How to Use Core Vocabulary in Your Classroom

Who here has non verbal or limited verbal students in their classroom and is overrun with communication boards and completely overwhelmed on where to go next? Well, core vocabulary might just be your answer!
I'm excited to have Krystie from AdaptEd here today to share a guest post on Core Vocabulary. If my students hadn't already come in with their own different communication devices, I would have loved to use core vocabulary for all of them! Seriously, the way Krystie lays it out, you'll be very tempted to give it a try! :)
So you’re ready to explore the wide-open world of core vocabulary! But . . . how do you get started? Chances are, core vocabulary is very different from anything you’ve tried before when it comes to communication.

Changing strategies can seem daunting, but consider these questions:
-How does eliminating the constant need to create icons sound?
-How does forging a sustainable system for classroom-wide language modeling sound?
-How does using one symbol set for EVERY activity throughout the day sound?

If your answer to these questions is something along the lines of “That sounds INCREDIBLE! Yes, yes, yes!!!” (followed by jumping up and down with joy), then we have something in common. And it’s a pretty good sign that you are on the right track with your AAC exploration.

Core vocabulary can be described as a set of the most frequently used words in communication. In fact, these common words make up roughly 80% of what we say. So the theory follows that if students learn even a percentage of those core words they are then able to express themselves in a vast variety of ways. Turns out that a more traditional icon for “cookie” can only take you so far, whereas icons for core words like ‘go,” “eat,” “want,” and “more” can really take you the distance. We’re talking requesting, commenting, asking questions, placing demands, starting and ending conversations and more.

Here are 5 tips to help get you get started with core vocabulary:

1. Choose your symbol set. In the world of AAC there are many icon families to choose from. Boardmaker icons, Unity icons from PRC, Pixons and Symbolstix name a few. Choose a set that works well for you and your students. You may want to keep the future in mind - - - are you choosing a symbol set that will transfer well from a low-tech device to mid or high-tech? To help you get started, check out this low-tech communication board for FREE!

2. Core out your world. There’s no way to understand how important core vocabulary is to communication unless you dive in and try it. Start thinking of the world in terms of core vocabulary and how you can express yourself using it. Those instructions that all of you teachers, SLPs, OTs and classroom aides give all day? CORE. Think about it: “sit down,” “listen,” “wait,” “look,” “stop,” “all done.” 100% core. Those games that you play with your students? OPPORTUNITIES FOR CORE! “Your turn,” “my turn,” “go,” “stop.” Those art projects your students love? OPPORTUNITIES FOR CORE! “Same,” “different,” “look,” “like it.” Challenge yourself to spend a day communicating in core.
3. One icon at a time. Yes, there can be a lot of new icons to learn. No, you don’t have to panic. Keep in mind that in the beginning you are just like many of your students: you’re a new communication device user! Give yourself the time and courtesy that you afford your students. Take it one icon at a time. Perhaps spend an entire day using the icon “go” in as many instances as you can. You might be surprised how many there are! “Go” to the bathroom, take time to “go” eat lunch, indicate it’s another person’s turn by saying “go,” ask for a walk by saying “go,” indicate you want a video to play by saying “go.” The list goes on and on. Pretty soon your hand will by flying to the “go” icon with no hesitancy and you’ll be ready for another icon. Who knew you were going to be such a fluent user?!

4. Get your model on. Too often our immediate and initial focus in AAC is student output. It comes from a sincere place- we want students communicating as soon as possible. But would anyone pick up a typically developing baby and immediately expect it to start talking? Of course not. We put months (about one year to be exact) of time into modeling speech and language for children BEFORE we expect them to demonstrate that output of their first word. So how fair is it expect a beginning AAC user to jump straight to the output phase without giving them that foundation of AAC language modeling first? The answer is it’s not very fair. So don’t be afraid to get your modeling on! In the initial phase worry less about how often your student is touching the communication device and worry more about how much you are touching it. Be the model that they need and deserve. Before you know it those little learners will be following that model.

5. Play follow the leader. A successful core classroom is one where EVERYONE is using core vocabulary, not just the students. So make sure that all the players have access to core, including those incredibly important classroom/student aides. If you are focusing on the icon “go” then empower your team players to use it as well. Think of it as a game of follow the leader. The more models that are provided the more enriching your core classroom experience will be!

So, if you’re ready to get started- Sign Up for the Getting Started with Core Vocabulary Email Course with Krystie and Meg from AdaptEd!
Krystie and Meg will walk you through the all steps they took to go from theory to practice. Who is going to give it a try?!

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