Monday, January 26, 2015

Movie Monday Link-Up - Get a Video-Eye View of SoundSwaps App for Struggling Spellers

     I'm linking up with Techie Turtle's Movie Monday today, collecting educational or fun movie clips.  


     I'm sharing my YouTube video demo of my SoundSwaps app.




     SoundSwaps is for kids who are struggling spellers, those with dyslexia, those who haven't quite grasped the code.  It's focus is on seeing a word, hearing a new word, and changing the letters in the first word to create the second word. A keyboard with moveable letters let students drag and drop letters into the trash or into the word bar.


     It's simply designed, without a lot of distractions for kids who just don't need them. Check it out.  It's available in the iTunes store here.

What are you doing to help your struggling spellers?


Building Narratives in Intervention With and Without Technology

I have been lucky to have the opportunity to hear Gloria Soto speak on a couple of occasions about developing narrative skills in children with complex communication needs.  She and her team have done fabulous work up in the Bay area (Ca.).  I have adapted their format as/when I can with a number of my students with autism who are nonverbal.  Teachers love to do this to work on this particular skill, which is usually an IEP goal (when I can get it in there).  
I ask parents to send in a picture from the weekend of something the student did or something that happened.  It doesn’t need to be exciting as a trip to Disneyland (which some families do regularly around here).  The example I often give is that it can be as simple as, “My brother tripped and spilled his milk all over the kitchen floor and mom was mad. It was funny.”
Sometimes it is teachers who work with the student to generate the narrative and sometimes it is the SLP.  But most often it is the aide who works with that student, so I have to make sure I’ve done training and that it makes sense to them. Then I have to hope it works.  Fortunately, I’ve worked with some really great aides.
I have them go slowly, step by step to use the student’s aac system (often an iPad with Proloquo2Go these days) to pull out the major Wh answers - Who was there, What did they do, Where were they, When was it.  Then I add How they felt about it.
Having navigated through the system to answer these basic questions, we are often left with a series of single word responses.  So these have to get expanded into 2-word utterances/symbol sequences.  We want to work 1 step above where the student is working. If possible, we expand the responses further, into simple sentences.
Then there is the matter of sequencing the phrases into an order that makes sense for that particular story.  All of this is done with the student’s aac system and with the communication partner writing it big on a white board.  In the end, the partner will program it into the student’s aac system, (if it’s not a picture communication book) so that they can tell the story to someone else.  If necessary the aide or teacher will use Boardmaker to sequence the symbols so that the child has a story page to use to re-tell the event to someone.


If you have the technology, you can create the story in a number of ways so that it can be spoken or read out loud.  With multiple pictures, you can use a story creation app to make a digital story book that retells the story.  On-line you can create it as a digital book on TarHeelReader.org.  On the computer there are a number of options.  Some teachers I work with use Boardmaker Studio, and can create a book there.
If you missed it in earlier posts, here is a link to my handout Using Story Creating Apps to Build Personal Narratives:  from iPad to Conversation" 

Personal narratives are the backbone of conversational skills.  They are often forgotten in the day to day imperative to build vocabulary, build syntax, increase use of the aac system.  But we have to remember that they are the actual reason we are doing those things. If our students can’t communicate with others naturally, what is it we are doing?
So, keep on making stories happen.

How are you building narratives for your students?



Monday, January 19, 2015

What Does Your Child’s Narrative Say About Him? Narratives and Students with Autism and other Disorders.

We continue our discussion of narratives in children this week with some discussion of narrative skills in children who have deficits in language development and/or development of Theory of Mind.  
It has been shown that children who have strong narrative skills are better able to take in and assimilate new experiences without being confused by them.  Children who are able to understand and talk about their past experiences are better suited to deal with future experiences.

Some researchers have shown that narrative structure is more important than narrative content in predicting child success and behavior.  That is, how the story is told and the co-constructing that happens during the telling (the narrative building) is important - more important than what the narrative is about.  
All researchers agree, however, that children’s narrative skills are important in understanding teachers’ expectations, understanding classroom activities, in moving from oral to written understanding, and in reading comprehension.  

Students with a variety of disabilities can struggle to produce cohesive narratives.  Students with autism, in particular, have difficulty with not just the general language required to develop narrative skills, but even those with basic language skills have difficulty with  understanding the feelings and states of others, with understanding causal relationships, and with ability to predict behavior.   
Children with autism have, in some studies, performed significantly better on tasks of story retelling than on tasks of formulating personal narratives.   
Children with autism have shown the need for significantly more prompts to initiate and continue personal narratives, and often fail in their attempts even with scaffolding.  Ability to understand and express emotions and to interpret facial, gestural, and postural cues has significant impact on the narrative skills of students with autism. 

What are some things you can do?



  1. Develop the vocabulary needed to talk about emotional experiences.  The student needs sufficient vocabulary available to him to be able to talk about emotions; working from basic to more complex.  Labeling and talking about his feelings is a precursor to talking about others’ feelings and about characters’ feelings.
  2. Use situational information to help the student determine how others are feeling.  Students need to be able to understand how others are feeling, and contextual experiences can help them with practicing this.  Teach the student what someone is feeling and why, based on the context.  Not only are video clips useful (and video moiling is being used a lot now), but the old stand-by t.v. shows are also useful.  Many therapists and teachers also use Social Stories and comic strips.  The visual of the t.v. story is often easier than using a storybook.
  3. Develop a set of visual templates that provide a structure for the narrative.  Give each narrative component a visual cues that the student can refer to while constructing his narrative
  4. Provide both contextual intervention (during the course of the day as the opportunity naturally arises) as well as skill based intervention, where a situation from the student’s day is used to practice target skills.  Provide stories that are short but illustrate a specific story element that the student can identify and discuss.  Attach the stories to something familiar to the child.
  5. Use visuals, visuals, and more visuals. Story maps, sequence symbols, any type of visual cues to illustrate what is needed or provide a memory prompt.
  6. Move from simple close formats in sentences and stories to more complex formulation tasks, using whatever the student needs to provide structure. Provide models of well-structured narratives and then walk the student through their production step by step. Write down separately each piece of information the child produces, then work with him to order them to tell the story.
How are you building narratives with your kids who need help?


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Scaffolding Narratives - How Do I Build a Child’s Narrative Structures?

Children’s learning of narrative structures is in part dependent upon how the adults around them shape their narrative attempts.  Children learn to build on their language structures depending upon how we model for them prompt them, and reproduce for them.  
Children need adults who provide guidance and feedback, thereby providing the structure for and much of the content of the task.  We provide the scaffolding for the child's narrative by asking questions and making comments judiciously.  Adults need to be attuned to the child’s level of development, and to change the level of scaffolding as the child develops skills.  When adults provide models of elaboration to younger children, those children are much more likely to provide more complex narratives when they are older.  
Having conversations about recent - and not so recent - past events provides the structure for the content of those narratives, as well as the form.  
By asking questions throughout the conversation adults help the child build a more complete narrative.  
By providing prompts to parts of the story left out, the adult is providing a structure that the child may have difficulty with. For example, very young children do not have the concept yet of sequencing, of beginning-middle-ending, of the temporal or cause-effect of the event.  
By providing questions and models, parents and teachers (and SLPs) begin to guide them toward these concepts and structures.
At the pre-K and Kindergarten levels of development, children are beginning to increase their memory and language skills, and to develop a stronger sense of their own experiences.


Families who reminisce about events with their children build in them both the language skills to talk about events, but also the ability to see how their own experiences of the event fit in with others.’  Teachers and SLPs can similarly build these skills by talking about events that happen in the school setting; particularly within the class or group.  Narratives are also successfully built in intervention settings using photos brought/sent in from home.
At this age, children are discovering that other people’s feelings and thoughts about an event can be different from their own.  They are also beginning to discover and understand how others’ objectives in situations are different from theirs.  Building this Theory of Mind is important to their academic success.  Reading comprehension is not just about understanding the words on the page and the sentences that contain them.  It is also very much about understanding how the characters interact and feel and respond to one another.  History cannot be understood without understanding the differing motivations of people and groups of people or the reasons for the conflicts between them.
When reading stories focus on the characters’ feelings and their goals and desires.  Help children understand how these can be the same, at times, but can also be very different at other times.  But don’t forget, too, to keep building the vocabulary and syntax comprehension that they need for comprehension, too.

Talk about events and experiences; moving from talking about the here and now reminiscences
Ask questions to generate more elaborate responses
Explain how others feel and how that explains how they respond or react
Provide elaboration of sentence structure and vocabulary

Provide elaboration of sequences

How are you helping your children/students build their narrative skills?



Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Importance of Story Telling

There is a rich history of storytelling in every culture I can think of.  Story telling is used to communicate information, teach lessons, tell about events, transmit cultural expectations and histories, and entertain.
This same rich history of storytelling winds it way through child development at all levels of development.  Children are encouraged from an early age to tell about events, retell stories, and make up stories.  Children practice telling about tasks and routine events, narrating activities and play, and producing narratives to tell about their experiences.   Carol Westby speaks a great deal about the culture of storytelling in language development and the importance for language and literacy development of children’s rehearsals of story telling and retelling in play with sibling, stuffed animals and dolls.  Narrative skill is a strong predictor of academic success.
Narrative production requires not only an understanding of event sequences, cause and effect, and story grammar, but also understanding of how people feel and react and respond.
According to Westby, there are different types of narratives; including scripts, recounts, accounts, event casts, and fictional stories. 
Studying narrative skills in children gives us an idea of how the child uses different sentence types and structures, how well they can recall and reformulate, their understanding of temporal and causal relationships between people and events, and much more. 


There are a variety of narrative development schema that have been proposed or researched. In the broadest and simplest terms, children move from:


  1. Heaps - This is the linguistic version of that pile of laundry you have in your head that the name evokes - at least to me. At this stage a narrative is simply a list of mostly nouns and verbs that label or describe the people, things, and actions, without any kind of organization.
  2. Sequences - Now some organization emerges. The utterances revolve around a topic or theme, a character, but without any order or plot.
  3. Simple or primitive narratives have some event that starts the story - an initiating event.  They also have some action after that and a consequence of that action. There is o real ending to the story at this point, and no explanation of why the action occurred or how anyone felt about it.  
  4. The next stage has been called a chain narrative, or can be broken into two stages: unfocused chain and focused chain.  As the name suggests there is some chain of events or sequencing that is either cause-effect or temporal in its elements.  In addition to the initiating event and the subsequent action there is now an additional action or reaction, which the character has some hint of motivation or a plan for. There is a conclusion, but not a strong resolution to the story. Researchers say there is no central character in an unfocused chain.  The chain of actions may be joined by conjunctions; such as “and,” “because,” and “but.”  The focused chain contains a central character and a logical sequence.
  5. A true narrative has a theme and a strong plot.  The character is more developed, and has motivation to react and act, the characters’ actions are logical and sequential. The main elements of stories are included at this stage - initiating event, the character’s plan or motivation, an action or attempt at action, a consequence to that, and a resolution or solution to the problem.
More on narratives next week.  How do you help children tell stories?