Welcome Back

4 Sep

This was our first day back with students.  We start quite a bit later than most parts of the country.   Our school  seems to be in a growth spurt.  Additional kindergarten classes were added.  We have full day kindergarten now and more students are  enrolling. In the past,  we often lost students to private schools.  Parents needed childcare for the other half of the day and it was easier to have students stay in one place.

The building went through some renovations over the summer with new walls and doors  to make enclosed classrooms.  Our school was built during the time of the open classroom concept.  Through the years walls have been added but not always with doors.   This creates some interesting difficulties with noise, temperature control, and keeping  students contained in classrooms.  In the past we have actually used tape on the floor to show boundaries.  I am hoping the full day kindergarten will help alleviate some of my scheduling difficulties.

This was the Welcome Back bulletin board I made to start the year. I used rolls of brown butcher paper for the trunk of the tree.  I had a stencil for oak leaves.  I cut toilet paper rolls and glued the edges onto yellow paper to make the hive.  A teacher noticed my theme and gave me bee note paper.  We have a lot of bee themed materials at this school because our mascot is a bee.  It didn’t take long to put up. It is interesting how the tree has a different character each time.    I like to use a tree because it is easy to continue it through the school year and change it for the  seasons.

Bee lieve In Yourself

Bee lieve in Yourself, Welcome Back Stingers

Mouse Books for Language Samples

8 Aug

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Recently, I was looking for new books to add to my therapy collection and noticed that a favorite series of mine are still available.   It is the Mouse Books by Monique Felix.  I have 2 of them and I see there are more in the series now.  I bought mine years ago so the covers have changed.  They are still very reasonable in the $12 range.  I originally bought  mine for $3 which is very telling to  how old mine are.

The books are great for getting language samples  because they do not have  words, only pictures.   I have used them frequently for  my younger students.   The mice are engaging.   The books  are great at eliciting comparison and descriptive vocabulary.  Because they tell a story in a sequence of events I can also get a variety of verb tenses.  I can tell if the student recognizes there is a story sequence.  This is all valuable information to get informally to compare how students do with standardized testing.  Because I use them frequently, I can tell what the average student can do and when they are struggling.

Here is a bit of an inside view of The Opposites book.  There is a white mouse and a dark mouse that do opposite things throughout the book until the surprise ending.

 

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The Colors book illustrates the antics of a mouse in an art studio and explores mixing colors.

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If you are looking for  new books, you will not be disappointed in the number of ways you can use these.

 

 

Free Trial: Reply to a Comment Task Cards

31 Jul

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Teachers Pay Teachers is having their Back to School Sale on Aug 4th and 5th. If you are waiting for the right time to get back to school materials, now is the time.  Don’t forget to use the Promo code when you check out to get the full discount.

In a previous post I mentioned how I worked with students to recognize comments and questions and how they should make a reply.  I made comment and reply cards last  Spring.  I have since updated them to include  pictures.  I’m putting a trial set here for my readers to try out.  If they look like something you could use, the full set is on Teachers Pay Teachers.

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Reply to a Comment trial set

 

Quick link to Teachers Pay Teachers.

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Poppa’s Pizza Game Adaptation

28 Jul

 

Poppa's Pizza Topple.

I have some of my therapy games home for the summer since I had grandchildren visiting.  I noticed that I missed putting this one up on the blog.   Poppa’s Pizza Topple is a game I found at a garage sale a few years ago and I think it is still being sold in a few stores. It is a game  my students enjoy no matter what their ability level.  Pizza seems to be a favorite food of most children. I have used this game with students who are working on basic communication skills such as turn taking and making requests.  It can easily be adapted for students with limited verbal abilities by adding a communication board.    It also works well as a simple reinforcement for doing therapy tasks. At the most simple level, just use the pizza crust and have the student request ingredients and place them on the crust.  At the most difficult level, students place the ingredients on an unsteady pizza  crust propped up on Poppa’s finger.  They pick up the ingredients  according to what is rolled on the dice.   I recommend picking this game up and adding it to your collection if you get the chance.

Poppa's Pizza Topple.                                                                         pizza board

I had a request to show the communication board.  I do not have Boardmaker available on my home  computer to open this board. I ended up taking a picture of it. It will give you an idea of the symbols used.

Grand Opening

24 Jul

We did it.  Hopefully you have found yourself at the new web site.  You may be finding yourself here because of a redirect from the old site.  Please change any book marks you have to reflect the new url address.  Subscribers have been transferred over so you should not have to subscribe again.  There may still be a few glitches but I think you will find most of the material that was on the old site has been transferred here.  Let me know if you can’t find something.  There may still be some glitches but I think we are fully operational.  I hope you find this site easier to navigate and enjoy not having the ads pop up.  Thanks for being patient while we made the changes.

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That’s a Wrap.

23 Jun

Summer is here.  I don’t usually post  much about personal happenings, but they do have an effect on  my postings.  There has been  lot happening behind the scenes.   The month of June  came in with a flurry of events.  Some were good like the college graduation of my youngest  daughter.  Family members  flew in for the event so I  was able to spoil a grandchild and celebrate  at the same time.  We are also planning for  a wedding in August.

Some not  so good.   The last week of school  I received notice that I would be changing schools for the  next school year.  Then after I packed up  I found I would be staying  put.  That was what I really wanted so Murphy’s Law worked on that one.

Then if that wasn’t enough, my school district had a tragedy occur that made national news.  It made the staff realize that the realities of our world can intrude anywhere and it is not safe to say, “‘That will never happen here.”   It made for a somber ending to our school year.

On a better ending note, I  never dreamed when I started this blog 5 years ago,  that  I would someday say , “We have outgrown this place.”    Changes are needed so it can continue to be user friendly in the future and not get bogged down.  With the help of  my new family graduate, the blog will be going through a transformation.   We are in the process of updating and moving to another host.  This blog has been a learning experience for me.   I  knew nothing about blogs  and some of the frame-work  is not how I would structure it today.  There will be  improvements such as easier access to the free material downloads, a url that matches the title,  and no pop up advertising.  I will try to keep headings similar so that you can still find things.  Meanwhile, this site will stay up until the opening day and after that will direct you until you get use to the new place.   I will alert you to when the change goes into effect.   A thank you  for those  of you  who have visited my TPT store.  You  supported the updates and  my blogging habit.

 

In Search of the Best AAC System: Is it ChatAble ?

5 Jun


            I have always had an interest in Augmentative and Alternative Communication  (AAC).  Since I  have served many students with severe communication disabilities,  I have experienced using a lot of different systems over my career.  At the risk of dating myself, I worked with some of the beginning voice output devices for students such as the  “Hawk” and “Macaw” when every device seemed to be either an animal or bird name. Does anyone remember the Wolf?  You had to follow step by step instructions with sort of a recipe book.  The programming  was a very  repetitive pattern that in printed on your neural pathways.  A robotic voice prompted your moves saying words like “Trap” at the end of the sequence. That robotic voice would then invade your dreams while you slept.   Thankfully we have come a long way since then and children no longer need to sound like robots unless they choose to.  I remember a particular child that liked a Darth Vader type voice. Now new apps  make  it easier for speech output to be available on handheld devices and iPads.  There are so many new ones a  person gets overwhelmed with the choices and options.
When the SLPs in my district were given iPads 3 years ago there were restrictions placed on their  use.   Funds weren’t available for purchasing apps so we basically functioned with what could be downloaded free.  I think I have downloaded every trial version AAC app out there trying to find one to meet student needs and be potentially affordable for the school district to buy. Our purchase restrictions are starting to lift so soon it will be time to make decisions.

                    One downfall with using free trial apps is they often do not give you full editing powers. This means you do not get to try the full capabilities for the educational environment.  Last week an opportunity came my way.  I was contacted by Therapy Box, a company based in the United Kingdom.  They asked me to review their new AAC app named ChatAble.  I could actually download the complete program and check it out.  As a disclaimer, I am not being given any compensation other than a free download of the app. These are my views alone.  I hope they are of value to you as you look over my shoulder.  I certainly enjoyed being able to view the whole working program.

So what are the characteristics of a good program for school use.  The  program I am searching for needs to serve  a wide  range of students  because the school population is ever growing and changing.  Any program would likely serve multiple students over the years of its use.    It would be best if it could  use photos as well as  icons.   You need to have easy editing of the communication grid and the amount of vocabulary available.   It would be nice to also have the written word or keyboard for students who advance to that level.   Being able to use the device to complete academic work as well as provide voice output would be a real plus. We have students who are visually impaired and would benefit from auditory prompting and scanning.  Those with physical impairments may need a switch to activate cells.  Let’s not forget the teachers and assistants. I have seen AAC equipment sit on the shelf because it is too complicated and no one has time to get it programmed for classroom use . It needs to be user friendly but with some safequards so students do not  get to edit freely.  So does Chatable meet my needs? This is what I discovered.

I found the program easy to access.   I discovered a lot just through exploration. There was a quick start guide I looked back on and I learned a few more capabilities but you can pick it up and use the program immediately.   A Home display is the first thing to come up.   This is a plus.  It means that staff will not be intimidated and teachers and teacher assistants working with the students will not need a lot of training to work with the student. It saves staff time.

When I opened up to the first screen I have to say I was immediately impressed.  The core vocabulary was easy to view and reach in category files.  It didn’t feel cluttered.   The  typical classroom vocabulary was already programmed in.  You could choose the number of cells present.   The message window was a nice size and very apparent at the top.  It was easy to activate the voice output by hitting once in the message window itself.  It deleted easily by touching the black square once for a one word erase and twice for the entire window.

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The little blue square below the black square gives access to social media like messages and Facebook.  It is also possible to copy and print.  This is a good feature for growth.   It makes the device useful for completing homework and printing it out. Don’t worry, it can be removed in the settings if a  students is not ready for that yet.  It seems like that feature could be a good motivator for older students.

The  icons on the file folders  are  not too distracting and  remind me of Boardmaker icons.  The classroom where I work uses Boardmaker icons so there is always the question if the students will be able to make the transition to new icons.  I think most students would be able to make the adjustment.  The program has an extensive library of icons. You can   import photos or take pictures if you wish.

File folders mean there is access to another window with available vocabulary. I activated the feelings file folder.  I often find feelings are the most difficult to depict with drawings or icons.  I was pleasantly surprised to find real pictures.

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This is not a feature I have seen before in other AAC programs.   It would definitely be a plus to be able to take and use your own photos to depict feelings. I went back to the Get Started Manual to see how this worked.  I found you could take pictures or get them from your picture library and make hot spots  for vocabulary access. You simply put the blue frames around the part of the picture you want to make active. You can basically take a picture of a classroom shelf of toys and then make hotspots for easy access to the spoken vocabulary. I can think of a few students who respond to photos better than icons. This feature would not only save time it would be better for some students to see photos of the actual objects they use. You can also make hybrid pages that combine  both photos and icons.

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I discovered the arrow on the lower right corner  brought up the editing feature as well as access and settings menus.  I had a concern that students may get into this too easily.  I have had students do some self editing in the past with some interesting results.    In the settings, there is a direct link to a help source so I emailed my question.  I asked about turning off the edit feature for students who may edit on their own.  They got back to me within 24 hrs.  I thought that was a good response rate considering the response most likely came from a completely different time zone.  I was told  it was possible to edit that feature within the settings section of the iPad.  I tried and the editing feature became grayed out and not accessible.  I turned it back on because I wanted to try it out.

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The little green box in the lower end of the curve is the edit mode. It will open up the edit feature for any window you have open.  Here is the hobby window with the edit activated.

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As you can see along the top there are a variety of things you can do in the edit mode. This changes somewhat depending on if you are using a photograph with hot spots or a display with icons. You can take and use pictures from your gallery or choose symbols from the Symbol library.  You can record music, voices, or add text to speech.

The little red wheel is the settings access.  It is possible to adjust direct touch access, voice output, scanning and auditory support when a frame is highlighted. There are 10 voices to choose from.  This is actually closer to 2 males and 2 females with American accents unless your student wants an accent.  I tried to make a younger childs  voice by changing the speed and the pitch on the voices . This was an old trick I use to use to get a kid voice. I  thought the voices still sounded like older children to me but maybe with more tweaking it would still work.

The yellow arrow opens up a variety writing methods to include a keyboard and writing with a finger or stylus.  It also has a text to speech capability.  This means the program can be used to produce written work that can be printed if the blue button on the message board is available for email or printing.

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The note pad looks like this.   You can place your written word into the message window and it will be spoken with the message window activation. You can also send messages in email.


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As you can see, ChatAble is quite remarkable and meets most of what I am looking for.  I haven’t found any others to be quite as user friendly.   This is our last full week of school before Summer break and I am sad that I will need to wait until next Fall to test it out with students.  I can think of a few that could use it.  I will be showing it to the Assistive Technology Department because I feel it would be on the top of the list.  When I looked at the Therapy Box  website  it looked like they gave as much as 50% off the cost to school districts.  I think this would make it quite reasonable compared to other programs in the same range of capabilities.

 

The Art of Having a Conversation

25 May

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Students are sometimes referred to  Child Study Team (CST)  because of difficulties relating to peers. Concerns revolve around the student saying inappropriate things, being picked on and  starting   fights on the playground.   When you talk to the student, you may  find they have limited interests and talk excessively on one topic.  They have difficulties taking turns during a conversation.  In their attempts to enter a  conversation  they say something that can be  perceived as an  insult or bragging.  This results in a fight or peers not wanting to interact with them.  The student then  feels picked on or shunned.

Sometimes these students have a diagnosis of Aspergers or high functioning autism and are on our caseloads. They may need direct instruction on how to have a conversation. Learning  the art of having a conversation can help alleviate some of the difficulties.  However, it is a very difficult skill to teach without structure.    Left to their own devices,  the a session may go something like this.  A  student will start a topic of high interest to them. The other students  interrupt  to make off topic comments. One student dominates the topic with multiple comments until another student manages to derail to another topic with  multiple comments.  It becomes   a competition to control the topic rather than enjoy an exchange of information.  No one feels they have been listened to and arguments occur as they interrupt each other.  Each student  feels that only their topic and comments are right. I have actually had a student say they won because they had the most papers out.

How do we provide structure so it becomes a learning task?  It is  important  to break down  skills in in smaller increments  so they can understand and  practice.  I have used colored  paper shapes as visual cues to illustrate turn taking, topic changes and questions and comments.

Conversation strip 1 and 2

Can you guess which conversation is interactive with multiple people talking about a topic.  Which conversation is more likely  people talking for themselves?

During this process I have discovered  many of our students do not know how to start a conversation or recognize when another student is giving them an opening to start a conversation.   They may not see  the differences between a question and a comment and do not understand the hidden expectations of both. When a comment is said, they may misinterpret its intent and  not  respond appropriately.  I made comment and reply cards so that my students could work on this directly.  There is a full set at the TPT store.  You can reach them directly by hitting the button at the top of the page or the button below.

TPT button  There is also a set of  trial cards here.  free trial button

Sometimes the Best Things are Free

8 May

We are counting down with 4 1/2 weeks of school left.  We even saw some sunny days which made people think that summer will make it yet.  We get a lot of rain this time of year so sun is appreciated. It is hard to keep students interested when they would  rather be outside.  I am especially low on ideas for the life skills program.  I came across this BINGO game and it was the perfect activity for this week.  The students took turns drawing the call cards and making the faces so everyone could guess which one it was on their  Bingo card.  Even the students with limited verbal abilities had a good time.  You can find them at   http://peoniesandpoppyseeds.com/  here

 

Feelings BINGO

 

May is also the month I bring out the Pear Tree for Homonyms.  It seems to look different every year.  I thought you might like to see how it is looking this year.  I am still giving out lollipops for each homonym pair a student comes up with.  After doing this several years, I am pleased to find that students that contributed when they were younger do not need prompting to come up with words now.

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