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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
We are coming to the end of the year and it is time to see how much progress my students have made. I have been working on new irregular past tense verb cards. My commercial cards have pictures that don’t reflect the past event and also have the printed word below. I end up hiding the written word when doing post testing which is annoying. I also find that students do not always generalize to other contexts. I wanted an activity the students could use after they have memorized the verbs according to the usual prompts of what happened today and yesterday and would be a better indicator of what they know. I made the cards so the past tense would be elicited within the context of answering a question. The cards may also be used for interpreting questions that use the words before, after, during, and while and used for making predictions. I usually have students working on different goals in the same session. The answers are hidden. Students can use a QR reader to get an answer. I have a UV pen I bought at a school book fair that I use to write answers in the blue boxes. The students find it motivating to self check their answers.
The complete set is at TPT which you can reach by clicking the button below.
April is here and time to switch out the bulletin board again. We seem to be getting our fair share of rain and the fruit trees are in full bloom. I know some places are still getting snow so I don’t really have a right to complain about the rain. When looking for this month’s bulletin board project, I saw several variations of paper flowers on Pinterest. I happen to have a supply of colored computer paper that would make colorful flowers for the traditional saying “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” I was able to adapt one of the flowers to a version that used the materials I have on hand; paper and tape. The flowers are simple enough that my older students in the Lifeskills program were able to complete them along with my younger general education students. My only problem is that the students want to bring them home for their mothers so I had trouble getting them to leave them for the bulletin board. This is what the board is looking like so far. We made the directions and shared them on Storykit. It is still a good exercise to have the students record the directions. Their voices were removed here before posting because of our school privacy requirements. Directions for flowers on the bulletin board.
You may remember in the original posts of this blog, I wrote about using a push-in model of therapy with Kindergarten students using table games to teach concepts that were measured on the The Boehm Test of Basic Concepts. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this test, The Boehm Test of Basic Concepts is a norm-referenced, standardized test of fifty common language concepts for children in Kindergarten through second grades. The concepts are important for following classroom directions and when acquiring math skills. Children with language delays, 2nd language learners, and those with lack of preschool experience benefit from direct instruction on these. The vocabulary section on this blog has some of the games that we developed and adapted. If you are interested in researching back to the original posts just put Concept Groups in the search bar and you can see how a year of school lesson planning went. I still use the same activities so they have held up over the test of time.
One of the Activities, “The Never Ever Dinner Plate” needed some refreshing. My sets are looking a bit worn after 5 years. The directions are in the vocabulary section but you still need to do quite a bit of work finding the clip art and collecting it together. This can be daunting when you don’t have much time and you are not sure of its true value. I decide to make a new set and preview it here so you could see what it actually is. This game/activity was used to teach the negatives (never, not), the concepts of match, full, half, and categories of food. It is also good for talking about a balanced diet if you have a nutrition program or theme. It was used in our Lifeskills program for that purpose.
The original game was played like this: Each child was given a plate mat and 3 pictured food items that match the outlines of the foods on the plate. I make a set of plates for each table so that each child will have a different plate. I made the meals balanced so dairy, vegetables, fruit, proteins, and grains are represented. There are also a set of non food items for each table group. These are items a child would never eat. The cards, including the nonfood items, are mixed and placed face down in rows in the center of the table. Students take turns flipping one card over on their turn to see if it matches a food item on their plate. If it does they can place it on their plate. If it doesn’t they turn the card back over. If it’s a non food item, emphasize that children “never” eat it. It is “not” food. The nonfood item is then flipped back over. They are basically foil cards. While you are playing you can also discuss categories of food and if their plate is ½ full empty etc. The game is over when one of the children is able to fill their plate with the proper food items. I have them swap plates and they are always eager to do it again. There is usually a lot of discussion about what they do like and don’t like to eat.
March is here again and it is time to find a new project for the bulletin board. I looked into the supply closet and found coffee filters left from someone elses project. This looked like a possibility for inexpensive fun. I started looking for a shamrock pattern. I was disappointed to find the die cut pattern was too big for my needs. Then the kindergarten teacher came to my rescue. She pointed out it was easy to make a shamrock from hearts. Even though I couldn’t find a shamrock, I found 3 sizes of die cut hearts. The plan was coming together. It would be easy to get this project ready because I already have all the materials.
I saw a project that used water based markers and a spray bottle of water. The water made the markers run into interesting designs. I thought the students would enjoy experimenting with that. They could glue the hearts on top of the colored coffee filters and it would look like stained glass. It would add some color to the board. I found a simile that worked well with the shamrocks; A best friends is like a four leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have. This gave an opportunity to talk about Similes with my older students. The younger students worked on following directions and talking about St. Patrick’s Day. This is what it is looks like so far. More Shamrocks will be added as they get completed.
Directions on StoryKit here.
Have fun and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The need for social skills groups continues to grow at the elementary school where I teach. We had enough students to form two groups this school year. One group is made primarily of second graders and the other fourth and fifth graders. The counselor and I teach these classes together.
We have used Leah Kuypers The Zones of Regulation® (www.zonesofregulation.com) and Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking® materials for our lesson planning. Recently we have worked on identifying emotions and how they fall into the 5 zones. For a brief overview, the Zones are 5 color coded signs that rank from the lowest blue zone of low alertness which relate to being calm, or tired to the red zone of heightened alertness which relates to feelings such as anger or fear. You can click on the web sites to obtain more explicit information.
These colors and zones can also be used when talking about the size of a problem. Students determine if a problem is at the lowest level which would be a glitch in our day or at the highest level a crisis difficult to correct. Other problems may fall somewhere in between. When compared with the zones of regulation students can see if the emotional reaction is appropriate to the problem. This also leads to talking about possible solutions.
When starting this unit, I found it difficult to find appropriate scenarios for the students to rate. They came up with a few on their own but typically do not think of the full range. you would be surprised at how much comes in as being a crisis. I created 26 cards with written scenarios. I added another four blank cards that if drawn the student would make up their own. The scenarios are ones that are common to students. I used Ned’s head for drawing out cards. Ned’s head is a good way to add humor to the situation and remind students that they may be thinking and seeing from one perspective inside their head. They can step out to see another perspective and problem solve. Here are a sample of the cards. You can down load them and test them out by clicking the button below.
You can reach the the full set by clicking the button below.
January sure has gone fast. Here we are a week away from February. We are coming to the end of a grading period so I am busy writing progress reports. I am a bit behind because of other meetings. I am sure you can all relate to that. We have a new software program which makes it a little harder. The paper work has been a bit of a challenge this year.
It is getting harder to be creative with the bulletin board lately. I stayed with my theme of antonyms for February. I looked in my cupboard and noticed that I have a large supply of straws on hand. Valentines Day brings out the cupid in all of us so I decided to make arrows. It helped that we have die cuts for hearts available. The die cut makes a heart as an outline and a smaller heart to be pushed out of the center. We used the smaller hearts to make the point of the arrow and used a folded rectangle for the feathered end. The students wrote a word on the arrow head and the opposite word on the white paper to match. It doesn’t look like the words are visible in the picture. This is the beginning of our project. I will post updates as we go. The students are making directions as usual. However, we are regulated for voices as well as visual images so I can not post my story kit directions until we are done and I can remove the child audio. This is what it is looking like. Here is the Storykit link to the directions: arrow directions