How can schools best support the communication needs of SEND pupils?

Following her participation in a panel discussion at the National SEND Conference, Sue White Senior Educational Specialist at Widgit, shares some thoughts on ways to boost communication and interaction amongst pupils with SEND.

Creating the right environment for all pupils to engage, learn and thrive is the aim of every school. But with reduced resources and an increasing number of children with additional needs it can be an uphill struggle to achieve.

The adverse effect of the pandemic too on pupil’s learning can’t be underestimated, with many pupils having less exposure to the vocabulary they need to make sense of school life.  

Against this challenging landscape, how can schools best support the communication needs of SEND students so they can acquire the vocabulary and learning they need to fully access and engage with the curriculum?

Build confidence through independence

To progress socially, emotionally, and academically children need to feel comfortable in their environment. They also need to feel confident in their ability to learn. Reducing pupils’ reliance on adult support can play a key part in reducing anxiety, increasing inclusion, and building confidence through independence.

One way to increase independence and support SEND pupils to feel less different to their peers, is to give them the right tools to better navigate the school day and setting.

Using symbols in signage and labelling around the classroom and throughout the school will remind children of the relevant information they require and reduce the need for adult intervention. For example, adding symbols to the menu at lunch can help pupils with language difficulties make independent meal choices and increase their sense of self-worth.

Visual timetables can also reduce the demand on working memory as they eliminate the pressure on the pupil to interpret spoken or written text quickly. As they allow for extra processing time, they can be a useful aid to support transitions and the sequence of classroom events. For example, pupils will be able to understand and process what is happening throughout the day by viewing a symbol of children sitting on the carpet and responding by coming to the carpet ready for the next session or a symbol of an apple signifying breaktime. This can help them to feel more relaxed and less anxious in their environment, therefore more ready to learn.

Boost interaction and engagement

Many schools are considering cutting back on resources due to the crippling financial crisis and so finding ways to lessen the need for additional adult support whilst not increasing the risk of disengagement is a key consideration.

Visual representations of words can help SEND pupils understand the language of the classroom, both in terms of specific tier 2 and 3 vocabulary, as well as spoken and written instructions. This builds confidence, interaction, and engagement.

It's not always easy for SEND pupils to understand and apply language that can mean different things in different settings. Take mathematical language for example. Face means the side of a 3D shape in maths or part of a person in everyday conversation.

As words are transitory, incorporating symbols into instructions can make it easier for SEND pupils to make sense of information and instructions and join in group learning activities.

Pre-teach vocabulary

Creating a richer curriculum is easier if all pupils are immersed and involved in the learning process. For pupils who need additional help, pre-teaching vocabulary can level the playing field in class and give pupils more confidence to participate in the lesson.

This can be done in a small group setting or on a one-to-one basis and is also a useful technique in teaching mainstream pupils Tier 2 vocabulary. For example, symbols are an incredibly effective way to increase and extend children’s vocabulary, for example by using crept or crawled instead of walked. This can help pupils understand the content of an English lesson and provide them with the language they need to improve their writing and enter into discussions.

Giving pupils who need it a ‘heads up’ of what the lesson will cover can make them feel more comfortable and empowered to contribute to class. Incorporating visual references can support them to become more active participants in the lesson as even if they can’t read the text, they can contribute by pointing to a symbol.

Encouraging mindfulness

Consider carving out a dedicated area in the classroom where pupils can go if they are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. Encouraging mindfulness can create a calmer classroom environment and can help children regulate their emotions and feel more ready to learn. Allowing pupils to take time out to learn how to self-calm can help them feel less stressed and anxious and in a better place to develop their communication skills and understanding. Children with SEND often find it difficult to express emotions and self regulate, so by providing a safe space with supported symbolised emotional and calming vocabulary, staff can help pupils to ‘help themselves.’

The SEND Conference joins forces with the Schools & Academies Show!

We are thrilled to announce that from next year, the SEND Conference will be co-located with the Schools & Academies Show, the UK’s leading education policy event for schools, academies and MATs. 

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