A child’s advocate….

How brave of the family of the languages teacher, Ann Maguire, to set up The Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund, which will be coordinated by Leeds Community Foundation and will provide bursaries and funding for the enhancement and personal development of young people under 18 years old through music, drama, language and dance. What a wonderful tribute this is.

‘Ann had an incredible gift of identifying potential in her pupils, whilst giving them the encouragement and strength to help realise their goals. In her honour, the fund wishes to continue her work by enabling and developing the aspirations of young people.’

Liz blog pic

(Image Courtsey of TEDBlog )

Teachers and Teaching Assistants working closely together can improve the learning culture of the languages classroom so much and help pupils achieve their potential. I have experienced this first hand. TAs I have worked with have been so committed to supporting pupils with learning difficulties to learn a foreign language. They have been an enormous help and I hope some of them read this. There was an article recently on the SecEd Website by Bruce Wooding, who is assistant head teacher for inclusion at Nower Hill High School in Harrow. He stated that Teaching Assistants ‘have the potential to be key interventions, but for this to be the case they must be effectively trained and deployed so that they can make a real difference to students’ progress and achievement.’ He has set up a new training programme. One of the TAs at the school who has followed it said: “The TA effectiveness programme established last year has made a huge contribution to the way we, as teaching assistants, work today. Especially within the classroom, we feel more like additional teachers than ‘assistants’ as we have been given the power to really contribute to lessons, for example by altering the way a concept is taught to make it easier to understand.” I’m sure that you agree that we should consider all the expert advice that is available to us. Improving the teaching of languages to children with special needs warrants our full attention.

A very good friend of mine who had been supporting a wonderful boy retired recently. She spent time learning Makaton and we have had many conversations about the signs which aid communication. I bought the Something Special Out and About DVD.

SomethingSpecial_Out_125‘Something Special helps children with learning and language difficulties communicate. It is specially designed to be inclusive, teaching a signing system called Makaton, which will allow children of all abilities to join in the fun.’ This clip from the CBeebies Grown-ups section using signing published on 25 February this year shows clearly how Makaton helps all the members of their families. ‘Justin from Something Special explains how Makaton is beneficial for children of all ages and abilities. We talked to some parents of children who use Makaton, and they told us how it has helped them communicate.’

From 4.10 on the clip one parent talks about his child’s nursery and how all the children help each other there.

On the lovely retirement card my friend received from the parents when she left the school were these words, ‘You have made a huge impact on all of our lives. I have installed trust, faith and belief in everything you do and you have returned this by becoming his biggest advocate. You have gone above and beyond your role considering his best interests and displaying determination for him to succeed.’

What wonderful words and what we should all strive for in whatever capacity we work? We should be a child’s advocate in whatever phase of their learning journey we are part of from kindergarten to graduation at university and beyond.

You can find out more about British Sign Language on their website and see a preview of the British Sign Language Level 1 DVD, showing the BSL alphabet, numbers, and some key language phrases. This teaches the alphabet very clearly. Some MFL teachers are using sections of this on the European Day of Languages and then the pupils use simple signs in the classroom, even just signing the letters a, b, c, d, to indicate their answers to multiple choice questions. Some of you reading this might remember BBC Talk the Talk with the clip of two boys in the swimming pool? It was just great to hear how a friend learnt sign language to help his deaf friend Jake to enjoy a better life and be able to play football, but mainly to be by his side when he needed him. I used this clip often to encourage the development of empathy.

Communication in all its forms is vital in our society, isn’t it? Artists, writers, poets, musicians etc all communicate in their own way. Encourage the pupils you teach to look out for all the different ways we ‘talk’ during our working days. Developing an interest in language will stay with pupils all their lives.