| by Wendy Lee |
We all see the world from our own perspectives. I’m a speech and language therapist down to my bones and most definitely see the world through a speechie lens…I see communication, the highs and the lows, everywhere, so I thought I would share a bit of my week, where communication has revealed itself in its different guises…
I’m in a school, working with two extremely complex children. We’re planning for next year and trying to work out why one of the boys was upset for the whole of transition day. I’m lucky to have the time to explore with him what he is concerned about. Eventually we work out that because his new classroom is on a lower level, he’s worried about what would happen if the school collapsed. “I don’t like my classroom… It’s underground…everyone would land on top of us…we’re at the bottom.”
Lots of talking (but mainly listening) later and the promise of a treasure hunt on the lower ground floor; he is feeling less worried. His top tip for his teacher next year – it helps if they “excribe” things in short sentences – a perfect (made up) word to capture the mixture of explain and describe!
I’m in Leeds, screening Y6 pupils’ language on transition day in preparation for our work in September. We are a temporary team of therapists, teachers, assistants and speech therapy students, talking to pupils, checking how their language is developing.
The pupils are lovely, though it’s devastating to see the very low language levels of far too many of them. They struggle with the most basic elements of understanding; it’s a constant source of surprise to me how they manage to get through the day. Rarely does anyone question their spoken language – often people question their reading and writing, their attainment, their behaviour.
My perspective, my background allows me to see these children a mile away – the gaps in their language, their strategies of avoidance or substitution, the impact on their learning and self-esteem. Without the right training and support, how are teachers able to see these pupils, to support spoken language as well as written?
I’m in London – wandering the streets of Tottenham, completely lost and late! The map on my phone is an enigma to me (I have no spatial awareness). As I try to work out where I am, a group of young people are walking towards me; they talk together, finishing off each other’s sentences, using teenage language I’m not supposed to understand. It’s rich and vibrant with lots of gesture and laughter. I’m obviously looking stressed as they ask if I need some help and explain in language I can understand, exactly where I need to go. Sometimes young people struggle with an understanding of “register” – knowing what type of language to use in different situations, but this group had it completely nailed!
I am travelling to Cambridge and hear Bringing up Britain on Radio 4. The topic is “critical thinking.” The focus is children and young people; how to teach them to negotiate the vast amounts of information available; to analyse information objectively and come to their own conclusions.
Without strong language skills, critical thinking is not possible and throughout the discussion, the importance of spoken language is tacitly present; reasoning skills, “asking why” and “discussions being important, rather than answers.” It would have been great to give the foundation skills of strong language more prominence in the discussions, but as is so often the case, they are taken for granted. Articulate young people talk about how they are negotiating the current deluge of information… “taking in media, social media or on the news or any information, it’s like a diet, you’ve got to watch what you ingest, you’ve have to eat well and you have to be selective of what you eat.” Surely, we want all our young people to be able to talk and think this way.
I’m in Slough, meeting with two teachers passionate about the importance of children’s communication. It’s lovely to meet and share ideas, but the challenges they face and the support available to them is truly shocking. Sadly, it’s a recurring theme in my work with schools. Services cut to the bone, so diluted to be unrecognisable. I am constantly frustrated by the wasted potential for too many of our children.
On my drive back north, I hear radio 2 – Jeremy Vine exploring what makes us human. An essay read by Charles Moore
“Words make us human because they express our infinite possibilities”
“Words are the most important tools of human freedom”
“All of us, not only the great, have stories and it’s really only in words that they can be fully told”
It sums up a lot of what I think about the importance of spoken language …