Supporting students with language difficulties: Roxburgh College

Fernando Ianni, Principal, Roxburgh College: Language is so important because the research shows that 1 in 15 students has a language disorder. At our school, we’re finding it more like 1 in 7. As they come through to secondary school, language becomes even more complex, so it’s so important to maintain the attention in developing their skill set.

We initially employed one speechie [speech pathologist] on a part-time basis at .5 allocation and then now that’s grown to three speech pathologists in the school.

Aimee Harrison, Speech Pathologist: A language difficulty is a difficulty in using and / or understanding language for learning purposes or being able to engage with your community. A teacher may notice a student with language difficulties in a classroom having difficulties with following instructions in a complete sense or following instructions at all, being able to demonstrate their knowledge through spoken or written means, and completion of work tasks.

Tiffany, Year 8 student: I’m Tiffany, I’m in Year 8, my preferred subject is art. Some of the things I have trouble with is with spelling, my reading, my writing. I love the teachers; I love how nice they are and friendly. This school shows how kids with learning problems and disabilities can still learn like other kids; they’re not treated specifically different.

Aimee: The Language Support Program at Roxburgh College is a Year 7 to 9 program. It’s taught as an elective class. The class is taught by a teacher who has additional training in supporting students who have language difficulties and is supported through the speech pathologists who have designed the scope and sequence of the program.

Karen Ring, Teacher: We follow the structure of ‘I do, we do, you do’ for our classroom teaching here at Roxburgh College. The ‘I do’ component of that is for the teacher to model and show the students what we want them to be able to do. That’s the ‘I do’. The ‘we do’ is we work with the students, and we do the work together. We might have a go at an example on the board of a problem and work it through together. And then the ‘you do’ stage is where the students independently work on the task that we’ve already modelled and worked through together.

Tiffany: [A teacher will] tell me what it says, or explain it in a simple way, or show it to me. Sometimes the teachers will actually let me sketch it out, so I can learn it in my own kind of way.

Fernando: The practices and strategies that are used are of benefit to everybody, not just the kids who have a language disorder or language difficulty.

Karen: Often children, if they’re not feeling confident in their own ability, they won’t want to put up their hand. They won’t want to have a go at answering a question because they think ‘I can’t do that, that’s too hard’. But once they’ve watched something being done and then they’ve participated with someone else doing it, so that some of that responsibility for the task being completed is not all on them, it’s with someone else, it just allows the child to gain that confidence to have a go, take a risk.

Aimee: It’s really lovely to see the growth that young people can make. We do have students that have come into the school with quite significant difficulties with their language skills that have been able to complete all of their tasks throughout secondary school as the language complexity and abstract nature of that language has increased. They’ve actually been able to complete their VCE and move onto tertiary education.

Tiffany: My language problems will not get in the way of my dreams.

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