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Collaborative project: getting children talking in St Helens

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Case study, Outcome: literacy

[Editor’s note: Guest post written by Kathryn Boothroyd, Service Development Manager, St Helens Libraries and Julie Hoodless, St Helens Paediatric Speech and Language Therapy Team Leader]

BLUSH project logo
BLUSH project logo

A Speech and Language Therapy Service and a Schools Library Service working together is quite unusual, but is actually the most natural thing in the world. St Helens Paediatric Speech and Language Service promotes development via oral speech, language and communication skills and St Helens Schools Library Service develops language and literacy skills via a reading for pleasure strategy. The two services have aims that overlap, because verbal language development can be facilitated through the medium of books, by sharing pictures with a child or asking questions about each page or the whole story that they have just read.

Background to the project

BLUSH was developed due to concerns about the high prevalence of speech, language and communication difficulties in St Helens. A report by Save The Children: The Lost Boys published in July 2016, highlighted that there isn’t a single location in England where boys are outperforming girls in early language skills, or even coming close. The report stated that the gender gap is at its most extreme in St. Helens, where boys start primary school over 17 percentage points behind their female peers.

Both services were committed to working together to address this problem. The Schools Library Service, using their book expertise and knowledge, chose books by great authors with fantastic illustrations designed to encourage enjoyment of reading, and the Speech and Language Therapy Service provided written question templates based upon these books using the BLANK Language Scheme. Blank, Rose and Berlin (1978) devised a framework for the development of questions at four different levels ranging from basic questions at level one to more complex reasoning skills at level four. Schools access BLUSH boxes via the Schools Library Service. The boxes contain up to 20 age-appropriate books, some with Blank templates enclosed.

The project was initially launched in Key Stage 1 (which covers Y1 and Y2, ages 5-7) in April 2016. However, the need for BLUSH was soon identified at the Early Years level, with speech, language and communication difficulties presenting around the age of two. BLUSH will be available up to secondary level in the future as language problems are prevalent across the age ranges in St Helens.

Training and delivery

Universal training on speech and language development was delivered to all St Helens primary schools, Early Years settings and St Helens Library Service by Speech and Language therapists. One of the key aims of the training was to enable staff to develop and ask children questions at the right level to support the child's understanding of language as they look at books together, either on a one-to-one basis or with a group of children. Teachers are encouraged to develop their own Blank templates based on the examples in the BLUSH boxes. Library staff are using the skills learnt on the training in delivering Read and Rhyme times in libraries.

BLUSH is used to assess a child's level of language, support understanding at the child's level as well as facilitating development to the next level up. The provision of the question templates in the BLUSH boxes has enabled teachers and early years staff to implement this soon after the training session, so as to maximise the embedding of learning into everyday practice.

What next?

The project is still being evaluated, but early feedback from teachers demonstrated that BLUSH has really helped them to put Blank into practice to support and develop children's understanding in a way that they haven't been able to before.

“As we have a provision for ASD and MLD* pupils, the BLUSH materials have been extremely useful in working with the children. Additionally, the Speech and Language Therapy Service also recommended use of the materials which made it really meaningful and purposeful. At our school, we have used BLUSH to assess pupils comprehension at different levels and used it to address speech and language targets. We have also used the questioning examples to work on questioning in other areas of their learning”.

Meena Viswanathan, SEN teacher, Rectory Primary

*ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorder and MLD - Moderate Learning Disability

Schools Library Service and Speech and Language Service launch BLUSH April 2016. Photo credit: St Helens libraries
Schools Library Service and Speech and Language Service launch BLUSH April 2016. Photo credit: St Helens libraries

To find out more about the scheme, contact the Schools Library Service (details at the end of the web page). To keep up to date with activities in St Helens libraries, follow them on twitter.

Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce

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