Supporting spoken language in the classroom
School of Education collaboration with primary schools enhances vital spoken language skills in the classroom.
Language development has been identified as a competency critically associated with children’s overall wellbeing. There is a wealth of research on Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN), but gaps still exist in our understanding of how to apply this in practice and the best ways to support school practitioners to embed communication in their school’s policy and practice.
Research impact - Fostering a good language learning environment
Supporting Spoken Language in the Classroom (SSLiC) is a knowledge exchange programme developed and facilitated by Dr Ioanna Bakopoulou that aims to foster a good language learning environment, and so provide support for literacy, support for learning and ultimately promote positive academic outcomes for all children in a primary school setting. SSLiC seeks to achieve this aim by providing a forum for knowledge exchange between educational practitioners and researchers. There is a wealth of SLCN research but we need a better understanding of how to apply this in practice in schools and how best to support practitioners to embed communication in their school’s policy and practice.
To support this process, the SSLiC programme, originally developed by Dr Bakopoulou at UCL Institute of Education and continued at the University of Bristol, was carried out initially in collaboration with schools in London and the South East of England. The programme identified five evidence-informed domains around which teachers can focus their professional development and learning. These include: a) Language Leadership, b) Staff Professional Development and Learning, c) Communication Supporting Classrooms, d) Identifying and Supporting Speech, Language and Communication Needs, e) Working with parents and external agencies.
Ten primary schools across London and the South East participated in the SSLiC programme across the 2017-2018 academic year. Each school had access to the most up to date research findings, a school self-assessment audit tool, an evidence-based classroom observation tool and received regular support from facilitators with research and school practitioner backgrounds.
The participants in the SSLiC programme implemented a variety of changes in their schools at pupil, practitioner and school levels based on an action plan which was tailored to each school’s priorities and needs. At the pupil level, initiatives included a more tailored and individualised support of identified SLCN. At practitioner and school levels, some of the participants used the SSLiC programme as a springboard in their school to enhance staff understanding of language development, further support professional development and effect systemic school changes in assessing and identifying language needs as well as working collaboratively with parents and external professionals. Ultimately, all participants reported that they used the SSLiC programme to raise the profile of the importance of oral language for children’s educational attainment.
One of the aims of the SSLiC programme is to continue to support whole school developments in practice after the programme has ended, through ongoing review of the school self-assessment audit and action plan. All ten London schools in the SSLiC programme have continued with their focus on the projects described above and in doing so are ensuring that their work contributes to the wider evidence base for supporting pupils with SLCN.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, five primary schools in Bristol are also participating in the SSLiC programme as part of an ESRC Impact Award project led by Dr Ioanna Bakopoulou.
Research shows that language difficulties are correlated with future academic performance (Snowling et al., 2011) and children with language difficulties attain less well in national tests than typically developing peers at the end of both Key Stage 2 (Conti-Ramsden et al., 2002) and Key Stage 4 (Dockrell et al., 2011; Durkin et al., 2009). Moreover, research has shown some of the difficulties children with SLCN may have in acquiring skills necessary for classroom learning. Children with language difficulties, for example, have been shown to have difficulties with literacy (Stothard et al., 1998), writing (Dockrell et al., 2014), numeracy (Harrison et al., 2009), working memory (Baddeley, 2003) and executive functioning skills (Henry et al., 2012). Moreover, we know there is a relationship between language difficulties and problems with behaviour, and the difficulties that children with SLCN experience with their socioemotional functioning (Bakopoulou and Dockrell, 2016; Yew and O’Kearney, 2013; Conti-Ramsden and Botting, 2008). This is pertinent as research suggests that attainment is linked to positive social and emotional wellbeing (Futman and Vorhaus, 2012). Alongside these obstacles, children with language difficulties are often at a double disadvantage as research suggests school staff do not feel adequately skilled in supporting language needs (Dockrell et al., 2017).
- The ability to communicate effectively is highly predictive of children’s future academic attainment and is critically associated with long term outcomes.
- SSLiC is a knowledge-exchange programme with primary schools which aims to foster a good language learning environment at a whole school level and so provide support for literacy and learning, ultimately promoting positive academic outcomes for all children in a school setting.
- 10 primary schools across London and the South East participated in SSLiC across the 2017-2018 academic year and 5 primary schools in Bristol are participating in the 2019-2020 academic year.
- All participating schools used the SSLiC programme to raise the profile of the importance of oral language for children’s educational attainment.
- The SSLiC programme continues to support developments in practice after the programme has ended, through ongoing review of the self-assessment audit and the action plan, and in doing so, schools are ensuring that their work contributes to the wider evidence base for supporting children with SLCN.
Related research group
Dockrell, J., Bakopoulou, I., Law, J., Spencer, S., & Lindsay, G. (2015). Capturing communication supporting classrooms: The development of a tool and feasibility study. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 31(3).
Ebbels, S.H., McCartney, E., Slomins, V., Dockrell, J.E., Frazier Norbury, C. (2019). Evidence-based pathways to intervention for children with language disorders. International Journal in Language and Communication Disorders, 54 (1), 3-19.
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