Showing posts from 2015

One Word 2016 - With

It's early. Just past 5:30 a.m. This has always been my favorite time of day. For the most part, the world is still quiet and asleep and it's easier to connect to one's thinking.

The beginning part of the 2015-16 school year brought with it many changes both personally and professionally. 
My son began high school. This is his last transition within the school system and it went incredibly smoothly. I'm seeing him continue to grow and blossom and am realizing how quickly he has grown up which just makes me cherishing the times that we are together all the more. At the same time, adulthood is looming and I'm thinking often now how I can support him to transitioning to an adult life that is his own.
My job hasn't really changed but it changes each year simply because the students I work with and the classrooms I work in change each year. This means each year, I see both a bigger picture and a more focused picture. There are exciting steps forward and frustrating …

CCN Alphabet: Engagement

What did you do in school today? is a document that summarizes the information on a multi-year research project on adolescent student engagement that was completed by Canadian Educational Association (CEA). In this document, engagement is defined as "the extent to which students identify with and value schooling outcomes, have a sense of belonging at school, participate in academic and non-academic activities, strive to meet the formal requirements of schooling and make a serious personal investment in learning. For the sake of the study, engagement was broken in down in to three components: (1) social engagement, (2) institutional engagement and (3) intellectual engagement.  To be fully engaged in school, a student must experience all three types of engagement. We need to be intentional about facilitating all three types of engagement for students with complex communication needs (CCN) as there are potential barriers that may be experienced in each area.

Engagement, in general, …

Alberta Summer 2015 Course on Supporting Literacy for Students with Low Incidence Disabilities

Over four years ago, I received the book Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four Blocks Way as one of the resources for a provincial community of practice I was involved in. The book was the answer to this nagging feeling that there had to be a way to think about "real literacy" for the students that I was working with. So that year, with PODD training behind us and this book in hand, I began the process of shifting toward comprehensive literacy instruction with the students that I work with. Toward the end of that year, I traveled to Toronto to go to a week long course with the authors of the book, Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver. I returned home and began the process of implementing  what I learned, but the fact that we were also shifting from self-contained to inclusive practices meant that there were times in the next couple of years where decisions about priorities had to be made. After two years of experimenting, I felt we were in a much better p…

CCN Alphabet: Descriptive Language

Vocabulary is critical to language development. Without sufficient vocabulary, it is hard to understand others or to express your own ideas. We expand vocabulary by exposing children to words and their meaning. With people with complex communication needs we sometimes get stuck in focusing a lot of our effort on nouns simply because nouns represent things that we can touch or point to or match an object/symbol to.

In education, we often think of noun-related questions as the "easiest" questions as they require only "simple memorization". This noun-focused approach to teaching is known as "referential teaching". Referential teaching/questions require a specific one-word answer. These questions are sometimes referred to as "closed-ended". Referential teaching/questions require access to vocabulary that is specific to the topic that is being studied.  If a student has a communication system, this requires that the topic-specific words get program…

CCN Alphabet: Communication Process

"Communication is the key to learning because a great deal of what we learn depends on our interactions with others. Communication can occur every time two or more people are in proximity with one another, whetehr in person or through electronic means. Although all human being communicate, some individuals may have limited communication skills due to the impact of their disabilities or limited contact with others. Individuals with significant disabilities may not have full access to or full control of the multiple means by which most individuals communicate (e.g. speech, facial expression, body language, print). This inability to express themselves as others would does not mean that these individuals have nothing to say, not does it diminish their need and right to communicate. Teachers and other service provides must assume that all people have the desire to communicate and, therefore, must use their expertise, experience, and commitment to facilitate the development of communic…

CCN Alphabet: Behaviour

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness." (Steven Covey)

The goal of traditional behaviour interventions is the prediction and control of another person's behaviour. The idea is to reduce people's actions down to a science where behaviour can be controlled by setting up the environmental conditions to elicit "desired behaviours".  Those trying to control the behaviour are primarily concerned with observable behaviour and pay very little attention to internal events such as a emotions and thinking.  The idea is that through repeated conditioning using rewards or consequences, the appropriate behaviour will become an automatic pattern where the only thinking that is required is that tied to desiring a reward or fearing a consequence. Much of the theory behind this approach is rooted in animal studies and a belief that there is little or …

CCN Alphabet: Aided Language

Aided Language Stimulation (ALS) is a "language stimulation approach in which the facilitator points out picture symbols on the child's communication display in conjunction with all ongoing language stimulation. Through the modeling process, the concept of using pictorial symbols interactively is demonstrated for the individual" (Goossens, Crain, & Elder, 1992).  This approach is based on the assumption that children with complex communication needs will learn to use their devices or language systems through natural interactions in a language immersion environment just as other children learn to communicate using spoken words.

In order to use an ALS approach, the student and communication partner needs to have available to him/her a language system that has enough generative language vocabulary to be able to say whatever that students wants to say at any given time.

The following video outlines a few key concepts related to ALS:

When we model the use of a student…

CCN Alphabet - Sharing What I'm Learning About Supporting Students with Complex Communication Needs

It's hard to believe another year has come and gone. There were many times this year when I sat down to write a blog post but then the words just didn't seem to come.  It wasn't that there was nothing to write, but perhaps more than so many of the things that I have been thinking about for the last few years starting to become consolidated in practice and in the time I wanted more to step back and experience it and let it evolve rather than to wrap too many words around it. 
When I adopted my son 16 years ago, I knew that we were beginning a "special needs journey" but I did not know that we were also beginning a "complex communication needs journey". In those early days, I imagined a very different life for both him and I as his childhood years have unfolded.  
When I made the decision to move from "general" to "special" education 9 years ago, I also knew I was on a new journey, but, again, I was unable to imagine what parts of tha…