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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Routines, Sequences, and Core Words, Oh My!

In my last post, I wrote about sequencing, a skill that is crucial for academic and social success.  We sequence our way through daily events; such as eating breakfast before lunch and dinner after lunch.  We need to understand and use sequencing when we’re telling a story in a conversation (We made lunch before we went to the park to have a picnic and after we ate we played ball).  And we need to know the sequence of events in history, particularly when one is the cause of another or that specific events happened before or after another; such as knowing the Revolutionary War came before the Civil War.  Science, too, depends on sequences; such as in life cycles or chemical reactions.

One of the topics I have written about frequently is routines.  Routines build language; it is as simple as that.  Routines are events that occur regularly, frequently, and predictably.  Routines in our lives are repetitive, the steps we follow, and the words we use during those steps are predictable.

Another topic I speak about frequently is core word use in AAC.  Core words are the building blocks of language, the most frequently used words that we use to generate our messages.  Using core words in our AAC implementation means using the most common words in all of our activities; particularly repeated routines.

Last month I wrote a post about common 2 core word phrases and provided a free little booklet you could download and make with your students, and I talked about the top 5 two-core-word phrases.

So, now let me tie it all together, talking about using routines to build language, using core words, and using them in the correct order. Sequencing of core words in routines!

Research tells us that routines are at the heart of symbol and language development.  Routines are sequences of actions or events that are repeated over and over again. Always in the same sequence. Routines are reliable, consistent, constant, and repetitious frameworks that provide us with the opportunity to provide consistent language targets.  Routines identify predictable vocabulary and activities that use the same context specific vocabulary consistently.  They also identify consistent core vocabulary.  Routines, in short, provide a consistent schedule of multiple opportunities to learn communication.
 Every routine can be broken down into smaller and smaller components. Each of these components is influenced by the responses and reactions of those involved.  The reactions and responses become symbols that are used in this interaction to signal to each other.
When the routine always follows the same sequence, the signal between the two people involved become shared symbols. Routines help us build symbolic awareness, and symbols become communicative when they come to have a more standardized or conventional meaning among a larger group.

This helps us realize why it is important to develop routines in thinking about intervention for AAC (Lonke, 2014) and for understanding the impact of aided language stimulation.  

We want to use consistent vocabulary and sequences within frequently occurring classroom or therapy room routines.  Utilize simple scripts within routines so that staff are consistently modeling the same vocabulary and sentence types.  Make sure to model vocabulary used during routines that goes beyond requesting; to include commenting, providing information, asking questions, and other communication functions

For example, if I’m moving from single to 2-word utterances with core, I might work with “again.”  “Do it again.”  This finds its way into many play activities, social routines, gross motor routines.  Read the book again.  Throw me up into the air again.  Hide again.  Throughout these types of activities, also use the word and the icon, modeling for the student consistently.  

Children learn language from models, from those models that are familiar and consistent and predictable - in other words, from routines.  Routines have a high rate of opportunity, and we know our AAC users need 200 opportunities per day to learn to use their AAC.

Routines have a structure.  You can break routines into a series of small steps that happen in the same way and the same order each time while using the same words.
Routines can be created around cleaning the room, washing hands, getting dressed for outside, preparing a snack, reading a book, going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, wiping the board, and more.  
Use concise, simple language (“Up. Pull up pants.”). Prepare the student verbally (“It’s recess time. Put on jacket.”). Narrate what you’re doing (verbal referencing; say, “It’s time to brush your teeth,” while getting out the toothbrush and toothpaste). Encourage the student to respond with simple questions (“Where are the napkins?”).  Give the student the chance to make choices when appropriate and possible (“Which pajamas do you want to wear?”)

Let’s take a look again at the sequence for “Put on,” Here is a common 2-word phrase using core words within a routine that offers multiple opportunities.  How about “Clean up.”  Both as a therapist and a mother I can’t tell you how often I used to say that phrase.  “Clean up the room.”  “Clean up the toys.”  “Clean up your clothes.”  “Clean up the table.”  You get the idea.

And often, these directions are part of a sequence.  You need to clean up the room before recess.  “Clean up the clothes, then take them to the laundry room, then put them in the washer.”  More than 50% of those words are core words.  And you couldn’t put them in a different order and have it work.  It’s not possible to wash the clothes if they are scattered all over your room.

So, core words in sequences of routines. That’s the skinny for this week.  Keep up the great AAC implementation work!  And……keep on talking.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Where Will Your (AAC) Journey Take You This Year?

So, I’ve been writing this blog for almost 6 years, now. And while I’ve got plenty of ideas for continuing on, I’d really like to give my readers what they want.

So……. what do y’all want? I’d love to know what it is you would like me to talk about here. So, leave me a comment below and let me know what you’d like me to cover in the AAC world.

In the meantime, listen in on my interview with Al Cole, on CBS radio.  
embed code for al cole interview
Thanks so much for being loyal readers. It means a lot to me.
More to come soon. In the meantime…. keep on talking!

Looking for some gifts for your Valentine? A copy of my book is a wonderful gift for a parent wanting to hear their child say, "I love you." Try these other fun items from Amazon.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Anatomy of Sequencing Tasks: Steps to Telling Stories

In a couple of previous posts about sequencing, I offered some insights into why we work on sequencing skills, and even included a free activity appropriate for the time of year (here in the U.S. it is a cold, snowy winter).

Sequencing is important for daily living skills, conversational skills, storytelling and retelling skills, and even learning in History or Science classes. This seemingly simple skill is crucial in so many areas of a student’s life; so much so that we spend a lot of time on it. 

Sequencing involves ordering language and information into an accurate or efficient order.  Students with language disorders may have difficulty with not just steps of a task, but also words in a phrase or sentence.  Students might also have difficulty with working memory; causing them to “lose” some of the steps.

 From sequencing the meals in a day or the steps of a simple routine task to telling the steps of an activity or retelling War and Peace, sequencing plays a crucial role in helping students to organize themselves and their world.

Sequencing requires us to break down a task or an event into smaller steps that we then put in order.  We need to understand the sequence in order to perform the task.
Sequencing also requires us to break down an event or story into its component smaller events in order to tell about it or understand someone else’s telling.

In order to understand sequencing, the student needs to understand ordinal order; that there is a first, a next, and a last.  I usually begin with 3-step sequences; such as the order of meals we eat in a day.  Sometimes, you may even need to start with just two steps.  I begin by providing large illustrations of each step or event.  I gradually reduce the size of the visual cue; moving from a single picture per word or phrase to a small visual per sentence and then paragraph. 
Eventually, I want to get rid of the visual cues, if possible.

Expository and narrative tasks are different in how the mind processes them.  Stories about ourselves and events are easier to understand and tell about than how-to tasks, which are a later developmental step.

Important for both types of sequencing tasks is the understanding and use of temporal words; such as ‘first,’ ‘then,’ ‘last,’ ‘and after that,’ etc.  Use these words as often as possible in all appropriate contexts to help students understand them.  And don’t forget numerical order; such as first, second, third.
In my storybook companion resources on TPT I always include sequencing the story as one of the linguistic tasks, including a variety of visual cues for different sequence lengths.
Use the verbal and the visual together to help scaffold comprehension.
Additionally, I have a variety of life-skills sequencing resources; such as this one.

I was recently asked to talk about SPARK Cards, which are designed to “…encourage children to observe picture details and to improve their picture interpretation skills.”  Each picture set contains 6 related pictures, but they can be modified to only use 2-3 or 4.  The colorful cards depict common activities, but you should make sure your particular student has some background knowledge about each specific sequence that you use.
The cards can be used simply to put in order, or to tell a complete story.  Their use can also be extended to answering Wh questions, problem solving, and predicting.  Each topic card contains information about each picture in the sequence and Wh questions that can be asked; ranging from What and Where to Why and How.

The SPARK cards contain 8 sequences of 6 cards each, including:
going to the library
making a lemonade stand
preparing for a hurricane
planting flowers
going to the vet
a trip to the beach
setting the table
playing football

For some of these activities you may need to activate background knowledge or even create it. Using storybooks can help with that, as can role playing games.  You might also need to match more concrete visuals to your speaking.  Addition of color cues is also helpful.

Whether your student is learning to sequence two words (or symbols) together for communicating or sequencing multiple steps and events in a complete, complex story, you don’t want to skip this skill in your intervention.

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Until next time - keep on talking!