Teachers constantly exhort children to do ‘good listening’. And of course it is an excellent idea. But those who work specifically with children who have problems with attention, language delay, learning difficulties or a combination of all of these also encourage the provision of a ‘permanent trace’ to support learning. This may be a picture, a symbol, text or – combining all of these – an illustration plus symbol supported text!
In our household from my earliest memories comes a very morose ditty, always spoken with mock solemnity and guaranteed to have an effect:
Mrs. ———– gave a party (pause)
No one came.
And her brother gave another (pause)
Just the same.
We never saw this written down. I interpreted the party-giver as being Mrs. Hearty because the emotional tone merited a rather pejorative term to us. One sibling thinks of her as Mrs. Arty – which was actually far from uncomplimentary at home. Another has in mind Mrs. Harty – a name without emotional connotation.
This serves to point up the importance of learning topic vocabulary, suitably illustrated, before the introduction of the new lessons. We bring to words a bubble of emotion, meaning, context etc. and it is as well to set off down a new path with the Baedeker already perused!
The child’s voice rang out, all consonants crystal clear. Probably every adult in the surrounding pews had to resist the urge to turn round and engage with the little girl at the carol service. Communicating with attractive children who make comments on life or ask questions is so compelling. She offered other interesting remarks to her family – all easily heard for several yards around, I’m sure – throughout the hour. Later on I found she was only 2 years and 4 days old.
The world is truly not a fair place when it comes to speech and language development! Some acquire the means to hold a conversation understandable to all at 2, while others can be struggling for many more years. Which one will get more input, response, encouragement? You’ve guessed it! It does take an effort to keep talking to a child who doesn’t seem to be making much of your remarks. Or whose speech is so unclear you cannot understand it. Many adults do not take the risk.
English is very open to misunderstanding because of the number of homophones we have. Some are not spelt the same way – but when you hear examples there is scope for confusion – and of course non-readers cannot visualise both spellings. When the homophones occur in situations where the words have ‘jargon’ meanings linked to a topic, it makes it really difficult for children with weak language skills and slow auditory processing.
Two such examples occurred recently:
- An IEP item included the target to learn to do word sums with addition and subtraction ‘and to be able to tell the difference’. Since the numerical concept of ‘difference’ is one that some children find really difficult to master, ‘the difference’ could be replaced with ‘which is which’. Since ‘which’ is another homophone word, the whole item should probably be rephrased altogether!
Wunwun was a race horse
Tutu was one too
Wunwun won one race one day
Tutu won one too.
- Talking about the Numicon pieces each player held in a game, an adult commented, ‘I’ve got a 2 too.’ When you hear that sort of utterance come out, you can revise it immediately: ‘I mean I’ve got a 2 as well.’ Did you ever laugh at the following silly ditty?
As adult speakers, we can try to think ahead about words that can be avoided in some situations and use e.g. correct/right, difficult/hard, as well/too… Listen out and you are sure to hear other examples which might have been expressed more clearly.
A friend said she would enjoy teaching older people to use the computer but she was not an expert herself. Since she runs a big office, regularly sends emails and writes documents every day, she has obviously achieved excellent competence in some tasks. ‘Unconscious competence’ even – she knows, and doesn’t have to think about it.
She is however aware of many tasks the computer can be used for that she can’t do: here she has ‘conscious incompetence’ – she doesn’t know, but at least she knows that she doesn’t know.
So, since she is a confident trainer, I feel she could teach lots of people what she can do almost without thinking because she will see where they are starting from. And they will soon be able to do the useful tasks my friend has mastered. At a ‘conscious competence’ level: they will know, and know that they know – but it won’t be second nature for quite a while!
Better for the learners that they learn some skills they want really well than leap in without any guidance at the level of ‘unconscious incompetence’ – when they don’t know, and they don’t know that they don’t know. That way is the maelstrom of spam and corruption!
Trying to help children who have made little progress with literacy and numeracy, it is all too easy to take for granted the skills we have at the unconscious competence level – and forget we once had to learn them. Usually from someone who had analysed the task, thought about the sub-tasks, and who taught in logical steps.
Many of the children who fall behind with language development have immense problems with drawing inferences: from events, from pictures, from conversation and especially from text when they get to that stage.
It is delightful to observe children who do not have such problems commenting on things they see around them. The ‘comment’ might only be to point or look amazed, but very young children can be quick to appreciate there’s something ‘not quite right’. The little boy I saw pointing and telling his mum to look appeared to be about 3. What he had noticed as striking was a narrow, hilly street – looking like any other, with pavements and a roadway between – but half way down the Council had erected two posts in the roadway to stop it being used by cars. The child didn’t attempt to verbalise this quirky sight but he was clearly very satisfied by his mother understanding what he found surprising and making a suitable comment to acknowledge the oddity and explain the reason for it. He had inferred (at some level) that roads – to be any good as roads – should not have permanent obstructions blocking them.
I loved the look of astonishment on the face of an even younger child – no more than a toddler – in the park. He had made his way towards a shiny toy car, apparently left in the middle of the grass. He stretched out a finger tentatively to stroke it when all of a sudden it took off and drove at speed out of range! Why was he so amazed? Because, one assumes, he had already internalised the fact that toy cars should not move of their own accord. The young couple with the remote control who had been watching him with good humour laughed and made the car zoom around some more. Once the toddler had seen the couple and the ‘magic box’, he no longer seemed at all surprised. He couldn’t have said what it was, but he seemed to accept there was an explanation after all.
It’s not just print that needs adapting – even talk can be confusing!
The words we use, the speed we go, the in-between time – all these will influence how much a child understands. Especially the child with delayed or impaired language development.
Posted in Association, Child language, Competence level, Inference, Promoting language development, Speech & Language Pathology, Speech & Language Therapy, Teaching
Tagged Analogy, Making it easier, S<, SLP
It can’t be hard to make things simpler… can it?
Well, actually, it can be quite tricky. Creating or adapting resources for children with language impairment can take a long time. Not only that. After using the resources it may be necessary to revise the language if some counter-intuitive things come to light!
Posted in Child language, Competence level, Grammar, Helping children understand, Promoting language development, Speech & Language Pathology, Speech & Language Therapy, Teaching
Tagged Learning to mean, Making it easier, S<, SLP
It may not sound much but…