Helping children to access the curriculum
Each child with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) has individual needs, depending on a range of factors, including the nature and severity of their language difficulties, strengths and skills, confidence and self-esteem, and the demands placed upon them in their home or educational environment.
For many children with SLCN, the educational curriculum can pose a wide number of challenges. Education staff and speech and language therapists can work together to ensure that these children can access the curriculum.
Identifying the Language Demands and Skills Within the Curriculum
So much of each curriculum area is dependent on language for teaching and learning. Time spent on looking at the language skills involved in different subjects or topics is time well spent. Think about the demands on:
- understanding information
- learning new vocabulary and concepts
- recording and sharing information, verbally or in writing
Raising awareness of these demands is a crucial first step in supporting access to the curriculum.
Most areas of the curriculum have huge amounts of new vocabulary associated with them. Often, this vocabulary can be technical or also involve understanding complex or abstract concepts. Identifying what vocabulary is new is essential when planning Schemes of Work. This way, staff can target vocabulary specifically within lessons or support activities or homework tasks.
Linking Speech and Language to the Curriculum
As so many of the requirements of the curriculum are language based, linking speech and language therapy to the curriculum can be invaluable. Integrating SLT activities within the curriculum can provide a relevant context to support learning and improve a child's opportunities to use their skills in a more generalised way.
The differentiation of activities and information is an essential tool within the curriculum to support learning. It can be particularly effective where staff have a good level of understanding of an individual pupil's SLCN. This is a useful area for collaborative practice between education and speech and language therapy staff.
Thinking of ways to make the curriculum accessible to pupils with SLCN can seem like a huge and sometimes impossible task.
The extent to which you may be able to tackle this area will depend enormously on factors such as local context, your experience, access to specialist support, time available and the youngsters with whom you are working.
There is a range of ways that are possible, with some being more practical or achievable than others, depending on your local context.
Some general ideas include:
- Adapting or developing Schemes of Work to account for SLCN
- Delivering the curriculum using language focused techniques/approaches.
- Differentiation by task and outcome.
- Reducing the amount of content to be learned.
- Changing the sequence and progression of content.
- Building in opportunities for frequent repetition and consolidation.
- Reducing the number of peripheral tasks required within an activity to focus on the key aims.
- Reducing the number of subjects being studied at any one time - rotating lessons.
- Developing cross curricular themes to facilitate reinforcement and consolidation.
- Having clear learning objectives.
Detailed information on how to put some of these suggestions into practice is gained through training and working with others. You can check your skills in knowledge, and identify professional development by using the speech, language and communication framework.
When thinking of adapting Schemes of Work or looking at lesson planning, it may be useful to spend a little time considering what a pupil's strengths are and what aspects they find particularly difficult. This can really raise awareness at the planning stage. Anticipating strengths and difficulties in this way can forewarn teaching, reduce the risk of students failing and thus the need to revisit ideas or work.
Some questions to think about:
- What are the key learning objectives for this lesson?
- What vocabulary is new/technical/complex?
- How much information is new?
- What is the most important information within this topic?
- How abstract is the information?
- What skills am I expecting students to be using already?
- What skills am I hoping students will learn?
- How complex are the skills we are learning/using?
- How much and how soon will students be applying skills and knowledge?
- How much of any lesson relies on language?
- What are the social demands in this area and how might they affect successful learning?
Although it may seem time consuming, considering these questions at a planning level can focus us on looking at manageable solutions. Knowing WHY adapting the curriculum is needed for particular students steers us clearly to deciding HOW we can do this.