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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

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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