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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Flip Their Minds – Flip the Script!

 What Does It Mean to 'Flip the Script'?

I use the term to refer to using a personalized strategy (e.g., humor, fun voices, topic setters, and introduction strategy) to quickly break down barriers or misconceptions that others might have – especially new communication partners.

Why Is It Important?   

People who use AAC are constantly being underestimated by unfamiliar communication partners, and sometimes even people who know them.  Many individuals actively use strategies that help to create a paradigm shift – flipping the script – so that partners communicate on a more equal basis.

Where Can I Get More Information?

Funny you should ask!  Tip # 1 for 2021 at www.aacintervention.com covers this exact topic.  go there and download the full tip.  While this might seem really obvious, people who use AAC can get metacognitive about creating strategies that will quickly enhance their communication success.  Here is a link to the 2021 tips.

Monday, April 11, 2022


IntroWho remembers your first class in psycholinguistics?  Or maybe that language acquisition class?  I remember being fascinated by wugs, and learning about the Wug Test.  But maybe you missed out on that experience?  Well, read on!

What Is a Wug? 
A 'wug' is an imaginary creature (see image) created by psycholinguist Jean Berko Gleason as part of 'The Wug Test.  Young children were presented with a fanciful creature or activity with a made-up (but plausible-sounding) pseudoword.  They were used to assess children's growing awareness of morphology (e.g., plurals, verb tenses, possessives).  and also helped determine current language skills for students with disabilities who were able to speak.  
This was a fun test to give, and most students found it fun to take.  

So How Else Can We Use Wugs?  Many activities we do include encouraging students to make a guess, and create a word, then decide if it's a 'real' word.  For example,  when working on word wall words, we might use a key word (e.g., hug or bug), and choose letters to try to find words that rhyme with it.  Some students are hesitant to make guesses, in case they get it 'wrong.'  I realized that when I call the non-words 'wugs' – instead of labeling them as wrong – students are far more likely to take risks and suggest letters to try.  Note that I use a question mark for wugs, instead of an X.  So, have fun deciding if words are 'real' words or wugs!!

Friday, April 8, 2022

Student-Constructed Definitions for Vocabulary Password

 What Is Vocabulary Password?

It's a fun game to help all students – but especially students who use AAC – learn how to use simple words (e.g., core words) to give and understand definitions of complex words that might not be on their communication devices.  For more examples, see the related blogposts:



Encourage Students to Co-Construct Definitions

After you've modeled the descriptive teaching method for many complex words (e.g., simplifying 'circumference' as GOING ALL AROUND A CIRCLE), it's time to have students begin co-constructing definitions.  Here is an example of a co-constructed definition of a pirate, done by a team of students using AAC systems.  All words in CAPS were shared on devices, and words in BOLD were provided by students.  

Play Password, Using the Student-Created Definitions

Wait a day or two, then assess students.  Read their definitions to them, and show four images
from the story / unit, and have them determine which image matches the definition.  You can do this with slideshows (PowerPoint, Keynote, Slides), as shown on the left.

You could also play this light tech (printing out actual images), or by using an online game
such as Open the Box Quiz from Wordwall:  https://wordwall.net/ as shown on the right.  Whatever approach you pick, have fun and keep learning!!

And remember . .  . 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Descriptive Language Teaching – Intro

Descriptive Language Teaching 

Descriptive language teaching is a strategy attributed to Gail Van Tatenhove (www.vantatenhove.com). 

The descriptive language teaching process teaches and reinforces the use of core language – high frequency words – in the classroom and home throughout the day.  It reduces the need to continually chase vocabulary by programming more and more unit-specific words.

Introducing Descriptive Language Teaching

Partners can model simple language for describing complex words.  For example, an 'expert' is SOMEONE WHO KNOWS VERY MUCH.  While the word 'expert' is unlikely to be pre-programmed in most communication devices, the words above in capitals are lower frequency, and therefore are more

likely to be found on most robust AAC systems.

So, just use this approach, coming up with a simple 'kid-friendly' definition of a more difficult word that is unlikely to be on a student's AAC system.  Just modeling these simple definitions is a great way to support students in seeing another value of core vocabulary – giving them access to low frequency words, even if they are not yet competent spellers.

Try this throughout the day.  When you come to a word that is difficult (50¢ word), just pick some easy (5¢) words to describe it!  Enjoy!!

Remember – Expand the Number of Teachers!  This is a great strategy to teach siblings, grandparents, and tutors.  It's also a powerful tool for inclusive classrooms.  I have had general education teachers rave about this strategy, as it forces their students to really think about the meaning of a word, rather than using rote textbook definitions.  


Monday, April 4, 2022

Don't Stress - It's Fun to Guess!!

 Don't Stress – It's Fun to Guess!

Intro.  I've been saying this a lot to students in the past few months.  Decided to make a meme and write about it!

The Problem.  Many students with disabilities have high rates of anxiety.  This is especially true for individuals with Angelman, Rett, or Pitt Hopkins syndromes.  Add to that the concern that students on IEPs are in a 'constant testing' mode (Tanya will do X with 90% accuracy on 4 of 5 consecutive days), and the problem is compounded .  . .  sometimes to the point that students stop taking risks.

It's important that we model the joy of making predictions . . . and that it's okay if your guess isn't always right.  In fact, often when a guess is wrong, it helps educators know what students are thinking, and helps us give informative feedback.  This informative feedback is a huge part of teaching.  I will do several posts about this in the coming months.  The first one is about making guesses about something very concrete – animals!

Guess (Predict) The Animals You Will See.  We made predictions of animals we would see:  in real life (at a zoo field trip), in a video, and in a book.  Then we compared those predictions to what we actually found.

 Animal Prediction. at the Zoo.  Took a photo of our prediction and used it as a background in the free Doodle Buddy app.  Then used the pen tool to check off items that we found.  Each family also had the same list on a portable whiteboard, so they could check them off.  

Animal Prediction in a Video.  The group was reading Dr. Dolittle as part of Readtopia®.  For the 'anchor' activity of a Close Reading (Article + Sidebar), we were asked to re-watch a video shot at a waterhole in Africa.  Before we watched it, student's predicted animals they would see.  We wrote each animal unto the Doodle Buddy app, using the pen too.  After we watched the video, students discussed which animal we had actually seen, and we marked it off using a sticker of an alligator.  

Stay Tuned for More Posts About the Productive Use of Guessing!

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

DOWN with flagellations, UP with congratulations!

DOWN with flagellations, UP with congratulations!

Okay, I know . . . it sounds like sappy stuff from a Hallmark Card.  But think about it – how many people do you know who are feeling even more overwhelmed and anxious now than we were before Covid?  And I hear friends and colleagues (and myself) being so hard on ourselves.  

I attended a thought-provoking webinar last week by Alisha Noterman and Lisa Sandoval of Dynamic Therapy Solutions / Educate4.  Among many topics, they discussed the importance of having a positive mindset.  Of course.  But the way they shared this really got me thinking.  We all need to engage in more positive self-talk, and just give ourselves a bit of a break sometimes.  This morning, this quick reminder came to me, so I made it into a meme.

I'm not saying not to worry about what we're not getting done, but to also increase our acknowledgement of all that we are accomplishing.  This verbal reminder came to me this morning as I was going over my To-Do-Today list (which happens multiple times each day).  I have a color-coded system based on urgency.  I realized that I have been feeling completely unsuccessful but when I looked at all of the items that went from GREEN (GO - do it NOW!) to √ (checked off), I stopped for a minute to give myself accolades.  Voila, a meme is born!!

Hope this helps you be a little nicer to yourself.  I think we can all accomplish more if we treat ourselves a bit better!

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Find the Word - Using the Open the Box template from https://wordwall.net/

Find the Word 

Using the Open the Box template from https://wordwall.net/

What Is Find the Word?  This is an activity where students are trying to find words on their AAC systems, game boards, word walls, etc.  Samples include:

Word Wall Words. Example, introducing you 5 new word wall words each week (or 3, 4 etc)

Core Words of the Week / Month.  PrAACtical AAC suggests the Year of Core Words, with new words each month.  Here's a link to multiple posts:  https://praacticalaac.org/?s=year+of+core+words

Vocabulary Words.  Teachers might be introducing vocabulary words for science or social studies units.  While these are typically not all added to AAC systems, they are often included on lists that students can access.

Why Use the Open Box Template from Wordwall?  In a word – engagement!  Just saying 'find ____' can be incredibly boring, whether students are finding the words on their AAC systems, on a game board, or on a word wall (or all 3!)  So, using the Open the Box template adds fun.  It takes minimal time to set up and to use, but adds maximal engagement.

How to Create It.  
Just use the 'Open the Box' template, and quickly add each of the target words.  DO NOT ADD PICTURES!  Remember, we want students to (eventually) read the words.  Adding picturewil not support reading the words!  The image on the right shows a word wall using the Wild West theme (always a winner).   Here's a link to that activity, so you can play with it for free:  https://wordwall.net/resource/24706319

How to Use It.  First pick a theme.  Currently, there are 6 themes (shown below) for the Open the Box template.  New ones are being added – for example, the Christmas theme was new in December!

Note that each box has a number.  Students can use their AAC systems or sign the # that they want.  While this is a very simple template, it can greatly reduce student distraction.

Tweaking the Game.  The image on the right shows the 'December Core Words' using the TV Game Show Theme.  Note that I
chose to have 4 columns and 3 rows, because that was the optimum 'fit' for this number of boxes, so that the words could be as large as possible.  To do that, I manipulated the options, as shown on the image below.  ENJOY!!


Musselwhite, C.  Wonderful Word Wall Fun:  Tips, Tools, and Templates.