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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Communication Circles - Linguistic & Social Skills

This handout is from a recent webinar for Infinitec.  I hope it's useful as a 'stand-alone' presentation. 
The book 'Communication Circles' is also available on a CD with scores of activities, forms, and light tech displays.
 Order from:  carolinemusselwhite1@me.com

Background:  Jan Pilling and I started Communication Circles in the mid-90s as a way to provide consistent support and modeling for students who use communication devices.  We started with circles for three students (names are changed!):

Eric was a fifth grader who was fully included.  He was very smart and learned vocabulary quickly on his device . . . but rarely used it out of speech therapy, except to yell out 'Excuuuuuuuusssssse meeeeeee!'  The communication circle helped him understand that they really struggled to understand his speech, and they supported him in learning and using his device.

Nigel was a 4th grader who used a wheelchair for mobility and had not received a high-tech communication device at a recent eval because he struggled with access.  He was included half the day, and in resource half the day.  His circle supported him on moving from nearly hyperventilating at the sight of a switch to being an excellent switch user . . . in 3 months!  At his follow-up evaluation, he was able to demonstrate the access skills he needed to get a high-tech device.

Jimmy was a 2nd grader with significant verbal apraxia and a language-based learning disability.  He was trying to learn to use initial letter cueing and topic setting using his communication device - both with minimal success.  By the end of 4 months, his fellow 2nd graders had taught him to use initial letter cueing, and he was making great progress towards topic setting using his device, so that students could better understand his speech.

Features of Successful Circles:  I have started or supported numerous communication circles across the past 20 years.  The most important features of a successful circle are:
Responsible Adults Providing Support:  It makes a huge difference if one person is 'in charge' with others providing back-up!
Peers Highly Motivated:  Selecting peers for the circle is important.  We have had best success when the teacher provides a list of 'approved' students, then the student who uses AAC selects who s/he wants.  That way, peers feel valued and the student using AAC feels empowered!
Consistency and Clear Goals:  It is crucial to give very clear goals to the peers.  It is easy for meetings to degenerate into students having 'side' conversations and not staying on task.  Clear goals and agendas help!
Homework:  The work of the Communication Circle MUST extend beyond a monthly meeting if it is to be more than just a social support.  Follow-up goals should be clear, such as modeling, scaffolding interviews, and simply engaging in conversations using clear turntaking roles.

More Information:  Jane Odom created a book about Circles of Friends that is available at my website.  Use the following link, and choose April, 2012:
Circle of Friends Curriculum
I have created a book and a CD to accompany Communication Circles.  The book is included on the CD, along with data forms, sample parent letters, and how-to's for numerous activities to support linguistic, social, operational, and strategic skills.  The order form is attached!

Musselwhite Software Flyer
Note - just write in Communication Circles CD - It will be reduced to $25 for anyone who follows this link, plus 10% postage & handling ($2.50).

Comm Circles HO Infinitec Webinar

Monday, March 11, 2013

Snoopi Says . . . The Wonderful World of Music

The Wonderful World of Music!!

Hi everyone, this is Snoopi again. I’m doing a blog once a month. Eventually I’m hoping to have it like a Dear Abby so people can write in with questions and I will answer them. But I haven’t been able to talk to Caroline about that yet. So for now I am picking the topic myself and the topic this time will be “music and how it can affect people.”

Introducing Children Who Use AAC to Music
I want to start by explaining how you might introduce a child to music. For me, what changed my life as a child was when I wanted to be in a music class, but it was already full. The music teacher was kind enough to let me try out the base drums and we both were surprised on how I was with rhythm, even though I had spastic movement. So she let me be part of the cast and that made me realize that I had music abilities. So for other children, I would suggest that you start that same way because there are so many different beats to music. A base drum is big enough to where aim is not important. You can hit it anywhere on the top. So if someone does not have to aim it makes them more relaxed and able to follow a beat at the same time. This is also good therapy for muscle control. Little by little, you can work on hitting the drum in the center. After you do that, you can move to more instruments and hitting them in the right place. You might move to a snare drum, then a cymbal and maybe a triangle. That will open the door to a xylophone and maybe other instruments that require a more precise hit.

Beyond the Drum!
If they are able to use their fingers, you might try them on a harpsichord that you strum. If you don’t know what a harpsichord is, it basically lies on a table and you can strum it without moving it. Another instrument that might be good is a q-chord. It has cartridges that you insert and it will have different melodies that will follow along as you strum. It requires almost no musical knowledge. It does need power, so you can either plug it in or run on batteries.

If someone has good use of their fingers, you might try them on a piano so they can learn the music scale. However, in my own opinion, an organ or an electronic piano would be better. This is because on a piano you have to hit every key rather hard. If someone has weak muscles in their fingers, they won’t be able to hit hard enough on a piano to play it. An organ or an electronic piano requires only a light touch and is easier to play.

Singing with DECtalk
If they are interested in singing, DECtalk is a wonderful tool for that. It has male and female voices, plus you can customize your own voice. In order to make it sing, you have to know phonetic spelling. Let me tell you what happened to me when I learned phonetic spelling. I had to learn how to build words sound by sound. I did this when I was an adult, but I wish I could have learned it as a child and let me tell you why. I had many years of speech therapy and they were trying to help me learn how to talk. Even though they went over every sound that was in every word, for me it would have been better if I would have learned phonetic spelling at the same time. As an adult, with every word that I program, I have a better understanding of how everything is pronounced and I was able to make my own speech just a little bit clearer. The more I program phonetically, the more I remember all the speech therapy that I had and little by little it seems to make more sense. So, in my mind, if a child could learn phonetic spelling as part of their speech therapy, it would make everything sink in just a little bit more. Not only that, but by learning phonetic spelling, if children don’t know how to spell a word the normal way, they have the option of building the word phonetically and learn how to spell it normally if they need to.

Let me give you an example. I remember hearing about someone who got a microscope for Christmas and his parents didn’t even know that he even knew what one was. Right away, he wanted to find an “organism.” That word is not in any communication device, so he had to say that word over and over until his parents understood what he was saying. So if he knew how to phonetically spell a word, there would not be any word that he could not say on a communication device.

The Power of Music!
So music really has a lot of power in many other things in life. For example, if someone learns how to play a thumb cymbal, they can then snap a button on a shirt because it requires the same movement. If they learn how to hit a triangle, it might help them when they are trying to hit a button on an elevator. So there are many reasons why someone should get into music.

Need More Info?
If anyone does not know by now, I have a CD called “DECtalk 101” that not only helps people learn phonetic spelling, but it will help them learn how to read music. And if you have a communication device that runs on Windows but does not have DECtalk in it, you can download a free version from my site.

From there, you can go to my store where you can also buy karaoke tracks. They are songs that are already done with DECtalk and music is already mixed in. If someone does not want to use their device, these songs might be a helpful tool. The reason is, when they learn how a voice can fit in with something that everyone enjoys, it makes them more comfortable using their device and it also helps people around them who understand that their device is only another way for them to talk.

DECtalk brings people together because many individuals enjoy hearing it sing. There is an email listserv specifically for discussing DECtalk. To subscribe, visit

I hope you find this blog helpful and I hope you enjoy the wonderful world of music.

Snoopi Botten

I Do / We Do / You Do

I Do / We Do / You Do  - Framework from Alex Dunn

I was lucky to be able to visit a school supported by Alex Dunn while in Kingston last week.  Alex is using this framework to support capacity building for teachers.  It feels like an 'easy fit' because it makes so much sense.  In fact, I think many of us are striving towards this framework, but having the simple language makes it easier to explain.  In a nutshell, when introducing new strategies and / or technology:

I Do:  The consultant models the strategy / technology with target students, using talk-alouds.  For example, the consultant introduces the concept of playing Wordo to support phonics, while using technology to meet the needs of individual students (e.g., Go Talk Now app, Doodle Buddy).  The teacher / therapist watches and takes notes if needed.
We Do:  The consultant and teacher / therapist co-teach  strategy / technology.  For example, the teacher selects words for Wordo , and both identify and set up the appropriate technology to meet the needs of individual students.  They discuss the activity after, discussing what worked and what needs to be tweaked.
You Do:  The teacher / therapist uses the strategy / technology.    The consultant  watches and notes what's working and what still needs to be tweaked, then the two meet very briefly to make changes.

The beauty of this framework is the simplicity.  Everyone can understand the language, and can see where they are in the ongoing process.  Please note that these are not one-step stages.  For example, with especially difficult strategies / technologies, or with individuals who are very new to either teaching or the technology, the I Do and We Do stages may be of longer duration, or there may be recursive action (ex:  I Do, We Do, I Do, We Do, You Do). 

Thanks to Alex for another example of her brilliance.  I hope I did her framework justice!