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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Friday, 23 June 2017

An interview with... Katherine Buckeridge, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

Approximate reading time: 4 mins, 30 secs.

1. What collaborative strategies between the parents and the school would you recommend, or in your experience, have been particularly beneficial to the child?

The first few months following a child’s return to school following ABI can be particularly challenging. Teachers and peers expect them to behave as they did before and it is common for the children themselves to have poor insight into their difficulties. They will need support to cope with the school environment in addition to possible extra help in the classroom. Our team at Chailey Clinical Services invites representatives from a child’s school to a discharge planning meeting toward the end of their rehabilitation period with us. This provides a supportive forum for the parents, child, Head Teacher, SENCo, and community therapists to plan with us for the transition. After a few weeks, we organise a follow-up meeting at the school to review how the child and the school team are coping. Allocating a key person in the school who is responsible for implementing recommendations and meeting regularly with the parents and child is important to ensuring a smooth return. It is important to recognise that parents have seen their child survive an incredibly traumatic event but are now faced with changes to their child’s cognitive and physical abilities. With agreement of the parents it can be helpful for children to maintain contact with their friends from school during the rehabilitation period. Sharing information with other children in the school, again with parents’ agreement can help them understand how the child might be different to the one they knew previously. One young girl helped me prepare a PowerPoint presentation, which we delivered to teaching staff to explain how her stroke had affected her skills and what she needed particular help with. This was a powerful way of exchanging information and an empowering process for her.

2. Commonly will the ‘fatigue’ that children experience following ABI lessen and processing time become less? How can the staff and other children support this during the school day especially during busy periods; break, the lunch hall, PE, etc?

The fatigue that children experience following ABI can stay with them for many years but as suggested may decrease over time as the child’s brain learns to adapt. It is important to ensure that information about a child’s ABI is passed on from one teacher to the next, so that the potential impact of this remains highlighted. A child with ABI is usually having to work much harder than a typically developing child on the same task and this can be exhausting. Initially we recommend that a child returns to school part time, this might be for a certain number of days per week or mornings only and build up gradually to full time attendance. We suggest that children who struggle with fatigue during the day have scheduled rest breaks or a way of letting their teacher know that they need a time-out. Schools have usually been able to provide a quiet place where a child can rest or have lunch with a friend. If a school is particularly large and busy then a child could be allowed to leave the lesson five minutes early to avoid the rush in corridor. For some children contact sports are not recommended for a year after a brain injury but they may be able to take part in other activities. Check with a child’s consultant or physiotherapist and if necessary make alternative arrangements for PE lessons. 

3. In your opinion if a school could put in place just one strategy for the child with ABI what would it be?

Each child with ABI tends to have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses so we would tailor strategies to the individual child based on our assessments and what we have found works in therapy sessions during the rehabilitation process. From a Speech and Language Therapy point of view the one area I find myself talking about most often is word finding difficulties. A ‘word finding difficulty’ is when a child knows and understands a particular word but has difficulty retrieving it and using it in their speech or written work. Children I have worked with often use words that are similar to the ones they want but not the exact ones and this can be very frustrating for them. Often this difficulty can be very subtle to observers but it can significantly affect how a child feels they are perceived by others and they describe their thoughts as being ‘locked inside their heads’. One of the participants in my research study was worried that teachers didn’t think she was bright enough because she would stumble over saying words in the classroom. Meeting new people, stress (exams) and fatigue can make the word finding problem worse and it can continue many years after the ABI. Make sure you give a child enough time to give their answer your question without putting them under pressure. They may also need extra time for written work, as word finding difficulties affecting that can be overlooked. If you have any language groups at school, working on vocabulary skills then a child may benefit from taking part in these or specific work with a TA. Ideally ask a speech and language therapist approach is recommended for a particular child with ABI.

4. Do you have any transition tips for schools to support children leaving primary school for secondary?

Ensure that the secondary school is armed with knowledge about a child’s ABI and any difficulties they continue to experience. If the ABI happened in early childhood then this information can become dissipated and teenagers are not keen to highlight why that they are different to their peers. As well as the usual familiarisation days offered by secondary schools, it there are other professionals involved with a child, a meeting with the child’s form tutor, pastoral support team and SENCo will help to plan a smooth transition. Specific work with a child before they leave primary school to help them with more complex planning skills for example; organising homework tasks, reading a timetable or moving between lots of different classes would help prepare them. Children with ABI are often well supported in primary schools by teachers and assistants who know them really well but once they move to a larger secondary school their needs can go unmet. This is when they are in danger of problems with behaviour, as they fail to keep up with the pace of teaching and demands of the curriculum. It may not be until adolescence when more complex aspects of executive and language skills are developing that the full effects of ABI become apparent, so this needs highlighting for the secondary school. We often see children referred to our therapy led ABI clinic at secondary school age because they are failing to cope with the increased challenges of the secondary school environment. Once funding has been agreed, we will then reassess a child and provide recommendations and support to the child, family and school.

5. What in particular prompted your interest in specialising in ABI in children?

My first post as a community Speech and Language Therapist involved working in a number of mainstream and special schools. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work regularly with a caseload of children with learning disabilities and wanted to specialise in complex neuro-disability, so applied for a post at Chailey Clinical Services (Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust). When training to be a Speech and Language Therapist on placement, I worked with a teenager who had been knocked over by a car. His communication skills were quite unique and we had to do some very lateral thinking. When the opportunity arose to work at our on-site Children’s Rehabilitation Service, I jumped at the chance. Working in the field of ABI is fascinating as each child is unique. Two children might have the same type of brain injury but present with a completely different set of impairments. Every day there is something new to learn in supporting a child and their family through rehabilitation. I love working as part of a multi-disciplinary team and opportunities to problem solve with therapists from other disciplines. Of course, it is rewarding to work directly with children who make significant improvements in their speech and language skills during the time they spend with us and make a successful transition back to school. For children with more severe brain injuries, the needs of the child and the family are very different but helping them through the initial period of recovery and adaption can be both fulfilling and humbling.

Read more about ABI in Katherine Buckeridge's article in The Link, Issue 8.

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Friday, 2 June 2017

SLCN Glossary 4, by Heather Stevens, SaLT

Approximate reading time: Under 1 minute, 30 secs.
SLCN Glossary - Vocabulary Skills and Semantic Skills

Vocabulary Skills and Semantic Skills

We are all familiar with the term vocabulary and know that this refers to the words at our disposal. It is important to remember that this not only describes the words that we are able to use when talking and writing but also to the words that we understand. You might be familiar with the terms expressive vocabulary… the words that we use, and receptive vocabulary… the words that we understand. As a child’s language develops, so their vocabulary grows but they are able to understand many more words than they use in their own speech. This remains the case throughout our lives and even as adults our receptive vocabulary is bigger than our expressive vocabulary. We are able to understand many words that we have heard or read but may never have any reason to use ourselves. 

Teachers are under considerable pressure to ensure that they teach children the words necessary to access curriculum topics. As speech and language therapists we are often asked how to support children with language difficulties to learn and retain new vocabulary.

In order to learn new words we need to fully understand them and be able to store them efficiently.  Semantics is the study of word meanings. When we talk about 'semantic skills' we are referring to the ability to attribute meaning to words. In order to do this we need to make links and associations between new words and words that we already have in our vocabulary store. Making these semantic links allows us to fully appreciate the meaning of words and to store them so that we can find them again when we need them.

Stephen Parsons and Anna Branagan who have written an article for this issue of the Link are the authors of Word Aware. Their books are full of activities that teachers can use to encourage children to make semantic links. They also advise on how to select the vocabulary to teach and techniques for teaching it. 

Free Resource - Schools - Semantic Dominoes

Download this FREE Resource for your class.
Read more from the SLCN Glossary.

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Friday, 12 May 2017

Tips for SENCOs - Part 3: Admin

Approximate reading time: Under 2 minutes.

1. Basic requirements – lockable filing cabinet, coloured folders to hold pupils’ records.
2. Get your year mapped out. Plan ahead, e.g. set dates for important meetings such as annual reviews at the beginning of the year. There may be times when you will have to take support away to use elsewhere, e.g. for public exams.
3. Try to find time to support some children in school.
4. Have an open office when the children can come and talk to you whenever they need to.
5. Write a half-termly newsletter for the teachers in the school keeping them up to date with what you are doing.
6. Give each teacher a ring binder to store the information you give them.
7. Send the SEN list to all teachers via e-mail and save it on the school system - no-one has an excuse then for not reading it.
8. Circulate pupil profiles or IEPs (whatever you write) in hard copy - as well as by e-mail.
9. Write regular information sheets for staff on various aspects of SEN.
10. Be meticulous about systems, paperwork and records – it will pay dividends in the long run.
11. Be organised - lists, lists, lists.
12. Remember that a special need arises when there is a mismatch between what the curriculum demands of the child and what the child brings to the curriculum; the first response should be ‘How can we change the curriculum so that it better fits the child and their learning needs?’ rather than the other way round.
13. Don’t conceptualise support only in terms of TA/LSA support: work to create learning opportunities that aim to develop and improve children’s core skills, especially literacy. Individual targets for children with special needs should be individual to them, not curriculum targets.
14. Budget to keep your area open and staffed from 8am until an hour after school has finished by using LSAs. Often problems are sorted there before they are real problems. Include lunchtime as well.
15. Encourage mixed year group working in your area.
16. When parents/carers are going through a rough time, ask 'and how are you?' Kids who need support need parents/carers who can support them. Helping a parent/carer through a difficult time helps the child as well.

Missed Part 1 & 2? Read them here: 

Tips for SENCOs - Part 1: General

Tips for SENCOs - Part 2: Management of TAs

Contributed by Janice Rolnick MA RSAdip

Educational Consultant


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Friday, 5 May 2017

Tips for SENCOs - Part 2: Management of TAs

Approximate reading time: 1 minute, 30 secs.

1. Get your TAs on your side – make them feel they are part of a team. Make managing the TAs a top priority. If they are behind you they will be supporting the pupils effectively and efficiently, if they're not you'll be spending all your time dealing with the fall-out.
2. Fight their corner if necessary.
3. Be clear about your expectations of TA conduct and behaviour/dress code, etc.
4. Listen to your TAs, but let them know you have the ultimate say.
5. Make sure they have a timetable, and that they stick to it.
6. Give them training opportunities, in-house and out when relevant.
7. Treat them fairly, but not all the same!
8. Nip bickering in the bud, don't allow grudges to fester.
9. If you lose some along the way because they can't accept that you are in charge - so be it!
10. Treat them with respect at all times - even when it hurts.
11. Develop your LSAs. Allow them to choose an area to develop – literacy – Aspergers – whatever the need in school and for their own interest. They read the books, go on courses, then share information with others. They become the expert.
12. Send them on courses which allow them to gain qualifications so they have a career ladder and something to aim for.
13. Make sure they have performance management.
14. Produce a TA handbook.

Missed Part 1? Read it here: Tips for SENCOs - Part 1: General

Coming soon: Tips for SENCOs - Part 3: Admin

Contributed by Janice Rolnick MA RSAdip

Educational Consultant

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Friday, 21 April 2017

Tips for SENCOs - Part 1: General

Approximate reading time: 3 mins, 30 secs.

1. You are not expected to know everything but you need to know where to go to find out!
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
3. Time spent networking is never wasted. It might look like a chat to others, but it really pays to be on speaking terms with all school staff, advisors, those who work at County Hall, governors, parents, etc, etc. You also make good friends along the way.
4. Make a point of attending cluster meetings and training. It is vital to network. This is where you will pick up some of your best ideas.
5. Form good relationships with outside agencies – if you do they will help you when they you need them.
6. Visit other schools and find out what other SENCOs do.
7. Do NASEN training for SENCOs.
8. Be realistic about what you can do. Set realistic targets – you don’t have to do it all at once.
9. Don't do the job if you are the kind of person who needs a lot of thanks and praise -you don't often get it as a SENCO. Treasure the thanks you do get from the parents who recognise your efforts. You have to understand that for some parents (especially in primary) you are the bearer of the news they don't want to hear. Some parents may not even want to be seen talking to you - it is an acknowledgement in front of other parents that their child has problems. Fathers of boys with difficulties can be particularly tricky - anger/grief/guilt can make them very hard to engage with. Sometimes the more severe the problem, the easier the parents are to work with, as they have come to some terms with their child's problems before school.
10. Be assertive – if you need information from colleagues they must stick to deadlines.
11. Have a notebook, date each other page and write down both your to-do lists and every single thing you do and your reflections upon what you did and how you will/would do it differently next time.
12. Don't pretend you have all the answers or a magic wand.
13. Don't underestimate your own value in the school - it is easy to be sidelined especially in an 'academic' and high achieving school. Your role is important. Some of the teachers who do very well with the very able wouldn't have a clue how to teach the much less able.
14. Do it for the children - or don't do it at all. It may well be a stepping stone in your career, but if you really don't enjoy it and find it more rewarding than any other job, don't do it!
15. Learn how the SEN finances work and fight your corner.
16. Appoint and surround yourself with people with ‘the right stuff’!
17. Never throw anything out, thinking you won’t need it – you will! You may get enquiries about provision made at school years after students have left.
18. Save everything you make for students. File it away on your computer. You can re-jig an awful lot of ideas over and over again.
19. Collect policy documents – training materials, etc. that those generous people on the SENCO forum offer. Writing your own “cold” takes a great deal of time. It is easier to see what other people have done and then decide what you want for your own school – and a great deal quicker too.
20. Get comfortable chairs – buy tissues in bulk.
21. Share the problems. Some staff may be as difficult as students. Everyone gets to work with them at some time. Find what works best.
22. Join the SENCO forum, one of the best resources you will ever find.
23. Always be honest. Tell parents you can't do something if you can't do it. Tell TAs their jobs depend on funding if that's the case.
24. Shout out when you are overloaded. Ask 'What do you want me to stop doing?' if asked to take on too much.
25. Model good practice. Tell others when they do well. Everyone needs praise!
26. Carry out regular in-house training of staff. Try to put them in the position of the child with learning difficulties. Remind them that all teachers are teachers of children with learning difficulties and that the children in their class are ultimately their responsibility!

Coming soon: Tips for SENCOs - Part 2: Management of TAs

Contributed by Janice Rolnick MA RSAdip

Educational Consultant

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Friday, 10 March 2017

An interview with... Anna Branagan and Stephen Parsons, Speech and Language Therapists

The Link Interview Logo
Approximate reading time: Under a minute. 

Firstly, I don't think we've ever been asked these questions before!

1) Your publications, Word Aware, Word Aware 2 and Language for Thinking have undoubtedly inspired thousands of teachers, but what was the turning point of inspiration to begin training and producing these resources?
Our motivation was because, as SaLTs, we wanted to have better resources. With LFT (Language for Thinking) we thought as long as we produced something that we would use in our everyday practice, we would be happy with that. That others like it too is a bonus. Word Aware was really seeing the vast number of children with vocabulary difficulties, that quite often teachers were aware of their students' needs, but that there was no approach to address the need.

2) What would your top tip be for teachers supporting parents in developing children’s language and communication skills from home?
Keep trying, be creative. Invite them in to make things with their child. Search 'nethermains' on Twitter and see how one Scottish school engages parents via social media.

3) Save The Children’s ‘Read On. Get On’ Campaign, launched in 2014, highlighted prevalent key points about early language development, with heavy emphasis on reading to improve vocabulary. Would you agree with this focus? 
Reading is the number one way to an enriched vocabulary, but this assumes that children have adequate language to get started with reading. Many children learn to decode but do not have the language to access what they read. Also, developing strategies so the words that children read just don't stay on the page will develop their vocabulary faster.

Read The Link, Issue 7 here:

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Friday, 24 February 2017

EDU Q&AS: Speech, Language and Communication

Approximate reading time: 3 minutes.

We recently published an article in SENCo Magazine, Issue 2, in case you missed it, you can read our Q&As below:

How can primary teachers ensure that pupils who find it difficult to speak or understand verbal instructions don’t get left out in class? Derry Patterson, SaLT offers some advice… 

As a primary teacher, once I know I’ll be teaching pupils with speech, language and communication needs in the coming year, what can I do to prepare?

The most valuable support that you can give children with SLCN is to ensure the language you use for teaching is accessible to everyone in the classroom. Slowing down your pace of delivery and allowing extra thinking time are two strategies that will not only help children with SLCN, but also many others in your class.
Our Language Link package details a range of further strategies you can use, grouped into four broad headings – ‘Break it down’, ‘Explain as you go’, ‘Check as you go’ and ‘Keep it visual’. 
Speech, Language and Communication: SENCo Magazine Article

Which common difficulties and challenges encountered by pupils with SLCN should I be most sensitive to?

If a child has a speech problem or difficulty with their spoken language, you will be able to identify it as soon you meet them. Conversely, the issue that is hardest to detect will be difficulty in understanding language. Children with verbal comprehension difficulties might outwardly appear to understand you – they will often soon learn the daily classroom routine by watching and copying their peers, and readily respond to any non-verbal cues when available. These children will tend to be very good at ‘making themselves invisible’ and can easily slip under the radar.
It is therefore important to be sensitive to any signs that a child might be struggling to understand the language of the classroom. Language Link features a whole class language screening tool for children in Reception, enabling teachers to quickly identify whether any children have difficulty understanding, and a provides comprehensive range of ways to support said children during class, group and individual work activities.

How can I accurately determine and assess my pupils’ understanding of spoken language?

It can be hard to know for sure whether a child understands a command, since we often use visual supports such as pointing or other visual cues – putting on one’s coat while saying ‘It’s time to go outside’, for example.
Because these cues will provide heavy hints for children who don’t understand the words used, it’s vital that a formal assessment be performed to accurately measure a child’s real understanding of spoken language. The Language Link standardised assessment is designed for precisely this purpose, being easy to administer and taking only 20 minutes to complete. It will then provide intervention recommendations for children identified as having mild or moderate difficulties, and highlight whether in-school assistance or speech and language therapy may be needed for children with more severe difficulties.

Where can parents and teachers turn to in cases where pupils have both SLCN and some other form of SEN?

We work closely with local speech and language therapy teams and SEND advisory teams, and there are a number of charities – including the Communication Trust and Afasic – that provide SLCN advice and support for parents and professionals. For SENCos, the DfE SENCo Forum is an invaluable tool for obtaining advice and developing your professional network beyond your local offering – details of how to join can be found at
You can also can find advice articles for teachers and parents written by speech and language specialists in our in-house magazine, The Link, which can be read via the Speech Link website.

What can schools and teachers do to effectively engage with parents of pupils with SLCN?

We fully recognise the importance of engaging with parents, which is why our packages provide SENCos with parent friendly advice sheets and worksheets that can be used to support the work being done at school in a fun way at home.

What is widely recognised as good practice when it comes to supporting pupils with SLCN?

In short, ‘ASSESS’, ‘PLAN’, ‘DO’ and ‘REVIEW’. A Language Link assessment can help generate evidence that children’s understanding of language has been fully investigated at school entry. The resulting reports will provide a clear picture of the language needs of all children in the class, while our online reporting system will ensure that intervention outcomes are objectively recorded and that progress is being monitored and evaluated.
Speech, Language and Communication: SENCo Magazine Article

The online version of SENCo Magazine can be found here:

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