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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Poetry Power Permeates Language, Literacy, and Life with AAC

Poetry Power Permeates Language, Literacy, and Life with AAC

What:  A webinar by Deanna Wagner, Caroline Musselwhite, Katie Yonker, and Mary Anne Barno

Where:  Zoom Webinar

When:  Monday, March 8th, 5:30 - 6:30 pm, Mountain Time

How Much:  $15 (reduced!), which includes

- Poetry Power Overview book from TPT

- Certificate

- Drawing for a 1:1 Poetry / AAC coaching sessions with the speakers / moderator

Poetry Power Registration Link 

Download the flyer here:  Flyer Link

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Wheel of Names

 Wheel of Names.  

 by Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite


  What.  Who doesn’t love a spinner?  And I especially love a spinner that you can quickly change, that includes customizable music, and shows the choice clearly!  That’s what you get with Wheel of Names.  For FREE!!


Who.  I’m using this spinner with a range of students from very young to adults.  The music makes it a joy to use!


How.  The most important feature is to customize it!  Here are some features you can change:


1.Make Your Wheel:  Add your own choices.  Remember to save your list to use again.  Yes, you can use names, but you can also change to include:

a.     Core Words.  For example, you can quickly type in your 10-12 core words for the month, then save the list to use multiple times (Read more about this in Core Word Fun, coming soon to Teachers Pay Teachers).  

b.     Character Names.  We have done activities where we compare characters, describe characters, etc.  This is a fun way to pick the characters to talk or write about.

c.     Categories.  Pick a category for device practice, on-the-fly Mad Libs, etc.

d.     Words to Sort.  This is a great follow-up to Making Words, but can also be used for phonological awareness activities such as judging rhymes and odd one out. 

e.     Activity Choices.  Sometimes you have multiple activities that you will do during a class / session.  You can put them on the wheel and use it to pick the next activity.

f.     Actions for a Song:  We added visual choices to the actions of the song, I Have a Friend (Musselwhite, 2019, Singing to Learn CD/dropbox).  Students spin to pick an action. 

2.  Customize Your Wheel.  This is where the engagement features are set up.  Choose many features such as:

a.     Dark Mode.  I always keep dark mode on because it blocks out distractions, and makes a dark background on which I can make annotations such as typing words.

b.     Music to Play During Spin.  The default sound is ticking (boring!)   Luckily, there are many interesting music choices to pick from.  

c.     Length of Spin.  Another ‘during spin’ choice is the length of time.  The default time is 10 seconds, but I typically prefer 5 – 6 seconds.  That’s enough time to enjoy the music without eating into my teaching time!

d.     After Spin Choices.  You can set up choices for after spinning.  My default choices are shown in the picture.  I typically keep these and do not reset them. 

e.     Background Colors.  I have chosen primary colors, as seen on my image.


f.   Image in Center.  You can use an image from their gallery or upload your own image.  For example, I uploaded a picture of a car for the middle of a wheel to play ‘judge the rhyme’.  Spin a word, then judge if the new word matches ‘car.’

3.  Enjoy Your Wheel!  I’m finding that this helps to add engagement and ‘zing’ to our sessions, plus modeling print.  Hope you enjoy it too.  Leave a comment!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Poetry Power and Scaffolds


Post by Deanna Wagner, 12/31/20

Today we are releasing our next TPT mini book in the Poetry Power series!

Caroline's TPT Store

Deanna's TPT Store

Just like in building construction, the right scaffolding can support our emerging writers and communicators in reaching higher heights, recognizing what the final product represents, and actively participating during co-construction of poems. Examples of scaffolds are provided through strategies we use in our mini examples. See, for example, Ben’s poem about his dad for an example of partner assisted scanning.  When his device wasn’t working, Caroline’s fast thinking in creating a paper-based alphabet display for him saved the day.

Many of our strategies reflect personally meaningful connections, a scaffold to connect experiences and build language. Alexa and her mother use a combination of spelling and symbols.  They use the Word Finder to begin her “Remember” poem, but once rehearsed she is able to more efficiently access the word with icon sequencing for discussing and dictating her poem.

Other examples describe use of repetition, which provides opportunities for multiple models and rehearsal, ultimately supporting more efficient access to words. Sometimes we use a combination of light tech and high tech writing or communication tools (previous blog on light tech flip books can be found here), observing how learners respond to the timing and feedback. Look for mini examples with poems by Lily Grace.


We use the I-DARE acronym purposefully to draw attention to the importance of immersion and demonstration before expecting autonomous writing. We encourage our writers to take risks because we are there to support them, and we can respond to what they share in ways that reflect, respect, and elevate their words.


We can provide scaffolds throughout the writing process:

● selecting a topic,

● choosing a tool (or tools) for writing,

● finding more words on an AAC system,

● saving and sharing (publishing and celebrating)


For more ideas about I-DARE, follow this LINK to an USSAAC article I wrote.


Happy 2021!

Monday, December 7, 2020

Poetic Language

Poetic Language

Poetry Power.

 As you may know, Deanna Wagner and I are really wild about the benefits of poetry for all learners, but especially for people who use AAC.  We recently finished a book about Poetry for Teachers Pay Teachers , and are working on a book with ideas for highly accessible list poems and poetry starters.  

Caroline's TPT Store 

Deanna's TPT Store 



 We have recently started an Instagram account, poetrypoweraac to share amazing things that people who use AAC and struggling writers are creating.   

Follow us on Instragram to see poetry samples and more! 







Get ideas for the people you teach or live with!


For December, we are focusing on ‘poetic language’.  This means that we will be sharing ways that people we know use language poetically – even when they are not actively creating a poem!


See you on Instagram!



Sunday, November 8, 2020

Device Adoption and Abandonment

I wrote this in a response to a question posted in the ASHA Special Interest Group SIG 12. Somebody asked if we could define which AAC systems or vocabularies are more likely to be adopted long term or abandoned to collect dust on the shelf. I have modified the format slightly to create this blogpost.

I myself have devices in my home that are still on the shelf gathering dust because I could not bear to throw them away or bother to take them to electronic recycling center. A couple that come to mind – an old iPod, a pager, an old PDA, and even a cell phone. That doesn’t mean they weren’t great devices; the technology just changed and I moved on to other things. And the AAC tools that I have used with my clients have changed over the years, as well. If I dug through my boxes, I am sure I would find old spare batteries and screen protectors that don’t fit anything any more. And some light and mid tech devices that have corroded batteries, waiting for the perfect person to donate them to.  I loved these things so much that I was afraid to let them go, and instead forced them into exile on my shelf.

What Is Long Term Device Adoption?

I think sometimes there is a fundamental problem in identifying “long term AAC device adoption.” We are becoming aware of how critical it is to provide multiple modes of expression to people who are not able to consistently access intelligible verbal speech. What we need to be careful of is avoiding mandating modes and discriminating against those who value other methods of expression over high tech AAC systems.  We all choose different methods of expression depending on the dynamics of the interaction. So, when asked if a person uses AAC, we may get different answers from that person, from his/her communication partners, and from the casual observer. 

Expectations of Outcomes.

Another consideration is the expected outcome from long term adoption of AAC. For some people, using symbol-based AAC is a way to reduce the stress of verbal speech in specific instances. Over time, the AAC tools used may vary, even throughout a single day. Others learn to visualize and integrate some techniques to become more verbally fluent and foster friendships with those who take time to learn their speech patterns. Using high tech AAC may be less frequent, but not necessarily less valued by those individuals and the people who care about them. 

Using Literacy to Support Communication.

Another end goal for AAC is having the tools necessary to say “whatever you want, whenever you want to whomever you want (Gayle Porter).”  In the AAC Profile (Tracy Kovach), achieving the highest levels of operational proficiency with a communication device includes being able to program it independently.  Most communication applications are currently configured in a way that customizing and saving messages to be used at a later date requires at least some literacy skills.  Achieving the highest levels of proficiency in strategic skills may also incorporate literacy skills.  Finding where words are located in robust pre-programmed systems is easier when you can access the letters of the alphabet (e.g., look for pages of verbs that begin with “S,” or search for words that start with “B” at the beginning of an alphabetized category page).  Vocabularies such as WordPower Basic 60 are highly robust and support sentence-building, morphology, and even spelling patterns (pages for phonetics, word families, and word prediction).  The same can be true for many grid-based robust AAC vocabularies (Crescendo, Snap + Core First, SuperCore for Grid).  But once they have achieved a level of literacy, many adults will use other tools that are more integrated into their other communication tools. If they can use the keyboard on a computer, smart phone or tablet, they are likely to use that instead of trying to start from an AAC app because it is one less step. Again, this wouldn’t diminish the value of AAC for certain situations – if they find using social media and email a more comfortable method of connecting with others, the use of other AAC tools may not be as prevalent in day to day interactions. Individuals who need alternate access are likely to use other adapted on-screen keyboards and may or may not identify them as AAC if not tied to speech output (such as the use of alternate keyboard in Grid, Communicator, or even Essence).

Inherent Differences in Language Systems.

There is also a significant difference in symbol-based strategies for word retrieval. People who use semantic compaction and icon sequencing (e.g, Unity, Unidad, LAMP Words for Life, Speak for Yourself) learn different ways to expand their vocabulary exponentially based on icon combinations. Having everything on the home page has potential to provide quick access to thousands of words without using spelling.  I have known many adults who use icon sequencing long term and have figured out ways to integrate this system into other social media by using it as an alternative keyboard. 


I don’t know if this necessarily answers your question, but may help you figure out another way to ask more specific questions. Think about whether you are asking the people who are teaching AAC, learning AAC, or living with a family member who had diminished capacity for intelligible speech. Think about why somebody might adopt a different piece of technology over time and remember not to jump to the conclusion that what was used earlier was any less valuable just because it isn’t being used now.  

Consider asking about the value of a tool that may have had only a brief period of brilliance, but nonetheless was life-changing. For some of the people that I have connected with, people who use AAC have lifelong relationships with their speech/language pathologist. So even though many people I am friends with on Facebook don’t use AAC with everybody, and may not even use it very often, it was what drew is together in the first place. Identifying as someone who loves AAC and values multimodal expression makes me part of a diverse community. 

Look for me in lots of Facebook groups, connecting with people who use and/or advocate for use of AAC. Wish me luck in creating my new website: LanguageAACtivist.xyz

Deanna K Wagner, MS/CCC-SLP

Email: outandabout@therapyone.com

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Un Poco Loco about Disney’s Coco (Celebrating Day of the Dead)

Posted by Deanna Wagner, after watching the virtual Day of the Dead Celebrations.

"AY MI AMOR, the way you keep me guessing, you make me 


Although using AAC in more than one language can be challenging, we need to remember that it isn't just words.  Communication is connection - to our families, our culture, our feelings.  

Are you feeling “Un Poco Loco” this time of year? The Disney/Pixar movie “Coco” reminds of the depth of vocabulary when we provide access for English-Spanish communicators.  Released in 2017, this movie was showing again at Harkins theaters this month and is available for purchase at Target, Wal-Mart and streaming on Amazon.  And you can get the soundtrack on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and Google Play.  In this movie a young aspiring musician sets out on a journey to discover his family’s traditions.  Why am I mentioning it?  Because it is absolutely beautiful!  Beautiful to watch and beautiful to listen.  The switching back and forth between English and Spanish used to share memories that are ingrained into the cultural message in this movie was so perfect and seamless.  

Learn more about the movie here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coco_(2017_film)

And be sure to listen to this amazing bilingual song on YouTube! Poco Loco

Check out Disney’s activities at this link. https://movies.disney.com/coco

Day of the Dead is an awesome time to talk about our families, memories, and favorite stuff.


And look for opportunities to celebrate and support switching between English and Spanish (in your AAC systems and in all the ways you use to express yourself) to celebrate the richness of language and culture.  Last month I shared a table with some of the apps I have been exploring in order to share with families who speak both languages.  

Look for the table at the bottom of this post: Building My Spanish Language Skills

You can also find the table on PrAACticalAAC.org as part of my guest blog from October 19, 2020.