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Thursday, July 30, 2015

What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Are You Ready to Tell Your Story?

Last summer I wrote a blog post asking whether your AAC users were ready for back to school.  I talked about personal narratives.  I asked, “how do our students who are not writers, who are nonverbal, who have significant communication disorders participate in this age-old school tradition?” And I talked about using technology to help them develop the writing skills to tell about what they did over summer vacation.

One book I love to use at back to school time is “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” by Mark Teague.  It is a fun book to use as a lead-in to students writing about their own vacations.  Its exaggerations are humorous, and can be fun as a modern-day tall tale. (This post contains an affiliate link)

The hero of the story is a boy who has a wild imagination.  His parents hope that sending him out West to his Aunt Fern’s for the summer will give his overactive imagination a rest.  But when he returns, the story he tells his classmates is full of kidnapping by cowboys, Wild West outfits, cowhand tricks, and charging bulls.
There are a number of problems within the story that can each be used separately to talk about the story elements, problem-feelings—solution triangles, and sequences.  You can use the old Somebody- Wanted - But - So frame to retell the story or each of its episodes.  Or you can use any other story element or sequence structure.  The book is able to be distilled down into a 3 or 4 picture sequence if that’s what your students need, or all 12 elements of the book can be sequenced out.
And, for working on emergent literacy skills - it’s told in rhyme!  When I use it I capitalize on the rhymes in the story to focus on some phonological awareness activities.  I have rhyming words cards (catch them below) that we use to play a “Memory” type game, as well as some sound substitutions fun, where you swap out a letter/sound in one word to make another.  Since “cow” comes up a lot in this book, that one’s easy to find word family members for.  “Train” is another.  I haven’t figured out how to use “matador” yet. 

 here is a small sample of the sound swap activity

Mark Teague is a master humorous story-teller, as evidenced by all of his books.  I haven’t used any of the others yet, but I know I’m going to have to try them.  I have used this particular book with kids with autism, kids with language disorders, and kids with learning disabilities, so it’s got lots of possibilities for any group.i  If you want to see what I’ve done with it, check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store for the materials here.

You’ll love the wonderful cowboy graphics from Away with the Pixels.

Tell me about your favorite back to school story books. Keep reading, and keep on talking!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Can I Make a Comment? 10 Things I Like.

Before I go on with the blog post, let me remind those of you who are here as a part of the scavenger hunt blog hop from Beautiful Speech to look for the secret word.  Hint: Think of your favorite greeting card store. (Hallmark)(It's right below the list of functions)

AAC users and other emergent communicators are often pretty good at requesting.  It's usually the first thing they are taught to express by words or pictures.
Too often their early language focus is on nouns; the things they like and want the most.  Many programs use these to motivate students.  Parents often want to "just know what he wants!"
But there are many more reasons to communicate.  For many of the students with Autism Spectrum Disorder that I work with, the most important reasons to communicate include, "Go away," "I need break," "Let's do something different," Something is wrong," and "I don't want to."

What are some other reasons to communicate?  Here's a list:
request attention
request an object
request an action
request assistance
request for recurrence
request affection
request cessation
greet & farewell
affirm or deny
reject or refuse
request information
comment about an object or person
comment about an action
comment about the time or place
express emotions

Focusing on communicative intent is the hallmark of Gayle Porter's PODD communication system - Pragmatic Organized Dynamic Display.  The name says it all.  The instructional focus is on Aided Language Stimulation and modeling how to find the words for the different types of messages one uses.
I have had some amazing success stories with the PODD books with kids I've evaluated and consulted on.
But your students don't have to use a PODD for you to target increasing communicative functions.

One of the first functions (after that basic requesting, which they usually have down pat) that I like to focus on is commenting.  There are always many opportunities throughout the day for teaching this.
During circle or calendar time: It's hot (or cold).  It's yucky (outside). I'm fine (or tired or sad).
During snack and lunch (always easy times for commenting): Yummy.  Yuck!  It's good (or bad).  I like it (don't like it).
During task time: I don't want to. It's fun. It's hard. No like.
Recess or play time: I like it.  Fun. Happy.
Story time: Funny. Scary. Like it.  Good (or bad).

If I'm starting with just one target comment, it's usually, "I like it."  It's easy to make lists on the board or personalized "I Like__" books or collections.  Cut out magazine pictures of what they like and glue them to a page.  Bring in a variety of toys or snack foods (try fruit to be healthy) and have students say which they like.

More functions next time.  Until then, keep on talking - however you do it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Top 3 Things I Learned in Vegas (That Didn't Stay in Vegas)

I just got back from the Teachers Pay Teachers Conference in Las Vegas last week.  I went because 

1.  I keep striving to make my blog more helpful (and reach more people with my tips and information), 
2.  I keep trying to make my resources - both free and paid - better and more useful to SLPs, teachers, and parents, and
3. I want to keep making myself better at what I do in general, and getting feedback from others is a good way to do that.

So, just what did I learn that will help me reach those goals?

1.  I learned some things about blogging and making my blog full of more helpful tips, more useful information, and demonstrating how how to use helpful resources.

2.  I learned something about gathering feedback from Calls to Action.  Now, while I already knew about CTAs, I don't think I use them consistently, so, I am specifically asking here (see below).

3.  I spent some time thinking about what I offer in my practice as well as on TPT, and came up with some thoughts for improving what I do and how I do it.  So, look for some improvements - I hope.

Do you have anything you'd like me to get better at or offer here?  Please let me know.
In the meantime, keep on talking.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What's in a Word? Top 10 Communication Functions.

What is the purpose of the message?  When students use only one word utterances/pictures we don't always know.

Most often we rely upon the context in which the word was given to infer its meaning, in conjunction with the student's body language, facial expression, eye gaze, gestures or actions.
When beginning communicators use core words, we rely on the context to tell us what they mean.  

Core words are those multi-purpose words that we use and re-use in multiple contexts.  For example, "Go" can mean:   Let's go, I want to go, Go Away and leave me alone, Turn it on and make it go, Where did (X) go?

If we know the purpose, interpreting the message is much easier.  If we know, for example, the student wants to tell us something then "Go" might mean 'I am going somewhere.'
If we know the message is about something being wrong then "Go" might mean, "Go away and leave me alone."

In either case, the student needs to know what kind of a word "go" is, and where in the aac system to find those kinds of words.  "Go" is a word about doing something, and the doing something words are in (this) location.  Or, "Go away" is about something being wrong or how he is feeling, and those words are (here) in the aac system.

Whether we focus our attention first on the core word itself or on the purpose of the message, we still must explicitly teach where that word is and how and when to use it.

Next week, I'll talk about ways to increase communication functions in students with Complex Communication Needs (CCN), especially AAC users.
'til then, keep on talking.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Do You Use Technology in the Classroom? Here's an App to Try with Struggling Spellers

I'm linking up with Teaching Trio's Technology Thursday to talk about technology in the classroom.  

I have posted before about using technology, in posts about using apps in intervention and using story making apps for developing narrative skills.   I've also posted about Question It, my app for teaching kids with autism and significant language disorders how to answer Wh- questions.

This time I'm going to talk about SoundSwaps, an app for helping kids move and change sounds in words to create new words.  How does this word differ from the next?  What sound is missing?  What's been added?  How do I spell that?

All of that is at the heart of how SoundSwaps came to be.  Influenced by the auditory conceptualization of Lindamood and Bell, the app gives clean, distraction-free practice with hearing where those changes are made in words.

The goal of SoundSwaps is to assist students to improve decoding and encoding skills through improved auditory conceptualization. (It’s great practice for all students, but was originally designed for students with dyslexia and auditory processing disorders.) Students will practice seeing and hearing words and learning where and when sounds are deleted, added, or moved to make new words.

Some students have difficulty with awareness of individual sounds in words, of whether two sounds are the same or different, and of the order in which to put them to form a specific spoken (or written) word. These students have difficulty with discriminating speech sounds in sequences and perceiving and comparing the different patterns in sequences in words. They cannot judge the differences between sounds and may delete or add sounds and syllables from words.
This app uses errorless learning. The app repels incorrect choices without drawing attention to the error. There is never a “No” or “Incorrect” message, no negative feedback, no red X. Just a subtle refusal to go someplace incorrect, and then visual cues for correct responding.
The positive response is continuous. There is verbal reinforcement after every trial. There is greater reinforcement after each sequence of changes. The letters spin, jump, and fly off the screen at the end of each string of words, with accompanying whistles. And there is applause with whistles after completing each level.
In the SoundSwaps app, letters come onto the screen one at a time. When all of the letters are on screen, it says the whole word i.e. bag
Then it says: If this says “bag” make it say “bat”
Speak 1 and Speak 2 buttons allow the user to hear the words repeated as often as necessary.
There is a trash can on right lower corner of the screen into which letters that are not needed in the new word are dragged, so that they can be replaced with the new letter. Alternately, dragging the new letter on top of the old one will simply replace it.
An on-screen keyboard pops up with consonants in blue and vowels in yellow. When the correct key is touched the letter pops out from it to be dragged up to the word. (The key with its text remains in place.)

In Step 1: Some keys are hidden; reducing the complexity of the task.
in Step 2: The full keyboard is used, still with the colors differing for vowels and consonants.
In our example, the b and a when touched can’t be dragged to the trash or moved in location, but the g when touched can be dragged to the trash can. If the user tries to drag letters for 2 unsuccessful tries, the trash can will light up and pulse or the correct letter to use will pulse. (This depends upon what the user is doing/not doing)
On the keyboard only the correct letter key can be dragged up to the open space in the word (the key itself doesn’t move – the letter remains on the keyboard, but a duplicate moves up, as stated above).
After 2 incorrect tries (touches to wrong keys on keyboard) the correct letter(s) will highlight and pulse (in sequence if more than 1) as prompts/cue.

The data tracker will track % correct and % prompted, which activity, which level (1 or 2)
  • Level 1 – Word Families: The ending sounds stay the same. Only the initial sound changes.
  • Level 2 – Initial or final sounds change or are added/deleted
  • Level 3 – The vowel sounds change.
  • Level 4 – Anything can happen. Changes can be anywhere within the word, so listen carefully!

Until Sunday, then.... Keep on talking.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What is the #1 Strategy for Teaching AAC? Forgetting this Can Be Hazardous Your AAC User’s Communicative Health.

Week after week, day after day the number one conversation I have with parents,  teachers, and SLPs is, “Where do I start with AAC?”  
My first answer is always, “With Aided Language Stimulation.”

If your child or student doesn’t have any experience with people using picture systems to communicate, he just doesn’t know what to do with this book or device or page you’re put in front of him.
We need to remember just how kids learn language - by listening to us use it all around and to them.  So, why forget that picture communication users need to learn from all of us around them using pictures when communicating to and with and around them.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it?  Yet it’s the one thing that tends to be forgotten.

One of the most difficult issues with ALgS arrises at IEP time.  Everyone wants to create objectives for this student to use his AAC system.  But if he’s a new AAC user, and hasn’t experienced picture use and has had no models of picture use, we’re going to need to be spending a lot of time introducing him to an environment of others using pictures to communicate.

“But we have to write an  objective for what he’s going to say with it!” I hear.
One of the best objectives I’ve heard for this situation came from Linda Burkhart and Gayle Porter’s PODD training.  And that is, to set objectives to increase the student’s attention to pictures and attention to others using the pictures to communicate.  At the beginning, that is all we want him to do.  
Remember, receptive language (usually) precedes expressive.  If we want him to talk with pictures, we need to have him understand talking with pictures. 

For a great handout on Aided Language Stimulation, go to Linda’s website

Keep talking.  And keep using picture communication when you talk with your aac user.