Many thanks to Charlotte Phillips and Laura Douglas, SLTs at Blossom House School, New Malden, for this latest guest blog which looks at how Talking Mats are used for therapy goal setting within the context of a specialist school for children with SLCN. Further information can be found on their RCSLT Poster Presentation (September 2019) here – AAC Poster RCSLT Conference September 2019
Goal setting can be a labyrinth to navigate! Do these goals reflect the pupil’s own views? Is there a discrepancy between staff and pupil ideas for goals? Are these goals motivating? Are the goals functional? Are pupils avoiding goals they would like to achieve for fear of failure? Add to this the language rich dialogue required in order to establish goals and similar to a maze you may encounter dead ends, twists, turns and a feeling of entrapment. How can we ensure we do not assume needs and that the goal setting process is collaborative and person-centered? Enter Talking Mats; a tool which enables you to make sense of the maze, like the lookout tower in the middle it allows you to have a clear view of how everything fits together. You’ll now find the goal of exiting is far easier!
How can Talking Mats help?
At Blossom House the Talking Mats framework is utilised at the beginning of therapy to support pupils with DLD and specific learning difficulties to identify areas of their strengths and needs and develop personally meaningful goals that are associated to these areas. Some of the pupils are competent verbal communicators within a social context but due to the emotive subjects they may be exploring they may not be able to access these skills within therapy. Talking Mats are also used to baseline students’ self-awareness alongside prompting pupil voice. Talking Mats are tangible and have low linguistic demands which allows students with kinaesthetic and/or visual learning style preferences, and communication needs to engage in these discussions.
Case Study This Talking Mat (using Widgit Symbols as options) was created with a student at the start of therapy whilst the therapist was building a therapeutic relationship. It helped a student who was reticent to share with a new adult to have a full conversation about things that he was happy with and those that were not happy. The mat options were chosen to include a) communication strengths and needs, b) school subjects and c) some areas the SLT knew were areas of strength. The function of this mat was threefold: to baseline the confidence the student felt about certain areas (with the aim to increase this over therapy), to assess his self-awareness of his strengths and needs and finally to act as a tool to help prioritise targets for therapy and develop relevant goals. The student’s self-awareness was accurate as he was able to rate known areas of strength e.g. singing, dancing and drama, as ‘happy’, whilst known areas of difficulty e.g. spelling were accurately labelled as ‘not happy’. Some of the areas of need that the student rated matched the SLT’s referral information as priorities for therapy from his teacher (starred) therefore these were used to go on to create joint goals with the student.
The school would now like to embed Talking Mats as a whole school approach. The first step will be Talking Mats forming a core part of School council meetings to ensure that every pupil has a voice. There will be consultation with SLTs around integrating Talking Mats into the Annual review pupil voice protocol and into therapy outcome measures. This will be facilitated through the use of the digital talking mats package which allows for staff to create mats with pupils on the move, with minimal resources. These can then be emailed to staff and pupils which makes this information practical for staff to use within the context of their extremely busy school day. The use of technology to facilitate self-advocacy is an interesting field which needs further investigation.
If you are feeling inspired and would like to access Talking Mats training to enable you to introduce a similar approach in your school take a look here –
To find out more about our resources, including our Digital Talking Mats app, check out this link here –