Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Plain Walls or Intricate Brickwork---Musings on AAC systems

I finished ESY last week during which I worked with a number of  children who were new to me and came to school with a variety of low-tech AAC systems.  First of all, I'm very happy this year that the kids had systems.  In past ESY sessions, often I had to make communication notebooks from scratch, instantly.  This year, every child had something, ranging from PECS, to a core board, to a more complicated notebook.  Core has been emphasized across the district this year, and it's reflected in what the kids brought.

Having a wide variety of little systems, though, gave me pause on what are the components needed to really make even a low tech system work well for a child. Many of the notebooks the children had were ineffective. Some notebooks had only random photos of toys or activities which the child really didn't want.  Some systems only presented core vocabulary (also not reinforcing at the moment to the child). Some systems were difficult to model and had hundreds of itty bitty pictures. Some children didn't seem to have underlying cognitive foundations of communication such as joint attention, communicative intent, object permanence.  Again, I'm very happy the children had something, and the teachers and I really attempted to incorporate use of the existing systems into the activities.

 Five weeks is a long time to ponder about these difficulties, so I came up with 'bricks and mortar' analogy for effective development of a dynamic system (either low or high tech).  Explanations are below:

HOUSE:  This represents where the child is---house, school, church, playground, babysitters....the list goes on.

FOUNDATIONS OF COMMUNICATION:  Every house cannot stand without a solid foundation. AAC users often need to also work on basic intent, joint attention, functional object use, tracking if possible.

FRINGE VOCABULARY:  These are the bricks.  I found that fringe is vital because these are the real things in a child's life.  People, toys, food, places---this is what they wanted to talk about.

CORE VOCABULARY:  This is the cement that holds everything together, and enables language expansion and development.  The house/wall can be simple or intricate, small or large.   As a child's language expands, so does the house.

POWER:  This is vital to the house.  A child has to be shown the power of communication.

PRAGMATICS:  This involves people.  Without people in the house, there's no purpose.

CONTEXT/ENVIRONMENT:    This all goes back to the house, which represents wherever the child is.

This may be simplistic, but all of these components are necessary for a child to effectively learn to communicate using AAC.   I'm welcome to ideas to improve this.  

A good system with all the components can help a plain brick house become an awesome brick cathedral.

And now, I want to say that I'm going on vacation to Vancouver, BC.  I'll be posting pictures!

See you!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Writing Buddy--Assistive Technology Low Tech Flip Book for Inclusion

Writing is one of the most challenging areas for students with special needs, and often an adult has to sit one-on-one with the student to eke out every word and letter. I created "Writing Buddy"  to enhance independence for the early primary writer by providing an extensive word bank which is organized by who, what, when, and where concepts along with other categories. I used Smarty Symbols for the awesome graphics (commercial license).

 A long time ago, I went to a workshop where a talented mother, Inga Smith, presented on an assistive technology low tech flip book which she called "Journal Jogger".  I bought the CD for this, and we created some of these flip books at our school.

She offers this product online here.  Even though the website mentions 'passwords', I had no problem going directly to it. It's free, and many, many pages long.  If you own Boardmaker, you can download it all!

The problem that I know many of you have is that Boardmaker is expensive.
The other problem with "Journal Jogger" is that the flipchart that it becomes is big with 26 pages of pictures/words.  My kids get lost with all the words.  Bigger is not better.

I have taken the same concept, but simplified it, totally reorganized the vocabulary, eliminated many pages,  and used Smarty Symbols rather than Boardmaker.  Although "Journal Jogger" was the inspiration, this product is totally different from the original with a different type of child in mind.  "Journal Jogger" was designed originally for high functioning children with extensive vocabulary.  "Writing Buddy" is designed for more linguistically challenged children who deserve their seat in the mainstream, too!

This is a low tech

assistive technology accommodation

for students to use during inclusion

in a regular primary class.

Page 1—Title

Page 2 –People and verbs

Page 3—Adjectives or descripters

Page 4---Nouns (food, drink, toys)

Page 5– Where; prepositions and places

Page 6—Numbers and fractions

Page 7—Colors

Page 8—Calendar concepts

Page 9—Feelings

Page 10—Sentence starters

Page 11—Kindergarten high frequency words 

Page 12—Steps to writing visual

This example is printed in black and white. It's very nice printed in color, but both ways work.

Take a look at this flip chart online here.

I hope you all are having a good summer.  My ESY experience just ended.  Vancouver, BC is next!


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Let's Make a Boat---Simple craft with printable directions, questions, communication board

A long time ago, I blogged about a boat craft I did with the kids using Pictello.  This was a great activity, and Pictello has only gotten better through the years.  I used this activity again this summer and the kids loved it, making a substantial flotilla of little boats, all seaworthy! 

I now have a set of printable or displayable directions for all of you.  This summer, during Extended School Year, I didn't have access to a printer, so we simply displayed the directions/pictures on the iPad with the Pictello app.  It's also easy to simply show the directions on the Smartboard, or on your laptop without printing.  Pictello has text to speech which is nice, but the boat craft directions work with an adult or child reading them aloud too.

Save lids in advance for this project.  I used wooden skewers broken down to size for the mast.  Pencils work too.

Kids love the hole punch.  It's sometimes hard for little hands to have enough strength, but then they can ask for help.

At the end, I asked some of the kids simple yes/no questions and wh-questions about the craft. You can also download those at the link below.

 A word about the communication board (link is below)---this is primarily fringe vocabulary.  Hopefully your limited verbal children have personal systems with core words.  Mine did!
A communication board with fringe is just handy for immediate needs during a group as a supplement. 

This communication board is made with Smarty Symbols, which is an awesome set of clip art, and within a reasonable price range.  I have a commercial license, and these symbols are copyrighted by that company.  Check them out! 

Download the boat directions here in pdf.

Download the communication board here.

Download a simple set of questions here.

Flotilla including a pirate boat!