Communication is key to everything that we do, it is how we connect with others and understand the world around us.
Facial expressions, body language, gestures, signs and symbols are important tools that help us to interact and share our thoughts and feelings alongside spoken words.
Den Girbow, Lecturer and Signing Coordinator, explains how Makaton is incorporated into our Total Communication approach at Nash College to support students’ learning.
What is Makaton?
Makaton is a unique language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech to help people communicate. More than 100,000 people use Makaton as their main form of communication or to support speech.
The use of signs and gestures with speech can provide visual clues to what someone is saying, adding another layer of clarity that aids understanding.
Students at Nash have different communication needs and our approach is adapted according to the individual and the student group.
“Some students come to college knowing Makaton, some have their own signs for words or phrases and we work with that,” says Den.
“Total communication uses different methods of communication to support students to express their thoughts and feelings and to be understood. That could be speech or a combination of signs, symbols, photos – whatever works for the individual.
“Students learn a range of communication methods so they are able to communicate with their peers within our Nash community.”
Building confidence and communication skills
At Nash, we sign key words in context in a sentence, adding that with a gesture to support understanding. All staff learn a number of core Makaton signs. Modelling and repetition of key words can support students’ social and communication skills and promotes inclusion and independence.
The core signs also work in tandem with other communication aids and devices and alongside the work of our speech and language therapy team.
Makaton uses natural gestures, which can be identified and associated with words, such as waving to say ‘hello’.
However, we often forget that we take cues for social interactions from the people we are communicating with.
“It’s all about expression,” says Den. “Your body language, facial expressions, eye contact and the tone and pitch of your voice, these can all be read and provide visual clues.
“Facial expressions are key, especially when talking about emotions. So, if you are happy, you smile, if you are feeling sad you show that in your facial expression and tone of voice.”
“It is brilliant,” says Den, “when you go into a classroom and a student signs something that expresses how they are feeling and to see them engaged with the session.”