I previewed the “Hour of Code” project today with one of my classes. I do an “Hour of Code” every December, and many of my students really like it. I use one of the coding introductions from https://code.org/learn. Some of my students can work independently and others need a lot of help. Almost everyone enjoys going to the front of the room to work on the interactive white board. One year, several students learned their left and right hands after repeated lessons with using “Blockly” to move characters. That same year, one very academic student with autism taught himself to move beyond the Hour of Code while I was helping his classmates with the basics. My goal for some students is simply to touch or to move a block while other students are working on using the blocks to make characters move and turn. Occasionally, I get a few students who can problem solve how the blocks fit together to complete an activity. I work to make the lesson fun for whatever level each student is working on. Check out https://code.org/learn for more information about the “Hour of Code.”
Some of my students are nonverbal (do not speak) so they are learning to point to picture communication symbols like the ones above to communicate. I chose black pictures on colored backgrounds for my website’s banner, following the method that I learned in a workshop at my school district’s instructional technology office. This symbol coloring style is based on the work of Carol Goossens, Ph.D., CCC-SLP (Certificate of Clinical Competence for Speech-Language Pathologists).
Almost twenty years ago, I attended a series of workshops hosted by my school district on “Engineering the Classroom.” This work built upon Carol Goosen’s Aided Language Stimulation approach to teaching students to effectively use picture communication symbols. Typically developing children easily progress from single word utterances to conversing in full sentences as they mature. Students who cannot speak often need much more instruction to improve their communication skills. While it is true that not everyone colors their communication symbols, I began using this technique as soon as I learned about it.
My personal experience aligns with what I learned in the workshop. Students have to see their communication system in use throughout the day (and preferably at home also). Just as children who talk or sign progress from single words to complete sentences, picture communication symbols users need that same opportunity. I have seen color coded symbols assist students to communicate. They also assist me to make sure that I provide a full range of symbols that allow for varied communication opportunities and experiences. Some students eventually outgrow the need for color coding, and other students may never need it, but I find it is a nice thing to have in my bag of tricks. I try to remember to point to symbols myself as I speak with nonverbal students; this models and validates their method of communication.
Here is the list of background colors that I learned in the workshops.
Pink: Verbs (i.e. walk, eat)
Blue: Descriptors — adjectives, adverbs, etc (i.e. warm, slowly)
Green: Prepositions (i.e. on, before)
Yellow: Nouns (i.e. chair, paper)
Orange: Miscellaneous category of interaction words
Question-words (i.e. Who, How)
Exclamations (i.e. uh oh, wow)
Negative Words (i.e. no, don’t)
Pronouns (i.e. I, them)
Although the workshop I attended was over twenty years ago, many people continue to use Carol Goosen’s Aided Language Stimulation with children and adults who rely on picture communication symbols to communicate. A brief survey on the Internet brought up two articles of interest. The first abstract I read was about working with adults (Beck, Ann R.; Stoner, Julia B.; and Dennis, Marcia L.). An investigation of aided language stimulation: Does it increase AAC use with adults with developmental disabilities and complex communication needs? Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 25-1, pp 42-54, 2009. Retrieved September 21, 2016, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07434610802131059). The second abstract dealt with children (Bruno, Joan and Trembath, David). Use of aided language stimulation to improve syntactic performance during a weeklong intervention program. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22-4, pp 300-313, 2006. Retrieved September 21, 2016, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/07434610600768318). Both of these articles confirmed what I learned in the workshop many years ago and through my own experience as a teacher.
During the summer, my school implemented a new procedure for me to help other staff members. Everyone is supposed to FIRST ask the administration if I can help, and then an administrator will email me. I hope that this will drastically cut back on people interrupting my classes asking for assistance. While I am very willing to do what I can for my colleagues, I cannot expect the paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) to be quiet and focus on the students if I am not.
The school’s principal devised this system. I used to have a sign-up sheet outside my computer lab’s door. He wants to be the one to decide what I work on so that he will know what is happening in the school. It is taking staff members a while to adjust, but I think that if I am strict about enforcing the principal’s directive, it will become easier for them to follow. People got used to my old system, where they could see how many people were above them, but I think they can adjust to something new. After all, it is the new procedure and we will use it.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I was eager to attend a workshop on Unique Learning System’s (https://www.n2y.com/products/unique/) new student activities and individual data collection. The expert canceled at the last-minute, so I volunteered to show what I know. I had gotten to work over an hour early, fortunately, so I was able to update a workshop I gave in June and present that. My knowledge of Unique is limited, but I filled in the time with additional Web sites to fill up the two-hour session, after I showed a brief demonstration of Unique Learning System’s new student interface and data collection. The morning was fine; people who were not interested kept their voices low and were not too disruptive. I still need to find out what I missed from the workshop that I was supposed to attend for cluster teachers (teachers who teach a specific subject instead of having a class of students).
The second day of preparation was split between meetings and setting up our rooms. It is impossible to be completely ready for students in the time allotted, but my room at least looked neater than it was when I first walked in the building. I made sure that there were chairs for all of the students in my larger classes and a few extras for the paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) who come in with the students. I am glad that we had two days to prepare for the students, occasionally we only have one day.
The students arrived on my third day of work. I am a bit upset to see that I teach one less class and have a cafeteria duty instead, but I understand that the school had to but more teachers in the cafeteria. The students I teach often are runners. Our cafeteria has five doors, so we need enough staff there to prevent students from leaving on their own. I feel that cafeteria duty is not why I have two master’s degrees, but the safety of our students has to come first! I don’t like but, but I do see that it is necessary. Besides, maybe another teacher will volunteer for cafeteria duty and the schedule might change. It’s unlikely but possible.
As always, there is a wide variety in my students. I have classes where most of the students do not talk and I have classes where almost everyone is verbal and the few nonverbal students use communication devices. I have students who know how to read and other students who are still in the everything-in-the-mouth stage of development. I think we have five different types of classes in my school. Yes, there are many students with challenging behaviors, but we are the right school for that. In general, I think that this is going to be a great year!
My new school year begins tomorrow, and the students arrive on Thursday. Right now, I’m thinking of everything that I want to get done before the students arrive. Unlike most years, I will not be conducting a professional development workshop. Instead, I will be attending two workshops, one if which I actually got to choose! Many of my students are non-readers, and about half of those are nonverbal. I will be learning about improvements (I hope!) to News2You’s Unique Learning System that helps teach students to click on or tap picture symbols instead of words. I used to use this when they had activities that I could download onto my computers, but I stopped about two years ago when they stopped supporting the program I use (IntelliTools’ Classroom Suite (now by AbleNet). Now, News2You has improved its online access and individual data tracking, so I hope I can return to using it. I hope to spend most of Wednesday setting up student accounts and developing lesson plans for this new and exciting Web-based program.
Of course, the more mundane aspects of running a computer lab also have to be addressed. I need to make sure that all of the computers are running properly and request toner for the printer. I updated and re-imaged everything the last week of summer school, so the computers themselves should be fine. But what about the mice, the keyboards, and the headphones? Just because everything worked on August 15th does not mean it will work on September 6th. Hopefully, all will be well! My next project will be to set up four stations with adaptive devices for students who cannot use a mouse, but that may have to wait until later in the month. The biggest problem will be finding the time to do all of this in one day while fielding problems from all of my colleagues. Hopefully, I’ll be able to leave on time Tuesday and Wednesdays. The day is officially over at 3:00 pm, but (as many teachers will tell you) it rarely actually is.
I am truly looking forward to seeing my old students and getting to know the new ones, in spite of all of the work that the beginning of the year entails. It will be a great new school year! I will add pictures of the lab (without any students for legal reasons) when it is ready.