Helping Children Hang on to Your Every Word

Review: Penny Buckle, Independent Speech & Language therapist


Have you been frustrated by children who switch off, fail to listen, won't pay attention? Well then this is the book for you. Maggie Johnson will be known to many people working with children with communication difficulties; her focus on functional communication means her books are very readable and practical. This book is no exception.


By highlighting the links between behaviour and hidden language processing difficulties this book aims to help us understand why some children find listening so difficult, why they disengage and seem to lack the motivation to learn. The reader is challenged to consider whether it is their own behaviour that makes listening and attending easier or more difficult.


In the introduction, eight attention control factors are explored in relation to engagement and attention control. These include four environment factors, task organisation and understanding, motivation and success. These factors are all variable and dependent on issues such as time of day, preceding events, environmental conditions etc. and, as such, Maggie Johnson explains their inter-relationship in terms of a sliding scale or 'control panel' from low to high depending on those variables.


A chapter is given over to each of the eight attention control factors. The chapters take a common format - signs that affect attention; factors that are important; possible barriers (school and/or child); how to improve. Most chapters have a list of additional useful resources and the appendices provide additional support materials. An added bonus is the information about patterns of development for attention, play, narrative skills and phonological awareness which serves as a useful reminder. As one has come to expect of Maggie Johnson, she includes well illustrated examples and scenarios throughout the book.


This book won't necessarily provide you with the quick fix for those children who find it difficult to listen and pay attention, but it provides a very practical toolkit. It is a useful resource for any classroom, providing accessible and realistic advice to all staff and, indeed, any professional working in school settings.

£12 FREE postage


Review: Dyslexia Review, 2007

Probably one of the greatest sources of frustration for a classroom teacher is the child who simply doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t listen; not only are they not learning much themselves, but the chances are they are also disrupting lessons. Unfortunately, these are the very children that many teachers feel least able to help.

Maggie Johnson’s concise book is a very useful ‘first stop’ guide to understanding the reasons behind poor concentration and finding strategies for dealing with it.

Eight factors (attention controls) are identified as having an impact on attention and listening in the classroom - some negative, e.g. distractions, and some positive, e.g. understanding. The author explains that these can be minimised or maximised to produce a more tuned-in student. Each ‘attention control’ has its own section in the book.

We are given clues to look out for in a child’s behaviour which will help us to know which attention controls are likely to be at the ‘wrong setting’, why, and what we can do about it. Each section ends with an excellent list of useful resources – not too long, but carefully selected, including small items such as Chewy Tubes which readers may not know about or may not have been able to source.

A speech and language therapist, the author offers an insight into the links between language processing difficulties and behaviour, but deals with many other issues, including relatively minor ones which can nonetheless affect concentration – borrowing rubbers, fiddling with pencils – which all teachers are regularly annoyed by – and doesn’t overlook them. Her suggestions for help are realistic, practical and informed and she acknowledges that some things are beyond our control.

There are a variety of useful appendices at the back of the book, including work plans, timelines and details of developmental progressions.

I recommend this book to teachers; it will certainly be on my shelf at school for regular reference!

£12 FREE postage


Review: by Special Needs Information Press (SNIP), August, 2007

Maggie Johnson has written widely on supporting pupils with speech and language needs within schools. In this book, she examines the possible barriers faced by pupils who struggle to attend, by providing scales that identify the impact of the environment, the task and pupil attributes such as motivation and determination to succeed. This provides a useful, visual overview to break down the problems and also to enable highlighting of solutions, that many will find helpful.

The areas that contribute to success or failure in the environment are characterised as comfort, organisation, focus and distractions, with factors that influence the efficacy of each and ways to improve them identified. This process is repeated in the areas relating to the task and pupil attributes.

Many school staff are aware of those pupils who underachieve due to lack of maintenance of focus. They require high levels of adult input to ensure they complete work and are often slow to become independent learners. This book provides a toolkit that would enable positive responses to reduce the problems being experienced by those who are unable to maintain attention. It is practical and user-friendly and provides a range of further links as well as photocopiable resources to support staff in impacting on pupils skills in listening and paying attention. It would provide useful support to all schools, in increasing staff awareness of the strategies they could put in place to increase effective teaching and learning.

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