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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Time to Talk Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: Time to Talk - Implementing outstanding practice in speech, language and communication, Jean Gross, 2013 (Routledge) – a book we highly recommend to all our schools!

When this book arrived at the office, we were very excited to read it. Now most of us have read it cover to cover, we love it! So I thought I’d tell you a bit about it here.

Jean Gross CBE was until recently the government's Communication Champion for children. Before this she headed a charity responsible for the very successful Every Child a Reader and Every Child Counts one-to-one tuition programmes, and was Senior Director within the government's Primary National Strategy. Here she led work on overcoming barriers to achievement, including the influential SEAL approach to developing children's social and emotional competences. Read more on Jean’s website.

From 2010-2012 Jean Gross CBE filled the role of Communication Champion. Her book records her experiences and observations during her visits to schools in this time.

As well as drawing on current research to illustrate the level of speech, language and communication need (SLCN) in our schools, Jean reports on examples of good practice that she observed around the country. She uses powerful, thought-provoking case studies to describe ways in which educational settings have maximised the opportunities to encourage communication. When reading about the examples she has witnessed and the positive impact these have had, you can’t help but want to try them out with the children you work with.

She highlights the importance of three key factors: a place to talk, a reason to talk and support for talk.

In the chapter “A Place to Talk” Jean uses case studies to illustrate how schools have improvised and adapted the environment to create situations that encourage children to interact and use language. She gives examples of how to use outdoor areas, enclosed spaces and role play areas effectively, turning them in to ‘places to talk’ (or talking hotspots). After reading this chapter, we developed the Talk Friendly Environment Audit, which you can download for free here, to use in your classroom.

Her chapter “A Reason to Talk” looks at innovative ways that schools have encouraged children to talk (because if they haven’t got a reason to talk, why talk!). She describes how some schools have structured activity days and No Pens Days to maximise the opportunity that pupils have to talk. She also looks at ways of giving information and instructions and asking questions to ensure that lessons are not dominated by ‘teacher talk’. (For more ideas surrounding teacher talk, see our article in issue 2 of The Link here).

In the “Support for Talk” chapter Jean discusses the importance of screening children’s communication skills. She describes how schools in Barking & Dagenham have used Infant Language Link to match the language that teachers use to the needs of the children in their class.

We recently gave away copies of this book to schools purchasing Junior Language Link. Anyone who works in education at any level should have a copy. (And we’re not just saying that because it mentions us a few times!)

Get the book here:



Did you know?

Some facts mentioned in the book that we often find ourselves quoting…

Speech, Language and Communication Needs are the most common type of primary SEN in primary schools, making up 29% of the total. (DfE school census data, 2012)

“Socially disadvantaged children can catch up with other children in language skills after just nine months if their teachers are trained to have the right kind of conversations with them” (Hank and Deacon, 2008)

In the most effective schools visited, inspectors saw teachers thread rich opportunities for speaking and listening into lessons. In turn, this led to improved standards in writing (Ofsted annual report 2009/10).

A common feature of the most successful schools in the survey was the attention they gave to developing speaking and listening (Removing Barriers to Literacy, Jan. 2011)

Vocabulary breadth = the number of words that have some level of meaning for us

Vocabulary depth = the richness of knowledge that we have for words that we know.

Depth rather than breadth is the strongest predictor of reading comprehension. (Jean Gross, 2013)

“Research shows that the ratio of closed to open questions is 5:1 in Key Stage 1 classrooms, and 3:1 in Key Stage 2 classrooms… the average length of a pupil’s contribution to class discussion is just 4 words” (Hardman, et al, 2001 & National Literacy Trust, 2011).

For full references, contact us at Speech Link Multimedia Ltd and we will be happy to send them over to you!

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Word Gap

We started our new Speech Link blog in March by talking about vocabulary. I’d like to continue this topic here. I have just watched a fab video put together by The Economist which presents some data from Chicago on the impact of The Word Gap. It has been found that children from low income families hear 30 million fewer words on average by the time they are 3 than children from higher income families. This 5 minute video stresses the importance of interacting with children in those crucial years before they start school, to give them the best start.

In our Language Link training for new schools, we discuss vocabulary learning and the impact of poor vocabulary. We refer to research presented by Jean Gross (ex-Communication Champion) showing that vocabulary at age 5 is a powerful predictor of GCSE achievement.

Researchers in Chicago are using a piece of technology called the Word Pedometer which can record how many words a child hears throughout the day. This can chart when and how many words are communicated to the child, and can be a useful tool in raising awareness of the use of Parent Talk.

“It is through the power of parent talk that true change can occur.”

Watch the video here.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

School Winners announced!

In our January issue of The Link we ran a competition to win a staffroom hamper for your school! All you had to do was like our facebook page!

Today five names were pulled out of a hat (OK we used a cup!) and those names have been posted on facebook!


Your colleagues will love you!

Keep an eye on this blog, and also our Twitter and Facebook for future competitions to be in with a chance of winning.

To read Issue 1 and Issue 2 of The Link magazine, a magazine written by us here at Speech Link looking at speech and language in the classroom, click here or visit our info site.