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Monday, 22 December 2014

The Power of Non Verbal Communication

The recent Ebola crisis in Africa has brought home to me how, as humans, we rely upon communication in all of its forms: we communicate verbally, non verbally via facial expression and body language and through physical contact. When one of these forms of contact is taken away, as in the case in West Africa, the impact can be devastating.

As part of one of the news items covering the crisis in Sierra Leone the reporter was interviewing some of the volunteers who were physically and emotionally exhausted . During the interview one of the volunteers was describing the thing that he found most difficult to cope with, the ban upon all physical contact. 

Physical contact is a basic human instinct that is part of our everyday lives, from holding hands and cuddles and kisses with those close to us to shaking hands with new acquaintances. Imagine then witnessing parents unable to hold their dying children or children unable to comfort a parent? It seems totally inhumane but is done with the intention of stopping the spread of this dreadful disease. 


However even in these dreadful circumstances the human ability to communicate in a variety of forms still managed to find a way. The volunteer went on to explain how shaking hands had been replaced by the left hand placed upon the heart, a very powerful gesture. This led me to think about the power of non verbal communication and how it crosses many barriers from language barriers to the barriers of a range of disabilities. 

As teachers we rely upon non verbal communication from the minute we greet our pupils in the morning to the minute they go home. Each of these non verbal communications can be both  positive and negative and each has a wide range of meanings.


Facial expression - A smile to offer reassurance, to say hello, to say well done, to show humour frowns to show I don't understand, no thank you, stop doing that ....... Let's not forget the famous teacher stare .......


Body language including thumbs up - Well done, good job, keep trying, that's right. 
Thumbs down - that's incorrect, please stop that ...... Arms folded - I'm waiting, are you ready? you are taking toO long, get tidied up now please .... 

Voice - It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding, such as “ahh” and “uh-huh.” Tone of voice, can indicate pleasure, happiness, sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence.

Non verbal communication is used daily in schools all around the world but what we shouldn't forget is that not all of our pupils can 'read' those non verbal cues including those with ASD. The National Autistic Society is one of the many places to look for tips on ensuring effective communication with all of the pupils in our care  teaching-young-children-with-autism
Some other websites with practical tips for teaching pupils with non verbal communication difficulties include The Friendship Circlefacial-expressions-for-kids



Sunday, 7 December 2014

Are you a Reading Evangelist?

Reading has always been an important part of my life. One of my first memories of reading is of sitting in my Mum's bed feeling warm and safe whilst she read 'The Cat in the Hat' to me. 

Perhaps this event was a particularly memorable one due to my being the youngest of eight children with both a mother and father who worked full time. This meant time alone with my Mum was precious. 

I remember Mum initially read the book to me and then gradually after lots of repetition I read the same book to her. Mum had, she told me later, bought a set of Dr Seuss books with the intention of teaching me to read. This strategy was, she would enjoy telling me, very successful as I could read quite proficiently by the age of four. 

Years later when I became a parent I read to and with my children regularly trying to pass on to them the gift of reading. 

It is as a teacher though that I became a true reading evangelist. 

Reading is an important part of my classroom where the more recognised 'formal teaching' of reading plays only a tiny part. 

read to my class as regularly as possible, the books I read range from picture books such as The Stickman by Julia Donaldson and Katie Morag by Maori Hedderwick to The Enchanted Garden by Enid Blyton. 

The children are encouraged to bring books into school. They talk about and share their favourite books making recommendations and suggestions to their friends. 

We visit the local library at least twice a year and our own school library weekly. 

We have a class library filled with books of all types. These books are an eclectic mixture of books collected over the years from jumble sales, charity shops and library book sales. The library also contains a box of reading buddies, a box of cuddly toys, which they choose to accompany them whilst they read. 

The children love choosing their own books from the library with absolutely no adult interference. The books they choose in class are for reading independently. 

It is interesting to watch them the first few times they do this as it is quite alien to them. I don't think I realised quite how much adults interfere in children's book choices. Clearly this is done with the best of intentions but actually if we are brave enough the children quickly learn to sort it out for themselves. 

Initially they choose books either too easy or too hard but after a few attempts they actually get it just right. They then settle down somewhere either in the library corner or at their tables with their book and reading buddy tucked under their arm. 

Total silence then ensues! 

It is a wonderful sight to see a class full of 6 and 7 year olds of all reading abilities losing themselves in a book! It doesn't matter if they begin by looking at the pictures or get stuck on the odd word, they quickly develop the strategies needed and rapidly begin to enjoy the independence that reading gives them. The joy of reading, a gift for life! 

Are you a reading evangelist?