Independent Word Learning Strategies by Sophie Hay

As children progress through primary and secondary school, it becomes vitally important that we support them to become more independent learners, so that they are better able to help themselves overcome academic obstacles. In order to develop independent learning skills children need to be provided with more opportunities to try things for themselves. They need to be taught strategies that they can independently apply to learning tasks and be motivated to learn through interesting activities, positive and specific praise, and clear rewards.

One way that we can make children more independent learners is by equipping them with strategies to learn unfamiliar words that they may come across in the classroom and daily life. For example, imagine a child who has been given a reading comprehension task, but they don’t understand the vocabulary used in the passage. How can we expect them to successfully answer questions about the passage? However, if that child is equipped with ‘self-help’ strategies to learn the meanings of unfamiliar words, they are going to have a better understanding of the passage and will be in a better position to answer the accompanying questions.

Children are continually exposed to new vocabulary throughout school. It is estimated that a typically developing school-aged child learns 3,000 words per year and secondary school children are exposed to up to 10,000 new words from school textbooks alone (Clark, 2003). Children are expected to understand and use a wide range of increasingly complex vocabulary to access different topics in the curriculum, as well as interact with others, and make sense of the world around them. In fact we never stop learning new vocabulary, which is why it is so important to equip children with strategies to learn unfamiliar words from a young age.

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Working with secondary-aged students by Kate Saunders

When talking about supporting the language and communication development of children, I think that many of us would immediately picture working with younger children within early years and primary school settings. In fact, a child’s language and communication skills continue to develop throughout secondary school and become increasingly important as they transition through their teenage years and into young adulthood.

So, how exactly do language skills develop throughout the secondary years? The children’s communication charity I CAN have put together the really useful table below, which outlines the general trends of language development throughout these years:

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Figure 1 taken from: “I CAN Talk Series – Issue 10 Speech, Language and Communication in Secondary Aged Pupils”

By the time a student has completed the Key Stage 4 curriculum, many of them will be preparing to put all they have learnt into practice in an academic context by taking GCSEs or equivalent exams. If we all took some time to look through a secondary school text book or a GCSE exam paper, I’m sure that many of us as adults would struggle to understand all of the information and answer all of the questions!

Let’s look at an example of an English GCSE exam question to see what kinds of skills are required:

“Compare the ways in which language is used for effect in the two texts. Give some examples and analyse the effects”

So, what skills are needed here? Firstly, we need to be able to fully understand all of the vocabulary that is used. This particular example includes some abstract vocabulary that is likely to be more challenging to understand for many students – “compare”, “effects” and “analyse”. Once we understand all of the words, we then need to look at the instruction as a whole in order to comprehend exactly what it is that we need to do. We then need to be able to use our reading and language skills in order to read the text we have been given, understand what the text is telling us, and extract the key information. We’re not quite finished yet, as we still need to formulate our response to the question! For this, we will need to plan and organise our ideas in order to produce a coherent narrative. At this stage we will also need to use our written language skills.

As you can see, this is not an easy task and relies upon the use of a range of well-developed reading, language, and writing skills. Students who have speech, language and communication difficulties are likely to find this more challenging, as their underlying language skills may not be secure. These students are likely to require some additional support to help them to access the curriculum.

How can we support language and communication skills when working with secondary-aged students?

A Speech and Language Therapist will often work on developing skills in specific areas to help a student access the school curriculum. As the student progresses through secondary school, we will also be focusing on developing their independent learning skills and the skills that they will need to engage in functional life activities. For example, does the student understand all of the vocabulary that they might need to access when filling out a form? Can the student problem-solve in real life situations – what would they do if they arrived at the bus stop and realised they had left their oyster card at home?

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Transition to Secondary by Rachel Baker Taylor

Making the jump from Primary to Secondary education – How can you help?

It’s that time of year when things can become quite stressful for our year 6’s. Now that the dreaded SAT’s are over the focus falls on that big jump they are all about to make into secondary school.

Year 7 is a daunting prospect for any child. A whole new school to get used to, moving from classroom to classroom instead of having just one and all of these bigger children instead of lots of little ones! It’s important to remember that this transition can be especially difficult for those with speech, language and communication needs. This is why, as Speech and Language Therapists, we often choose to focus on secondary transition preparation with our year 6’s at this time of year.

The main aim of transition work is preparing children for the changes ahead. It’s about having the discussion around what might be different and how to prepare for it in the hope that disruption to learning is minimal and much less stressful. Children with speech, language and communication needs may already be dealing with plenty of challenges to learning and so we need to do all that we can to prepare them for upcoming changes and disruptions in order to minimise the effects.

So what might actually be different at Secondary school?

  • A much bigger school
  • Movement between classes
  • Subject specific teachers
  • Independent travel to school
  • Different homework expectations
  • Greater need for organisational skills and independence
  • New, much larger peer group
  • New uniform
  • New topics like foreign languages and cooking! It’s also important to remember that lots of primary schools don’t always use terms like ‘Geography’, ‘D.T’ or ‘Biology’ for subjects even if they cover them. This vocabulary may be completely new for a year 6 child.

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