Research School Network: Guided Interaction to Improve Communication Rita Parmar from Lilycroft Nursery School on using guided interactions around books to improve language and communication

Guided Interaction to Improve Communication

Rita Parmar from Lilycroft Nursery School on using guided interactions around books to improve language and communication

by Bradford Research School
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At Lilycroft Nursery School, we are always happiest when our children are talking. However, we noticed that speech and language was a particular challenge in our setting during the pandemic. This was understandable, as many of our children had not been able to share the same experiences as would be typical. They had not experienced interactions with other children or with teachers and other adults.

Exploring the Evidence

We needed to ensure that pupils were able to develop their communication and language skills, and we knew that high quality interactions would help us to do that. The EEF’s Preparing for Literacy Guidance shows that guided interactions are one way that we can do this:

Guided interaction occurs when an adult and child collaborate on a task and the adult’s strategies are highly tuned to the child’s capabilities and motivations. The adult is responsive to the child’s intentions, focuses on spontaneous learning, and provides opportunities for the child’s feedback. Discussion is a key feature of this approach and the use of a variety of questions helps to develop and extend children’s thinking.

According to the EEF Early Years Toolkit, There is consistent evidence that reading to young children, and encouraging them to answer questions and talk about the story with a trained adult’ is effective in targeting pupils’ language development.

Building on Existing Practice

We always try to align evidence with our own professional expertise, and we noticed the success that one of our members of staff had when reading with a child every day. Reading helped this child who had no language at all. She noticed that this was leading to increased confidence and motivation, followed by more effective communication and vocabulary use. Her approach was aligned with the evidence I had uncovered when researching potentially successful approaches.

According to PACEY, Sharing books and stories with children helps their learning, development, language and communication. Not only do children learn vital skills for later reading and writing, but sharing books also helps with talking, listening, and communication skills. Sharing books also encourages imagination, curiosity, and emotions.’

From the evidence, and the good practice witnessed, we then developed our approach.

Key elements of the intervention:

  • 1 to 1 reading
  • Driven by the pupil’s interest – they choose the book
  • The same person each time

While we were insistent on these elements, we trusted practitioners to be led by the pupil and respond appropriately. A typical session would have very similar elements: Sit down; eye contact; wait for them to speak, we track the story; look at the title; repeat what we’ve just said; turn the pages; notice the pictures; read each sentence.

Reading area
Our reading area

The goal is to ensure that the pupil speaks as much as they can, and everything is designed with this in mind.

A good way of thinking about this approach is Shrec’:Share attention; Respond; Expand; Conversation


Did it work?

I have been part of the Bradford Research Champions programme, and looked to evaluate the impact of the approach. I was keen that anything I did would not add to staff workload, so the measures I have used are aligned with current approaches. For example, it is normal for us to use videos of practice as part of professional development, so we could also use these to reflect on the quality of interactions. These also provided models which could act as examples of the tight but loose approach to reading one to one.

The pupils involved in the intervention have all improved in terms of their language and communication. They are more confident with communicating with the member of staff, making more eye contact, smiling and pointing. Of course, this is just one approach that forms part of a wealth of other interactions that the children will have each day. However, we can directly observe the quality of these interactions and can see similar approaches on other contexts other than reading.

The EEF have shared a list of questions designed to support talk that you may find useful. These go beyond just talking about books, but give a range of options to support talk:

Talk Prompts

By investing our time into improving speech and language, we have supported our children in a difficult time. We’ve given them a head start.

Rita Parmar is Early Years Assistant at Lilycroft Nursery School and a Bradford Research Champion

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