24 March 2020

Confident communicators – how do we measure this?

Often when we speak to practitioners or schools staff who have taken part in I CAN’s programmes, they tell us how much more confident students have become. When we dig deeper, we find that what they are actually referring to is improved communication skills. How can we encourage people to look beyond simply ‘confidence’ and identify the specific speech, language and communication skills that young people have developed? 

It’s tempting to focus on non-verbal skills, e.g. Barclays life skills programme helps young people to show confident body language, but during our Talk for Work programme, we also identified other aspects. In older young people, we felt that communication skills which might appear as poor confidence were short, minimal phrases with awkward silences, or not being able to deal with communication breakdown/ questions. While confident young people were able to add in extra comments/ questions off script or willingly initiate and chat. You can see that what some might see as a lack of confidence actually could be indications of language difficulties.

From this we devised a confidence measure – a five point scale, which we used to analyse young people’s interactions. We also found it a really useful tool to start discussions with school staff.

Confidence isn’t just about external, observable characteristics though. A dictionary definition is:

feeling or showing confidence in oneself or one's abilities or qualities.

So do children and young people feel more confident in their communication after taking part in an I CAN programme? In our evaluations, we always include a child or young person’s self-rating, and where possible we run focus groups. Interestingly, young people themselves will often talk about confidence:

“I have definitely improved. I can even speak in front of others more confidently whereas before I would do anything to avoid it”  

However you define it, and however you measure it, confidence is clearly an important factor - and not just in young people. Our programmes also aim to develop adults’ confidence in supporting children’s communication.   

Over the years, we’ve tried many ways of doing this. Counterintuitively, we find that adults often rate themselves lower after having some training or doing a programme, simply because only then do they realise how little they knew before! 

Recently, we have been using what we call a ‘staff journey measure’. We developed this based on an interview approach – the Concerns Based Adoption Model . Our measure charts the journey in seven stages from I don’t know anything about speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and it’s not a priority for me’ through to ‘I’ve got it – SLCN is part of my everyday practice’ and on to ‘I want more people to know about this’. We’ve found that having clear descriptors helps people to identify where they are on the scale.

For some of our programmes, though, changes in confidence can be a meaningful measure in itself. For parents, when they describe the things they do with their children you can really see how much more confident they have become. This short video shows the difference taking part in a Changing the Conversation about Language – a programme I CAN ran in partnership with EasyPeasy and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy. Listen to how many times they use the word ‘confident!

You can find out more about how I CAN evaluates our work here. 

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