You would think that, given that it is a fundamental part of our job, teachers would be extremely good at explaining things to young people – and, by and large, we are.
Mind you, it has to be said that there is an art to these things, especially so when a child has an additional need. Getting communication right means our teaching becomes more accessible and their learning more efficient.
It sounds obvious, but it needs saying. When we have a million and one other things to think about, it is too easy to glance over the planning, think we know what we meant, get to the lesson and realise “argh!”
What seemed simple in the quiet of our own homes is more complex when faced with 30 or so confused faces.
Some might get it, but those with additional needs probably won’t.
Check your knowledge
So work through a few examples in advance and check your knowledge before you attempt to tell children about it.
Plan what you are going to say. PowerPoint has its place and this is it. Thinking about how you are going to take your class through what you are teaching them is a useful process – even if, like me, halfway through you abandon the presentation because someone has asked a different sort of question that needs addressing.
The point of the planning is to refine your thinking. If you haven’t thought it through, those inevitable questions will be far more difficult to answer.
Use visual supports. I like using real objects – officially known as “objects of reference”. When we were learning about fairy tales, I took in a real Red Riding Hood basket. Film, music, art, symbols, actions and signs can all be used to powerful effect. Programmes such as Communicate in Print enable teachers to add symbols to supporting texts. Using signs will make your meaning clear to all.
Be responsive. Most of the time, it’s quite clear when students haven’t understood. Don’t simply repeat yourself and cross your fingers. If they didn’t get it first time, think about how to change it for the next lesson.
Finally, listen to yourself. Difficult, I know, but take some time to consider your voice. Too loud? Too soft? Too fast? As well as giving students important time to think before answering your questions, consider the way in which you relayed the information or gave the instruction. Were you clear, precise and concise?
Using the planning process to think your lesson through carefully in terms of your communication means that everyone gets the most out of it.
Nancy Gedge is a consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, which works with schools and teachers on SEND. She is the Tes SEND specialist, and author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers