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Refugee Communication Board & Using Symbols

by Gillian McNeill

on Mon Nov 23, 2015

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Using Symbols to Support Communication – English as an Additional Language (EAL)? Have you considered using symbols to support pupils in school who do not have English as their first language?

Although, symbol use is now established in our toolbox of strategies for supporting pupils with speech, language and communication difficulty, and to support pupils with special literacy needs, I’ve been thinking and wondering how many staff in schools have tried and used symbols for pupils with EAL?

This was highlighted for me recently seeing pictures in the news of a number of refugees from Syria arriving in Scotland and thinking what tools if any, are available to help these children, their families, school staff and fellow pupils, to communicate effectively with one another, at least until the children involved have a basic understanding and use of spoken English.

Schools Symbols Projects

Some schools around the country are well ahead with opportunities for all pupils to benefit from symbol use to support communication and learning. This is most noticeably so in Fife and the Lothians where there is support in place for symbol use as a whole school approach, through symbols projects.

Other schools may have more limited awareness and use of symbols, perhaps focussed mainly on supporting individual pupils.

Whatever your starting point, you will need –

  • a software programme for printing symbol resources  - we like MatrixMaker (see Joanna’s webinar from 18 November), alternatively Boardmaker 6 (other versions also available including Plus, Studio and Online)
  • skill in using your symbol software programme – making a communication board, timetable, instructional strip, producing individual symbols or other visual supports
  • knowledge in selecting resources to symbolise and how to use them – such as modelling use to pupils, which is essential when encouraging use

When setting up symbols for pupils to use for communication, it’s important to select symbols that will be useful for communicating a variety of needs and topics – a personalised vocabulary – rather than ‘off the shelf’ boards. However some circumstances may warrant this option, if just to get started.

Refugee Communication Board

Arabic - English communication boardTobii dynavox (the company behind Boardmaker Online) have produced a symbolised communication board to help support refugees with little or no English.

These boards, more suited to adults than children, have accompanying Arabic and English text which will be of benefit to some pupils with reading ability; however others (especially those who will have missed out on going to school due to their circumstances) will be fully dependent on taking meaning from the symbol alone. So this board may be a useful starting point in getting us thinking about how we can best support our pupils rather than using exactly as they are?

A non-editable version can be downloaded in PDF format. Editing can only be done if you have a paid for Boardmaker Online subscription.

Arabic (according to Wikipedia) is the official language of Syria and the language of education. If you wish to produce your own boards with Arabic text, this can be done with any version of Boardmaker (although not Matrixmaker). The board is also available from tobii dynavox in a variety of languages including Turkish, Albanian and Farsi (the language of Iran and Afghanistan).

However, you may choose to use English text only to accompany the symbols, so that the resource can be used with a wider range of pupils, whatever their first language happens to be.

Tags: symbols, communication, aac

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