Professional Development: Are We Effective in Helping Teachers and Therapists to Grow?

Teachers with students in classroom

It is the beginning of a new school year. This is a time when educational staff—teachers and therapists—are trying desperately to engage with new students in their classrooms or caseloads. Questions, e.g.…

  • How do we get students to pay attention and focus on the lessons we prepare with great dedication?
  • How can we deal with challenging behaviors, different language and reading levels of students, as well as diverse levels of skills of classroom assistants?

…can be all-consuming and overwhelming as we search for external solutions to the interaction and teaching challenges we experience in the classroom. The challenge for those involved in professional development of educational staff is how best to support teachers and therapists during this process. Continue reading “Professional Development: Are We Effective in Helping Teachers and Therapists to Grow?”

Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?

Two people together at sunset

I recently went back to South Africa to see my mom, who is 88. She is in a nursing facility with 24-hour care, unable to walk, and at times quite confused. During the past year she had a couple of ischemic attacks, which rendered her unable to speak for certain periods of time. Recently, however, she has regained some speech, although verbal expression remains difficult. In spite of all these factors, I looked forward to our visit.

The author with her mom and her brother
The author with her mom and her brother

I talk to my mom on the phone from New York on a daily basis. Even though interactions are difficult, we are able to maintain interaction for sometimes shorter and sometimes longer periods of time. My visits with her are less focused on content and more on celebrating the joy of being together.

When in Johannesburg, I visit her at the facility twice a day for about an hour each in the morning and afternoon, depending on how my mom and I seem to be doing at the time and on a specific day. Continue reading “Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?”

Spontaneous Second Language Interactions: What Can We Learn for AAC Intervention?

Two Cousins

In a recent visit to South Africa I had the privilege to be a fly on the wall in observing an interaction between two young people: a little girl who is 9 years old (Afrikaans-speaking, but also fluent in English) and a young adult in her early 30s (English-speaking, but also competent in Afrikaans, although she hasn’t spoken it for some time). These two cousins had not seen each other in a couple of years and were very happy to be reacquainted. A recording was made of their interaction (embedded below). Continue reading “Spontaneous Second Language Interactions: What Can We Learn for AAC Intervention?”

How Do We Promote Engagement in Interactions with Students Who Use AAC?

I have often been surprised to discover how therapists and teachers (myself included!) become so wrapped up in daily toil and activities that we are exhausted by 10:00 in the morning. Although we often admit this is not a state of mind we necessarily are content with, changing how we do things can be really difficult. Being busy makes us feel like we are productive and engaged professionals—but are we really? How is this “being busy” really benefiting our interaction with our students? This question is even more relevant when it comes to how we support students who use AAC to become engaged with others in interaction. Continue reading “How Do We Promote Engagement in Interactions with Students Who Use AAC?”

Are We Missing the Boat in AAC Intervention?

Ferry boat leaving shore

Over the past 30 years of working in this field, I have often had sleepless nights when meeting a student in elementary, middle, or high school who has no or very limited means to communicate in spite of having access to a device or iPad with a communication app. I keep asking myself how it is possible that a student can reach middle or even high school without the ability to express themselves when we have trained teachers and therapists to provide intervention and support? Despite these resources, it still seems rather easy for students with severe communication problems to fall through the cracks.

Although the reasons for these dilemmas are complex, looking at the way in which we formulate IEP goals can be illuminating. IEP goals are often written to reflect outcomes that show the student has learned or gained (that is, variables that are easy to measure, for example, how frequently students respond correctly to certain stimuli or use language structures correctly within context), without due consideration of how what they have learned impact on their daily interactions. Continue reading “Are We Missing the Boat in AAC Intervention?”

Repeat Questions from Students
with Special Needs in the Classroom:
What to Do?

Children raising hands in classroom

A teacher recently shared that she has a student in her class who keeps repeating the same question even after she has responded to it. The student will ask the teacher, “When will we get our tests back?” To which the teacher will reply, “I will give them back tomorrow, as I have not finished making all the corrections yet.” However, 10 minutes later, the student will proceed to ask the same question.

This reminded me of a similar scenario with a student I know of who used an AAC device. This student also repeated the same question, even though the teacher had responded to the question. The student would activate his device to ask, “When do we go to the library?” To which the teacher would respond by saying, “We will go to the library after break.” However, within 10 minutes of the first question, the student proceeded to repeat the same question. Continue reading “Repeat Questions from Students
with Special Needs in the Classroom:
What to Do?”

Teaching Best Practices: Lesson Preparation Without a Distorting Lens

Children in Classroom

It is the beginning of a new academic year: time for teachers to prepare lesson plans and to think about ways to engage students in learning material and activities. Truth be told, although the content of what needs to be taught can be well defined, our ability to predict how students will respond to the way in which we present the material—in other words, teaching—remains elusive.

How we presented material to students last year may not necessarily work for a new group of students. However, as we gain experience in teaching, we become more confident that we are able to trust our “sixth sense” or gut feeling when it comes to predicting how our students might respond. We often assume that, based on our years of teaching experience, we understand our students well enough to accurately predict how they could respond. We tend to trust our intuition to guide our teaching. Continue reading “Teaching Best Practices: Lesson Preparation Without a Distorting Lens”

Riding the Whirlwind: Human Interactions and Emotional Resonance

Whirlwinds

On a recent visit to South Africa, I realized again the importance of traveling to bring fresh perspectives as well as new insights into human interactions.

Moral Compass: Political cartoon of Nelson Mandela by Zapiro
[Source]
Truth be told, this is a difficult time politically in South Africa; and dealing with political views while visiting family can be interesting albeit quite disturbing at times. A political cartoon by Zapiro (Daily Maverick) stayed with me, as it connected to a dilemma that I encountered while visiting an elderly friend who lives on her own in Johannesburg. The cartoon depicts Nelson Mandela showing the way to go, while the current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, is caught up in a moral whirlwind (windvane) without an escape route. The depiction of “being caught up in a whirlwind” struck me as I reflected on the situation that my 91-year-old friend finds herself in. Continue reading “Riding the Whirlwind: Human Interactions and Emotional Resonance”

Listening, Communication Intent, and Rabbits

Rabbit in a field of grass

What Can We Learn from Our Leporine Neighbors?

I have been watching the rabbits in our garden in the early morning hours as they nibble at the grass and momentarily stop to listen, before continuing with their nibbling. This process of nibbling, abrupt stopping and listening, nibbling and stopping and listening fascinates me. It is almost as if the rabbits realize that while they are busy nibbling grass, they can’t listen (or become aware of potential threats), hence they have to stop, albeit momentarily, to listen.

While the idea of stopping in the midst of daily activity is not new, it made me think about our communication intervention practices. I have been trained (and have also trained others for a long time) to understand that communication is an intentional, goal-oriented process of exchanging messages to achieve specific outcomes. The closer the outcomes resemble the initial intent, the more successful we deem the communication to be. But is communication with others really purposeful in that way? Is the process of developing meaning with others really that predictable? Continue reading “Listening, Communication Intent, and Rabbits”

iPads, Electronic Media Use, and AAC Users

Child using an iPad tablet

Should students who use iPads for communication purposes be allowed to use the iPad in the classroom for academic purposes? This question was raised recently by Maria Landon in the ASHA Leader (June 2018 issue):

Then the classroom teacher starts talking about a great new current-events application she just heard about. The occupational therapist wants to install a handwriting app. The student’s one-on-one aide thinks a visual timer would be very helpful during transitional times. So, now what?

Continue reading “iPads, Electronic Media Use, and AAC Users”