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How to use symbols around the classroom to support comprehension
Children learning language in the classroom
Never forget to remind yourself about the importance of language in developing confident young individuals. The role of the classroom with its complex interplay of social dynamics is vital for children to develop an understanding of language and the important
pragmatic social skills that accompany it. Being part of this group, and the communication that is required for this, is vital for a child to develop confidence and a sense of agency. Children that can’t communicate do not learn to speak for themselves.
Communication aids and effective classroom support can change this.
Of course this applies to children who communicate using AAC as well as for those who do not. So how do we set up a classroom to help children who use AAC to engage, learn and socialise?
Activity - Thinking about classrooms
Take a moment to consider how changes to a classroom might
improve the experience for a communication aid user.
Consider our case study, Fiona, or a child you are familiar with. Read how she is being encouraged to take part in the classroom activities. Note down your thoughts in your reflective journal.
The physical space
Some of the easiest problems to solve involve physical space for paper-based and electronic aids, places to securely store the aids and points to charge the high-tech devices. These can be seen as practical issues and are usually straightforward to correct.
Ask yourself questions such as:
For high-tech devices can it be heard by the teacher and peers?
Is it safe to use high-tech devices during gym, music and art?
Is there enough space on desks for low-tech devices such as communication books?
Many AAC users share classrooms with children who do not use AAC. Using
communication symbols throughout the classroom helps everybody as they are picture labels that
help children who are learning to read and write, as well as normalise the use of symbols for the AAC user.
Examples of symbols in classrooms include now and next boards, visual timetables, storage labelling and social stories.
Making a visual timetable can be a matching game with different areas for the various activities.
The role of the people in the classroom
However just as importantly, if not more so, is the human support from teachers, teaching assistants, and the AAC user’s peers in the classroom. One of the most important roles is that of the ‘communication partner’ - the people who communicate with the AAC user. Having an assistant or carer using the AAC system or device with a young child, learning to communication will help them to become more integrated into the daily routines as well as a more independent member of the class. The importance of the communication partner's role will become more apparent as we work through the levels.