QUESTION: I’m a Newly Qualified Teacher. How can I make sure that my classroom and teaching is accessible for my pupils who have SLCN?

ANSWER: It’s fantastic that you want to start your career with communication needs in mind right from the outset! My best advice for teachers who are just getting started is to build good habits which, over time, will become so embedded in your teaching that you will support countless pupils, year after year, with ease.

1) Make a habit of your visual timetable

There’s a reason why speech and language therapists are so keen to promote visual timetables. They can reduce anxiety, develop organisation skills, promote readiness for learning, extend attention and listening, support understanding, and more! To use them effectively, use meaningful symbols or photographs, break the timetable down into appropriate chunks, and refer to the timetable often, making it part of the routine when transitioning from one activity to the next.

2) Create opportunities for pupil talking

In most classrooms, the adults in the room will do far more talking than any of the children. But to support development of good language skills, children need to be given opportunities and reasons to talk for a range of different purposes throughout the day. Use strategies to support students to ask questions, make requests, comment, discuss and negotiate with adults and with one another.

3) Develop vocabulary – focussing on breadth and depth of word learning

To develop a wide vocabulary, children need more than just exposure to lots of new words, particularly if those children have SLCN. Children need to be exposed to a new word several times, hearing it repeatedly and in lots of different contexts to embed that word’s meaning effectively. They need to make links between that new word and words that they already know. To make this a part of your practice, consider using a framework for introducing new words, thinking about the sounds, meaning and links (e.g. category), and build time for vocabulary into your daily classroom routine to ensure repeated exposure to words.

4) Know how to check understanding

Firstly, this means providing sufficient processing time for students to be able to understand – apply the 10 second rule for pupils with SLCN before you repeat, alter or add to what you’ve said. Then, avoid simply asking students “do you understand?”. Pupils are likely to say “yes” regardless of their actual understanding. Instead, make a habit of asking pupils to tell you – or, even better, show you – what they have understood. This will paint a more accurate picture, allowing you to adjust your teaching accordingly.

5) Encourage independence in learning

Communication skills and independence in learning go hand-in-hand. Children need to be able to recognise and indicate when they do not understand something, and then seek support in an appropriate way. Make a habit of using visual confidence indicators as a universal strategy in your lessons to promote this skill.

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