⇣ Drag elements to your Custom Footer Container ⇣
As Speech and Language Therapists know, it is recognised that a substantial number of prisoners have underlying problems with language.
In London, I managed a centre for students with specific language impairment, the first in the country to be attached to a mainstream secondary school, and we began the difficult task of learning about, training in and gathering strategies which we thought would enhance their learning. These students were of average or above-average ability and were not deaf, physically disabled nor autistic, as there were other centres in secondary schools for these needs. The centre was set up because we had a large cohort arising from an extended family and this family became part of a worldwide study to find a genetic basis for their disorder. This gene was found while I was working with them in the 1990s.
While working with these young people with language processing disorders we developed a “toolbox” of strategies, through the practice of what worked and what didn’t over the years, particularly in the areas of literacy, understanding and ability to communicate. During this time, I had to advocate for our students in a gruelling court case and this led me to wonder about how many people appeared in court with underlying language processing disorders.
One of the “tools” in our toolbox included the Six Thinking Hats devised by Edward de Bono. After much thought and discussion, I devised a programme for the prisoners which could be delivered in short targeted sessions, particularly for those on remand, as longer programmes run the risk of not being able to be completed and therefore could be detrimental. It was experimental and we were unsure of how it would be received. I believed the strategy would be useful in challenging prisoners’ thinking and perceptions and that it would give them the concrete means to express themselves.
Six Hat Thinking is a difficult concept and one in which I have trained and used for years but still sometimes struggle with. I designed the programme so that it could be delivered in a formulaic but practical format with a simple easy introduction to the power of each Hat’s function. It was designed to assist the learners to remember the way each Hat worked and to also enable the students who were training with me to become facilitators and to help them understand the reasoning. The trainee facilitators were mainly students of criminology, psychology and law, with one from Mt Eden Correction Facility’s education department. The trainees were to learn from observation initially with further facilitator training to be undertaken as a follow-up.
It was nerve-wracking entering the prison classroom for the first time as I was warned that the sessions were voluntary for the prisoners, that the maximum we could have in each session was 15 but more likely to be 4-5 and that they were inclined to wander in and out at will.
Fifteen men turned up for our first session and respectfully participated, listened and felt able to express their ideas enthusiastically. After the initial introduction to the Six Hats, the men were asked to consider an entertaining problem under each hat in smaller breakaway groups, which they were to feedback to the larger group. Their summing up was lively, interesting and very amusing. The review showed that they had retained the method and its reasons, so they were asked to go away and to reflect upon how they felt it could impact their lives. At the end of this first session, men came up to offer comment about interesting they felt the session was.
At the beginning of the next session, which was again fully attended, men came up voluntarily to say how they had reflected upon the method over the past week and how helpful they found it. They liked its simplicity, its visual nature, the ease with which they could practise it and its potential impact on their thinking and reflection in their lives.
The programme was put in place permanently due to its enthusiastic adoption, by the prisoners, the prison staff and the facilitators. Its potential benefits were enormous, and the programme evolved to include issues to do with their imprisonment, relationships, etc.
After a year or so my role became one of facilitator for the training of new students who were to deliver the programme. The feedback from the facilitators, Mt Eden’s education officer and the prisoners, was overwhelmingly positive. After a couple of years, the new prison education officer took over and my intention is to return to see how it is progressing.
The programme has been rolled out across many prisons and rehabilitation centres as well. Prisoners who complete the Six Hat Thinking course now receive a Certificate which is taken into account for their parole and court sentencing proceedings.
A prisoner due for parole commented to his lawyer that the Six Hat Thinking course is “really good because it helps with negative thinking, it gives you strategies to deal with issues and it gives you a way to plan forward.”
Speech and Language Therapist
Kidz Therapy Ltd