Sunday, September 23, 2018

What's in a Theme? An Awful Lot, Actually.

Thematic teaching is used extensively in education in general and speech-language therapy in particular.  Using books and activities that revolve around a single specific topic allows for focused intervention on a specific group of vocabulary and concepts and provision of multiple opportunities for learning.  

Given that our AAC users need many more opportunities for learning and receive far fewer life experiences, thematic activities can provide activities that relate to real life experiences and and build on what they know.  Themes can help make connections between what students read and hear with what they do.  Keeping the vocabulary consistent is much more strategic than providing students with random word lists. And making activities interactive keeps students more engaged.

One of my most recent ventures in resource creation is thematic resources, which fcus on core words and relevant fringe vocabulary for common themes and topics.  I began with a Summer-Beach theme, and moved on to Fall and Winter, and am currently working on Fire Safety.

Each resource has vocabulary cards featuring both core and fringe for the theme, practice with finding said vocabulary in the AAC system, extending the vocabulary practice with a variety of games and printables, and using the words in writing activities, flip books, and a lap book that ties it all together.  Also in the resource are Wh questions, BINGO cards, and sentence building activities.

But obviously, even multiple activities using the same vocabulary repeatedly can’t offer all that is needed for students to “own” the words.  

So, what can parents and other partners do to help?  Here are some simple Fall activities for extending the learning:

  1. Look at or gather a variety of leaves. “Look!”  “I like that.”  “Do you see?”  “Pick up.”  “Make pile.”  “Jump in!” These are all core word phrases that can be modeled.
  2. At this time of year, you might see all sorts of great colors, depending on where you live. “What color?” “Red.” (etc.) “Look at that.”  “Pretty.”  “Different.”
  3. Headed to the pumpkin patch?  “Which one?”  “That one.” “Big one.” “Little one.” “Different.”  Also: round, bumpy, rough, smooth, orange.
  4. Thinking about going apple picking? You can even do that at the grocery store. Or try painting some. Again, you can talk about colors, about being the same or different. About being hard or soft, big or little, mine or yours, and having more or less.
  5. Drive or walk around the neighborhood looking at Halloween decorations. Are they funny or scary? Spooky or pretty? Do you like them or not?
  6. Practice sentences where ever you go for Fall fun. “I see big pumpkins.”  “I see apples.” “She is jumping.” “Do more!”

Enjoy this wonderful season and………keep on talking!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What Are You Reading? Back to School Read Aloud and Shared Reading Ideas

It’s official. Everyone is back to school.  Many have mixed feelings about school starting.  Staff have a crazy starting routine, with getting to know new students, organizing schedules, and making lesson plans.  

When I was working for a school district, I had 78 students in 4 different schools, and scheduling was a nightmare.  Fortunately, so much of what I did was working with stories, that I could pull out the relevant books and get going.

Books are amazing therapy resources, and perfect for any classroom.  Use the required reading list, the books teachers are using, or select your own.  My collection was divided by grade and “theme.”  Some were typical themes; like food, family, and seasons.  Others, however, focused on point of view, voice, and prediction.

For back to school, there are 2 books in particular I’ve been using the past couple of years; “I’m Your Bus,” and “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”  

“I’m Your Bus,” by Marilyn Singer, is perfect for back to school time.  The book focuses on what the school bus does, but it’s simple to extrapolate once the bus arrives at school.  Create sequences for your school’s routine.  Discuss the people and places the bus passes  on its way to school.

The book is also great for phonological awareness skills, as it contains rhyme. And use the long list of vocabulary words found in the story to segment syllables.  You can download that worksheet here, just drag and drop the image onto your desktop.

The other book I love is “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” by Mark Teague. He’s a great author for kids.  And this story allows you to dig deep into some aspects of real/not real and hyperbole, or exaggeration.  It’s a modern “Tall Tale.”  And, it also uses lots of rhyme, so keep on working on those phonological awareness skills.

The boy’s story is this: His parents wanted him to have a quiet vacation but he was captured by cowboys (wherein all sorts of things happened).  So, he got to his aunt’s house finally but the cattle stampeded, so he used a tablecloth like a matador and saved everyone.
That’s the really, really condensed version.

Both of these books, which are wildly different from each other in terms of structure and complexity, both offer many opportunities to work on building language skills.  Enjoy these 2 free phonological awareness worksheets and, if you’re interested in language-based materials for these two books, ride on over to my TpT store for the full resources.

And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, where I’ll be giving away books and other goodies as I clean out my office after 40 years as a SLP.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Are You Planning a Great Year for Your AAC Users? Here's Some Help

It’s back to school time for many of you, either for yourselves as staff or your children as students. Either way, it’s a whole lot of new this time of year.

A year or two ago, I posted a back to school planning guide for AAC.  If you haven’t grabbed it before, you can get it here. 

Many more SLPs are facing caseloads with AAC users/nonspeaking students or clients than ever before.  As AAC becomes more and more mainstream we are getting better at getting systems into the hands of the individuals who need them.

However, not all SLPs are comfortable with implementing AAC.  So many graduate programs do not offer coursework in AAC and, as it is not a required course for certification, SLPs often have little or no idea of where to start.

Emerging AAC users need lots and lots of modeling to learn to use AAC.  I have written - and spoken - a lot about using Aided Language Stimulation.  While the practice was discussed as far back as the 1980’s, many of us did not recognize that in order to implement AAC instruction we needed to be doing this all of the time.

Even more experienced AAC users need continued Aided Input (AI) to support expanding utterances, support for a variety of functions, and activities that expand syntax, morphology, and lexicon.

In my planning guide, you will find suggested planning for using Aided Language Stimulation (ALgS) in several activities students tend to like.  There is also a blank planning page that you can use over and over as you become comfortable with using ALgS.

Have a great school year!  And…. keep on talking.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

How Do You Know What They Know? Assessments in AAC

Next Friday, August 31, 2018, I will be doing a webinar over at XceptionalEd on conducting AAC evaluations and making system recommendations.  The best part? It’s free if you catch the live presentation.  On-demand after the webinar airs live, the cost will be $45. for the 90 minute training.  And, XceptionalEd is a CEU provider, so you can get those hours.

What do I talk about in this training?  I try to give SLPs a cost-effective way to get the information they need about the individual they are assessing.  How are their language skills? Which symbols do they respond to the best, if any? How does their vision  determine symbol size and array size?  How do you get all of this information during the assessment session?  And lots more.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Let Your Students Talk in Class!

Summer is winding down, summer vacations are all but over, and students are headed back to school.  I’m working on slowing down and cleaning out.  I’ve closed my practice and am only available to a few long-time clients.  My book is written and with an editor, and the only thing on my plate - besides reading and making art - is making resources for SLPs; especially AAC materials.  And, of course, continuing to bring you information, techniques, tips, and free stuff.

With that said, while I don’t like to use my blog to sell my resources, I thought I’d catch you up on what I have been continuing to work on and make it more palatable by including a freebie.

In an attempt to offer resources for building language skills - including syntax and morphology - I am continuing my AAC Users Maximize Morphology series with More Possessives.  It’s in the works now and should be available shortly.

I am also continuing my newly developed themes for AAC (and for any students with limited expressive language skills).  Fall, Winter, and Summer are completed and in my TpT store.  I’m taking a quick break from seasonal words and working now on fire safety.

Let me also take this chance to remind you that last year I uploaded a free planning guide for AAC intervention. If you don’t already have it, you can download it here.

Another project for me is updating many of my AAC resources with clip art more suitable for older students.  I have just updated the 10 Weeks to 40 Core Words resource, which has been a big hit, with teen clip art.

So, I think I have enough to keep my busy for a while.
But, as always, if you have any specific requests, leave me a comment and I’ll do my best.

So, where to begin this new school year with new - or not so new - AAC users?  I always say, “Start at the beginning. Use Aided Input.”  This holds true for brand new AAC users, as well as those who have been using AAC for a while.  As long as your AAC user does not have age appropriate language skills, you should continue to model more complex language.

Looking for a role play activity for your older AAC users?  How about a game of Jail Break?  This is the older version of my Barn Break activity from 10 Weeks to 40 Core Words.  You can download it here
Have fun, and have a great year of communicating!

As always, Keep on Talking.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Are You Listening?

Yes, I am still taking July off from blogging, but I wanted to give you something to think about while you're waiting for more awesome posts.  So, here is the latest interview with me on the Talking with Tech Podcast.

Enjoy!  And.... keep on talking.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Surf's Up! Can I Hear You Over the Waves?

Summer is officially (almost) here.  Most school districts are done for the year, the days are getting longer and lighter, and I heard the sound of the ice cream man's truck las weekend. And just a few days to go until the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted links to my free activities for talking over the school break.  I've decided to take a break, too, from blogging for the next month and a half. I'll be back in August, as everyone gets back to school.  

But before I go, I thought I'd post one more idea for keeping kids communicating over the summer.  As you head to the beach, grab this idea along with the sunblock, and have fun in the surf and sand. This is a sample page, but there is also a core-word based communication board for fun at the beach, and more suggestions.

Have a great summer and, remember,.............Keep on talking!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Moving AAC Users Beyond Single Words

Last week I shared with you some free resources to help keep students communicating over the summer, to prevent that “Summer slide,” when students are out of school and not engaged in intervention activities.
This week, I thought I’d share with you some of my ideas for building phrases and sentences with core words (and necessary fringe). Just to review, core vocabulary are those high frequency words that we use over and over again to generate the messages we make. And fringe words are those less frequent words that are important and specific to each user.

We know that we need to provided models of use of the AAC system so that our AAC users can learn where to find and how to use words, and how to use the AAC system. We know that this modeling of the AAC system takes the place of - or supplements our use of - speech models for picture based communicators. That immersion in this ‘different language’ is needed for students to know how to use it competently.

We also know that we need to provide our models at and 1 step above the child’s current language use. So, if the child is using single word responses, we model 2-word phrases. If he is using 2-3 word phrases, we model 3-4 word phrases. Etc. Unfortunately, what happens is that somewhere between the single word stage and the 3-4 word stage, something breaks down. Communication partners stop providing consistent aided input. Or they think that this is such an accomplishment - finally to have the child communicating - that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. Or having the child be able to tell what he wants or needs is sufficient.
For whatever reason, relatively few of our AAC users develop morphosyntactic competence.

Janice Light pointed out a number of years ago that a part of the problem was the lack of grammatical availability in AAC systems. While there are still too many AAC systems - on paper, on devices and apps - that continue to restrict language development, there are also many available now that do have a mechanism for morphological markers and syntactic forms. All require additional steps to add the markers(-s, -es, -ed,- ing, etc.) to the word. And all too often I see that these buttons - where there are specific buttons for these - have been removed, in order to make room for more words. More words may be nice, of course, but when that is at the expense of language building students lose too much.

If you’d like to learn more about expanding utterances of AAC users, join me at the AAC in the Cloud conference, sponsored by Cough Drop AAC, on June 26. There are many great speakers lined up. Hope to see you there. In the meantime, keep on talking!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Keep Them Communicating Through the Summer Slide

For most students Summer is a time for freedom from studies and studying.  We do have numerous programs for keeping students reading over the summer and avoiding the dreaded Summer slide.

For students with special needs, including language disorders, the Summer slide is more of a certainty.  Students with language disorders need to keep working on those target skills year-round.  
Those who need to use AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication - need all of their communication partners working with them throughout the Summer - and even other, shorter breaks, from school.

Parents don’t need specific materials to help them work on communication skills over the Summer. They just need some ideas.  Communicating is a social endeavor and AAC use should be taught in the course of normal, genuine communication occurrences.
Providing parents with ideas for how to use daily routines and fun activities to help develop their child’s communication is often sufficient.  If, however, you need to, make sure that there is time to train parents in the basics before the school year ends.

I have several Summer Communicating handouts in my TPT store for free, to provide just such guidance for things to talk about with their child.
Here are just a few samples to take a look at:

You can find my Summer handouts through these links:

You don’t need special materials
Communication happens everywhere
You just need to provide ideas to keep moving with vocabulary and language - not just for the Summer, but all year round.

Have a great Summer and, remember, Keep on Talking.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

He Can’t? I Bet He Can!

Not too long ago I did an AAC assessment for a young teen who is severely - profoundly motorically disabled.  He cannot move any but his facial muscles, so it was an evaluation of different eye gaze systems, both no tech and high tech. No low-tech options available for potential eye gaze users.

His mother was a bit unsure about the assessment; telling me he really didn’t have much to motivate him.  He didn’t really like “things” or technology, she said; he’s more of a people watcher.  He likes being social.

I could understand not being motivated by things.  Given his inability to interact with “stuff,” I wasn’t surprised he really wasn’t interested in much.  I also understood being socially motivated.  He was, after all, a teenager; albeit one with none of the usual experiences his typical peers have had.

What was needed was a way to motivate him to communicate, even though he had little prior experience with communicating. The manufacturer’s rep who had brought this eye gaze system and I decided to try a game of Simon Says.  This is a great way to introduce cause and effect and it worked like a charm.

For the next 20-30 minutes, he was able to direct us to turn around, sit down, stand up, dance, and more.  The smile on his face was amazing! He was so happy that he could tell us what to do; that he had the power to do that.  Most of his face was taken up by this smile.  Writing the report was a no-brainer (after we tried the required 2 more systems needed for both good decision making and a funding report, of course).

So, don’t write off your student as being “unmotivated” by anything.  Brainstorm with fellow team members, family, and friends to think outside the box about what might work for him.  And remember - it’s all about the power!

I was so happy that “Simon Says” worked for him, that I made a resource all about learning core verbs, adjectives, and prepositions through directing actions.  You can check it out here.

Have fun, and….. keep on talking!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Let’s Talk Vocabulary. How Much do You Really Need?

In the AAC world these days there is a lot of talk about core words.  Practice has been catching up with research, and teaching AAC users high frequency core words with which to build their own unique phrases and sentences has become more common.

Last year, Carole Zangari wrote a post on the PrAACtical AAC blog about not throwing out the baby with the bath water.  In our rush to teach core words, we have created situations for many of our AAC users where they don’t have the fringe vocabulary that is important to them on their AAC systems. And while many of our students are working with the Universal Core 36 or 40 words, that is not nearly sufficient vocabulary to meet communication needs long-term.

Many of us have interests that are unique to us or favorite topics we like to talk about, or hobbies or other experiences.  And we have the words with which to discuss or explain or narrate them.  Many of our students similarly have specific items or topics that are important to them. And of course within the classroom and home environments we are - or should be - reading books to them on a variety of interesting fiction and nonfiction topics.  So where do those words come in? How do we get them in the AAC system, and provide sufficient repeated practice with them so that the students understand and can use them?

In Special Education and Speech-Language intervention we have long understood that by keeping various curricular content in thematic units so that English and Math and Science and Social Studies are all addressing related content with similar vocabulary we provide students with a much better foundation for vocabulary building. 
General Education classes also work with thematic units; particularly in the lower grades, for the very same reasons.

Unfortunately, those same Special Education classes have ventured away from themed vocabulary instruction as they stick to the “Centers” approach to working on IEP goals.  I have seen many of these classrooms moving students from Center to Center every 20-30 minutes with no connection between the cutting task at the fine motor center and the story sequencing task at the ELA center or the handwashing task at the ADL center.

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I am a huge believer of using trade books (story books) to teach language skills, as well as literacy.  By using both fiction and nonfiction texts on a theme, we can provide a more cohesive plan for providing our AAC users with vocabulary around experiences that they may be missing, or just not getting enough of.

What are some favorite themes and books to go with them?
In the Fall, we often talk about pumpkins around Halloween time.  But pumpkins can provide a myriad of language experiences beyond carving faces.  Pumpkin life cycles, pumpkin shapes, pumpkin pie making.  Try these books: It’s Pumpkin Time, From Seed to Pumpkin, The Very Best Pumpkin, P is For Pumpkin, and Oh, My, Pumpkin Pie.

Planning a food themed unit? Try these books about vegetables: the little pea, Rah, Rah, Radishes, The Giant Carrot, and Sylvia’s Spinach.

There has been an explosion of children’s literature in the past couple of decades, and books abound on every topic possible.  Create fun thematic units around topics that are important not just for all students, but for each of your students individually.

To get you started, you might want to try this resource for the end of the school year or during extended school year (aka summer school); “Summer Beach Fun with Core.”  The materials in this resource focus on core words appropriate for Summer activities, with some fun fringe words on top.

Have fun with it, and.... keep on talking!