SEN & Tech – BETT Reflection

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Picaro Kim had a wonderful time at BETT this year.  She wanted to find out how we can support children with SEN through technology.  Here, she tells us about her visit and what she’s learnt…

I often hear teachers in schools sharing ideas of how they can help children in their class who struggle with speech and language (S&L).  So when I saw the seminar schedule, I couldn’t resist Carol Allen’s talk about supporting children with communication difficulties.

Carol said difficulty with speech, language or communication is the biggest identified area of need in the U.K. and that these problems underlie most SEN.  And although she didn’t tell us about the prevalence in other countries, I’m sure there are many children in our partner schools who would benefit from S&L support.

Of course, our communication has far-reaching impacts; affecting all areas of our lives.  (See end of this article for links to helpful resources).  The important thing to remember with S&L problems is that early intervention is key when dealing with transient communication difficulties.  Some S&L problems will be permanent, but if children are showing problems expressing language at an early age when they begin schooling, it’s so important to speak with parents and discuss interventions.  Carol reminded us of the difference between ‘Receptive’ communication and ‘Expressive’ communication.  Many children with S&L difficulties will show understanding of communication and of what is said to them (receptive) but will find it a challenge to communicate their wants, needs and thoughts (expressive).

One way to help children in the early stages of communication development is to practise sign language with children.  Far from hindering a child’s learning of oral language, Carol said sign language can really help children transition into speaking because they have additional communicative resources to express their wants and needs.  (EdTech Lobby distributes a programme that teaches very young children the fundamentals of sign language.  Find out more about WOW here.)

Then it was time for audience participation!  Carol asked us to think about our favourite foods and then to try and describe them solely by their textures.  My, this was hard!  We heard sniggers from the audience as we were all surprised how tricky it was – Carol drew the comparison that this is how it can feel for a child who has social communication difficulties.

As we were at the BETT show, of course, technology was going to feature in the talk.  Carol emphasised the importance of tech being a final add-on in a lesson as opposed to the leading force of the lesson (‘I’ve found this great app and want to use it with my class…how what should I teach with it?’).  She said lessons need to be built like this:

Teachers need to think about how they’re going to communicate with their class, what core vocabulary they’re going to teach, followed by incorporating a specific topic or target theme.  Then, they should consider how they’re going to teach it (the activity), and consider if technology will help the children’s learning.  Sometimes, technology will be suitable for all children for part of the lesson, sometimes it will be suitable for some children, and sometimes it is best not to include technology.

But then I thought about schools with no access to tech hardware or the internet!  What do those schools do when there’s a need for tech in the classroom?

Well, ‘tech’ can be low- or high-tech!

High-tech – BETT was full of exciting bits of tech for the classroom!  Here’s a selection of my favourite pieces:

  • Sphero’s Specdrums. These little rings turn colours into sounds, turning your world into your instrument!  Music is an amazing way to engage learners and ELT Songs is a great resource to incorporate into your teaching.  I think these rings would also be perfect for recording different sounds or audio bites to help children in their phonics learning, language sequencing or retelling of stories (click here to see how to record different sounds on the Specdrums’ MIX app.)
  • An oldy but a goody, sound-recording tiles are a wonderful teaching resource. Teachers can record modelled sentences for children to playback and children can also record their own voice.
  • Sensory rooms and experiences by Aurora. These are for big budgets but I had to include them on this list!

Low-tech – Here are some great resources that can be used in the classroom:

  • Books! Use books as a ‘hook’ to teach about sentence openers, adjectives, to inspire a piece of art… the possibilities are endless!
  • Mighty Writer – this rubberised mat can be stuck on the wall or the floor to help children from the age of three years old with forming story sentences.

  • This reminds me of Talk4Writing by Pie Corbett; a simple way to retell stories with pictures and actions. Here’s one made by our Editor, Holly Pigache which you could use in your classroom:

Why not have a go at creating your own Talk4Writing story using one of the Picaro Storybooks?  Share them with us on our Instagram!

  • Teachers could create their own sensory story boxes. These are especially useful for children with language difficulties.  Carol showed us a good example of a sensory story box for the Three Little Pigs: three pink wooden spoons with pig faces on them, a bunch of sticks, a handful of straw and some building bricks.  These visual, tactile prompts can be a big help for young children to retell a story.
  • Spelling strategies like Sir Linkalot (we picked up a badge to remind us when to use practice (noun) and practise (verb).

Remember, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not only children with SEN that may benefit from additional resources (low, high or no-tech)!  If a child is struggling with their learning, tackling the topic from a different angle can be really beneficial.  I’d love to hear what you try in your classrooms, so please share on our social media pages [Instagram | Facebook | Twitter] or email georgia.eyers@picaroeducation.com.

If you want to find out more about what I learn on my adventures, make sure you follow me on Instagram.

Bye for now!

Useful links to support children with speech and language difficulties:

https://ican.org.uk/ – I CAN is a U.K. charity that provides excellent information and help for parents, carers and practitioners to support children in developing their speech, language and communication skills.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ICANcharity

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/icantalk

https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/ – The Communication Trust – a coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations, supporting everyone who works with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication.  There are brilliant resources on this website for children of all ages.

Storyline Online has an extensive selection of children’s stories read well; brilliant for modelling language and supporting pronunciation.

Written by: Holly Pigache

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