“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that really matter” ~ Martin Luther King Jr

Being able to communicate effectively is an important part of the schooling experience. Students are required to interact with curriculum materials and the teaching/learning process, and engage collaboratively and socially with adults and peers.

The ways in which students communicate generally, and for different purposes and in different environments and settings is naturally diverse. As humans, we communicate in a variety of different ways, and will often use more than one mode of communication at a time. We will also subconsciously (and consciously) change the ways in which we communicate and interact depending on the situation and the people present.

The way in which a student communicates can be further impacted by disability and diversity. Such factors may affect how they hear, talk, see, comprehend, interpret, process, read, write, sign, gesture and indicate. Some students may also preference a particular mode of communication.

The complex, dynamic and busy school environment is often a barrier and main contributor to the communication impacts experienced by a student. The school environment is largely designed on the assumption that students are proficient in oral receptive and expressive English language, and are verbal communicators. However, research and our ever increasing awareness of student diversity informs us that maintaining this status quo of communication and interaction in schools is no longer responsive and supportive for the broad student population.

Therefore, it is important for teachers to be aware of and utilise inclusive communication techniques universally, and more specifically. A student’s ability to effectively demonstrate what they know and are able to do can be restricted by predetermined communication requirements outside of their control, and outside of learning area curriculum demands. Teachers can easily mistake and/or make assumptions that a lack of demonstration or communication is a lack of ability. However, a communication barrier (both receptive and expressive), may be limiting the opportunity for the student to demonstrate their true potential.

To value and support the different ways students communicate to understand, make choices, express feelings and needs, and participate in the experiences around them, the following approaches are recommended:

Multimodal Communication

It is recommended that a multi-modal approach to communication is adopted generally. That is, presenting information in and via a variety of modes:

Language Friendly Instruction

‘Language-friendly’ instruction, or ensuring oral and written instructional language is accessible is an excellent way to universally design access to curriculum experiences and materials (including assessment).

For a guiding framework, check out the LINKS Resources produced by Dr Julia Starling. The LINK-UP and LINK-S programs provide a professionally collaborative approach to supporting middle and upper primary, and high school students with language difficulty by creating ‘language-friendly’ classrooms.

Individualised Communication

Beyond general multimodal communication and ‘language-friendly’ instruction, some students will require specific/individualised communication supports. Engaging with the student and parent to complete a Communication Matrix is valuable way to understand the status, progress and unique ways in which a student communicates:

Communication Matrix

It is valuable to engage in inter-disciplinary collaboration with a speech pathologist. This collaboration will assist with building teacher knowledge and capability around the student’s specific modes of communication, to co-plan equitable ways for the student to access and participate in curriculum, and to support communication partners and peers with the skills needed to effectively communicate with the student. In addition, speech pathologists can also provide support regarding the implementation of general multimodal communication and ‘language-friendly’ instruction in the classroom and across the school.

The Literacy General Capability continuum (Australian Curriculum) is also an important tool when supporting students to interact with the curriculum. The tool can be used to identify a student’s progress, and to inform personalised adjustments.

Literacy General Capability

The Literacy Learning Progressions (Australian Curriculum) provide developmental sequences for the acquisition of speaking and listening. The sequences can be used to identify more specific information regarding communication development across the curriculum.

Literacy Learning Progressions

Some students may communicate via a specific mode that utilises Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) – an umbrella term that encompasses communication methods used to supplement or replace speech and writing (low tech and high tech):

If a student uses AAC, we have the responsibility and obligation to ensure that the student has access to the method, is supported to learn and use the method, and that our instructional practices and interactions utilise the method. AAC should be utilised to ensure the student maintains equitable access, participation, and progress in the regular curriculum and general education environment.

On-going inter-disciplinary collaboration with speech pathologists and consultation with the student and their parents are necessary and valuable practices to ensure the inclusion of students who utilise AAC.

Speech Pathologists

As mentioned in the sections above, for support with both universal and specific modes of communication that support the inclusion of all students in the regular curriculum and general classroom, we recommend that you consult and collaborate with a speech pathologist.

We recommend the following links for information on inclusive communication:

Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder

PrAACtical AAC

The Hanen Centre

Speech Pathology Australia