This is a fun, exciting time of year, with many opportunities to build in engaging and memorable activities. You might be doing a Thanksgiving theme. Some students will enjoy learning about early America and the pilgrims. Others may enjoy a trip to the grocery store and participating in preparing a meal for parents. Still others may enjoy exploring the sensory components of the lesson, such as the feel and smell of a pumpkin. These activities provide time and opportunity to engage with students, parents and peers in meaningful ways.
Build Communication for All Students
In this guide, we will discuss ways to build communication for all students. Teachers of students with significant cognitive disabilities often do a lot of talking. They are naming and explaining as a student participates.
“Now we are going to get ready to make a pumpkin pie. This is a pumpkin that a farmer grew in his garden. Remember, we visited a pumpkin patch and cut up a pumpkin at Halloween and toasted the seeds. Today we are going to use the rest of the pumpkin to make a pumpkin pie.”
While it is important to pair language with experiences for our students (many of who are non-verbal), it is even more important to help our students participate in communication. Let’s begin by defining what we mean by communication. Communication is a two-way exchange. We can talk, talk, talk but sometimes we need to limit our verbalizations and find ways to support our student in communicative, give and take exchanges. Until we learn to provide multiple opportunities for our students to communicate, we are falling short and limiting our students and their ability to make real meaning from their experiences. Remember, communication goes beyond words.
Be Aware of Non-Verbal Communication
How does your non-verbal child communicate? This comes down to knowing your student. You might be able to notice a change in affect, differing vocalizations, etc. Teachers can begin by acknowledging a conversational attempt and engage with the child in a non-verbal communication exchange.
For example, the teacher might notice the child shows interest in the bumpy feel of a gourd. The teacher responds to his interest and hands the child a different gourd. The child accepts this gourd and shares the first gourd with the teacher. The teacher is initiating a back and forth exchange and that is the beginning of communication.
Use Structure and Routines
We know that structure and repetitive routines help our students anticipate what is coming and feel at ease in the environment. Use structure and routines to regularly build in special time for conversations. Allocate time and introduce a variety of materials and experiences. This time should be a relaxed time and begin with the student’s interest. The teacher acknowledges and responds. This is not a time of demands, not a time for the teacher to make a request or a statement which demands or requires a response. Instead it is a time for following the child’s lead, acknowledging and establishing a give and take exchange.
Conversations without Language
This article from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired can be adapted for all students with significant cognitive delays and provides ideas that you can begin implementing today!View Resource - Conversations without Language
Webinar - Listening and Conversation
This short clip provides great insight and useful strategies for communicating with your students.View Resource - Webinar - Listening and Conversation
Introduce a Core Vocabulary Communication Board
Children with significant cognitive delays are seeking to make meaning of their world and we begin with this type of conversational exchange. From this point, we can add on other skills such as making choices, how to request and reject appropriately, etc. What you are accomplishing here is the development of a reliable response mode. The student may begin to make choices through a variety of means such as eye gaze, a change of facial expression, an increase in vocalization, the use of a switch, etc. At this point, consult with your speech pathologist and consider introducing a core vocabulary communication board.
A core vocabulary communication board is a “low tech” augmentative and alternate communication (AAC) tool. In its simplest form, a teacher places key words/pictures on a grid so that the student can communicate more efficiently. The student is using his most reliable response mode to make a choice between the different words on the grid for communication. A great deal can be said with a small number of words. To learn more about how to implement this strategy, talk to your regional CAN specialist and investigate the links below.
This is an example of a core board that a teacher quickly drew to support a student in participating in a reading activity. The student now has a way to request that the teacher continue reading, stop reading, get another book or read the page or book over, etc. This is just a nice reminder that it doesn’t always have to be fancy, i.e. created with Boardmaker or using internet images.
Universal Core vocabulary and communication instruction during the naturally occurring academic and daily routines of the school dayView Resource - Project Core
Make it Monday: Manual Communication Boards with Core Vocabulary
Tips on creating communication boards and instructional materials for students who need or already use core vocabularyView Resource - Make it Monday: Manual Communication Boards with Core Vocabulary
The Power of Core Vocabulary
This video shows the importance of teaching core vocabulary to individuals with disabilities.View Resource - The Power of Core Vocabulary
A Few Good Words Using Core Vocabulary to Support Nonverbal Student
Example of how one school district began implementing core vocabulary strategiesView Resource - A Few Good Words Using Core Vocabulary to Support Nonverbal Student
Provide Opportunities for Communication
Finally, expand on conversational skills by providing not only multiple opportunities for communication, but multiple conversational partners. Include peers and help everyone who interacts with the child better understand how the child expresses himself.
Continue to Take Data
Once again…as you prepare for the upcoming holidays, remember to take good data. This data will be compared to data after the holidays to determine if regression occurred and if extended school year services might be necessary in the future.
STAAR Alternate 2
Continue instructing students in the targeted skills and refining supports, materials, and response modes as needed. Also, make sure that you are visiting the TEA website for any updates or information you may have missed last month.
Incorporate "Moments of Joy"
We started this monthly guide discussing the fun opportunities that the holidays offer. This is also the time to incorporate what Dr. Jan van Dijk calls “moments of joy”. Dr. van Dijk is a leader in the field of working with children with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. For many years, Dr. van Dijk has advocated the importance of building communication skills, but he also reminds us to build in moments of joy. Please view the video at this site to guide you as you make plans for the rest of the year
The Role of the Emotional Brain
Dr. Jan van Dijk presents his research and ideas related to the brain, the limbic system and the impact on teaching and learning for students who have complex access needs.View Resource - The Role of the Emotional Brain