Have you tried Makaton?
Before starting in my current school at the start of the session, I worked in a brilliant specialist provision in Glasgow where we taught children with a range of profiles. One consistent part of each profile was limited communication and expressive language. The headteacher at the time enrolled the school on Makaton training – and it has changed my teaching for the better.
What is Makaton?
Makaton is a unique language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech to enable people to communicate. It supports the development of essential communication skills such as attention and listening, comprehension, memory, recall and organisation of language and expression. Essentially, you sign as you speak, which enables the learner to understand you more clearly by matching a sign to a word.
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Who uses Makaton?
Makaton is the UK's leading language programme for adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. It is also used by everyone who shares their lives: parents and other family members, friends and carers, and education and health professionals.
Language and literacy skills
Makaton is used for teaching communication, language and literacy skills with children and adults who are at an early stage of communication and language development. This structured approach can also help people who are learning English as an additional language, helping them to communicate straightaway, while also supporting their learning. For some learners, Makaton will play a role in their life forever, while for others it is slowly phased out as they acquire language and no longer feel the need for signing.
Makaton is regularly used in mainstream schools, to support all children to develop communication, language and literacy skills. It is also supports integration, as children with and without language difficulties can communicate with each other, learn and play together more easily. In my current mainstream secondary school, I run a Makaton club for senior pupils with an interest in additional support needs (ASN) and teaching. Thinking ahead, I also hope to have a Makaton committee where we teach signs across year groups at assemblies. I see this as being an inclusive way to introduce something which might spark an interest in young people.
Why is this important for my professional learning?
I have found Makaton one of the best professional learning experiences I’ve ever been part of. First of all, I could see immediately how this would support the young people in my care, which is something you can’t always say after a training event. It was also something I found really interesting and I’ve been an avid student of ever since. I’ve run Makaton groups and choirs and in my new school we put on a Makaton song for the parents at Christmas time (while also taking the opportunity to teach them some signs, of course).
If you are in the position where you are teaching a child or children with limited communication then I’d strongly suggest looking into Makaton. It will make their life better – and make yours more fulfilling as an educator.
Adam Black is a teacher in Scotland. In 2019, he received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23