Self–Other Awareness and the Use of Core Words with Young AAC Users

Self-other awareness

Helping students to develop social closeness with others is less about who does it, but more an approach to teaching and intervention. An approach sensitive to encourage closer relationships between students should center on facilitating the development of self–other awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to be aware of one’s inner life, which includes one’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, values, preferences, goals, strengths, challenges, and attitudes—and how these factors impact one’s choices. One becomes aware of oneself as one’s awareness of others become more distinct

Promoting self-awareness is, therefore, a process that allows students the freedom to choose who they want to sit with, who they want to work with, and who they want to play with. For example, instead of always having assigned seating in the classroom, students need opportunities to choose who they want to sit with. And though this could be difficult for some students to do initially, being exposed to these opportunities provides the impetus for self-growth.

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Making AAC Users Feel Listened-to: Slow Is Better

Attentive child

While teachers and therapists might feel the pressure to get students to settle down and get work done in the classroom, allowing time for young AAC users to feel listened-to is an important first step towards engaging them in learning. Even if we feel pressured to get on with reaching set objectives, we need to remember that making students feel listened-to is a first step towards engagement in learning. Slow is better.

AAC Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

  • Can we allow ourselves the time to listen to the AAC students in our class? Or are we going to succumb to our default tendencies of using behavioral strategies to get students to comply?
  • Is compliance what we want? Or are we really interested in getting the student to engage in learning?

What can seem daunting at first glance, however, can be quite straightforward. A child that feels listened-to is generally a happy child. Rather than focusing on getting the child to settle down, we also need to develop an understanding of how the child is experiencing the transition. If we can be with the student, then ways to facilitate the child’s transition to the classroom may come without much intervention effort. Dealing with change is difficult for all, hence, we need to move slowly to allow our students to feel that we are interested in what they have to offer. We can only respond meaningfully if we have some idea of what it feels like to be in the child’s shoes. Engaging our students in what we do is a first step towards communication and learning.

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Getting Things Done: Compliance or Active Learning?

I am often amazed at how the pressure of “getting things done” can prevent one from  meaning-making with others. The inability to take time to be with another can have significant impact on our well-being as parents and teachers.

A colleague and I were driving to do some training at a school. It was early morning, and we had had a late start. Getting back into the car with two cups of coffee for my friend and me, I felt quite relieved, as I had difficulty understanding the coffee attendant, who was speaking with a heavy southern accent.

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Story Time with Erna #4: A Spider in the Pond? Understanding Concepts of Daily Living

Spider in the pond

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.

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Using Core Words in the Classroom: Some Guidelines

As this is my first blog of the New Year, I want to wish you all a wonderful 2021. May we all soon see the end of covid! We will start off the year by talking about the use of core words in the classroom.

Teachers and therapist often ask me how much time they should spend on teaching a particular core word (or words) to their class before moving on to the next core word. Truth be told, this is a very difficult question to answer, as there are so many different factors impacting how long students take to learn a specific core word.

Traditionally we formulated our vocabulary goals by specifying that the child is able to use one language function at a time, e.g., requesting. We would use the words “I want” and encourage the student to indicate whatever s/he would like to choose. The focus is therefore on choice-making. The following video is a typical example of this kind of approach, where the focus is on getting the student to request specific objects to express needs and wants.

The principle of using core words to promote language and communication development, however, is based on a different premise.  Continue reading “Using Core Words in the Classroom: Some Guidelines”

Story-time with Erna #1: For Parents and Their Young Children during the Time of the Coronavirus

Woman reading story to her child

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.

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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”

A Culture of Collaboration Among Teachers, Therapists, and Parents?

Team collaboration

I often find myself amazed at how difficult it can be to get parents, teachers, and therapists to engage in conversation with each other on topics of mutual interest. I wonder whether lack of collaboration is about not having time; or whether it is a reflection of the belief that working on “my own goals” as a professional is the expected practice within schools? Continue reading “A Culture of Collaboration Among Teachers, Therapists, and Parents?”