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My Experience of Co-Producing Talking Mats Vocabulary Sets with New Bridge Pupils

Hi everyone I’m Maryam, a first-year speech and language therapy student studying at the University of Manchester. I have spent a month with total communication services CIC who are commissioned to provide a service for New Bridge school, a special needs school in Oldham.

I came into placement with no previous experience of working with children let alone children with special educational needs so I was slightly anxious before I started. But the last month has been very enjoyable. I’ve learnt a lot about speech and language therapy but also built on my interpersonal skills and learnt how to communicate well with children with impairments and communication partners (such as the teachers and even the parents.)

I‘ve had the best month and learnt so much along the way all which I wish I could share with you. However, I’d like to dedicate this blog to the most inspiring class I met in New Bridge filled with the most talented and lovely pupils. This particular class is called Lumenus and they are a class on a dance and drama pathway. I had the honour of working with them whilst on placement and supported them in their pupil voice, self-advocacy project based on the use of Talking Mats. Talking Mats are a communication tool used to facilitate a topic of discussion using Velcro cards and a mat. You would place a topic at the top of the mat and then offer 3 choices for example, “I like”, “I’m not sure” or “I don’t like”. This communication aid can be used in so many instances and helps you to find out more about that particular person and their views.

Lumenus were previously working with Alison, (an SLT with Total Communication services) on this project before I came to the school. The project focused on developing their role as communication advocates, so they could work with peers to capture pupil voice for education health care plan. They were now experts at the whole Talking Mat process and being the “listener” (asking the questions on the topic) and being the “thinker” (answering the questions). Their next job was to create their own mat based on “This is me” and inclusivity. This mat, alongside others, would be used by Lumenus and they would then be going to other classes and using the Talking Mats on other students with greater communication difficulties.

The class started off the process by brainstorming the words that came to them when they’d hear ‘identity’. After this, myself and another student on placement, worked together to bring this mat to life by using software called Boardmaker, to design these cards. We found pictures to correspond to the words they’d thought of, keeping in mind this was a co-production project and pupils voice and opinions were the most important element. We therefore created alternatives for all the cards so the students could choose which pictures they preferred the most. The next week we presented these draft cards and they chose the designs they found most suitable and requested any small changes they wanted made to the set.

The pupils in the Lumenus class put their all into this project and it was an eye-opening experience to work hand in hand with them to create such an interesting set of cards for their upcoming Talking Mat session. I felt this was a very powerful lesson to be working on with the pupils as they showed their vast knowledge on the importance of identity and also how important inclusivity was, and how everyone was entitled to their own voice regardless of sexuality, race, religion or disability.

I personally learnt a lot from the students but also extensively learnt more about SLT throughout my placement. I’m really looking forward to implementing what I’ve learnt and maybe pursue a career in this particular field in the future.

By Maryam Bham


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