"I enjoyed telling stories with the pictures because I got to make up the story"
Jed, aged 12, student at Woodbridge School
The therapy programmes
Narrative therapy was chosen as it has been found to be effective with younger children (Davies et al., 2004) being an integral part of everyday life. Narrative ability is required in school and in social settings as a means of gaining peer group acceptance.
Key Stages 3 and 4 of the National Curriculum place great emphasis on speaking fluently and appropriately in different contexts and adapting language for a range of purposes and audiences. Storytelling makes heavy demands on receptive and expressive language, requiring more complex syntax and semantics, abstract and imaginative thinking, general knowledge and a range of pragmatic and discourse skills as well as drawing upon a set of internal organisational rules.
Unsurprisingly individuals with language impairments have been found to have significant difficulties with storytelling (Liles, 1993). Narrative ability has been found to be a significant predictor of later academic performance (Fazio et al, 1993). It has great ecological validity, which can be undertaken in a highly structured way and targets a range of receptive and expressive linguistic skills.
Vocabulary Enrichment Therapy
Vocabulary enrichment was chosen as the second therapy programme as the growth of vocabulary is an important aspect of development during adolescence (Nippold, 2007). Lack of vocabulary is a significant barrier for children with language impairments (Crystal, 1978) particularly in relation to the demands made by secondary school (Sim, 1998).
Vocabulary knowledge is viewed as central to cognitive development, particularly literacy (Cunningham et al, 1997). It requires the ability to retrieve words with speed and accuracy, use more complex and low frequency words, elaborate semantic networks to facilitate literacy and the ability to define complex vocabulary (Nippold, 2007).
Despite its importance however, little direct time is devoted to vocabulary instruction in school (Dockrell & Messer, 2004). Vocabulary training has been shown to be effective in improving language performance and has been identified as an area that can be modified as a result of intervention (Nash & Snowling, 2006; Parsons et al, 2005).
Combined Narrative and Vocabulary Enrichment programme
A third therapy programme was also delivered. This programme combined both narrative and vocabulary enrichment and was delivered within the same time framework as the two separate programmes.
The three therapy programmes were delivered by teaching assistants (TAs) working in schools. Working collaboratively with teaching staff is a recommended model of SALT service delivery. Collaborative working fits well with current education policy in the UK of increasing the role of TAs in supporting children with special educational needs. It is an important government policy, requiring effective joint working and has been identified as an important area for research (Lindsay and Dockrell, 2002).