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strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Tag: language processing (page 1 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 2 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 2 of 2)

by Jules Csillag

 

Last week, you read about the reasons to use wordless texts. Today, learn about how to use these texts, and review a few examples.

 

How?

There are many ways to incorporate wordless “texts” into diverse content areas, including ELA, history, science, SDI, and foreign languages. Some sample activities are listed below:

 

  • Inferences: Any time you present a wordless “text,” you can have students make inferences about characters, setting, problem, etc. For specific inferential questions to ask during some of the movies listed below, read this article from Understood.org.
  • Pause & predict: With an image, book, or movie, you can also work on making predictions. With images, you can try guessing what you think would happen next (allowing for multiple responses); with books or movies you would need to pause, and then you could verify answers afterwards (while still acknowledging if other responses could have been logical and relevant).
  • Thought bubbles and/or speech bubbles: Adding thought bubbles and speech bubbles works on cognitive flexibility, nonverbal communication, and inferences. You can add these to images, put them on post-its into books (or scan books and create Powerpoints or Google Slides from them), or print still images from videos. If students are interested in this task, you can even add words to videos (i.e. dub their voices) using iMovie, Quicktime, or this list of free, online video editing tools.

drawing of a thought bubble

  • Be a co-author: for books, in particular, students can take on the role of author to essentially narrate a story, thereby addressing inferences and text structure. If different groups of students work on the same story, it also inherently addresses cognitive flexibility.
  • Connection building, building up themes: Autistic individuals sometimes have challenges in identifying connections between two things, given a difficulty in central coherence. You can compare two silent “texts” and see how they are similar or different (in how they are made, in topics, etc.), or use a silent text as a jumping off point for a new topic (e.g. begin a unit on immigration with The Arrival; use a “What’s Going on this Picture?” to introduce a new place in a Social Studies unit, etc.), and refer back to this as you delve deeper into the novel topic.
  • Citing evidence: With almost any of the above activities, if students are required to explain why they think that, they will be using (visual) evidence to support a position. As students get older, you can link this to the need to cite evidence across subject areas.

 

What?

a camera icon

 

a book icon

  • Wordless books (arranged by books appropriate from youngest -> oldest readers)
    • Mercer Mayer series: stories about a boy, a dog, and often a frog
    • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola: the story of a woman who is trying to make pancakes for breakfast
    • Wave by Suzy Lee: the story of  girl at the beach
    • Float by Daniel Miyares: the story of a paper boat
    • Journey series (Journey, Quest, Return) by Aaron Becker: a series of stories about a magic marker & a pair of friends
    • Sector 7 by David Weisner: the story of a cloud factory (also enjoy his other wordless books, Tuesday and Flotsam)
    • The Red Book by Barbara Lehman: the story of a magic book & the two kids who found it
    • Zoom by Istvan Banyai: the book can be read backwards or forwards, and contains some interesting shifts in perspective (for upper elementary+)
    • Sidewalk Flowers by poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith: the story of a city and its small details (for upper elementary+)
    • The Arrival by Shaun Tan: a long graphic novel about immigration (for middle school+)
    • If you’ll forgive the few words that appear in these books, I’ll also include the minimally verbal books: Blip! by Barnaby Richards and Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

a play button icon to symbolize movies

  • Wordless movies
    • Simon’s Cat series: a series of silent videos of Simon and his trouble-maker cat(s)
    • Oktapodi: an octopus escape/love story
    • Crumbs: a story of two mice trying to get a crumb
    • Snack Attack: a video of an old lady and her snack…with a twist (shout out to SDI Developer Susan Brennan for the recommendation)
    • The Present: a video of a mother, a son, and a present…with a twist (shout out to Jessica Price at PS 165 for the recommendation)
    • Wish Granter: the story of a fountain dweller who grants wishes (shout out to Jessica Arnone at PS 9)
    • Paper Man: a cute NY missed connections story (for older students)
    • Alma: a story of a scary toy store (for older students)
    • Looking for more? Look for Pixar shorts & Oscar-nominated animated films

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 1 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 1 of 2)

by Jules Csillag

 

This is the first part of a two-part series on silent books and movies, and pictures. Today, we will look at why to use wordless activities, and next week, learn how to incorporate these into lessons, and read about specific, potential activities.

 

Aside from reducing your language in your classroom, and the importance of using visuals, there are benefits to using wordless texts (where “texts” can mean anything from images to books to movies) to autistic students.

 

Why?

Wordless texts can be used to address a variety of skills that autistic students typically struggle with, including diverse literacy skills, cognitive flexibility, and nonverbal communication. Removing words and auditory information also supports autistic students since integrating information from multiple senses can take longer in autistic individuals, particularly if this information is linguistic. Removing words can therefore positively influence processing (Boddaert et al, 2004, Stevenson, 2014)

 

Using wordless books or movies can build diverse literacy skills in terms of making inferences, understanding narrative structure, and using evidence to support a claim. All wordless “texts” support individuals’ ability to make inferences, which is helpful since research shows that “students with Asperger syndrome…had challenges in making inferences from the text” (Knight & Sartrini, 2014). Moreover, researchers have found that “similar processes contribute to comprehension of narratives across different media” (Kendeou, P. et al, 2009), meaning that addressing visual inferences can transfer to inferences made during reading. Images and silent books or movies necessarily require students to infer what is happening, who the characters are, etc.

a photograph of a wooden bridge over greenish water

An inference is like a bridge between two ideas.

Wordless books and movies are also an effective way of helping students’ reading and writing by helping them understand text structure, especially narrative text structure, which is the understanding that narratives all have similar structures (e.g. character, setting, problem, resolution). Wordless books and movies are an often fun way of teaching text structure, as well as theme, and these skills are worth teaching as they do not always come naturally to students on the spectrum (Zajic et al., 2014, Gately, 2008). Autistic students may also have difficulty citing evidence to support a position, as that requires perspective taking skills and organization of language, which can both be difficult for them. As with inferences, you can use an image to practice this skill (e.g. “I think it is summer because I see the characters sweating and the trees look really green”).

a purple triangle that demonstrates a plot mountain, with beginning/exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and end/resolution labeled left to right.

A plot mountain is one way to demonstrate story structure (Source: readwritethink)

Given that images and wordless books and movies are open to interpretation, they also build cognitive flexibility, since there can often be multiple, logical ways of “reading” visual narratives. This can be helpful since cognitive flexibility is typically an underlying challenge with students with autism (Van Eylen et al., 2011). Cognitive flexibility is important for social situations (since perspective taking relies on cognitive flexibility), for problem-solving (since sometimes you need to attempt more than one solution), and for understanding any “grey areas” or subjective interpretations of an event or text.

 

Removing words also allows individuals to focus on nonverbal communication more. This has two distinct benefits: for one, it targets an underlying challenge many individuals with autism have in processing nonverbal information, “compared with both typical and atypical groups well matched for cognitive development” (Rogers, 2006). Furthermore, when there is a discrepancy between words and facial expressions, individuals with autism tend to give more weight to the words, so removing words naturally emphasizes the nonverbal communication and can thus put it on students’ radar and teach them its various functions (Watanabe et al., 2012). Emotional thermometers (Wesbty, 2004) to expand emotional vocabulary, and link to context, facial expression, tone of voice (where relevant).

 

Stay tuned for next week’s post on how to use wordlessness, and what tools may work!

Talk Less, Draw More

Talk Less, Draw More

By Brandy Stanfill

 

The mainstream classroom is full of language processing demands that can be challenging for a wide array of students.  Strategies to support comprehension while reducing language processing can benefit English language learners, students with ADHD, autistic students, and students with auditory processing disorders.  Here are a few tricks to try in your classroom:

 

Quick Sketch

During your next read aloud, mini lesson, unit review, or group discussion draw a quick sketch of the contents.  A stick figure labeled Christopher Columbus, a half circle and triangle to represent a boat, and 1492 written beside it can help students hold onto who is under discussion, what the action was, and when the events occurred.  No drawing skill needed!

 

Visual Priming

The next time you are introducing a new activity or procedure show the group pics of the materials they will be using with simple one or two words labels.  These images and labels can help students learn new vocabulary and remember the difference between a beaker and graduated cylinder.  Google images are a teacher’s best friend!

drawing of a thought bubble

 

Thought Bubbles

When discussing characters from books or historical figures thought bubbles with simple phrases or quick sketches in them can help a student to understand the character’s experiences, emotions, goals, and perspective.  A stick figure of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird with a thought bubble that says, “curious about Boo Radley” and a line from stick figure Scout’s eyes to a stick figure of Boo can help a student understand the motivation for Scout’s behavior.  Perspective taking is harder when characters and historical figures are far removed from a student’s life experience.  Use visual supports to highlight universal experiences and motivations like nosiness!

 

 

 

Preserve Student Dignity: Give ‘em an out

Preserve Student Dignity: Give ‘em an out

Aaron Lanou

 

How often has it happened that you called on a student and she didn’t know the answer? There’s that awkward few seconds when you and all the other students are waiting for a response, and she just can’t find the words.

When a student doesn’t know the answer, the last thing you want is for her to feel embarrassed or humiliated. Though teachers sometimes fall into the trap of thinking “catching” an unprepared student will teach them to be prepared, the reality is they’re made to feel uncomfortable and angry. And this can be even harder for students with ASD who have challenges with flexibility and perfectionism. Even if the student “should know” the answer, you’ve got to give ’em an out.

The next time a student is struggling to answer, try one of these responses:

  • “Do you want to call on someone else for help?” Let them choose a peer to help them answer the question.
  • “I’ll give you another couple minutes and come back to you.” Then really give them some time, and circle back later to ensure they understand.
  • “It’s OK to say ‘I’m not sure.’” Allow them to say they don’t know. Reinforce that this is ok and part of the process of learning. This is often hard for autistic students, but an important idea to encourage and support.

Even better, make a proactive plan to avoid these stuck moments in the first place. A couple of ideas:

  • Provide wait time: Pose a question, and then wait for at least ten seconds before calling on anyone for a response. Tell students to take the time to form an answer, so everyone can feel more prepared. This is an important approach for students with ASD, many of whom have slower language processing. Read more on our Wait Time post.
  • Prime students for when you will call on them: Avoid cold-calling to catch students. Instead say, “Keisha, I’ll be coming to you for a response next.” This will give her time to be prepared.
  • Teach students a get-unstuck strategy: Early in the school year, teach students explicit strategies for moments like these. For example, encourage them by saying, “It’s ok if you don’t know an answer to a question I ask. When you’re stuck, you can either ask for another minute, ask to look at your notes, or ask me to rephrase the question.”

All of these approaches can help preserve students’ dignity in the classroom, and help students save face. This reduces the likelihood that students feel embarrassed—and embarrassed students do not volunteer to participate. Send the message to the whole class that it’s safe to try, and you’re likely to get much more participation.

For more helpful insight into the dangers of embarrassing students, see Cult of Pedagogy’s post, Is humiliation part of your teaching toolbox?

 

Directions: Say it in three

Teachers like to talk! When we lead a lesson, support a student, and give class directions, we tend to use lots and lots of language.

say it in three

Seriously. Lots of language.

The irony is, much of what we are saying in the classroom is not truly being heard! Due to language processing challenges, many students with ASD cannot fully hear, process or completely understand all the verbal information we bombard them with. Dr. Ken Rowe explains the problem of too much teacher language this way:

 

“There is too much information going through the students’ auditory gate. Either nothing goes through or what goes through is garbled.” (in Doherty 2004)

 

But everything we have to say is so important! How can we possibly reduce our verbal language?

 

There are many ways to reduce the amount of language we use in the classroom. One way is to say it in three. Replace your long list of directions with a total of three words. Yes, just 3!

 

Try this: When giving directions, start by giving your long list of steps as you usually would. Then, repeat your directions, but slightly shorter. Finally, repeat your directions using only the three most important words. For example:

 

OK, class. Please hang up your coats and put away anything you had at lunch. Then get your writer’s notebook and meet the me at the rug.

(That’s you giving the full directions)

 

That’s: coats away, writer’s notebook, go to the rug.

(That’s slightly shorter)

 

Coats – notebook – rug

(That’s it! Three words!)

 

Think about a funnel: our verbal rich directions get slowly more and more concise until we end by just giving a three-word direction.

 

Try it out! Look to see if your students follow directions more easily, more quickly, or more completely.

 

For more information, check out: The Power of Our Words, a terrific book on classroom language from Responsive Classroom.

 

 

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