Fairfield Special School, Northampton
"I am a specialist teacher of children between three and eleven years old who have physical disabilities, including visual impairment, and associated mild, moderate or severe learning difficulties. Many of the pupils have communication problems and our specialist school takes a particular interest in language development and alternative and augmentative communication.
The pupils’ understanding of the world is limited because they have been unable to explore it physically. Although they were able to understand everyday situations, they found the abstract imaginative concepts in the Moon Cat reading books difficult to grasp and the method we had of learning letter sounds did not capture their interest.
I was looking for something new.
Standard POPAT was already in use in other parts of the school and I decided to trial it but first I needed to think of a way of representing speech sounds in a way that was accessible to the visually impaired pupils in my class.
In November 2000 Prue Popat, the originator of the POPAT programme, visited the school and we were able to discuss my idea. Together Prue Popat and I developed a set of audio/tactile 3D objects representing the speech sounds that could be used by visually impaired children.
Initially the pupils were very tactile defensive but as they became confident with the objects, we introduced tactile 2D ‘patches’ alongside the 3D objects and then the 2D ‘patches’ alone.
This is similar to the method used when making objects of reference more symbolic but I was surprised at the speed with which pupils moved from the 3D objects to the 2D patches.
In Standard POPAT the pupils learn to analyse increasingly complex words using, first the representational sound pictures and then the combined letter and sound picture cards.
Similarly, in Multi Sensory POPAT, they sequence the 2D patches along a card with a Velcro strip on it and those pupils who are able to speak, read back the word. Later Moon letters are placed alongside the 2D patches and eventually these are further reduced until eventually the pupils are using the Moon letters alone.
This approach speeds up the learning of Moon letters and offers the prospect of pupils communicating about their own interests whether by building words with pre-prepared Moon letter tiles or by writing Moon by other means.
I was surprised to find that the pupils sometimes spontaneously recognize the POPAT ‘sounds’ when reading Moon and that those pupils who previously couldn’t speak started to produce vocal approximations of some sounds and words and later developed functional speech.
Although the Multi-Sensory POPAT was initially developed to work with visually impaired children, I eventually used it with all my class. It quickly developed the listening attention of the PMLD pupils in my care and increased their level of engagement.
I have been delighted by the interest, enjoyment and enthusiasm of the pupils, and by the speed at which they have learnt. I strongly recommend using POPAT."
Liz Austin, Class Teacher