Although we had a great first two weeks in our inclusive Augmentative Learning Study Program (ALPS), we have been able to use those initial weeks to identify areas of our program that need some problem solving. One aspect of our inclusive group that we are going to take awhile to figure out is our timing. How do we both engage all the students while also giving Joey and others who use AAC devices time to find their words?
As I’ve written about in the past, wait time is one of the most supportive strategies to use when working with students. Yet as any of you who have worked with young children in a classroom setting will know, it can be easier to give this wait time when you are working one on one as opposed to working in groups with other students who may lose interest. Keeping everyone engaged is a teacher goal, which usually leads to a fast pace that makes it difficult for all students to keep up. It’s a fine dance, and one that needs to be timed carefully for each unique community.
We are still working on our timing. It is easy to talk about, but once we get into the moment, with wiggly kids, 6 feet distancing among students, and equipment, it somehow gets harder.
Our Speech Pathologist suggested directly teaching everyone about the importance of wait time. She shared research from Gloria Soto on the importance of moving past simply modeling language for students using AAC and towards creating and allowing for opportunities for students to respond. Students need authentic opportunities to respond with language – and that not requiring a response can significantly negatively impact the motor-cognitive process (Soto, ATIA 1/29/2020). Joey needs the time to organize himself, find the answers, and motor plan his response. When we moved on too fast in a whole group setting we were denying him that opportunity.
We included waiting for the speaker to finish on our group commitments, and then directly talked about what that means for the individuals in our group. For a child like Joey who uses the eye gaze, waiting for his words can mean sitting silently for up to a minute. We practiced sitting quietly for one minute – watching the sand run out of the timer. We also paired this with a large wait icon to act as a visual cue. The group got it, and sat silently while we waited – so much so that when Joey interrupted the silence to say “Hey, what’s up?” nobody moved until we told them they could respond to him.
Now, when we ask Joey a question we give both the whole group and Joey a cue that he has a full minute to find his words. The kids know to watch the timer and Joey knows he can take time to find the right word, readjust his eyes, and correct any mistakes he may make.
Another way we addressed the timing issue was to make small adjustments to our schedule to allow time in the beginning for Joey to have time to calibrate his device and check in with the speech therapist before the class meeting starts. This ensures that Joey doesn’t miss those opening moments with the class that are designed to build unity, as well as set the expectation for him that when the whole class is engaged in a lesson he is expected to be as well.
The key to solving these problems of course, is first identifying them. It took a few weeks to figure out our rhythm and to notice where our goals of inclusion and increased communication were breaking down. Once we could identify what wasn’t working, we could put ideas on the table and begin tweaking our steps. We made such small changes – an addition of a visual timer, one extra mini-lesson, a ten minute “independent work” time added to the beginning of our day. And yet, those small changes made a big difference in our community.