This year, I have inadvertently become co-chair of the newly established Communication Group, alongside my colleague Julie. We have been working closely with leadership, talking about how we can further encourage staff to model AAC communication to their students, what’s working, what could be improved and the logistics around the creation and distribution of resources.
In our case, the AAC most widely used and encouraged across the site is ProloQuo2go. This is presented in two main formats-an iPad app and low-tech versions of pages from the app. This might be the front page or it might be what we’ve taken to calling a ProloQuo2go book. We’ve been discussing whether or not we need all of the pages, if we need to change or add some as well as talking about the logistics of getting a book printed for each classroom e.g. cost, what paper to use, should we attach a strap? And most importantly, how do we encourage people to use them (or wear them to start with)? The last point is something of a point of contention (for me at least) across the site. To my knowledge, the iPads are being worn within classrooms or at the very least, are accessible to students. And in the case of severe behaviour, low-tech is used. That’s definitely a good start. I know that myself, Julie and most of the SSO staff that we work with are wearing either an iPad or low-tech in the yard. Another positive. Half of the leadership team are using and wearing low-tech consistently. But a lot of people aren’t. The
excuses reasons for this vary, from “I just forget” to “It’s uncomfortable to wear because of a prior injury.” The last point is valid, but there’s ways around this, such as wearing an A5 version attached to the waist or storing low-tech in the pocket of an apron. I like to wear an iPad while in the classroom and the yard if it’s practical. That changes to an A4 low-tech if I’m in the sandpit that I wear across my body. And I have a preference for an A5 version while at Swimming to keep it out of the way while I’m assisting students with dressing. In case you were wondering 😉 Julie and I have set up two areas with low-tech in a variety of sizes for staff to take and use. But this isn’t happening as much as we’d like. And I’m curious as to why that might be. Do we need to start thinking more about providing low-tech with straps already attached? That could be a lanyard with a safety release (what was available initially), but that doesn’t really account for the fact that people are different sizes and have different preferences. Maybe a workaround could be to leave a hole punch and some elastic so that people can make their own straps.
Julie and I also ran a very informal workshop for staff a few weeks ago, with a focus on how to use the iPad app and the encouragement of “silly questions.” This was attended by 40 people (mostly SSO’s from a staff of 100) and we were able to teach them things like-how to turn on guided access, how to use the search function and add buttons. We also explained why it was important to keep the grid size (7 x 11) consistent across the site and to not add child-specific buttons to the classroom iPad. I was also able to provide an alternative to the comment “It’s too much information at once” by modeling how to turn on progressive language. I was relieved at this, as initially, the group working with the student really wanted to make the grid size smaller. Progressive language allows you to hide buttons on the front page, with the option of different levels. People were also comfortable enough to talk about their frustrations and make suggestions. For example, “please, thank you and toilet” aren’t on the front page and some staff really wanted them there as they are used constantly throughout the day. We empathized, but explained that the layout was designed specifically by speech therapists, that there must be a reason that they weren’t there. We also suggested that if we added those buttons to the iPad that the student was in one year and then they moved to a different classroom the following year without those same buttons, that student would be very confused. (Also one of the reasons for consistent grid size). Most people seemed to be accepting of our explanations. To my surprise, it got to 4.30 and we had to ask people to leave. Which makes me think that the interest is definitely there.