QUESTION: How often should I carry out language groups?

Answer: This is a question I get asked many times, and I don’t believe there is one right answer. Of course, it is common sense that the more we practise something, the better at it we become. Does this then mean that we should carry out language groups as often as possible? Not necessarily – there are other factors to consider.

In Reception class (P1), there is more flexibility and there is often ‘free flow’ for periods of the day where the children can choose what interests them either inside or outside of the classroom. Language groups can be carried out more frequently at this stage, as the children are not being pulled from other structured sessions and will benefit from regular opportunities to develop their spoken language skills. In some schools, this means running Reception language groups several times per week.

Once children begin their curriculum work from Year 1 (P2), there is often not the same level of flexibility for coming out of structured lessons. There needs to be a balance between making time for language interventions and making sure the children do not miss valuable lesson time. Too few sessions and the impact may be lessened – too many, and the child is constantly playing catch up with the work they’ve missed. If you can manage two groups per week, and fit these into the school timetable, then this should have a positive impact on the children’s outcomes.

Managing timetables is important. Can language groups take place during assembly time? Or perhaps during the afternoon when core subject teaching has finished? Working around your school’s timetable without causing too much disruption to lessons is sometimes easier said than done! Taking children out for a large number of interventions can lead to them becoming fatigued with the learning and missing out on some lovely enrichment activities. It also means these children may not be accessing enough of the class teacher’s expertise as often as they could be. Yet, speech and language support is vital for so many children. Small group interventions to develop language skills can make a huge difference to children’s confidence. Taking all these factors into account is not an easy task, and until there is more research to give us clearer direction, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

Many of these issues can be addressed by having a joint planning discussion between the class teacher, teaching assistant and SENCo. Together you can look at the needs of the child and the positive impact the language groups have on their education and well-being and strike the best balance.

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