Experienced West Midlands based speech & language therapy

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Part I: ‘In the Moment’ – keeping things in perspective (A therapist’s-eye view)

This is the first of three articles looking at ‘Planning in the Moment’ [ITM] & then moving to compare and contrast this approach with objective-setting within the context of delivering speech and language therapy interventions

Much has been written about ITM.  Here, I have endeavoured to summarise what it means: planning in the moment is about capturing the moment of engagement (also called the teachable moment) and capitalise on it by using the child’s focus of interest to add, enhance and develop. “It is in the moment of curiosity, puzzlement, effort or interest – the ‘teachable moment’ – that the skilful adult makes a difference.” (National Strategies Document).


Jayne Wotherspoon (HMI) had this to say as part of an In the moment course in 2014 “Teaching… is all those different things that you do as an adult that help young children learn… communicating, modelling language, working with children as they initiate their own play and activities, being ready to intervene in the moment, demonstrating how to do something, explaining why something is as it is, showing children something, exploring ideas with them, encouraging them, questioning them, checking what it is they are understanding, helping them to record something that they did so that they get the structure and sequence of events, providing a narrative for what they are doing, facilitating what they are doing, setting challenges, all those sorts of things are the sorts of things we mean when we are teaching.”


No-one could possibly argue with this – it is aspirational and, in the best possible world, absolutely what should happen. 

Advocates for the approach write powerfully and one cannot help but be caught up in their enthusiasm.  The vocabulary they use reflects passion and keenness:

..an approach which is challenging & enjoyable, reducing pressure on children, a child feels valued, constantly reviewing the environment, observe and listen closely to every child, ask open-ended questions - these are usually ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions and they should never have a yes or no answer.

However, none of these ‘requirements’ are exclusive to any single approach.  They should be routinely visible in any setting.


What do experienced senior leadership practitioners have to say?

I fall somewhere in the middle with 'in the moment planning'.  Much of early years practise is 'in the moment' anyway. but I think if you have really excellent staff with an in-depth knowledge of the curriculum and their children, then it can be fab.  If, like us, you are not currently blessed with that luxury, I think it can be a recipe for disaster.

Taking away the element of forward planning which is matched exactly to the children's needs and next steps, makes me uncomfortable!!  [Head Teacher: pre-school, nursery and primary school]

It requires skilled practitioners to do it as you need to be aware of the next step for everything you see a child do then have the resources on hand to be able to move their learning forward. Done right it benefits those inquisitive children who want to learn however for those children who roam around with no particular interest or desire to learn, progress can be slow! 

I don't think I would ever leave children's language targets down to 'in the moment' as an opportunity may not arise for a child's next step to be addressed. Planning in the moment runs well alongside a planned purposeful curriculum in the sense that you can't plan for everything and sometimes children's interests go off on a tangent so there needs to be the flexibility to go with them and change direction when the need/ occasion arises!  [Assistant Head Teacher & EYFS lead 2-form entry school with nursery]


Delving more deeply into the numerous blogs and articles sees the emergence of three rather important themes.  Here are themes one & two:

  1. Practitioner knowledge, skills and experience
  2. ITM within the context of teaching


In terms of theme one above, the success of this approach has to be entirely down to practitioner knowledge, skills, experience, and talent – across a range of developmental areas – not just language.  This places considerable demands on practitioners.  An experienced EY teacher made the following observation about a child with identified speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) who was in need of some targeted support: ‘a child could easily go under the radar all day by avoiding the adults resulting in the child not being spoken to all day’.  Indeed.


In terms of theme two: there are numerous references to ‘teaching’ in articles devoted to ITM.  Teaching is different from ‘therapy’.  Teaching is defined in the Concise Oxford English dictionary as ‘imparting knowledge to instruct (someone) in how to do something – especially in a school or as part of a recognised programme’.  Therapy is defined as ‘treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder’.  Whilst the Soundswell approach does not follow a medical model, we do recognise that the therapeutic interventions we deliver are designed to support children who have been identified as having a problem.  If the problem is to resolve or reduce, the child must receive appropriately targeted interventions.


Therapists also deploy knowledge, skills and experience: they understand the developmental steps a child will progress through, are able to observe, to spot the opportunities to change/develop/remediate and know where to go next.  


So how is this different?

The differences are subtle – but they are there nonetheless:

EYPs ‘planning in the moment’ use their skills to ‘follow’ the child and capture the teachable moment where appropriate modelling and example will further develop the learning experience. 


Therapists also observe: they use a similar skill set to identify where the child is in terms of speech, language and communication acquisition and to plot where this isn’t as developed as it should be.  They then put together a programme of intervention designed to remedy the situation.  This is simplistic but is pretty much what happens.


Both these things are equally important – but that doesn’t mean that the same approach applies equally well to both.


Why is it different?

To my mind, both are part of the same continuum.  The EYP is enhancing the process of normal development- described as being child-led.  The therapist is endeavouring to put right what is already identified as a problem or at risk of becoming one - which fits the [sometimes rather disparaged] objective-setting learning description.


Both are important, both add value and each has its place as part of a range of tools being used in a setting.  EY consultants say they would be looking for a variety of learning opportunities in settings, including intervention groups where appropriate.


And theme three?

Theme three is about SEND – children who are already behind their peers and those who are ‘at risk of’ falling behind – with particular reference to speech, language & communication skills.  What is the best approach and how might you go about effecting positive change?


In parts II & III we will explore what is needed to successfully and effectively deliver both child-lead & objective-setting approaches, depending on the needs of the children in your setting.