.

Visit for more information on the Communication Friendly Spaces approach and to view the wide range of books and resources available.

Using The Existing Space To Encourage Communication
Sometimes it’s not about creating new spaces for talking but rather adapting existing spaces to give children a reason to talk and question. Wall displays around the school provide an excellent conversation starter for all pupils.

Communication Friendly Displays Should:
- Pose questions for pupils, e.g. what’s missing, why is this picture on the wall?
- Link to targets in pupils’ work.
- Use topic vocabulary.
- Provide a consistent approach to colour coding or question formats, e.g. colour coded questions, use of symbols.
- Encourage pupils to look beneath the surface, e.g. lift the flap.
- Be placed at the right level for children to access them easily

For some examples of communication friendly display boards visit Linda Hartley’s blog at  

Visit our website to download your copy of The Link’s talk friendly environment audit to see where the best talking spaces are in your school.

References: Removing Barriers to Literacy available from Gross, J. (2013) A Time to Talk: Implementing outstanding practice in speech, language and communication. Routledge: Oxon

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