Introducing Universal Communication Aids Into Your Classroom

by Sophie Mustoe-Playfair
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It can be difficult to implement communication aids in the classroom for a number of reasons. Staff can be worried about the impact of singling pupils out, or potentially highlighting the differences between learners, or that pupils themselves might be self-conscious about strategies which might identify them as ‘different’ from their peers. While we can encourage pupils that everybody needs different kinds of support in their learning, this might be easier said than done. However, we can look to whole-class strategies to normalise communication aids. In fact, using communication aids throughout the classroom can foster an inclusive environment and build confidence across all learners. Below, I’m going to share with you three different types of communication aids which can be used as a universal strategy, with all pupils, to support their learning.

Confidence Indicators
First up – confidence indicators. There are a variety of formats and designs for the types of resources which would fall into this category, but the basic premise of simple: they are a means for your pupils to be able to indicate their understanding and/or their confidence with the task at hand. The ability to express when the lesson content has or hasn’t been fully understood, or if the child is just feeling a little unsure, is an important feature of the classroom for all pupils. For pupils who have struggled with the lesson, for whatever reason that might be, confidence indicators can be a discrete way to access further support, and a quick way for staff to gauge the success of their teaching. They are particularly important for pupils who have SLCN, as it can be difficult for these pupils to construct questions and have the confidence to ask for help on the spot and in the midst of a lesson. Confidence indicators can be implemented in a variety of ways, for example as traffic lights, smiley faces, or thumb icons. Some schools tape these to each pupil’s desk, while others incorporate a page into their home-school contact books to ensure that everybody has access all of the time.

Question Boxes
A question box is a place for any pupil to ask any question throughout the day, and they can be a powerful voice in your classroom. Pupils can simply record their question, with or without adult support, and post it into the question box. As part of the daily routine, the class teacher can pull out and respond to these questions. Pupils are frequently given the opportunity to ask questions related to lesson content, but they often have many other questions throughout the day, and having these questions answered and valued can significantly increase their confidence. Pupils with SLCN may have difficulty using language to construct questions, but this can be addressed by using symbol prompts and giving access to adult support, which can be another way to embed language learning in the classroom! The routine of this activity will help pupils who have SLCN to practice key skills, and know what outcomes they can expect.

Task Management Boards
You are likely already familiar with task management boards, and you may be using them already with some of your pupils. However, I’d like to suggest giving all of your pupils access to these tools. Many adults use to-do lists or something similar to help them to structure their work. We might take for granted the power of these small tools, and even more so that pupils will automatically know how to use them successfully. Task management boards are just like this – they are a stepping-stone towards increased independence and confidence as a learner, and improving personal organisation skills. Different learners will benefit from different structures on their boards – some will require adult support to break down their tasks initially, but with practice, your pupils will become more independent at planning their own learning. Task management boards may feature symbols or photographs, or for some pupils they may use written instructions only. The possibilities are endless, and so are the benefits.

You can find examples of all of the above resources included in the Infant Language Link and Junior Language Link packages, or you can design your own. We hope you will see a positive impact from making your classroom more communication friendly!