Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Happy Sunday! I hope you all had a relaxing and refreshing weekend! In today’s post, I want to share some reflections on the first 12 weeks of using a core word of the week approach at my school. I don’t know about you, but this time of year can be stressful professionally and personally for me. Juggling so many responsibilities both at work and home can be incredibly exhausting and overwhelming. I think it is so important to “stop and smell the roses” as often as possible. Although it has not been perfect, I think using a core word of the week approach has had a positive impact on my students! Taking a moment to acknowledge the small successes, to me, is the professional equivalent to stopping and smelling the roses.
REFLECTING ON OUR SMALL SUCCESSES:
Using the core word of the week approach has streamlined my planning. Every week, I follow a similar plan within my classrooms for introducing, teaching, and using the words of the week. This has saved me from feeling like I am throwing together therapy activities that are not anchored in my students’ needs/goal areas. By pre-determining a word of the week, I am able to more easily design and individualize my activities.
Having a word of the week provides inspiration for books, games, activities, videos, songs, and tasks that can be used. Rather than following a thematic approach based on seasons, holidays, etc., I am essentially using core vocabulary as themes for my lessons! This approach enables me to provide additional opportunities for learning, such as integrating fine motor activities and literacy by having students recognize, write, spell, and read the words.
This year is the first year that I am following this approach, so I have been really fascinated by my students’ responses. The most exciting thing that I have noticed is that my students are able to tell me the words of the week! For example, when I ask, “Who remembers what words we are working on?”, my students are able to use their preferred mode to tell me! It is exciting to see our approach sticking with students.
By consistently integrating language throughout the day, we are providing enough exposures for students to learn the words. I love that my students feel involved in the framework of their therapy and look forward to hearing what the new words are each week. I want to share a cute example of this with you. One of the teachers I work with, Miss Liz, has recently gone out on maternity leave (congratulations again Miss Liz and beautiful baby Evie!!). One of her students who uses high-tech AAC called (with his mom) to say hello and congratulations. One of the first things this student told Miss Liz was the core word of the week! We were all excited by the fact that not only did this student remember the word of the week, but he felt it was important enough to share!
Each week, my students look forward to learning new words. By incorporating music, active learning opportunities such as yoga and “duck duck goose,” writing, reading, and functional learning tasks, every student has the chance to learn in a way they find enjoyable. I have observed my students using core vocabulary so much more often throughout their school days. They are helping each other find the words on their devices, using visuals, and learning to read, spell, and write them. One highly verbal student has been so excited by all of the AAC that he often asks "Can I say something on the device, too?!" during our group activities. It is so heartwarming to walk into a classroom and see teachers and staff targeting our words of the week in creative and functional ways.
One wonderful support staff member that I work with has shared a great example of how our core vocabulary lanyards are making a difference. Every morning, one particular student has difficulty transitioning from the bus to his classroom. Using her lanyard, this staff member has been able to communicate with this student in a way that he understands. Now, she uses aided language input, or modeling, to communicate with this student in the morning (and all day). She reports that this student is doing so much better with getting off of the bus and transitioning into the classroom, because he seems to better understand what is being communicated and what is coming next! This is just one small example of how modeling and core vocabulary can help improve our students' daily experiences.
At this point in the school year, our students have learned over 20 core words. Some students are communicating with one word utterances, while others are building longer phrases and sentences using these words in novel ways. By systematically teaching core vocabulary, we are providing our students with the fundamental building blocks they need to become spontaneous communicators!!
I look forward to seeing where this approach goes and how our students continue to make progress! It is really exciting to see professionals from all backgrounds integrating core words in their lessons and therapy plans. I love walking down the hallway and seeing staff members modeling on their lanyards and large core boards.
While our school still has a long way to go, we are taking small steps towards making communication more accessible to all of our students with complex communication needs. How are you doing with your core word of the week approach?! I would love to hear about how you are using core vocabulary in your setting. Please send me a message, either on instagram @talktomewithaac or via email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Don't forget to stop and smell the roses this week. I know that our jobs can be stressful, but by being mindful of our little successes, we can be present for ourselves and our students. Have a great week and keep up the good work!!