Saturday, June 18, 2016

Taking AAC to the Beach? Dive Right In!

School is out and summer fun is in.  Your AAC user might not be getting the same level of intervention during the summer as (s)he gets during the school-year.  But that shouldn’t matter, because you know how to infuse AAC use into every-day activities, right?  
  • I hope your AAC user has a good, robust AAC system to use all the time; however if it is an electronic system you might want to think twice about taking it for a swim.  Electronic systems can be difficult to use at the beach or pool.  Screens are difficult to see in the glare of the sun. (The industry has been getting better with this, but it’s still a work-in-progress.)  They also don’t like sand or salt water very much.  So, consider making a back-up communication book to take to the seaside. 
  • Some of the dedicated device manufacturers have paper-based pages you can download from their websites.  If you are using an iPad app, I recommend making a screen-shot of each page, printing them out, adding tabs to the edges of pages to label them - to make page turning/navigation easy and consistent.

So, you've identified the meaningful context - building sandcastles (or sand piles)  at the beach.  
You know how to supply Aided Input, modeling with the AAC system while you interact.  
You've made sure your AAC user has an effective AAC system (see above).
You have chosen the appropriate vocabulary (I've made suggestions in my handout for you).
You have chosen words to describe and talk about the activity, core action words to use within the activity, and words to continue or end the activity.
You know how to get the child's attention, create the message with pictures and say it, and ask questions to increase the interaction.
You're prepared with the words and phrases to use and....Go!

Click the link HERE to get a copy of my free AAC at the beach handout.  It includes directions, suggestions, and a core word-based, topic communication board to use if you have nothing else.
Have fun!  Don't get a sunburn.  And.... Keep on Talking!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

3-Tiered Plan for Managing the Cognitive Load

A number of years ago I heard Karen Erickson speak about managing the cognitive load for students who have multiple challenges.  She created a great memory aid for teachers and SLPs that I refer to often and hand out to all staff with whom I work.  Her Red Light - Yellow Light - Green Light  concept has helped many students - and staff - balance the load.

Why do we need this?  Well, we each have only a finite amount of cognitive energy we can use when approaching any task.  The various parts of the brain can only remember so much information, or process so much learning, or manage so many tasks at one  time.  So, we have to design learning so that it optimizes the capacity of working memory and other cognitive loads, while providing an effective and engaging learning experience.

The most effective way to optimize this load is to direct the process to the most critical piece of information or activity.  We need to reduce the extraneous load so that the brain does not have to process information that is not relevant to the task, and does not have to perform processes that unduly sap the cognitive energy.  And, we need to determine the intrinsic complexity of the task, and focus the cognitive energy to deal with this.

For students with multiple areas of challenge, this means creating activities and response patterns that do not require significant energy both in the linguistic and motor domains simultaneously.  Here is a link to her handout, which you and your staff may find valuable.  I sure have.

I am on the mend, and feeling more “with it” day by day.  In the meantime, enjoy this short post, and…..
Keep on talking!

Monday, June 6, 2016

The #1 Top Reason Why Stories Are Important

If you follow this blog, you know I often talk about developing narrative skills in kids in order to improve their conversational skills, literacy skills and a whole host of language skills.
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about story-telling in general and its importance to us.

Stories are how we connect with each other.  Every culture has a history and schema for story-telling.  Stories are how cultures pass down information through generations and keep cultural beliefs and customs alive.  Most of us have read Origins stories from a variety of cultures in school; including Native American and probably several different Asian cultures.  Within each of our many religions there are specific and important cultural stories we learn.  Many cultures and religions depend upon the Oral Traditions to pass on valuable lessons and yeah the next generation.  Stories are our connectors.  To the past.  To each other.

In their simplest form, stories connect us to each other through conversations.  What is a conversation if not an interactive story?  What do we tell each other in our conversations?  We talk about experiences; about events in which we took part or observed, things that happened to us or that we did.  
In order to have a conversation, then, we must be able to provide this information to the conversation partner so that they can understand the ‘story.’  We need to be able to concisely tell what happened, who was involved, where and/or when it took place, how it started and how it ended.   Without this information, the listener cannot get a clear idea of what we’re trying to say.  
Just like journalists and students everywhere are taught - answer the Wh questions.

Unfortunately, for many students that is a tall order. Also unfortunately, that’s often why they never move beyond a simple greetings exchange in their conversational goals.  But if they’re to learn how to interact with each other and also with books we need to teach them how to find, organize, and provide this information.
Visual cues are crucial.  

We also need to bear in mind that there are stages to narrative development through which we can help students move in order to arrive at the ability to tell about a specific episode.                                                             
Children begin by using “heaps;”  a bunch of labels of things and descriptions without organization or main point.  The ideas may be completely unrelated, and the topic may change frequently.

Then they move to sequences, where events are thematic but there is no plot and no particular order to the sequence.  Story elements may be linked arbitrarily, rather than by theme.
Next come primitive narratives that contain the beginnings of story grammar; an initiating event, an action, and some type of consequence without a true ending.  What is important is that there are elements of character feelings, expressions present.
Next are chains, where we see more of the story grammar elements.  There is the initiating event, the character’s feeling or plan, some sort of action and a consequence.  There may be cause-effect or temporal elements in these narratives, but the plot is weak and doesn’t necessarily build from character motivation or feeling.  Some narrative development structures speak to 2 different levels of chains: unfocused; in which there is no central character, ad focused; in which there is a character and a sequence of events.
In so-called True Narratives, there is a central theme, a character, and a plot.  These narratives contain the motivation driving the character’s actions, along with a resolution to the problem - a true ending.

By helping children to develop their narrative skills we can improve both their connectedness to others, and their access to books and the curriculum.  Start small.  Talk about events and experiences throughout the day.  Include who was involved, the sequence of events (including the initiating vent, the middle and ending of the story), how did it feel. Building these connections throughout the day will pay off in improved connections to others that are critical to a lifetime of relationships.

If you don’t already have this, here is a copy of my Story Element Die.  Just drag it onto your desktop from here, or download it here.  Roll the die and practice telling the element pictured.  You can use this for the child’s real life experiences, for stories you read, or events you hear or read about. 

Have fun, and keep on talking!