What a fantastic inaugural Teach Us Too Study Day we had on Wednesday. Teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, parents, teaching assistants, educational psychologists, case managers – we learnt and shared together about the principles and practicalities of literacy instruction for pupils who use augmentative and alternative communication.
If my mother had not received advice from Marion Stanton on how to teach me to read and write, I doubt I would be writing this; so it was wonderful that she could come and share her expertise with us all. As part of her session the delegates got an opportunity to use some low tech communication aids to talk to each other, and it was illuminating to see how difficult and frustrating they found it. For me this practically showed people the language limitations of any system where spelling has not been taught; as I have often advocated: there is nothing like being able to spell everything you want to write and say.
But the highlight of the day was hearing from and meeting Emma Maskell who came all the way from Sandside Lodge School in Cumbria to share her experiences of teaching literacy to her entire ‘PMLD’ class. All of them communicate and are on a literacy journey: none of them have a ‘profound intellectual disability’ (the PMLD standards definition of PMLD). Movingly, she shared the difference this had made when the class had sadly lost two pupils earlier this year, as communication had given them the language to express their grief and also the tools for the teacher to use this as evidence to access specialist music grief counselling. At times on the literacy journey some people thought Emma was delusional for trying, although her school and senior management team have been supportive; we need more teachers with the tenacity and determination to keep trying ways for children yoked with the pernicious label PMLD to find the access which works for them and teach them literacy using this access.
Wish you had been there? Really kindly Curtis, a student from Bristol, came to video the day for us – a massive thank you to him! Snapshots of the day will be available on the Teach Us Too website soon.