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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Can Your Students Give and Follow Directions? More Barrier Game Fun

Last week I talked about an app that provided lots of opportunities for building language in intervention or at home.  I also talked a bit about barrier games, and how they are used in speech-language therapy.
But how exactly do you "do" a barrier game?  It's really quite simple.

1. Create a background - either using a plain piece of paper, or a printed background scene.  In my barrier games resources I have used empty beaches, empty classrooms, secluded forest paths, and more.

2. Gather some pictures of things to put into the scenes - for example, in my beach scene resource, I have kids in bathing suits, beach umbrellas, towels, and other beach-y things.  But I also add fun elements.  A penguin at the beach?  Why not?  They like the water, too.  How about a lunchbox, a dog, an elephant?  Make it fun and generate some giggles.
Make some of the pictures similar enough that there is a bit of a challenge for both the student describing and the student listening.

3. Copy all your pictures so that you have 2 copies of each.  Save them as separate sets - I use either plastic baggies or envelopes, and attach them to find folders with the scenes inside.

4. Get a barrier.  Those cardboard science project ti-folds are great for this.  The point is that the students on either side of the barrier not be able to se each other.

You're ready!

Students take turns being the speaker and the listener.  The speaker chooses the elements to put into the scene and tells the other student where to put them.  When the elements are dissimilar enough there is less of a challenge than when there are pictures very similar to each other to discriminate.
For example, in my Build a Robot set, students are presented with body parts that have similar colors but in different patterns.  This might be better for some of the older or more capable students on your caseload.

Barrier games can be used to target spatial concepts, descriptive concepts, giving and following directions, using complete sentences, and more.

Have a whole class or a group too large to do it this way?  I had a class of middle schoolers who did an "Alien Sighting" activity.  I set the theme - in this case an alien landing, and observers who aided scientists by giving descriptions of him.  
One student left the room, and the rest of the class and I created an alien drawing.
The student came back to the room and stood at the board, following the class' directions to draw the alien.
My students enjoyed this game all the way through middle school, and it was a fun activity for this group of kids with language disorders.

Have fun.  And - keep talking!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Barrier Games, Following Directions, Giving Descriptions - Is There an App for That?

Apps are appearing more and more in classrooms and intervention settings.  Kids’ engagement is often higher with technology and animated apps than with other activities or the pages of a book.  

Use of apps, however, should be carefully controlled, so that they don’t take over the therapeutic intervention or academic session, and to make sure that you are still targeting what you intended.

Over the past couple of years I have often been asked to recommend apps for specific target skills.  There are so many apps to choose from and the quality of them varies greatly.

One app I’ve come across that I like for language intervention is Clicky Sticky. (Note that I have no relationship with this app developer, nor have I been given a code for this app to review it.) 

Over the course of my speech-language therapy career I have used barrier games a lot.  I came across my first intervention guide to using barrier games a few decades ago, which contained geometric shapes of different sizes and colors.  That quickly became boring.  

Part of the problem was that the intent of barrier games is two-fold:  on one side of the barrier a student needs to learn to listen carefully to the descriptions and directions, process what he’s heard, and follow the directions to create a scene identical to the one the speaker is describing.  

On the other side of the screen, the student needs to provide concise descriptions and directions using robust vocabulary so that the listener understands what he is to do to create the scene.

The vocabulary of colors, shapes, and sizes was finite.  There needed to be more variety and richness to the activity.  
I added rubber stamps and stickers to my intervention bag.  Rubber stamps were fun and could be used over and over again; unlike the stickers, which had a single use only.  

I started using Clingforms and Unisets - those plastic pictures that could be moved and repositioned.  I had sets that represented grocery stores, zoos and aquariums, a family home, and more.

So, back to Clicky Sticky.  If you are working one on one with a child this is a great app for having him tell you where to put the moveable animated stickers (if you can keep control of the iPad).  Or let him use the iPad, following your directions for what to make of the scenes.

If you have two students and one iPad, just put one student in your place, and have them take tuns giving and following directions to create the scenes.  Playing with the scenes once formed is the perfect contextual reward.

Even better, if you have 2 iPads, make it into a true barrier game.  Like many apps used in speech-language therapy, it was not necessarily intended as a language development app, but has been used extensively by SLPs to develop language in a variety of ways.  Good SLPs can turn almost any activity into a language learning experience.

I still promote the use of barrier games in therapy.  If you’d like to try some of the good old fashioned paper variety, check out the sets I have in my TPT store; there are 9 in all.  Try this money-saving bundle of the first 5 here.

Keep on talking!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Speaking with Their Eyes

Back to school is upon me.  This week starts a brand new school year and, for me, a new year of staff training, consulting, and evaluations.  

My week starts right off with two young students who are going to be eye gaze aac system users.  Because they are young and have little or no experience yet with picture-based communication, I have recommended a multi-pronged approach to beginning with AAC.

Eye gaze, sometimes also called eye pointing, is the using of the eyes to direct a communication partner’s attention.  It is a quiet strategy, and sometimes subtle.  Effective use of eye gaze requires the focus of both the user and the communication partner.  The child’s partners need to constantly focus on the child’s gaze, and to respond to the use of gaze.  Partners also need to confirm their interpretation of the user’s responses, especially when the child is focusing on something in the environment, rather than a discrete symbol on a page.

We all use our eyes when we communicate without even thinking about it.  We look pointedly at people, roll our eyes at them, and express a variety of emotions.  Many aac users who are able to use direct selection nevertheless also use eye gaze to identify something they want in the environment.  

First of all, for these two children, I’ve recommended the use of partner assisted scanning (PAS) with a more comprehensive communication book or board than the students can use just now.  This will give them access to more vocabulary than they can currently access using large arm movements or limited eye gaze that has been tried with them so far; which has been just choices of two items.

I’m also providing them with simple eye gaze communication books with 4 symbols per page.  This moves them forward with eye gaze access, and we’ll keep on growing these responses as we can.

Most of all, I’m providing families and school teams with training.  I always begin with talking about Aided Language Stimulation, and the importance of using modeling consistently when communicating with these students, whether using the PAS book systems or the eye gaze boards.

I often only get about 10 hours of training and consultation time per school year, which doesn’t give me very much time to train folks, so I have to make it count.  I give them as much information as I can, including handouts, and try to make sure they have the communication materials they need.

If you’re looking for some eye gaze boards to use with your students, you can find one version of a free eye gaze system available on-line, through Speakbook, here in English, French and Spanish.
For some good videos of eye gaze in action, take a look at these from the Bridge School. 
You can also find my beginning pack of eye gaze boards in my TPT store, here.  

Keep on talking - or looking to talk.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One of These Things is Not Like the Others - or is it?

One of the pivotal language skills that speech-language pathologists work on is the categorization of vocabulary.  We spend a lot of time working on how children understand word relationships and increasing their word knowledge.  Being able to sort things into categorical groups helps children to organize their thoughts, and serves as a basis for more complex vocabulary skills.

One of the ways we manage our vast vocabulary organization - usually without even thinking about it - is by categorizing.  Where does that word belong? What does it go with?  What other words is it similar to, or different from?  Some research says that younger children more often use more narrow categories; such as breakfast foods.  By second grade they more often demonstrate the use of broader categories; such as foods

When we teach children new vocabulary, what category it belongs to is one of the first features of the word we cover.  Category and function, closely linked, are often where we begin our instruction.  In speech-language intervention, we often find children sorting items into groups - clothing, food, animals - and into more narrow categories; farm animals, zoo animals, ocean animals or fruits, meats, dairy.

When we are teaching children to use augmentative communication systems, this notion of categorizing becomes critical as children learn where to find the words they need to use.  If you want to ask for an apple, you need to find the food group, then the fruit group.  If you’re telling someone about what you did last weekend, you need to know that “zoo” is in the category of “places.”

While most of us don’t even think about where a word is located in our internal storage banks before we use it, children who use AAC need to very consciously think about the organization of their vocabulary storage systems - their AAC systems.  The students who have the most difficulty with language skills are those who need to think hardest about language.

When I worked with preschool and kindergarten children I did a lot of work with categories.  Some days I really relied upon lists of categories that could be found in SLP resource books ( this was way before the internet made such lists so easy to access).   Working with categories can be done a couple of ways; sorting item into various category groups or being given category names and listing  items within them.  
And, at the hardest level, is exclusion from categories.  Think of the old Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others…”  Knowing not only which item doesn’t belong but also why is important in understanding word relationships.

One of the things I used to keep in my therapy bag was a collection of small, plastic figures.  Having 2 kids of my own, I usually had quite a collection of them.  Students then sorted them depending on the categories we were focusing on.  Fortunately, these plastic figures are inexpensive and easy to find.  Dinosaurs, zoo and farm animals, ocean creatures, boys and girls, cars and trucks, fruits, and veggies; there are lots to choose from. 
Use the sorting mats below for some simple categorizing activities.

If you’re looking for some categorizing resources to purchase, try these from my TPT store: Category Catch All, Categorize by Descriptor, and One of These Things is Not Like the Others.

Keep on talking.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What Are the 2 Things That Need to Happen in Classrooms with AAC Users?

Anyone who has seen my article in the ASHA Leader magazine this month or who has followed this blog or listened to me preach (  - I mean "speak"), or looked at my training handouts or teaching resources knows that literacy instruction for AAC users is a HOT topic for me.

If you missed the ASHA article, here is a link.  And if you've missed any of the posts about literacy for AAC users, here is a link to one of them from a little ways back.

I've usually written about reading skills, although I do have some writing resources that I sell.  But Jane Farrall has talked about writing in her blog post here, much more eloquently than I can, so do please take a look at her post.  She has some specific things you should be doing for emergent and conventional writers in your classroom or on your caseload.  Check it out.

One of the best resources I've seen in a long time for teaching kids with significant disabilities to write is the First Author software from Don Johnston (this is not an affiliate link, I have no financial connection to them).  The concept of teaching writing using core words intrigued me so that I created a  more simplified, no-tech way for some of my students to do it.
It lacks all the great bells and whistles and takes more teacher prep time, but it works for so many students who do not have access to the computer software.
The pages of symbols and words are laminated, cut apart, and (the hard side) velcro added to the backs.
Take a plain piece of paper (or one with widely spaced writing lines) and place the words in an array size that works for the specific student at the bottom.  Put velcro on the top/on the line(s) for students to construct their writing.  
Choose a picture prompt that will resonate to that student - letting them choose is preferable. 
Provide whatever level of scaffolding they need to select a word, or group of words, to write about the picture.

You can see my resources here and here and here.

Keep on talking, reading, and writing.