I Get It! The road to comprehension
Comprehension is about making meaning and unless students are actively engaged in this process, connections to information cannot be made. The I Get It! Comprehension Program is a package that unpacks comprehension systematically. Each chapter focuses on a critical skill or strategy and has an icon to represent these, e.g. a lock and key represents problem/solution. The icons are visual reminders to help the student’s working memory. Each comprehension strategy is taught as a routine, starting with very hands on lessons then progressing through to literature and literacy. The package has been designed for teacher ease of use with many lessons, posters and activities available for each strategy.
Australian animals are used as characters in the package with the main character being Compy the comprehension monitor lizard. Compy is a large green silky puppet that is used to motivate and teach students about comprehension. For example he becomes a detective when the children are learning about Looking for Clues and connecting these clues to their own knowledge to inform a prediction or inference.
Fundamental to comprehension is attention and memory. Four key comprehension strategies underpin the program: monitor & fix, visualising, looking for and linking clues, and judging importance. The critical skills of prior knowledge, problem/solution, cause/effect, prediction, inference, main idea and synthesis are linked to these overarching skills.
I Tell It! Unpacking narrative and expository language/texts
Narrative is one of the most complex language tasks for any individual to perform, but also one that as humans, we engage in every single day. It is an all-encompassing discourse task that requires the use of language skills across a number of areas (including comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, morphology and pragmatic skills). Oral narrative performance has been found to predict later language development and literacy achievement. The ability to produce well-formed and clear oral narratives requires advanced/complex language skills and impacts on both everyday communication skills and academic success at school (particularly in terms of later written composition and reading comprehension skills).
Children with language difficulties tend to show a reduction in their oral narrative skills leading to them telling shorter stories with less story grammar (macrostructure) elements, less complex sentences, more grammatically incorrect sentences, a limited range of vocabulary and reduced literate language features. They also present with a reduced ability to answer literal or inferential questions about stories that have been read to them (Gillam & Gillam, 2016). This can result in significant effects on social relationships as well as reduced academic progress.
The I Tell It! resource focuses on the processes and strategies that teachers can use to teach oral and written narrative with links to expository structures. It includes icons that can be used to support the learning of the overall structure and development of all test types (fiction and non-fiction). It covers critical developmental pathways, assessment, and targeted strategies with associated resources. The book includes sections on how to make interventions work through scaffolding, guided implementation of strategies and repeated practice.
“Telling stories puts a tremendous load on working memory because students must engage in several activities simultaneously. When children tell a story, they must keep in mind the overall gist of the story they are telling while simultaneously organising each utterance, linking the utterances together in a temporal/causal sequence, and making certain that all utterances link to the theme and overall organisation of the story…” Carol Westby, PhD, CCC-SLP
Students with DLD are especially at risk in this area. To help with this load the WCLDC uses a program called ‘Braidy’ in Kindergarten and Pre-Primary. ‘Braidy’ is a creative, kinaesthetic and multi-sensory tool to introduce and target narrative instruction, using specific story grammar icons and a Story Braid doll (Braidy). The ‘Braidy’ doll has 3D representations of the icons on its body. Children can see, touch and move these icons to cue them for questions about stories, help them to recognise text structures and support them to include these components in their own narratives.
The icons represent the essential components of a complete story episode which are: Character, Setting, Initiating Event (Kick-Off), Internal Response (feelings/emotions), Plan, Attempts, Direct Consequence(s) and Resolution. They serve as a visual reminder for students to include critical story elements in their oral and written stories.
For Year 1 students, teachers use the WCLDC designed narrative icons depicted in the I Tell It! documents.
Literature Based Units (LBU)
Literate (story books/text) language tends to be more abstract and more formal than conversational language. Students with language impairments learn language more slowly than their typically developing peers for a variety of reasons….. (Gillam, Hoffman, Marler, & Wynn-Dancy, 2002). As a result, language learning requires more mental energy for students with language impairments, and their language usage is more variable.
A Literature Based Unit is a way of systematically unpacking stories and linking this to carefully selected activities that target specific language skills to assist our students to understand the language in books. Teachers have been developing units of learning (LBUs) around books for many years to improve students language skills so that they have the ability to participate in, and profit from, oral and written tasks.
Unpacking the chosen text may take several weeks to complete and follows the whole-part-whole structure, this being:
- Building Prior Knowledge so that students are able to engage in the story
- Reading the text through several times (whole)
- Checking for understanding, questioning (whole)
- Explicit teaching lessons that focus on various language aspects (vocabulary knowledge, grammar, pragmatic awareness, phonological awareness, conversation, and narration) (part)
- Finishing with students retelling the story or twist on the story either orally or in written form. (whole)
The WCLDC has a specific format that it follows based on: ‘Sequence of Literature-Based Language Intervention Activities’ by R. Gillam & T. Ukrainetz in Contextualized Language Intervention (2006).
Another program used in the WCLDC to help develop critical narrative skills in our students is Talk For Writing by Pie Corbett and Julia Strong. Students are read a story several times, so that aspects of the story are committed to memory such as the narrative patterns; the flow of the sentences and aspects such as characters, settings and events.
Oral storytelling is done on a daily basis, and children enjoy and become more confident in telling the story over time. Expression is key to highlight exciting events, vocabulary, or language patterns. Correct language is constantly modelled by the teacher and retelling allows the learners to rehearse new vocabulary and grammar in context on a daily basis.
Actions are also important, making the retelling lively and helping children to remember key connectives and sentence openers. ‘Once upon a time’, ‘suddenly’, ‘after that’, ‘but’ – all have a recognisable action used by all teachers, ensuring consistency as children move up the school. This is particularly useful for our students, as a visual reminder.
It has a three-part ‘principle’:
- Imitation: Children learn stories so well that the bank of knowledge becomes part of their long-term working memory.
- Innovation: Children adapt a well-known story making changes to characters, settings and events.
- Invention: Children draw upon the full range of stories they have learned, as well as their own life experiences, to create a new story. (which usually takes place in Year 1).
The approach is visual and kinaesthetic; storytelling is supported by pictures, actions and story maps or mountains, helping pupils to understand new vocabulary. It incorporates drama and real-life experiences. When children come to write, they continue to use these visual cues.
Synthetic phonics is a direct evidence-based approach, teaching the connection between sounds (phonemes) and letters (graphemes) explicitly in a logical and progressive sequence. Students are initially taught the more common, single letter-sound patterns (such as s, a, t in sat ), followed by multiple letter graphemes (such as the sh in ship or the igh in light).
A synthetic phonics approach to the teaching of reading involves teaching students to apply their knowledge of letters to say the speech sounds that letters represent in words. Students say the speech sounds all the way through a new word, from left to right, when reading. Students are taught to ‘blend’ (or join) speech sounds together to read new words and then to break words up into their separate speech sounds. This skill, called ‘segmentation’, is then used to help students to learn how to spell words.
At the WCLDC teachers use both the Sounds Write and Reading Doctor programs as tools for teaching synthetic phonics.
Health and Phys. Ed.
I Do It! social skills program
A social skill is any skill facilitating action, interaction and communication with others. Research tells us that directly training children in social, cognitive and emotional management skills leads to improved outcomes. Through the interactive nature of the program, children can develop and/or feel more positive and successful about themselves, which in turn helps them to improve or make gains academically, behaviourally, and socially, leading to them to being more well-adjusted adults.
The I Do It! program creates a fictional environment or virtual world called I Do It! Park where there are many places designed for learning the social and self-management skills we need for school and to enhance day to day interactions. Central to the program are Australian Animal puppets that have a club in the park (led by friends Compy and Billy Koala) and it is through club activities that the students engage in and practice social skills including Manners, Emotions, Anger Management, Friendship, Turn Taking and Sharing. The Park includes areas like Manners Cafe, Cooperation Playground and Feelings Pool. There is also a Cultural Centre that can be used to explore our Aboriginal culture as well as cultures from around the world. There are also animal characters that can be used for exploring online and social media benefits and risks.
At the West Coast Language Development Centre, Maths is an important part of the program. Teachers follow the WA Curriculum, adapted to individual student needs, to plan student learning programs in Maths. Programs are evidence-based and a focus is on teaching the critical skills to enable children to become successful lifelong mathematical learners.
Areas in Maths include number, patterning, measurement and geometry. Students learn key language, understandings and skills through explicit teaching and the use of hands-on materials. Children with developmental language disorder are likely to find the language demands of many maths tasks challenging. Staff teach key mathematical vocabulary to support students to become competent users of the language of maths.
Maths resources are used to meet the needs of each child. Classrooms contain a number of resources, many of which are developed by Dr Paul Swan. These include manipulatives, board games, dice, cards, puzzles and barrier games.
There is the opportunity for parent involvement and learning through an annual Maths classroom learning journey. Parents are invited into their child’s classroom for a session to participate in a range of Maths tasks with their child. The learning journeys enable the parents to gain an understanding of important Maths concepts and skills that are targeted at the LDC, and types of activities that help children develop these.