I currently have two students in my classroom trialing AAC devices, and it made me remember trying to incorporate AAC when I first started teaching cluster. Coming from a general education and resource room background, I had no idea how to effortlessly use AAC in the classroom as a cluster teacher. I used to dread speech day when the speech pathologist would come and pick up students and ask “where is your talker?” It was still in their backpacks – insert embarrassed face emoji here. Since then, I have gotten much better at identifying ways I could help students to use their devices in the classroom, because communication doesn’t start and end in speech sessions. Here are five very easy ways to incorporate AAC into your daily routine as a teacher…
1. Morning Meeting
Incorporating AAC during the morning meeting is not only an easy way to start, but it helps students to get into the routine of using their devices right away and you avoid the embarrassing “Where is your talker?” question from your SLP to your students. Morning Meeting usually occurs everyday and is based around SEL objectives, so it allows students to talk about more preferred topics rather than just using their device to answer academic questions. The Morning Meeting in our classroom centers around the Zones of Regulation, so it is a great opportunity for students to learn to navigate their device in order to describe their feelings, what color zone they are in and later, expand on why they are feeling a certain way. Our SLP has been coming in once a week during Morning Meeting, which has been a great learning opportunity for the students, but a great opportunity for collaboration and for her to demonstrate ways I can help students expand their responses.
2. Break Time
Break time is a highly motivating time to help incorporate AAC. I use break time to have students use their devices to request which activity they want to do and I also try to have them incorporate their device while doing their preferred activity. Break times along with Morning Meeting, is a good place to start incorporating AAC because we want students to be motivated to use their device and not experience their device as being something they use only during academic times. Using it while playing board games is also a really easy way to incorporate AAC, especially if it is a device that has topics or phrases already built in.
3. Meal Times
Another highly motivating time to incorporate AAC is during breakfast or lunch times. While sometimes mealtimes at school can feel rushed, starting out with having students use their devices to request help can be a great first step. Once students know how to navigate to the item or verb, you can help them to expand their utterances. Mealtimes can also be a great time to do some aided language simulation because mealtimes offer a structure. You can also introduce something like commenting on their meal or food preferences.
4. Reading & Language Arts
Finally, we are onto the academics. I purposely listed academics towards the end because making sure students are motivated to use their device can help before incorporating AAC into academic activities. One easy way to incorporate AAC during phonics is locating letters on the keyboard for letter identification goals. I also like having students learn to navigate their devices by finding words that start with a specific letter we are learning about. My students love finding foods that start with a certain letter, but you can expand it to other categories. When introducing a book, I pre-teach the vocabulary. This is also another easy way to discuss what each word means and allow the opportunity to teach students how to find the words in their devices. I also like to have students create the same sentences in the book as an alternative to reading the books that are Fountas & Pinnell, Levels aa or A. Additionally, having students craft sentences for a writing assignment or prompt is a great way to teach students with devices that writing is simply the words that we communicate. This not only allows students to have visuals associated with the words they communicate, but also gives them a direct visual model of their communication in order to share verbally through their device, or allowing them to copy the words directly on a writing assignment or journal response.
Incorporating AAC during Math Meeting is an easy way to teach students where certain categories on their device are as well as establish a routine. I use Math Meeting time as time to focus on students finding weather, date, time, money, shapes in their devices. Because of the consistent routine of Math Meeting, my students have been able to navigate to the correct page independently. Math Meeting also allows the opportunity for students to build on the vocabulary or other concepts that they have learned about. For example, since my students are able to navigate to the weather page with minimal prompts, I have been able to introduce the sentence starter “The weather is…”. I have found that by focusing on identifying how to locate certain vocabulary or categories, helps students to become more engaged and motivated during Math Meeting.
I hope this gave you some ideas on how to incorporate AAC in your classroom. For more on using AAC, Empowering Students with AAC, What is AAC? and Don’t Forget About AAC. Also, always collaborate with your SLPs on all things communication and language-based – they are the experts. Stay healthy and safe!