Recently, I was asked to provide information on the background to and motivation for my book on meaning-making in AAC intervention. Why did I write this book and what do I regard as the main contribution of the book?
This narrative is aimed at increasing children’s understanding of daily concepts by enhancing curiosity and engagement in everyday life events. It promotes close observation and inquiry based on what we see. Like before, I set the stage for the narrative by going through the concepts to ensure that children have some understanding of the main concepts in the narrative. The URLs are included to provide you with easy access to pictures and ideas to expand on your discussion with the children.
Preparation: Enhancing Conceptual Understanding
Here are some of the most important concepts highlighted in this short narrative. Although some of the concepts may be too difficult for some children, it is important to expose all children to all the concepts. Children learn by being exposed to new information and contexts even though each child will derive different meaning from the interaction. How children are able to participate in this activity is not as important as the experience they share with others in finding answers to the questions. The engagement in and enjoyment of the interaction is of primary importance.
- Weather: For this blog I start off by setting the context in terms of the weather. I do this by contrasting different weather patterns: Indiana is cold, icy, wet, and snowy. South Africa is hot and dry, with little rain. Lack of rain often means that there is a water shortage.
- Spider: Spiders have a body and legs and live on land, mostly in dry places. Pay particular attention to the physical resemblance, i.e., shape of a spider and its color to contrast with the spider in the pond.
- Cracked ice: Looks like/not the same as/different from a real spider. Did the crack stay the same/change over time?
- Feelings and experiences: Excited, curious. In addition to this narrative, the first story in the series also deals with playing a trick on someone.
I recently followed an interaction between communication professionals on twitter in which they commented on the difference between compliance and engagement in interacting with young children. It made me acknowledge that Twitter can be used in really constructive ways: These short messages can make you think! Please see the postings as well as the comments on the postings below (Nov. 13 & 14, 2020).
These postings and comments highlight some important concepts in thinking about the differentiation between compliance and engagement. I briefly summarize the primary points below.
I remember when I first started to teach online in the late ’90s, I attended a training session on blended learning. The message was that online learning is not “just like classroom learning.” You cannot take what you do in face-to-face classroom teaching and simply put it “online.” You need to identifythe main purpose of the learning exposure, and then select the strategy best fit to achieve the goal. One has to integrate learning purpose and strategy from the get-go.
This integration requires that one has knowledge and understanding of the different types of online strategies, their strengths, and their limitations. There are no hard and fast rules for what strategies work best for students with severe communication difficulties. The secret to success is: one needs to be open-minded in observing each student’s pace of learning and adapt strategies to suit the student’s learning outcomes.
For example, the best way to introduce a story might be in a synchronous group online or classroom situation. However, tapping into the children’s understanding of the story could be more effectively done via an individual one-on-one session, whether online or face-to-face. Thereafter, parents can facilitate re-enactment of the story to consolidate information learned. If parents are uncomfortable with this level of participation, we need to adjust the strategies used. Continue reading “Blended Learning for Teachers, Parents, and Therapists: Integrated Lessons for Students with Severe Communication Difficulties”
How do I play with my young child who is nonverbal? Expansion from where your child is at..
It is not uncommon for parents to express uncertainty about how to go about playing with young children who are not able to express themselves. These children often have a limited repertoire of toys that they are interested in. All we need for play is to identify one toy (e.g. teddy), action (e.g. jumping), or object (e.g.. car) that the child is interested in and use it as a basis for play. We want to be aware of what the child is interested in and then for us to extend what s/he does with the toy/object to expand involvement with us and the toy/object or action.
My child is in school already, why should s/he still learn to play like this?
There is a direct link between children’s ability to play with themselves and others, and their ability to learn. This also applies for children of school -going age. Children learn primarily through play. They make up action stories (e.g. the doggie runs in the yard, he runs fast, he sees daddy coming in the car, what does the doggie do? He runs to the car to greet daddy). In playing out a simple story like this, they learn about sequential actions and logical outcomes. If we can get a young child to play like this, s/he is well on the way to learning.
What toys do I use?
We need to watch carefully what toys the child spontaneously engages with. We need to observe how s/he uses the toys to develop their play skills. Allow yourself to expand play around the object of your child’s interest by adding one or two ideas that you think the child might relate to. Parents can be most intuitive in knowing what a child might enjoy – and if it doesn’t work, then you can try with another object/action/toy later on. It is not how many times we have to try that is important, but where we are heading for!
Gaining a young child’s attention is often difficult and expanding that interest to include a slightly longer engagement with the toy can be quite difficult at first. Remember this is an activity that you and your child should enjoy together. Don’t allow a play session to change into a “teaching session”. The idea is to have fun together. Play, communication and learning can only happen when a child is interested and enjoy what they are doing with you.
One of the great joys in my life as a young child was the experience of listening to stories my grandmother told us. These stories were quite unique, as they were folk tales that were orally communicated from generation to generation. All these stories were about animals—for example, The lion and the Jackal, Jackal and Wolf, Crab and the Jackal, etc. In my retelling of these stories, I am using the book Famous South African Folk Tales by Pieter W Grobbelaar and Sean Verster.
Although the main purpose of this presentation is enjoyment, these stories also provide great opportunities for parents to talk to their children about the content of the stories to ensure that they understand what happened; and why certain characters acted in certain ways. There is no better way to enhance children’s learning than to focus on their ability to understand oral and written language. At the end of the story, I will provide a couple of pointers on how parents can facilitate talking about the story with their children.
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?”
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?”