In common with most teacher educators, I am a big fan of classroom talk.
I continually stress to my English subject trainee teachers the huge value of the spoken word and invite them to be suspicious of silent classrooms. We know, after all, that it is through ‘using oral language in the process of interacting with others [that] one learns how to present, elaborate, justify and challenge ideas’ (Khong, Saito, & Gillies, 2019, p. 334). For the majority of the pupils I believe this to be a sound pedagogy.
But it is not so for all. For some people, speaking is not the most effective way to communicate. For these pupils – many of whom are autistic – verbal speech may be dysfluent, stumbling, repetitious or unclear (McElroy, Kingsbury, Igel, & Adams, 2018; Wiklund & Laakso, 2019). It may be that a pupil can speak fluently in some situations but not in others, may use ‘scripts’ that give a false impression of fluency, or have insufficient speech where speech may convey part of what is meant but not all (Zisk & Dalton, 2019).
The short film Broken (Rimmer, 2020) was created through co-operation between an autistic individual and a visual artist, to express what this verbal dysfluency may feel like from the autistic perspective. The film is an individual perspective, but includes many elements recorded in autism research.
‘Typing as a preferred form of communication by those who also use speech is under-researched, although it has been suggested that many who use forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can and do sometimes talk.’
One of the most striking elements of the project is Fauxparl’s fluency when typing. Typing as a preferred form of communication by those who also use speech is under-researched (Zisk & Dalton, 2019), although it has been suggested that many who use forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can and do sometimes talk (Niemeijer, 2015). For these users, speech is supplemented by the written word.
The anthology Typed Words, Loud Voices (Sequenzia & Grace, 2015) was created by those who use typing as their preferred, and sometimes only, form of communication. These ‘voices’ remind us that speech and communication are not synonymous. As Alyssa Zisk, a verbal autistic researcher who uses AAC to supplement communication, suggests, ‘overall communication – rather than speech – should be prioritized’ (Zisk & Dalton, 2019 p. 93).
As educators, our job is to ask questions.
- How do teachers know if the pupil who gives hesitant, partial or confused verbal responses is struggling – not with the lesson content, but with the act of speaking?
- When the English programme of study for key stage 4 of the national curriculum indicates that ‘pupils should be taught to speak confidently, audibly and effectively’ (DfE, 2014), how does that translate to supporting pupils who struggle with verbal communication?
- How can we facilitate typing as communication in classroom learning when we know that this ‘unsticks the words in my brain’ (Kim, 2015 in Sequenzia & Grace, 2015 p. 17) for some pupils?
I believe in talk. I also believe that these questions deserve serious consideration if the needs of all our pupils are to be addressed in our inclusive classrooms.
Department for Education [DfE]. (2014). The national curriculum in England: Complete framework for key stages 1 to 4. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/
Khong, T. D. H., Saito, E., & Gillies, R. M. (2019). Key issues in productive classroom talk and interventions. Educational Review, 71(3), 334–349. https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2018.0007
Kim, C. (2015). A barrier of sound not feeling. In Sequenzia, A., & Grace, E. J. (Eds.). Typed words, loud voices. Fort Worth, TX: Autonomous Press.
McElroy, B., Kingsbury, S., Igel, M., & Adams, T. (2018). Linguistic differences in the production of narratives by adolescents with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(2), 533–548. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3356-1
Niemeijer, D. (2015, November 5). The state of AAC in English-speaking countries: First results from the survey [blog post]. AssistiveWare. Retrieved from https://www.assistiveware.com/blog/state-aac-english-speaking-countries-first-results-survey
Rimmer, J. (2020). Broken [YouTube video]. Available from https://youtu.be/G0VRds79gwk
Sequenzia, A., & Grace, E. J. (Eds.). (2015). Typed words, loud voices. Fort Worth, TX: Autonomous Press.
Wiklund, M., & Laakso, M. (2019). Ungrammatical utterances and disfluent speech as causes of comprehension problems in interactions of preadolescents with high functioning autism. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 33(7), 654–676. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699206.2019.1578415
Zisk, A. H., & Dalton, E. (2019). Augmentative and alternative communication for speaking autistic adults: Overview and recommendations. Autism in Adulthood, 1(2), 93–100. https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2018.0007