Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflecting on 2014-15 - CCN Alphabet - A is for Aided Language Stimulation

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's language system, students learn how to use real words in real situations throughout their day, a wide range of reasons for communicating (as we model more than just asking for our wants and needs throughout the day), how to put words and word parts together to provide more clarity to what is being said, how to use the actual device (example: navigating through the folders in the system), and how to repair communication breakdowns or errors. Students come to understand language and communication over time through observation and interaction.

Learning to use a communication system for both the student and the communication partner is like learning a new language and so it is important to also have a systematic approach for teaching and focusing in on language and communication skills. Two possible approaches are (1) Focused Aided Language Stimulation to teach and reinforce new words, or (2) Aided Language Stimulation based on focusing in for defined periods of time on different functions of communication.

Focused Aided  Language Stimulation

Focused language stimulation (Dirkinson, Cote & Smith, 1993) is an approach that involves direct teaching of new words followed by intentional and repetitive use of those words in a variety of natural contexts. The general approach to focused language stimulation is outlined is this  PrAACtical AAC blog post as follows:
  1. Introduce the new word(s) using focused aided language stimulation.
  2. Teach the new word(s) with explicit instruction activities. 
  3. Elaborate on the new word meanings with engaging practice activities. 
  4. Provide repeated exposure to the new word(s) on an ongoing basis.
  5. Check for understanding and reteach, as necessary.
One place to start with Focused Aided Language Stimulation is to teach the most commonly used words, known as core words (look for further explanation of this when we get to V - Vocabulary). Below, I have included a few links to sources that can be used to better understand and to provide resources for the teaching of more common core words.
  • Dynamic Learning Maps Video on Core Words: The beginning of this video offers some great background information about core vocabulary. At the 10:30 mark, the first 40 recommended words in groups of 4 are shared. This list could serve as a way to decide on which groups of words to introduce first when doing Focused Aided Language Stimulation. Between 11:50 and 20:30, there is discussion and several demonstrations related to direct teaching of core words.
  • AAC Language Lab Core Word Starter Pack: Includes lesson plans, books and activities that can be used to interactively teach some of the first core words. Many of the words are "mediating words" - words that allow the student to gain control over his/her environment. 
  • PRC Core Vocabulary Studies and Core Word Activities Handout: Information and ideas for teaching and incorporating 11 high power core words in to a variety of natural activities.  
  • AAC Core Word of the Week Packages by Jenna Rayburn: This is a link to a blog post by Jenna Rayburn where she outlines what her Core Word of the Week Packages are.  These packages include materials and ideas for focusing in on a new word each week. At this point, she is still developing them. The blog post links to the Teachers Pay Teachers store where the first kit is available. Note that there is a cost associated with getting this packages. 
  • My TobiiDynavox Website Core Lesson Plans: For those who are using the Compass App or the T-series devices, there are core word lesson plans related to the first 30 core words on the support website. Included for each word is a parent letter, ideas for teaching the word, printable books that can be used to reinforce the word, and ideas for implementing the word in to a variety of activities and school subjects.  
Beyond teaching the first 10-40 core words, Focused Aided Language Stimulation can be used for any words. As a parent, the idea that using a communication device is similar to using a new language really hit home with me a few weeks back.  My son is 16 and in the past year, as a result of moving to focusing on having access to a robust language system, core vocabulary and generative language approaches, he has started to play with language a lot more. I am also seeing him trying to explain more of what he wants to say to me. Some time ago, he managed to explain to me that he wanted to go to a hotel by pushing a series of words - "want", "car", "swim", "sleep" and then going upstairs and getting a suitcase and bringing it down to me. I figured out he needed the word hotel on his device and he is now able to ask repeatedly to go to a hotel.  A few weeks later, he came to me again and was trying to tell me something else. He then put a series of words together "want", "car", "hotel", "eat", "no sleep". Because we have been doing this guessing game over so many things lately, I was able to fairly quickly figure out that he wanted to go to a restaurant as we often go out to eat when we are at a hotel. The word restaurant was already in his system but he had not yet mapped the symbol/location to the meaning of the word. Once I showed him, he was then able to use that word when he needed it. The reality is that he has known the difference between the spoken word restaurant and hotel for many years (as he could demonstrate the difference by signing eat or sleep when the word was said) but he had not yet learned how to say restaurant in the new language that he is learning. For me, this experience spoke to the need to ensure that I am doing some focused teaching or modeling of words that are associated with the activities and discussions that he is involved in. When thinking about school, it speaks to needing to think about the vocabulary associated with the classes he is taking and ensure that he can say it in the language that he is using (the AAC system).  

Aided Language Stimulation - Focusing on Functions 

Aided Language Stimulation can be overwhelming for communication partners because it is like learning a new language and learning a new language can be frustrating. Having a systematic plan that involves manageable steps assists both the student and the communication partners in the process. The above approach of focusing in on words is one way to get started. Another way is through focusing in on functions, teaching the words associated with a given function and then being intentional about modeling that function for a set period of time. Once their is comfort with that (i.e. it becomes more natural), then move on to a new function.

The PODD (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display) language system lends itself nicely to this approach as the pragmatic branch starters at the beginning of the book can be used to decide which function to focus in on for each stretch of time.  The picture below shows the different communicative functions that might be focused on from page 2 of a PODD book.

So for example, for the first few weeks, teams might just focus in on making complaining comments by using the "do something" branch and then following the links to state what they want to do or what they are going to do. For the next few weeks, they might focus on "Somethings wrong" and then when things go wrong (or when things are set up to go wrong) that branch can be used to talk about it.

Not all language systems are arranged in the same way as PODD but the different reasons we use to communicate can still be used to frame the introduction of new aspects of the language system a student is using. The Pixon project contains 12 learning modules that each focus on a different communicative function. Each module outlines core words to focus in on as well as provides ideas on teaching and using the words in a variety of natural contexts. Below are links to two different manuals that include these 12 modules with a few minor differences to them. The first module is very similar to the many of the links as that module is related to mediating and focuses in on many of the same words as what make up the first 11-40 core words.
So how does this play out in actual practice?  

Four years ago, when we at the tail end of being a self-contained classroom, we had the staff in the room, parents, and some home support workers trained in PODD and after this, we began our first attempted at Aided Language Stimulation. It was not a smooth process and there has been a lot of learning of learning in the past four years... and there is still much to be learned... but as we have dipped our toes in to it, the benefits of this approach are being seen. What is also being seen is that it is a process and that it is important to have some sort of systematic approach in place that will allow the communication partners to learn to do aided language stimulation.  Finally, it is becoming clear that this is a method that can only be used if the needed vocabulary is actually available.  

Jane Farrall just posted an excellent article outlining the process implementing the use of iPads in a specialist school where she talks about moving from having the iPads available to use of Aided Language Stimulation to the use of Focus Aided Language Stimulation and the impact that it had on the development of language and communication skills in the students in the classroom. Check it out on her blog here!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Reflecting on 2014-15 - 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 that journey would become my North Star. 

There are events that stand out now looking back but more so then the events, what stands out is a deepening awareness of how our knowledge evolves; How the way we see things changes as what we know and experience changes.  

Up until five years ago, the work I was doing around communication with students with complex communication needs was pretty restricted to things like sign language, PECs, eye-gaze boards with only single layers, yes/no choices...etc. The work we were doing around "literacy" with this population was also restricted mostly to "literacy experiences" but we dabbled a bit in sight word reading programs. The school experiences of the students that I worked with were also restricted a majority of the time by the walls of our self-contained classroom. 

The journey began with feelings of discomfort that I could not put my finger on, and then opportunities began to open up - a 2-day PODD training by Linda Burkhart, Literacy and AAC courses by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver, Communication and Literacy workshops by Caroline Musslewhite, taking my Masters in Inclusive Education and Neuroscience, support from some to educational practice away from a self-contained classroom and toward supported inclusion in age-appropriate general education settings, Alberta's Literacy for All initiatives...etc. Through it all, the awareness of importance of literacy, language, and communication in reference to a person's autonomy and quality of life has grown.  

In the middle of this growing awareness are explorations on how to make it all happen...which leads to more learning and more awareness. We have, by no stretch of the imagine, figured it all out. I'm pretty sure we have still just only seen the very tip of the iceberg.  But we are also making progress and learning a few things along the way.

This summer, I want to do a series of blog posts and share what I (as a result of many interactions with students, parents and professionals) have been learning and thinking about supporting students with complex communication needs (CCN).  I thought to frame it in an alphabet style and do 26 posts - one for each letter of the alphabet - sharing these thoughts.  Tomorrow, I will start with A... 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Word 2015

I've found it a bit more of a challenge to sit down and write lately. It is not that I do not have anything to say but more that I feel that there is so much to do that the time to sit and write is no longer there. I click almost daily on my blog and mean to write but then get sidetracked by something else. 

It is taking some time to find a new balance to my life since finishing my masters in April. I didn't realize until it wasn't there anymore how all-consuming it became in the course of the three years. I needed time to recharge but I also needed time to process so much of what we had learned in that time.

Life is beginning to settle in to a new way of being both personally and professionally. I am becoming more comfortable with what my job has evolved in to. I am finding time again to be the parent that I want to be to Mikey. And I am also finding time for me. 

I have, for some time, been clear in what I believe in and what I want to stand for but only in the past months do I feel that I can take the complexity of it all and find and articulate the simplicity of what it means right now. 

I'm not really one for resolutions but am big on reflections. There are points in any year that invite reflection and I find this time of year to be one of those points for me... not because we magically change the number behind the month on the calendar but because it comes right after a relaxing time of reconnecting with family and friends and right before my son's birthday (January 3). It's a time to reflect and reconnect to others but also to myself.  Instead of resolutions, it makes sense to me to think about the word that I want to guide my life for right now and this year "present" just seemed the right word. 

Change is wonderful and exciting and it does energize me but you can get so caught up in what the dream is for the future that you forget to stop and recognize the parts of the dream that you are living right now. Blogging, for me, has always been part of being in the moment as it is provides the opportunity to reflect and so it is my hope that 2015 will bring with it a bit more regular posts from me :).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Redefining Bullying - A Quote Worth Thinking About

"This is a different kind of strategy. It means changing an understanding of a fundamental concept in the classroom and school. The way bullying is typically conceptualized, there is a bully and a victim, and sometimes a bystander. This implies that there are "good guys" and "bad guys" which erodes the community that is essential for creating an inclusive environment in which everyone belongs and everyone is valued. Schools and classrooms that have zero-tolerance and no-questions-asked policies toward bullying and standardized punishments for bullies are failing to support the needs of all students. There is nothing cut or dry or easily defined about bullying. When one students is aggressive in some way toward another, all of the students have needs that should be met and skills to be learned. Bullying should be redefined as conflicts that need to be collaboratively solved. The focus on the classroom should be redefined toward recognizing everyone's strengths while supporting everyone's weaknesses. If we do this, we stop sending the message that there are good guys and bad guys, and we start sending the message that we are all in it together to help each other solve problems.

Redefining bullying does not mean that aggressive behaviour is okay or will be tolerated. It still means that behaviour must stop immediately. Redefining bullying means that the student who engages in aggressive behaviour will not be labeled a bully or punished and condemned as a bad person in the community. That student will be valued and supported in learning new skills. Everyone will be expected to work with everyone, not just the ones who are easiest to work with."

Source: Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach ALL Learners by Whitney H. Rapp (2014)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ten Years of Blogging!

Ten years ago today I started a personal blog with the plan to record my journey parenting Mikey. There came a point in that journey where I made a career change as a result of the first steps in that journey and as time went on I switched from a blogging about parenting to blogging about the cross-over between my personal passion, parenting and my job. 

Link to my first blog Red Lights:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Supporting Students with Print Based Disabilities - A Quote Worth Thinking About

"There is a place in UDL for remediation. However, we must first determine the nature of our beliefs about students and their disabilities. When I ask an English language arts teacher whether a student with a visual impairment can receive an A in their course - even if the novel or play they are studying is not available in Braille, the answer is always yes. When I ask them how they would assess this student, they quickly respond that they would read the text aloud or use an audiobook, and then assess the student's understanding of the book. For the sake of argument then, we are saying a student who cannot read the text can still receive an A in English. Yet when I ask teachers weather a grade 9 student reading at grade 3 level can receive an A in their course, the answer is almost unanimously no. When asked why, they respond that he student cannot read the texts required in the course, and is not meeting expectations for reading. In other words, a student with a visible disability can be excused from decoding, but a student with an invisible disability cannot, even if they have a documented disability. Why would we punish students with invisible disabilities? Is the act of reading about the physical ability to lift the word off the page? Or is it the ability to appreciate literature, make sense of an author's communication, draw inference and make connections, analyze plot and character, and so on?

I am not suggesting that we just give a student a student an A, but I am suggesting that we make the same accommodations for a student with an invisible disability that we make for a student with a visible one, and then mark them on the depth of their thought, not on the skill of decoding. Similarly, if I ask a teacher whether a student who is quadriplegic and cannot physically write their thoughts on paper can get an A in their course, they almost unanimously reply yes. When asked how they would assess the student, they reply they would ask the student to express their understanding orally, then rate the depth of understanding. Even in English language arts, one can mark an oral presentation for sentence structure, descriptive language organization, and other mechanics of writing. So it is only the physical ability to put pencil to paper that is compromised , and perhaps their spelling. Many of the students with learning disabilities who struggle with expressing themselves in writing, yet demonstrate a high level of understanding during class discussions, are assessed based on written tests and assignments and receive poor marks, or fail, courses across the curriculum. Again, why would we punish a student for having an invisible disability?

We discussed in earlier chapters how we punish students with invisible disabilities by devising programs on an IEP that requires the student to spend all day doing what they cannot do, and failing. We do not expect a student with a visual impairment to learn to see or a student with a physical disability to learn to walk, but we force students with learning disabilities to spend years in remediation programs that only result in frustration and failure because we refuse to acknowledge that an invisible disability is un-fixable. Instead of helping the student see what they can do, and building on their strengths by teaching them how to adapt to their disability as we would do for teh student with a visual or physical disability, we focus on what they cannot do and consider that, if we don't keep trying to fix it, we are 'giving up'."

Source: Resource Teachers: A Changing Role in the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning by Jennifer Katz (2013)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Together We Are Stronger

"The 'allegory of the long spoons' teaches us that when we struggle to feed only ourselves, everyone goes hungry. But when we focus on our neighbour’s hunger, we discover there are ways to feed everyone."

Weaknesses (spoons that are too long to reach our mouths) can inhibit our daily functioning if we think only in terms of trying to feed ourselves with what we currently individually have in our hands.  If we step outside the box though and consider other strategies and other ways to use the resources that we collectively have, we can find ways that we can all be fed. When we remove students whose spoons are too long for them to feed themselves from their natural communities, we also remove all the solutions and stabilizing factors that exist within that collective community... which affects all members of the community.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Mystery at Camp ALEC - Students and Teachers Seeing Themselves as Thinkers - Part 2

Note that this post is a further expansion on my earlier post outlining the Mystery at Camp ALEC.  The experience that we had at Camp ALEC has gotten me thinking a lot about inference and how language and communication development impact the ability to gain skills in inference. 

"Inference is the mental process by which we reach a conclusion based on a specific evidence. Inferences are the stock and trade of detectives examining clues, of doctors diagnosing diseases, and of car mechanics repairing engine problems. We infer motives, purpose, and intentions."(

Inference requires reading the ideas that are behind words. Both listening and reading should be active, reflective, problem solving processes. Listening and reading require simultaneously taking in language (words) and constructing meaning about what those words mean in a given context.

Why was it that these campers, who were all proficient communicators and who all had access to unlimited vocabulary through speech or their devices, were able to engage in a process of inquiry in to "who done it" around this poster? Could a camper who did not have the autonomy that comes with access to an unlimited number of words have engaged in this process?  How did the understanding of language lead these campers to solving the mystery?  

In this process, we needed to take what was "literally" presented to us and use that as a starting point for our detective work. Early in the process, the campers tried to link what was being said to who might say those things and to explain why they might say them.  Throughout the process, they found hints or had hints point out in the language that wrapped itself around the experience. They keyed in to the ideas on the poster trying to think through if it  might be someone who had a potbelly and hair on his knuckles that would write such a thing, thinking through the sarcastic tone and the people know who might use that tone with their words, trying to remember the pronoun (we) that was used when they believed they had figured it out...etc. 

Understanding more than what is literally on the paper and going beyond just laughing at and moving on, required access to language (words), understanding of the meaning of words and phrases that were being used, understanding the social conventions that wrapped around the way we used both oral and written language through the process, and understanding the context that all these words were sitting in the middle of.  Even their final solution to get their last suspect to confess came down to the fact that they had spent some time with him during the investigation and believed that taking a round-about approach of smothering him with hugs and coffee until he confessed might work better than straight out asking had. 

If I were given a "do-over" of this mystery experience at Camp ALEC, I think it would have been good to give it a bit more of an formal organizational structure by using a K-W-H-L chart.  Although we went through all of these phases, it would have been nice to have this all more formally organized so that we could reference back to it as we went through the process.  It would have also set the stage a bit better for wrapping up the experience. 

I included the "teachers seeing themselves as thinker" part in title of this series of post for a reason. We came in to each of these days with what we thought would be interesting and useful literacy activities for the campers we were working with but in the middle of their excitement about this mystery, we had to scrap our plans and go with where they were leading us.  At one point when we tried to return to the activities we had planned, one student interrupted the lesson and asked when we were going to get back to the mystery... and then typed in to her AAC device... "I'm in to that."

I'm in to that... These are perhaps the most powerful words that can ever come from a learners "mouth". 

I came away understanding more deeply that if we want our students to engage in the active in-the-moment meaning making that is required for them to become a proficient reader, we might have to be willing to engage in the same process in the middle of the learning experiences that we are co-creating with our students.  It come down to defining our purpose.  If we know what we are trying to accomplish we can be open to the possibility of taking different paths to get there.

Our goal with these campers was to have fun (it was camp after all) and to gather the information for the informal literacy assessment that we were doing with these students throughout the week. We needed to gain understanding around these students print processing skills, their language and reading comprehension skills, their word attack skills, and their writing skills.  We could have done this in a million different ways.  Doing it this way meant that we didn't have to worry about motivating the students because they were doing that part themselves. We could then focus on engaging with them as they displayed the skills we were trying to assess in the middle of the mystery.

It didn't end with this mystery. In our work room, we ended up having campers who were reading of listening to mysteries to find language that would reveal clues, we had students who were creating clues for others to find the mystery word they were thinking of, we had students who came to understand revision through thinking of themselves as a detective looking for ways to add more necessary information to their writing.  The potential around it is only limited to the length of time that the theme would remain a motivating factor to the campers (and the limited time we had with the campers).  Did we capitalize on all the learning potential of this experience?  No. We did not. But because of this experience, the next time a student-motivated learning opportunity presents itself, we will have more to draw from and capitalize a bit more on the potential.  It was about being a community of learners.  Perhaps this was part of the beauty of merging the literal role of being a student (taking the course) and being a teacher (working with the campers).

Student engagement is a challenge for us as  teachers... particularly when we put time and energy in to planning learning experiences that we believe will be interesting and engaging for students.  If they don't engage, we sometimes want to respond by trying to make them engage. As teachers we are constantly thinking and responding to what is going on with our students. We understand the importance of focused "on-task behaviour" (aka engagement) and we want our students to learn. It's why we teach.  We know that if students are not engaged with the work they are doing, there isn't really going to be much chance of authentic learning. We sometimes even define students who are motivated by what we have designed/planned as being students who "want to learn" and those who are not motivated as "not wanting to learn". Sometimes in the process of wanting to ensure engagement in learning, we go down another path and decide that the student simply doesn't have the capacity to get anything out of what we are doing in our classrooms. We focus on the outward actions (behaviors)... the things we can see... the tangible results they can give us... and we end up putting our energy into the product rather than the process.

Sometimes when we are learning things... like the process and thinking and language involved in inference... we might not have a nice clean product at the end.  It might simply be that we are able to have a conversation that allows us to fill in that last line of the KWHL chart... and then maybe someday when a lesson is being done on inference, background knowledge can be activated as a result of the experience that took place at an earlier time.  

There are many questions worth considering. What in this can be applied to classroom where there are 20 to 30 students? Are there kids who actually don't want to learn? If there are, what would cause that? Are there kids who really not able to learn in the context of the classroom?  Do all kids need to be learning the same thing? Perhaps most important, when we are challenged by a lack of motivation... Are we aiming to increase thinking, engagement and learning or are we aiming to decrease or eliminate non-engaged or distracting "behaviour"? Is there a difference? Can we actually force kids to learn? 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More Thoughts from Camp ALEC - Language Based Literacy Skills

I was introduced to the "Whole to Part" literacy framework during the first course that I took from Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver a couple of years ago. When things have time to stew and you have a variety of experiences with what yo have learned, a different level of understanding starts to emerge. I think that part of this is because some of this process involves unlearning some of the things you already "know". 

We have traditionally associated early literacy success with alphabetic and sight word knowledge and as children enter school we look to support their reading development through phonics, spelling and decoding instruction. Many of us remember doing endless workbook pages that reflect this. 

The role that oral language plays in literacy development is often given less explicit focus in early literacy learning. We expect children to master "the basics" before we tackle oral language, vocabulary, sentence structure or comprehension. 

We are more aware now that for students to develop literacy skills, we need to pay explicit attention to both print-based literacy skills (alphabet, phonics, spelling, decoding...etc.) and language-based literacy skills. 

Print-based literacy skills include alphabetic letter-sound knowledge, phonological awareness (the ability to sound out words), sight word knowledge, and phonics knowledge.  Developing these skills leads to a student who will be able to spell and decode single words. These are obviously important skills to develop in the journey to literacy but they are only a very small piece of the literacy puzzle. 

Language-based literacy skills include vocabulary, semantics, sentence structure, grammar, oral language (narrative skills), sequencing, organizing, and comprehension. The development of these skills lead to being able to express oneself in writing and read a variety of text with comprehension.

Print-based and language-based literacy skills fit in the areas of Word Identification and Listening Comprehension respectively in Cunningham's Whole to Part Model of Reading Comprehension (graphic above). Having low language skills does not prevent a student from learning how to do the mechanical act of reading. It will, however, impact one's ability to interpret, predict, reason or infer information from text. 

I've heard the statement made by many teachers that up to grade 2 or 3 students "learn to read" and then after that they "read to learn". This statement implies that the definitions of "reading" and "decoding" are not all that different. It also implies that one must be able to read to a certain level before one begins to work on literacy.  It also means that when a child is struggling to read in the early grades, we simply assume that it is as a result of lagging print-based literacy skills. A quick search of reading programs for struggling readers reveals the steps that we can take to get a child reading...

I'm not arguing that a student's struggle to learn to read might be a result of lagging print based literacy skills but working with students who have language and communication delays or impairments has made it even more clear that the reason a student is not making gains in reading skills may be related to something other than these print-based literacy skills that we so often globally fall back on with struggling readers. 

For students with complex communication needs, we need to pay particular attention to language based literacy skills and we can't wait until they have acquired the ability "to read" before we start focusing our efforts on developing these skills. We need to embed and connect communication with text through shared reading experiences very early on. We need to ensure that in the process of reading books with a student we are connecting what is in the book to their world and possibly even to their way of processing the world.  We need to find ways to naturally embed pointing out the text structures that will be needed as a student moves from emergent to conventional literacy. We need to speak to the student about the text using the mode of communication we expect them to speak to us with about the text so that some day they can follow our model and be able to actively engage with text.  We need to ensure that "reading" is far more than memorizing meaningless, disconnected words and completing endless workbook pages.  Reading connected text with a student offers us many opportunities to work on reading, language, and communication skills. We need to pay attention to words in all three frames - in text, connected to meaning, and used for social purposes - to move along the literacy continuum. Social interaction (communication) and text are the sources that we can draw language from to make connection and meaning (which leads to comprehension). 

I have not ignored the bottom part of the Whole to Part visual.  Print Processing (what we loosely refer to as "fluency") is another obvious potential area of struggle for a student who has complex communication needs. Developing inner speech and projecting prosody are skills that must be learned through modeling and interaction.

The bottom line is simply that rather than starting by breaking apart and teaching each part one by one in sequence, we need to take a comprehensive approach to literacy and communication learning.  These skills sit along a continuum and what we are aiming for is movement along that continuum.  Starting by knowing the whole and working on the whole then positions us to look at the parts and figure out which part might need more attention at any given time to ensure that students keep moving along that continuum.