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Specialist approaches to support children with language disorder are used in I CAN’s Meath School

Buzzwords in I CAN‘s Meath school.

Thirty years ago, in the depths of Leicestershire, an English teacher took a novel approach to teaching his class parts of grammar. Mr Copas arrived in my lesson with toilet rolls on a broom handle and proceeded to categorise words, writing them on the rolls as he went. As young eight year old children, with fully developed toilet humour, we were spellbound, our eyes were on stalks. It was as if Roald Dahl had arrived to take our English lesson. It was probably the most important lesson of my primary school life, not only did it cement my adjectives from my adverbs, but it provided a lasting impression of the impact that a creative and fun approach to teaching can have. Thank you Mr Copas!

At I CAN’s Meath School for children with speech and language disorder we use a number of specialist approaches throughout the school.  

One of these approaches is called ‘Buzzword’ and is the weekly session for pre-teaching vocabulary related to the curriculum.  The words selected are jointly chosen by the teacher and speech and language therapist and conform to the ‘Word aware’ criteria of ‘Goldilocks’ words (Parsons S and Branagan A, 2014.) ‘Goldilocks’ words are useful words that an adult would have a good understanding of for example; concepts such as ‘heavy’ and ‘different,’ or words related to a topic such as ‘belief’ or ‘law’. These   words are selected because of their importance for understanding a topic,   and are deemed ‘just right’ for teaching.

Like Mr Copas, throughout all lessons at Meath we use multisensory methods of teaching; for example, in a Buzzword session the children might learn about the word ‘sequence’ through doing it. Activities may include identifying the next shape in a sequence, putting the next coloured brick in the sequence, playing the next sound in a sequence of musical notes, and moulding a sequence out of playdough. We use a familiar structured framework for learning information about  the sounds, meanings and grammar of words (the phonological, semantic and syntactic information) which helps the child establish the new word in their internal ‘dictionary’ (lexicon). In and after the session, there are opportunities that are engineered for repetition and for applying the word across different contexts – e.g. using the word in science as well as maths, in the playground as well as in lessons.

A key part of teaching vocabulary is also revisiting it, and it’s one of the areas that is probably easiest to neglect.  Last summer, I was nurturing a kernel of an idea for a new Buzzword revisit session akin to a gameshow. Months later, (once you need a ‘wheel of fortune’ they are a devil to come by…) the finished wheel arrived at Meath and I set about creating the hostess! The celebrity below is Wendy with her rebranded ‘Wheel of words.’ She has a banging outfit and I am a bit sad for you that you can’t hear her theme tune but I’ll tell you the children are literally cheering as she comes in. In our ‘Wheel of words’ sessions, we  revisit the phonological, semantic and syntactic information of previous buzzwords and incorporate multisensory methods too; ‘Act it out!’ ‘Make it out of playdough!’

I hope the pictures attest to the enjoyment that the children get out of this session. It enables us to reinforce the vocabulary of previous sessions within a familiar and structured format, but crucially all eyes are glued to the wheel and where it will land.  After all, as anyone who watched Saturday night TV in the 80s will tell you, even grown ups are enthralled by a spinning wheel!

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