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Pupil Voice and Talking Mats - adapting training for pupil advocates

Starting placement as a first year student after only eight weeks into the Speech & Language Therapy course at the University of Manchester was quite daunting. For my placement I was assigned Total Communication Services CIC with Alison and Emma who were working at New Bridge School, New Bridge College and New Bridge Learning Centre.

My placement was with three other students from the University of Manchester and I was really looking forward to it.

Our placement timetable assigned us with equal time at the school and college and from the first week onwards we were immersed into the daily routine at New Bridge.

One of the many projects we worked on during our time there, was working on the pupil voice project.

Total Communication Services CIC had been asked by the school to explore ways of capturing the views of pupils who have communication needs. These views are then shared, for example at the pupil’s annual meeting to look at education health and care (EHCP meeting). One approach which lends itself well to hearing the views of others is the use of Talking Mats. Alison had been teaching the some of the pupils in the Lumenus class how to use Talking Mats with the view to them becoming pupil advocates, spending time with other pupils to hear their views about school. At New Bridge, students are able to choose the pathway they want. It may be either sports, technology or dance and drama. The dance and drama pathway leads to the Lumenus Class.

One of our tasks was to plan a lesson on Non-Verbal Communication for the Lumenus Class. We had worked with Lumenus and we were aware of how enthusiastic they are about acting and drama. The class was also very interactive and they did not shy away from speaking out. Keeping this in mind, we tried to plan a fun yet informative session.

Non-verbal communication is an integral part of Talking Mats and the pupils needed to be clear about other ways their peers may express themselves. Talking Mats can work well as a decision -making framework.

Talking Mats can take the form of a door mat to which pictures or symbols can be attached and re-arranged as required.

It may be in the order of whether you like or do not like things or whether they are important or not important.

The top-line may vary based on the topic. The top line is the way questions are phrased, for example I like it or I don’t like it. It can also be more abstract and include it’s important or not important. Talking Mats has two roles, the thinker and the listener. The idea is that the pupils from Lumenus will become communication advocates using Talking Mats with other pupils, with them playing the role of the listener and other pupils invited to be the thinker. It is important to keep in mind that sometimes the thinker might not verbally communicate with the communication advocates (listeners) and in this case it is very important for them to be aware of the forms of non-verbal communication.

I came up with the idea that since non-verbal communication is all about actions and no words, we could incorporate the idea of charades into the lesson. We prepared a presentation going through the forms of non-verbal communication and examples of each. We tried to act out the examples and encouraged the students to come to the front of the class and act out the examples of each form of non-verbal communication with us. At the end of the class, we played a small quiz where the students watched video clips from the movie Despicable Me and tried to figure out which form of non-verbal communication was displayed. Lastly, we ended the session with a game of charades and could confidently say that the lesson was a success.

Apart from this session, we have been involved in a wide range of activities and projects at the school and college, all of which have given us an insight of what being a Speech & Language Therapist entails.

Even though we have just begun to scratch the surface and there is still much to learn, I know that the skills I've learned from this placement will be with me for the rest of my career.

Tiara Fernandes

First Year Speech & Language Therapy Student

University of Manchester


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