Work Matters: Training: Speech and language - Observe, wait, listen ..

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A unique initiative in Wales is helping practitioners to improve the way they interact socially with children, writes Karen Faux.

A speech and language training programme targeting deprived areas in South Wales has raised practitioner skills and boosted confidence when it comes to tackling communication problems.

The courses have been rolled out by Merthyr Tydfil-based multi-agency project Flying Start, which provides free part-time childcare places with funding from the Welsh Assembly Government. Flying Start's speech and language therapist, and course facilitator, Beth Busani, says, 'The aim of the project was to make a difference to the life chances of children under the age of four in the most disadvantaged areas of the borough.

'My role was to provide training to the NNEB practitioners working in the area, to enable them to promote children's social and language development.'

Entitled 'Learning Language and Loving It', the training programme was designed by the Hanen Centre, a speech and language charity based in Canada.

Mrs Busani says, 'During the programme, practitioners learned about how to promote conversation, social interaction and language learning during everyday play activities, conversations and daily routines. Eleven behavioural strategies were taught - including child-centred, interaction-promoting and language-promoting strategies. They attended seven two-and-a-half-hour teaching sessions and were given six assignments.'

Participants were also videoed in their settings while interacting with children on six occasions. 'They watched the clip with the therapist and identified all the positive things they were doing and what they would like to change,' says Mrs Busani.

'All 19 nursery nurses completed the course and were unanimous in their praise of it. They have all said that it has made them much more aware of how they interact with the children and how they can improve. The video feedback in particular has built up their confidence.'

Evaluation of the training was positive. Comparing all participants' initial video clips with those completed after the training revealed that the strategies were being used effectively to encourage positive changes in behaviour. On the strength of this evidence-based practice, further funding has been secured, allowing Mrs Busani to continue to support the children and practitioners for another year.

Future input will include continued support with the Hanen strategies learned, small group work with significantly delayed children in the pre-school settings, and training for parents and carers, improving the quality of parent-child interactions.

Hanen workshops are offered worldwide, and the organisation has more than 200,000 speech therapists. Its courses include 'It takes two to talk', which helps parents become their child's first language teacher.



The 'Learning Language and Loving It' programme has encouraged a reflective approach to developing children's language at the Coed-Y-Dderwen Pre-school. Based in a particularly deprived area of Merthyr Tydfil, the site received funding from Flying Start in 2006 and has since expanded.

Playgroup leader Tina Minett says, 'Flying Start thought the course would be valuable for us because we are located in the middle of a council estate with a lot of workless families. Beth Busani visited our setting to video us carrying out routine activities. Then we got together to look at the video.

'This was illuminating. I could see how I tended to prompt the children all the time rather than giving them the chance to think things through and come back with their own response. I saw how I needed to take a step back and let them respond in their own way, which could be a gesture rather than a vocal reply. The mantra we learnt was observe, wait and listen. As a talkative person, this is something I have had to take on board.

'A second day every month was spent in training outside the setting, which gave us the chance to disseminate views and approaches and carry out role-play exercises.'

Ms Minett's deputy, Sarah Williams, says the course has encouraged her to use a wider vocabulary with the children. 'I tended to use words such as "that", "there" and "this" a lot,' she says. 'Now I will be more specific. For example, I'll say, "will you go and put that cup in the sink, please", rather than simply, "will you put that there, please".'

She adds, 'It has also stopped me from answering questions on behalf of the children. Now I always stop and wait for them to answer and enjoy spending more time with them, just listening.'

The 'Learning Language and Loving It' course provides a research-based developmental approach to children's social, language and literacy development within everyday activities and conversations in a variety of early years settings. It is designed for those at risk of language delays, those with language disorders, and those for whom English is a second language.

By creating a language-rich and interactive environment in the nursery, the programme aims to prevent language delays and address those children identified with problems.

In Hanen programmes, the combination of group sessions and individual videotaping and feedback sessions has proved a powerful method for helping practitioners and parents learn to apply responsive strategies to children's communication needs. Group sessions provide the context for learning theory and practice in a dynamic, interactive style. The video feedback sessions help carers put it all together and receive individual coaching.

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