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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Sunday, June 2, 2024


 Unleash Your Creativity Handout!!

Link to download

This session by Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite and Brenda Del Monte was presented at the AZTap Conference in Arizona on June 3, 2024.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Caution - Must Stop Over-Prompting During Writing!!

 What's the Problem?  Most educators who work with students with disabilities are aware that over-prompting can:

Limit growth in learning (having too much support means that students don't have to do the 'hard work'

Cause students to avoid risk-taking.  Many students just want to be 'right' and over-prompting feeds into that.  Students MUST take risks to learn.

Contribute to 'learned helplessness.;'  This is the situation where learners become passive and don't take any control over their learning.

Over-prompting is a problem in all areas, but this blogpost will focus on over-prompting during writing.

Over-Prompting in Writing?  Partners may over-prompt during writing for a variety of reasons:

For emergent writers, partners may 'help' so that it 'spells something.'  This is a problem because emergent writing can be a window into what students are thinking and what they have learned.  Errors can help educators figure out how to target instruction.  Partners often tell students what to write, even though the ideas may not belong to the student. 

For early conventional writers, over-prompting can be equally harmful.  We give hints and sound out words for them, coaching them to pick the 'right' letter.  Early writers need to be able to have an idea of what they want to write, then translate that idea into the written word – whether with typical pencils or with alternative pencils.  We often see very well-meaning aides telling students each letter that they should write in a word.  

What to Do?  Just stop!  And help everyone – parents, therapists, teachers, paras – understand that learners must take risks and try to 'figure it out.'  That gives us:

Data:  Unprompted writing samples across time provide very helpful data to show progress

 Formative Assessment:  We can look at writing samples and develop instruction that targets the needs of individual students.

Modeling, Minilessons, and Feedback.  Remember that the 'instruction' part of writing comes before they write independently, through modeling, short minilessons, and feedback!  So don't worry if 'it doesn't spell anything' (emergent learners) or 'He spelled most of the words wrong' (early conventional learners).  We can review this unprompted writing to determine :

What we should model .Examples include choosing a word to caption a picture, then showing how to sound it out, or using the student's alternative pencil to write a caption for your own photo.

 Minilessons.  These very brief lessons focus on one skill, such as  showing how to pick a topic from a photo album on a device, how to use an alternative pencil, or how to brainstorm ideas.

Feedback. Instructional feedback helps connect what emergent students have written to meaning.  It is far beyond reinforcement (good writing), and should be connected to the topic.  

Monday, March 18, 2024

SWITCH! The Book

 SWITCH – Making Change!!

I've been thinking about change alot.  I first read this book more than 10 years ago. I remember reading it on a plane – one of those rare times when I was upgraded to first class.  I kept annoying the businessman beside me as I laughed out loud . . . more than once!

Then I was reading it on a subway, on the way to give a talk at Columbia Teacher's College in NYC . . . I was so engrossed that I looked up and realized that the train had stopped at the end of the line, and everyone else had gotten off.  I was so engrossed that I didn't notice.  

I point out those stories because:

a) I'm not a big reader of nonfiction, since I have to read so much for work

b) This book is incredibly readable!  

And, this book has changed the ways I teach, coach, and present.  For example, when presenting I try hard to:

• Reach the 'Rider.'  The rider refers to our analytic brain.  The rider needs specifics.  Step by step.  So I've done a zillion 'tips' posted at my website – www.aacintervention.com – that are very specific and step-by-step. 

Readh the 'Elephant'.  The elephant refers to our emotions - if we don't get the elephant on board with change, good luck!  Because the elephant is BIG and goes wherever he wants!  We can reach the elephant by telling stories and showing videos that really show change (or the lack of change!)

Smoothing the Path.  I hadn't really thought about the importance of smoothing the path until I read this book.  We NEED to have our path smoothed because we are so overwhelmed.  One example for me is to set up a 'dropbox' or google drive with materials following a presentation, so people don't have to search for my zillion tips, but can find them in folders that make sense.  A coaching example is that I'm going to four new classrooms tomorrow.  Each teacher will get a goodie bag with materials that I'll be suggesting and have found helpful.  

So if you want to read SWITCH, you can probably get it cheap as a used book.  Here's the Amazon link:


Thursday, March 14, 2024



The last 10 years I've been focusing on these 6 things.  But wish I'd started earlier, so thought I'd add this.  The best two things that I've found to support me are water aerobics and zumba.

A few notes:

Balance:  Waiting in line for an airplane restroom is a great time to practice this!

Exercise:  Outside is best!  There's just something about outdoor exercise (kayaking, swimming, hiking, biking) that is WAY better than any class!

Strength:  Free weights are great, but don't foget the resistance of working out in the water!

Flexibility: I find that it's fun to sneak in some stretches while waiting in line (bank, grocery, airport).

Eating:  Okay, so my eating isn't ALWAYS healthy (or even ish!).

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Change – Ideas for Making It Happen!

Change – Why Is It So Hard?

As many of you know, I'm ready for the Literacy Revolution.  I've been reading books about change and thinking about the WHY of change – and resistance to change.  We all know how hard change is – we've just been through 'springing forward' during daylight savings, and that has many people tired and cranky!  And that's just the change of one hour.

I really love this quote, first because it starts with 'one reason . . .'.  YES!  We need to think deeply about WHY people are resistant to change.  I hear people talk about laziness, etc.  But it's much more complex than that.  And we need to help people understand what they will GAIN.  That's the 'cognitive clarity' behind asking educators, parents,(or ourselves) to change.  So let's start the conversation about what we will GAIN as well as GIVE UP!!

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Making Real Change

 Real Change / Deep Change / Lasting Change

As I inch closer to retirement, I think about my quest to be a changemaker more and more.  I feel a passion about seeing change that is:  

Real Change:  Not just surface change such as shiny technology, or cutesy boom cards, but TRUE change that leads to life changes for the learners that we serve.  Change such as:

- Helping learners develop comprehensive literacy to the highest level possible.  This must include all of the components of literacy, including generative writing with the alphabet.

- Supporting people who use AAC in using their systems to engage with the world, beyond wants and needs, sharing who they really are, and empowering them.

• Deep Change: This means helping educators, families, and learners develop cognitive clarity, so that they understand what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what the outcomes will be.  (See Erickson & Koppenhaver, Comprehensive Literacy for All, 2020, p. 20)

• Lasting Change: Education is fickle and sometimes change can be short-lived.  And sometimes that might be a good thing, such as the push for 'errorless learning' (good teachers  know that when learners make errors it shows what they are thinking, and helps us target our instruction).  But when we make some real, deep changes, we hope that they can last. Some lasting changes are about stopping practices that we have done for years.  Others are adding new practices that make a difference. Samples of change that we hope is lasting include:

- Going beyond just sight word instruction in teaching reading.

- Recognizing that hand-over-hand instruction is not good practice, and is harmful to learners.

- Acknowledging that copying and tracing are just sensorimotor tasks and do NOT lead to generative writing with the alphabet.

- Creating alternative pencils, modeling them, and using them for generative writing.

- Developing robust communication systems for all learners, including learners with multiple challenges.

The above quote by Albert Einstein is especially powerful.  Are we smart enough to change?  


Friday, March 1, 2024

Collaborative Books 1 – Creating Books to Share

 WHAT:  This post is about creative collaborative books with learners who use AAC.  The
specifics are contained in 2-page a Tip from AAC Intervention.

WHERE:  This tip can be downloaded from the website AAC Intervention.  Go to Tips of the Month and look for Tip # 4 for 2021.

Caroline's Tips