Evidence-Based Practices for Working with Learners with Speech and Language Disabilities
- Juan BornmanJuan BornmanUniversity of Pretoria
Communication is about working together to create shared meaning. It usually requires at least two people (one acting as the sender, and one or more acting as the receiver), uses a particular code (which may involve either conventional or unconventional signals), may take linguistic or nonlinguistic forms, and may occur through speech or other modes. In the classroom context, spoken language is typically the preferred mode of communication and the primary medium through which teaching and learning takes place. For learners with speech and langue disabilities, this is problematic.
Communication does not develop in a vacuum. Cognitive and social routes are both important and therefore evidence-based practices (EBP) that impact on both need to be considered. In an attempt to delineate evidence-based strategies from assumptions or commonly accepted practices that have become “teaching folklore,” three aspects should be considered: (a) the best available research evidence that should be integrated with (b) professional expertise (using for example observation, tests, peer assessment, and practical performance) as well as (c) the learner’s and his/her family’s values. EBP thus recognizes that teaching and learning is individualized and ever-changing and therefore will involve uncertainties. Being aware of EBP enriches service delivery (in this case teaching practice) and enables teachers to support their learners to achieve high-quality educational outcomes. Research has shown that high expectations from teachers have a significant influence on the development of academic skills for children with speech and language disability. Teachers should therefore be empowered to understand how they can set up the environment in such a way that responsive, enjoyable interaction opportunities can be created that will enable learners to develop a sense power and control which are important building block for learning. They also need to understand the important role that they play in shaping behavior through the provision of consistent feedback on all communication behaviors and that communication entails both input (comprehension) and output (expression).
Four teaching approaches that have some evidence base for learners with significant speech and language disabilities include:
a) communication passports: this is a means through which idiosyncratic communication attempts can be captured and shared enabling everyone in the learner’s environment to provide consistent feedback on all communication attempts;
b) visual schedules: a variety of symbols (ranging from objects symbols to graphic symbols) can be used to represent people, activities, or events to support communication. Visual schedules signal what is about to happen next and assists learners to predict the sequence of events, to make choices, and to manage challenging behavior;
c) partner training: as communication involves more than one person, communication partner (in this case teachers) training is required in order to ensure responsivity;
d) aided language stimulation: this classroom-based strategy attempts to provide a strong language comprehension foundation by combining spoken language with pointing to symbols, thereby providing learners with visual supplementation.