Data Collection for the Beginning AAC User: Essential Things to Measure to Expedite Progress
It’s exciting to see more and more teams on the road to implementing AAC in therapy and in the classroom. Often, though, our initial expectations for student progress don’t pan out. Consider these examples.
- Aleksander’s SGD has robust vocabulary that is customized specifically for him. He uses it consistently at snack and lunch time, but rarely uses it in other activities.
- Ariel uses her AAC app to ask for things, make comments, and answer questions but rarely goes beyond the single word level to express herself.
- Jayson had a PECS book for over a year and learned to request his favorite foods but not much else. His team switched Jayson over to a more robust AAC system, and while he learned to communicate for other reasons, he still doesn’t use his communication book very frequently unless he’s prompted to do so.
Do these situations seem vaguely familiar? Helping AAC learners become more proficient communicators is a journey that has twists and turns, stops and starts. We may get excited by the possibilities of AAC systems, encouraged by our learners’ early successes, and then get concerned as progress slows down or even stalls out.
How can we alter the slope of learning and expedite our students’ progress? There are lots of ways to address this, but here’s one of them: Re-tool your data collection to include implementation rather than student performance.
Why? In general, we pay more attention to things that we measure. It’s nerve-wracking to take data on ourselves, but when we move past that, we often find this to be a helpful tool for accelerating student progress. Clearly, we have to continue to collect student performance data, but when we limit ourselves to that, we often miss key reasons for the slow rate of progress. Gathering data on how we implement AAC in addition to how the student is using it, helps us fine-tune our instruction.
There’s lots to think about, of course, with AAC implementation. How should we approach this? Here are some ideas of behaviors we can measure to get us started.
- Frequency of aided language input: This research-supported strategy is something we’ve written about in literally hundreds of posts so regular visitors to this site know what it is and the important role that it plays in language learning. They know how to do it, and may have even taught others to employ this pivotal strategy. Their students may have goals that require this (e.g., “Given aided language input, Jayson will….”). We know that this is a critically important strategy for beginning communicators but how often are we using aided language input when we speak to the student? Tracking our own performance in this area may well reveal gaps in our implementation, and that allows us to focus on it with new energy and commitment. The more WE use AAC, the more our students will use it.
- Number of communication opportunities: Most of our AAC learners need a lot of practice, and unless we are mindful about creating frequent opportunities for them to use their new skills, there’s a good chance that the student didn’t get as many as he/she needs. When progress stalls, a sure way to move forward is to boost the frequency of opportunities. We might have the right ‘medicine’ but are presenting it in a ‘sub-clinical dose.’ Taking data on the number of times our students had clear opportunities to use their target skills allows us to identify any gaps and strengthen the intervention plan. The more opportunities the students have to practice the target skill, the more likely they will improve their AAC fluency.
- Quality of our responses: How we respond to AAC learners can inspire more learning, keep them at the same level, or discourage future attempts. When Jayson says “french fries” at circle time, we could respond in a variety of ways (e.g., “No, we’re not talking about lunch now.” “French fries! Yum! I love french fries.” “Yes! You had french fries last night.” “Fries! That’s a great ‘f’ word!” “Do you like ketchup on your french fries?” “French fries? Oooh! That starts the same as ‘Friday,’ doesn’t it?”). The more accepting and supportive we are in our feedback and responses, the more likely we are to create a positive learning environment.
There are lots of ways we can support better learning in our beginning communicators, and data collection can play an important role. Do you take data on AAC implementation ? We’d love to hear about it.
This post was written by Carole Zangari