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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Number 1 Reason Why We Need Fringe Vocabulary - Learn From My Mistakes

This is a cautionary tale for those who support augmentative-alternative communication (AAC) users.  We spend a great deal of time talking about core vocabulary and teaching our AAC users to use those core words that are used most often and in multiple contexts.
We also put a lot of effort into moving away from teaching nouns first and teaching only the functions of labeling and requesting.

Recently PrAACticalAAC blog (Carole Zangari) had a post about the importance of not forgetting or abandoning fringe vocabulary.  She warned, " An AAC a system built exclusively of single words with only core vocabulary is not likely to meet the needs of most AAC learners. "

Fringe words are those lower frequency words that are important to the individual.  These words are often nouns, and can include  the names of family and friends, places, activities/toys, favorite foods, etc.

So, getting to my tale.  
For my 60th birthday last week, my husband and I drove down to Guerrero Negra in Baja California South.  The grey whales migrate down from Alaska to the lagoons there, and mate and give birth.  They are there for 3 months.
You can go out into the lagoon in small (23') boats and the whales will come right up to the boats and you can pet them.
I got sprayed a lot, but it was wonderful.

So, to the vocabulary problem:
       Down in this relatively isolated part of Mexico fewer people speak English.  My husband and I speak poqueno (little) Spanish.
So, I came prepared.  I made a couple of 32-location core and fringe word communication boards to take - just in case.
I focused on words like "lost," "flat," (tire), "help," "need," as well as some others, like, "whale," and "wet."

The day we left we stopped at a great little cafe we had found for breakfast.  The young man who had been there the day before and spoke a little English was not there.  The young lady who was there was not doing well with my Spanish.
I wanted eggs for breakfast, which was not a problem. I know the word for eggs.
What I did not know how to say was "over easy" - or even "sunny side up."  I pointed to a picture on the menu.
I got my eggs scrambled.

I wasn't particularly happy, but I ate them, of course.  And I wished for more fringe words on my communication boards.

So, keep on talking, and make sure you have enough words to say what you want to say!

p.s. Fun Fact of the Day: Guerrero Negra also has the largest salt mine in the world.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

If Your Student Can't Speak Well, How Can He Read and Write?

I am actually away this weekend, celebrating my 60th birthday. Someone told me that 60 is the new 40. Does that mean I get an extra 20 years somewhere? Can I pend it doing all the fun things on my bucket list?
This weekend my husband and I are down in the mid-southern part of Baja, in the lagoon where grey whales give birth. Hopefully, by now I have petted said whales, gotten lots of pictures, and we're on our way home.

So, rather than writing a great blog post, I've given myself a birthday present - a day off - and am instead sending you off to read a terrific post I found last week, from a teacher blogger, writing about the connection between oral language and literacy.
If you follow this blog or my Facebook page, you know I've spoken about this quite a bit.
Since all of the kiddos I work with have significant expressive language difficulties, literacy challenges are a constant.

This blog post is from a teacher - albeit a reading specialist - not a SLP and what I like about it is that it is directed to teachers, who are in the classrooms and on the front lines with the students daily. She mentions that she hadn't paid as much attention to the Speaking and Listening CCSS as to Reading and Writing, and offers some good tips for teachers.
So, I am sending you over to Learning at the Primary Pond's post on Oral Language & Literacy Development.

Until next week, Keep on Talking!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

More Core in Shared Reading for AAC Users. How Can You Do It?

Last week I shared a variety of resources with you for using core vocabulary in shared reading with your AAC users and students with minimal language.  I referred you to a post at as well as a post of mine about using some cute books I have found to teach "No!" and "More!"

Then, I shared with you a little about my shared and guided reading for students with significant disabilities unit for The Little Red Hen, including a sequencing activity, in which students can practice "Not I" - 2 core words used throughout the story.

This week I want to talk about how we use core words in "descriptive teaching" rather than "referential teaching."  To learn more about using core words and "descriptive teaching," check out Gail Van Tatenhove's resource about Extreme Make-Over in the Classroom (you need to contact Gail for her Aided Language Stimulation and the Descriptive Teaching Model handout, it is no longer on her website).

Gail talks about teaching to construct meaning, using a basic set of core words - which are usually already in the AAC system - for students to demonstrate what they've learned by describing, defining, and demonstrating; rather than memorizing and repeating specific vocabulary that will likely never be needed again.  She talks about asking students, "Tell me about," rather than "What is," questions.

I have been working with one student for several years now, and he is in 3rd grade now, in a general education class.  So, I have been adapting the 3rd grade literature to meet his needs.  
They have been reading Owl Moon, The Rough Faced Girl, Verdi, and Stellaluna, among other books. In my adapted materials for this young man I have focused on vocabulary that describes, as well as on sequencing. 

In previous posts, I shared one part of the I need My Monster vocabulary resource that focused on adjectives used to describe the monsters and one from Verdi, also focusing on describing words. 

Adjectives are core words; words that are used frequently and repeatedly in our language. Asking students to describe, rather than name provides them with both the opportunity to use words easily contained and found in their AAC systems and the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding rather than ability to memorize or name.

In my Shared and Guided Reading unit for The Three Billy Goats Gruff, I have an activity that uses comparing adjectives.  This is the perfect story to talk about big and small, bigger and smaller.  In this story the describing adjectives are big, small, mean, and green. The comparing adjectives are bigger, smaller, and greener.
Try this activity - either by sorting the pictures or words, or using the interactive notebook activity - or do them both.

I can still remember the days of programing all of the classroom vocabulary into students' AAC systems for every book, every theme, every unit.  We spent hours programing words into AAC devices that were never going to be used again, so that our students could participate equally in classroom conversations.

As Gail says, we need to do Extreme Make-Overs of our classrooms and intervention sessions.  To some extent, focusing more on the Common Core skills and Standards may push us to do just that.  In the meantime, focus your AAC users on the core, and on using those words to tell about what they've learned.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

How Can I Focus on Core Vocabulary in Shared Reading with My AAC User?

Last week, I directed you to a great post by about using an Eric Carle book to focus core words, make a great interactive reading session, and have fun while building language around books. 
The core words from that book, A House for Hermit Crab, by Eric Carle are: different, mine, not/don’t, want, what, you; are, clean, house, look, see, to, when, yes.

In a previous post, I talked about using the Tracy Corderoy books NO!, MORE!, and MINEto reinforce core words.  I showed you there how I use those books to teach and/or reinforce core words through interactive story reading, as well as with interactive activities I made for after reading.

Two of the key points Carole Zangari points out for shared or guided reading are: Keep it interactive, and Keep questions minimal and open-ended.

It is relatively easy to find stories that use core vocabulary for younger students, since many preschool books are specifically written with the vocabulary of the young set in mind.  

Most, though not all, of the students I work with are elementary age.  One classic story that is perfect for core word use is The Little Red Hen.

There are repeated lines, which are perfect for practicing core words and group reading: “Who will help me?” and “Not I.”

Core words vary, depending on the version of the story you choose (one problem with older folk tales is that the story can change a bit with different versions).  Here is a link to the Gutenberg listing.         

But you can count on: I, you, help, not, who, she, he, her.  There are also a variety of verbs that are common; including carry, find, do/did, sit, sleep.

One way I like to make reading interactive is to copy pictures of the characters, laminate them, and staple them to popsicle sticks.  Students in the group get a character to hold, and the chance to use the repeated line or core word(s) whenever we get to that part of the story.
It’s a great opportunity to model (use Aided Input), pause the story and use your best expectant facial expression, and provide relevant feedback over and over again.

I have created a large shared and guided reading unit using The Little Red Hen, that includes an activity/story-based communication board, lots of language activities to learn vocabulary, sequencing, retelling, and parts of speech, as well as, literacy activities for working with words, learning word families, learning consonant sounds, early reading, and more.  There is also an informational text about baking bread that can be used to build background knowledge before reading.

Here are 2 sequencing activities that you can do, after you’ve read the story. You can continue to have students practice their core words. 

Thank you to Smarty Symbols; all rights reserved.

Thank you to Krista Walden of Creative Clips for the clip art.  Please don’t share these images.

Keep on reading. And Keep on talking!