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‘Using Graphic Symbols’

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1 ‘Using Graphic Symbols’
A presentation by Louise Greenstock, PhD Student - Speech and Language Therapy Division

2 Objectives Introduce the research Introduce the research context
Consider qualitative research standards Provide a vision of the outcomes of the research Talk about some interesting early findings

3 The Research What is this research about? Why is it needed?
Has it been investigated before? What are the research questions? How did I collect data and address these questions? What will the outcomes be? Literature and Context Philosophy and Methodology

4 Multi-disciplinary Exploratory research often draws upon more than one research area or discipline in order to bring a number of ideas together in a unique way Considering a new research area requires careful selection of a number of contributing schools of thought and existing disciplinary areas

5 What is the research about?
Graphic symbols – “A graphical representation of a referent (real or abstract) usually presented individually or alongside other graphic symbols, traditionally used to support face to face communication but with other emerging purposes” (Greenstock, 2007, p.13) Used by speech and language therapists and educational professionals As usage increases more children have access to symbols Lack of information and training available to practitioners Do practitioners work together when they use symbols? COLLABORATION

6 Symbols Picture Communication Symbols© by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All rights reserved worldwide. Used with permission Other symbol sets include: Makaton, Widgit Literacy, Blissymbolics

7 Ask the practitioners who use symbols
Missing link Symbols Collaboration This is what the Government wants But does it work when practitioners use symbols? Ask the practitioners who use symbols

8 Literature Symbols Collaboration Types of symbols
Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) Symbol users Use(s) of symbols Symbol selection and implementation Visual aids and autism Symbolic development Collaboration What is collaboration? Multi-agency partnerships, multi-disciplinary working Joined-up services Defining conditions for & barriers against Inter-professional working & education Ways of working, values and beliefs

9 Literature Research Questions
What are the experiences and attitudes of practitioners working in Foundation Stage school settings around the use of graphic symbols? What do practitioners think about the way graphic symbols are being used currently? How consistent is graphic symbol use across the Foundation Stage, what implications does this have? What is guiding/governing current graphic symbols use? What experiences have practitioners had of working together when using graphic symbols?

10 A word about inclusion ….
‘The drive for inclusion’ is a current socio-political theme (or debate) that cannot be ignored in this research This research touches upon practitioners’ experiences of the drive for ‘educational inclusion’ The wider context of social inclusion is also relevant

11 Research Context Political agenda Matrix of contextual themes
Educational inclusion Social inclusion Demands on the Children’s Workforce Education and Health – integrated services Inter-professional learning / working

12 Philosophy & Strategy Exploratory (a new or under-researched area)
Experiences, meanings, making sense of the world Phenomenological & interpretive Need for reflexivity Experiences of practitioners neglected Research literature inaccessible to those it is relevant to Giving a voice to those who use symbols An interpretation of the participants’ lived experiences

13 Qualitative Research Assumptions
Glogowska and Campbell; “Marshall and Rossman (1995) describe the ‘unique strengths’ of the qualitative paradigm ‘for the research that is exploratory and descriptive ….. that searches for a deeper understanding of the participant's lived experiences of the phenomena.” (2000, p.392) Schratz (1993); “the original voices from the field become the ‘disembodied’ voices in the discourse of quantitative research” (1993, p. 1)

14 Qualitative Research Requirements
Yardley (2000); sensitivity to context (social and cultural) commitment and rigour (thorough and systematic) transparency and coherence (be explicit and concise) impact and importance (disseminate findings) Researcher must be reflexive and generate an honest and accurate ‘audit trail’

15 Methodology – Sampling & Ethics
Sampling (purposive & homogenous) Practitioners working in FS school settings Experience of using graphic symbols All schools within research region approached Sampling until ‘saturation’ Ratios in the population Ethics NHS Teachers 15 Early Years Practitioners (EYPs) 22 Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) 16 One year & lots of hard work!

16 Methodology – Data Collection
Semi-structured interviews (standardised interview framework used) In-depth, relatively small sample (n = 53) Pring (2005); “interviews … objectives are normally to understand the experiences of those interviewed rather than collect data that is strictly representative of the population” (2005, p.183) “Complete coverage is not possible, or advantageous” (Wild, 2005) Time consuming, complete attention of researcher BUT Information-rich Meanings can be negotiated Issues can be explored

17 Analytical Philosophy
Qualitative Data Analysis Phenomenology: “a profoundly reflective inquiry into human meaning” (Van Manen, M., 2002) Looking for meaning in the transcripts Listening to the participants ‘lived experiences’ Thematic analysis Bracketing (phenomenological reduction)

18 Managing the Analysis Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) QSR NVivo2 – qualitative data management tool Mastery of the software part of research process Researcher guides the analysis, don’t let the software lead you ‘Journal’ the process

19 Analytical Method Engaging with each transcript individually (coding down) Identifying and testing categories (coding up) Seeking evidence for emergent themes Testing and considering alternatives Conceptual linking and building theory THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Coding

20 Early Findings – Categories Emerging
‘Experiences of using symbols for range of purposes (specific and general)’ ‘Using symbols with children with specific needs (applicable to more/all children?)’ ‘Children’s understanding of symbols (assessment & developmental progression)’ ‘Importance of consistency when using symbols’ ‘Training in the use of symbols’ ‘Practitioners’ experiences of working collaboratively when they use symbols’

21 ‘Experiences of using symbols for range of purposes (specific and general)’
Visual timetables (helping children understand what’s happening) Developing choice-making Labelling resources and the environment PECS (picture exchange communication system) Symbols for rules and expectations (e.g. ‘good listening’)

22 ‘Using symbols with children with specific needs (applicable to more/all children?)’
Symbols used to support: Children with autism Children with English as an additional language Children with learning difficulties Children with physical difficulties Children with specific communication difficulties ‘New children’ A number of participants said they believe symbols are useful for ‘all children’

23 ‘Children’s understanding of symbols (assessment & developmental progression)’
Children’s understanding of representational relationships varies A proposed hierarchy of representational items widely accepted and acknowledged (objects – photos – symbols – signs/speech/written word) Use of symbols should come at appropriate stage of development SLTs believe development should be assessed

24 ‘Importance of consistency when using symbols’
Practitioners generally share the belief that symbol use should be consistent within schools Practitioners should use the same symbol sets Symbols should be presented in the same ways Practitioners should know what other professionals in the school are using (but are sometimes unaware)

25 ‘Training in the use of symbols’
Most graduate practitioners had not experienced training about symbols in degree courses Many educational practitioners had not had any training in the use of symbols Many educational practitioners would like training Some SLTs deliver symbols training in schools Knowledge of using of symbols was something that was ‘picked up’ or learnt from observing others

26 ‘Practitioners’ experiences of working collaboratively when they use symbols’
Some SLTs feel that they are seen as ‘symbol experts’ Some SLTs do not feel their knowledge about symbols is maximised in schools Educational practitioners referred to very positive working relationships with SLTs SLTs expressed difficulties in ensuring symbols are implemented in schools Working relationships are important, building trust Being based in the school supports collaboration Most SLTs are not in schools all the time

27 Quotes “… but you can’t just think, ‘I’m going to put symbols in and
then that’s going to be effective’, you have to think about <um> the reasons why … that child may be wanting to use the symbols, you have to think about the level that they’re at, as in, ‘are symbols going to be effective?’ <Um> Are the people that are using the symbols … trained up to use them with that child?” SLT 1.4 (Paragraph 69)

28 “… if you say to a teacher you need to be employing these
strategies or giving them advice, they can quite rightly turn round to you and say, ‘you’ve never done this with thirty children, it’s different’” SLT1.5 (Paragraph 26) “You can’t be a specialist in everything” T8 (Paragraph 94)

29 Theoretical Outcomes End result: A set of themes which are conceptually linked to form a theoretical framework encompassing the researcher’s unique interpretation of the data What would be most useful to research population and target audience? Academic research community, practitioners working with young children Giving practitioners: A ‘voice’ Access to research about their profession Stimulate positive change & further inquiry

Every Child Matters ....

31 References Dallal, G. (1998) The Little Handbook of Statistical Practice. url: (accessed 10/10/2007) Glogowska, M., and Campbell, R. (2000) Investigating parental views of involvement in pre-school speech and language therapy, International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 35 (3), Greenstock, L. (2007) MPhil – PhD Transfer Report. De Montfort University Pring, T (2005) Research Methods in Communication Disorders, London: Whurr Publishers Ltd. Schratz, M. (ed.) Qualitative voices in educational research, London: The Falmer Press Van Manen, M. (2002) Phenomenology Online. url: (accessed 2702/2008) Wild, L. (2005) Qualitative Research Social Methods (PowerPoint presentation). Accessed 25/02/2008 Yardley, L. (2000) Dilemmas in qualitative health psychology, Psychology and Health, 15,

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