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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Friday, 13 May 2016

Memory Magic, by Derry Patterson, Speech and Language Therapist

I was recently lucky enough to attend a mind mapping seminar presented by the originator himself, Professor Tony Buzan.  It served as a great reminder of how memory does not just ‘happen by magic’, we need to be active participants in the process.

As adults we have a fully developed memory system which stores different types of information and experiences in different ways.  We use our long term memory to remember facts, experiences and autobiographical information and to build up knowledge of how the world works.  We use our short term working memory to temporarily hold and manipulate information.

Recent research is beginning to show just how important our working memory is for learning.  In the classroom we are expecting children to process and think about a range of information during every lesson and task they perform.  They will need to use their working memories to do this.  The fly in the ointment is that working memory has a capacity.  When a pupil reaches that capacity they start to loose bits of information or the capacity is used up on one part of the task not leaving room for them to process other information that they need.

For example when following an instruction the pupil who has reached their working memory capacity may only complete the first or the last part of the instruction.  Or when completing a science experiment the demands of following the procedure may take up all the working memory leaving no space for thinking about the science or making inferences or deductions.


A poor working memory can affect all aspects of a child’s learning.  Most common everyday classroom tasks such as mental maths, reading, writing and following instructions place a heavy burden on working memory (Gathercole and Alloway, 2007). 

Warning signs:
·         Forgets words or parts of a sequence
·         Struggles to follow instructions
·         Misses out words when reading or writing
·         Easily distracted
·         Gives up easily
·         Makes poor academic progress

How to help:

We need to consider the working memory demands of tasks and try to reduce this where possible for these pupils by:

-          reducing the amount of information
-          simplifying the language used
-          repeating key information frequently
-          breaking multi step tasks into single steps
-          using memory strategies

Children with speech and language difficulties frequently have poor working memories. To support them we need to utilize a range of strategies to help with storage and recall.  We are all familiar with a few ‘memory tricks’ such as repeating numbers or names over and over and using mnemonics to help learn difficult spellings or lists of words.  However, the real ‘magic’ is choosing the right strategy or combination of strategies for the task.  If we can get this right for our children then we can really perform memory magic. 
To see more strategies see The Link, Issue 5, Page 5. 

Buzan, T (2011) Buzan’s study skills. Pearson Education Ltd

Gathercols, S.E. & Alloway, T.P. (2007) Understanding Working Memory: A Classroom Guide. Harcourt Assessment: London

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Friday, 6 May 2016

A SaLT's Whole School Approach - Part 1, by Ruth Merritt, Speech and Language Therapist

Approximate reading time: 2 mins.

It can seem a daunting task to be asked as a Speech and Language Therapist to come in and change the speech and language environment of a whole school in order to further promote the communication development of the children within the school. But this is exactly what I’ve been asked to do recently in a number of schools!

I work in one school, one day a week and after two years of work I can safely say, that not only has the focus on communication improved, every child’s individual communication attainment levels have been improved.

It’s an exciting way to work as a therapist; affecting change within the school as a whole rather than the more traditional approach of working one to one with a child. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also vital to work with children on a one to one basis working through specific strategies and activities aimed at developing that individual child’s particular communication needs. This still needs to carry on, but much of what happens in the classroom can also be enhanced so as to naturally remove any barriers that may exist that prevent the child from reaching their full communicative potential.

Let’s pick an obvious barrier that often happens in life. An adult will give an instruction that is both too long and too complex - we all do it! “Those children who have finished this morning’s art work go and get their yellow science books and start work on their project from last week: and those who haven’t finished, get their picture from the art tray, put on their aprons and carry on.”
This barrier can so easily be overcome by the adult adjusting their language: breaking down their instruction into bite sized chunks, using visual reinforcement with a task board, or a visual timetable or with some gestures.

That’s what I have been slowly doing over the 2 years - changing the awareness in the adults working with the children, as to how they can give the children the opportunities to access the language and therefore the curriculum as fully as possible. In other words, the goals are child centred but adult focussed.

I’ve called this approach: Communication Opportunities Via Education/Experience (COVE) (based on the MOVE strategy developed for children with physical difficulties). COVE targets are adopted within each classroom. For example: Johnny is developing his understanding of wh+ questions: so the COVE target for the adults in Johnny’s class room is that they ensure that Johnny has the opportunity to listen to and respond to as much wh+ questions as possible throughout the day. That target can be spelled out even more- for any activity that takes place ensure that Johnny is asked a few wh+ questions about each aspect. “What is happening in this picture, why is he sitting down, which colour are you going to choose, where is he going?"

So now Johnny has the opportunity to fulfil his target- he may need guidance and support on his end but unless he’s asked the questions he won’t ever achieve his target.

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