Friday, 26 August 2011

To question or not to question, that IS the question! - Alison Marrs, Professional Advisor

I recently saw my friend’s 18 month old son Marley and he called my water bottle, ‘more’. This confirmed to me how children link what they hear to what they see. Naturally my friend would ask Marley, ‘more?’ when offering him water and he now thinks water is called, ‘more’.

Adults do need to think about how we use questions therefore.
If a child’s not developed an understanding of what an object or concept is, then, just as Marley did, they’ll link a question they hear, to what they see. If every time they hold a banana, and an adult says, ‘What’s that?, they may think a banana’s called a ‘What’s that?’

The use of questions and their impact during interactions between parents and children (often referred to as ‘parent-child communication’ or ‘parent-child interaction’) has been studied widely. Parents naturally ask questions and give commands when there is silence or when their child is not saying anything. Parents naturally try to create a conversation this way.

Unknown to many though, research has shown that frequent parental use of directive and corrective statements (e.g. questions and command giving) has been shown to link with delays in children's language development. Of course we all naturally ask questions of our children, but if we do it too often it can have an effect.

From such research, professional’s advice to parents is often to ‘follow their child’s lead’ and to, ‘Question less and comment more’. This involves:

· Watching what they are doing (silently)
· Waiting for them to communicate (either by them doing something such as pointing/looking at an object or by saying something)
· Responding to this communication (for example, by also pointing then naming an object, looking at what their child looks at and naming it, copying what their child says or adding one or two more words to this.)

This can be particularly useful for young children who are developing language or who have difficulty learning language i.e. children with a delay in their language development or those with a persistent speech, language and communication need (SLCN). It’s often these children who are silent, creating the natural instinct in their parents to want to take the lead with questions and commands.

However often these children don’t understand questions and commands, need extra time to process what they’ve heard and need extra time to respond. If parents and adults question children less and comment more, it can support their language to develop.

So – are adults not meant to ask questions at all?
The research mentioned above indicates that frequent direction and commands to children can have an impact as opposed to occasional direction and commands.

Some questions are asked to test children’s knowledge by wanting a one-word factual answer e.g. ‘What’s that?’, but other questions which are open-ended, can lead to getting longer answers from children.

Research into the use of open-ended questions with school children, that start with phrases such as, ‘I wonder if...?, ‘What could we do....?, Can you find a way to.....?’ has shown these questions to be useful for learning, encouraging children to think, develop creative thinking and problem solving skills.These type of questions allow children to use the knowledge they have to come up with an answer rather than worrying about getting the answer right. Children’s answers can reveal a lot about their knowledge in comparison to when they are being asked the answer to a closed, testing questions such as, ‘What is the capital of France?’

There are different types of questions and as adults we just have to be careful about when and how we use them.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The breakdown of society? - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

I am not so glib as to suggest that my partner leaving me trapped at home on Saturday by taking car seat and pram led directly to riots on the streets but it did leave me wondering about the importance of communication skills, and real human interaction, in building resilient communities.

What’s the link? Well I had a range of chores that I planned to do with children and baby in and around the local town. When the option of leaving the home was removed, because carrying a wiggly heavy baby 2 miles in your arms is not a good idea, I did them all online.

The food shopping was delivered courtesy of the local shop’s national website. I uploaded photos to a national store to get them printed rather than taking the memory stick to the local photo shop. I emailed thank you cards for the christening rather than writing them out and taking them to the post office. I sent my flowers to via the web rather than picking them up from the florist and popping around to the neighbour who had helped during a recent family emergency.

So my spoken contact for the day was limited to my children (lovely) and my partner (raised voices – less lovely - but forgiven now) and a delivery man. Yes I made a few phone calls but that interaction that comes from being out and about – chatting to the woman on checkout, whinging with fellow customers in the post office about the length of the queues, taking half an hour to wax lyrical about the beautiful flowers with a fellow enthusiast – were all lost.

Online everything is great. I love my smartphone. I am a child (well less child) of the internet and my children treat it as a normal part of their life. But balance is everything. Just one day without real people to eyeball and talk to made me twitchy but I can also see how easy it would be to slip into a world where everything was done with the click of the mouse. Talking matters. Face time matters (and not just as an iPhone application). Remembering not to drive off with the car seat in your car matters (and won’t I can assure you happen again!).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Farewell blog - Cara Evans, Operations Director

So the time has come to take my ever increasing bump off home and prepare myself for the next adventure. As many of you will have seen from my last day in the office and at the last consortium meeting it's quite an emotional time for me, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, one of the main reasons I took the job at The Communication Trust was my very strong belief in the power of the third sector. It has been so wonderful to see the SLCN sector come together in the past four years and speak with one voice. I would particular like to thank I CAN for hosting the Trust so far. I know as the only full time member of staff in the first year the Trust would not have been able to deliver so much without the help of I CAN. Each consortium members bring its own unique perspective, skills and expertise to the Trust and we are working so well because of that continued support. I do hope that we continue to work successfully in partnership as that is our core strength.

Secondly, I have been introduced to a whole new sector and learnt so much about speech, language and communication. As a parent I hope to transfer that knowledge into practice! I have been amazed by the passion and determination of many speech, language therapists, not least the ones I work with closely. Their desire to help children and young people is phenomenal and has been an inspiration to me.

Lastly, but by no means least I have been so lucky to work directly with some wonderful people. I can honestly say in my nearly 20 years of working I have never had such a hard working team. I know many of you see the quantity and quality of what we produce but from only 14 (not all full time) people is simply amazing. I shall miss them more than words can say and am looking forward to working with them again in a few months time. So farewell for now and I will keep you updated on my next adventure.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Charity cuts or charity growth - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

Shock news today – Councils cutting charity funding with more than 2,000 charities sacking staff and closing services with those working with the young and disabled worst hit. For those of us working in the sector the shock is that it is only 2,000 as horror stories of contract cuts have been circulating for the last year.

Does it matter? In the scheme of things the £110 million at risk in the report is small fry compared to wider cuts in public service spending. If cutting charity money saves public sector staff maybe, if it saves an experienced SLT or an excellent advisory teacher, that is a good thing?

Except that so many of the charities being affected are, like so many third sector bodies, the ones that focus on the most vulnerable. The niche groups. Those requiring specialist help. Those who are too expensive, too difficult, too marginalised for the state sector to reach.

The picture is still unclear. Alongside these cuts the ‘market’ is, as I have written before, opening up in ways that we could never have expected and some third sector bodies are preparing for an increase in income or moving further into public sector delivery. Under ‘Any Qualified Provider’ a range of voluntary organisations are gearing up to compete for public sector contracts which into the future may include speech and language therapy provision. In Lincolnshire the Council is considering moving all schools into academies supported by one charity and last week saw the announcement that a new charity will take forward the Achievement for All programme working with schools to improve outcomes for children with SEN (including speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)).

So what's role for charities into the future? What is the real picture? Trust members - has your local income gone up or down? Are you gearing up for bigger things or are your services at risk? For public sector staff – are charities a blessing picking up the needs that you cannot or a drain taking resources away from where you need it? Can the not-for-profit ethos be protected or will we see a rise in ‘for profit’ provision to support children with SLCN? And most of all how will we ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable, and often the most disenfranchised, are best met.