QUESTION: Have you got any advice for a pupil who does not listen or pay attention in their language group?

Answer: This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to support a child’s language skills, but they do not appear to engage in the sessions. The important question to ask yourself is, ‘is this child not listening to me and so therefore doesn’t understand?’ or ‘is this child not listening to me because he has difficulty understanding?’ It is not always easy to tell these apart, especially if a child has become very good at masking their difficulties and knows just how to take the focus off their abilities.

If a child is persistently struggling with attention, consider whether the child could be struggling with the language level used in the group.

When a child (or indeed an adult) is finding it difficult to understand

something, they will soon ‘switch off’ and turn their attention to something else. If this happens repeatedly, the child may come to expect they won’t understand, and may not engage from the outset. It’s possible this child may benefit from some 1:1 intervention, where you can adjust your language level to that of the individual child.

Attention, like many things, is a skill that develops over time. It can be practised and supported and improvements can be made. Attention usually develops in stages ­ very young babies’ attention is only fleeting, but by age two, they can attend to their activity for longer. At

This stage, their attention is totally directed towards the activity and any speech directed at them is only going to interfere with that. By age three, children can attend to a speaker, but will need some help to redirect their attention. By age four, they become a bit more independent at switching this focus of attention. By the time the child reaches five years of age, they no longer have to stop what they are doing to listen to what you are saying to them. However, it may not be until they are six years old that they can listen and attend well in class. Of course, many children will take longer to develop these skills, and will need opportunities to practise their attention control in small group settings.

Consider how much talking is done in your language group session ­ many children find it easier to sustain their attention for longer periods if you alternate ‘listening’ and ‘doing’. Make sure the children are actively involved and not having to wait too long between turns. This could involve giving that child a task, such as placing a mark next to each child’s name or picture when they’ve had a turn. Some children may need an explicit signal that it’s time to listen, such as calling their name. If you have tried a range of strategies and have not noticed any change, you may need to discuss this with the child’s teacher and school SENCo to consider whether a referral to specialist services is appropriate.

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