Enhancing Communication in the Entry Level and Level 1 Classroom for Non-Verbal Learners: Tools and Strategies
Effective communication is at the heart of successful education. However, not all learners have the ability to communicate verbally which means they may require additional support to access and achieve qualifications. Non-verbal learners, such as those with speech and language disabilities, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or other communication disorders, face unique challenges in expressing themselves and engaging in classroom activities. In this blog, we will explore various communication tools and strategies that can be employed to support non-verbal learners when delivering our BTEC Level 1 and Entry Level qualifications, fostering their participation, learning, and social interaction.
Understanding Non-Verbal Communication
Non-verbal communication encompasses various forms of expression that do not involve spoken or written language. For non-verbal learners, these modes of communication become essential for conveying their thoughts, needs, and emotions. Some common forms of non-verbal communication you might see in the classroom include:
- Gestures and Body Language: Use of hand signals, facial expressions, and body movements to convey messages.
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): Utilization of tools and methods, including communication boards, speech-generating devices (SGDs), and sign language, to facilitate communication.
- Visual Supports: Implementation of visual aids such as pictures, symbols, and schedules to convey information and structure activities.
- Social Communication: Engaging in social interactions through eye contact, turn-taking, and joint attention.
Communication Tools that can aid participation in assignment work for Non-Verbal Learners
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices:
- AAC devices are invaluable tools for non-verbal learners. These devices can be as simple as picture communication boards or as complex as high-tech SGDs with speech output. AAC systems allow learners to express themselves by selecting symbols or words on a screen, which the device then vocalizes. This can help them communicate effectively and is a great way in which learners can evidence some BTEC assignment work, which centres can record for evidence of achievement. This might be used in conjunction with an observation record to evidence meeting of criteria in our Entry Level and Level 1 qualifications.
- Benefits: AAC devices provide a voice to non-verbal learners, promote independence, and enhance social interaction.
- Applications: Communicating basic needs, participating in classroom discussions, and engaging in social interactions, evidence gathering for assignments.
- Visual supports can take many forms, including schedules, visual cues, and visual timetables. They are particularly useful for providing structure and clarity to non-verbal learners' daily routines and classroom activities. These supports can provide useful structure when learners make their first steps in learning when starting a new unit within our BTEC specifications.
- Benefits: Visual supports enhance understanding, reduce anxiety, and promote independence.
- Applications: Daily schedules, activity instructions, and behaviour expectations.
- Sign Language offers a rich means of communication for non-verbal learners. Educators, as well as learners' peers, can learn basic signs to facilitate interaction. Did you know? Sign language is just one of the ways learners can evidence the achievement of learning criteria in our BTEC Entry Level and Level 1 qualifications. There is no requirement in our qualifications for learners to submit in written form only.
- Benefits: Sign language provides a natural mode of communication, fosters inclusion, and supports social interaction.
- Applications: Basic conversational signs, classroom instructions, assignment work, and peer communication.
Picture Exchange Systems (PECS):
- PECS is a structured communication system that uses pictures or symbols to enable non-verbal learners to express their needs and wants. Learners learn to exchange pictures with a communication partner to initiate communication. This can help them communicate effectively and is a great way in which learners can evidence some assignment work, which centres can record for evidence of achievement. This might be used in conjunction with an observation record to evidence meeting of criteria in our BTEC Entry Level qualifications.
- Benefits: PECS promotes communication initiation, improves social skills, and enhances vocabulary development.
- Applications: Requesting items, answering questions, demonstrating responses for assignments and participating in classroom activities.
Communication Apps and Software:
- Numerous apps and software programs are available to support non-verbal learners. These tools often combine visual symbols, text, and speech output, enabling learners to communicate using mobile devices or computers. These can also be used by learners in part to produce assignment work.
- Benefits: Communication apps offer flexibility, portability, and customization options.
- Applications: Daily communication needs, educational interactions, assignment work and social interactions.
Strategies to Enhance Communication for Non-Verbal Learners
Individualized Communication Plans:
Develop individualized communication plans for non-verbal learners, in collaboration with speech and language therapists and other specialists. It is likely learners in school already have these and they should be used to help tailor learning to the individual.
Teacher Training and Awareness:
Educators should receive training on communication disorders and strategies for supporting non-verbal learners. This training can improve the overall classroom environment and facilitate inclusive practices. We recommend getting to know the individuals in your classroom to identify the training needed as training will be most beneficial if personalised.
Peer Support and Education:
If working in mainstream education, then it is useful to promote peer education and support by educating classmates about communication differences and encouraging inclusive behaviours. This can foster empathy and create a more inclusive classroom culture and help remove some of the anxiety and stress non-verbal communicators might feel.
Make physical and sensory modifications to the classroom environment to accommodate the unique needs of non-verbal learners. This may include ensuring proper lighting, reducing sensory distractions, and providing accessible seating.
Incorporate Visual Supports:
Integrate visual supports into daily routines and classroom activities. Visual schedules, visual cues, and communication boards should be readily available to support communication.
Non-verbal learners should be encouraged to make choices, whether through picture boards, AAC devices, or other means. Choice-making fosters a sense of control and autonomy and gives them some control over how to present their assignment work.
Create opportunities for non-verbal learners to engage with their peers. Group activities, collaborative projects, and structured social interactions can support social communication and help build confidence which can be particularly important when learners start work on assignment work.
Regular Assessment and Adjustment:
Periodically assess the effectiveness of communication strategies and tools. Adjust plans and interventions as needed to ensure the learner's evolving needs are met in order that they can access any materials needed to complete work towards qualifications.
Effective communication is a fundamental aspect of education, and it is essential to recognize that not all learners communicate verbally. Non-verbal learners, whether due to speech and language disabilities or other challenges, may need extra support in order to access a curriculum which includes qualifications, and it is important to plan in advance in order to provide non-verbal learners with their best chance of success.
In our BTEC Level 1 and Entry qualifications we welcome inclusive practices, and we are fully supportive of using alternative methods of assessment to ensure all learners can achieve qualifications. In the past we have seen methods such as PECS, Observation records, Sip and puff devices, sign language with observation record, video blogs (Vlogs) as well as more traditional methods such as video recordings, role plays and written work; all of which have a place in the Entry Level and Level 1 classroom and all can be used as appropriate to the specification in order to support achievement of criteria. If you are a centre with learners who are differently abled, we recommend that you consider the use of alternative methods to help learners achieve using our qualifications as this will help support them and make them feel less anxious about end point assessment.
By employing communication tools and strategies such as AAC devices, visual supports, sign language, and PECS, educators can empower non-verbal learners to communicate effectively, participate in classroom activities including assignments, and engage socially.
Kelly Adams | Product Manager Level 1 Below Including Workskills and Personal Growth and Wellbeing.