Sunday, 27 March 2011

Communication Matrix Language Options

After reading the post about the Communication Matrix Dr. Rowland wrote to me to make sure that I (and you) were aware of the language options available when using the Matrix. They have made a translation available in Spanish and Chinese and are working on soon be available options in Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese. She writes:

"The hope is to reach out to parents who speak those languages and to encourage them to participate in the assessment of their children. You access other languages using the button at the top left of the home page."

Yet another reason to love this assessment tool!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Communication Matrix

As a teacher I take the assessment and evaluation of my students very seriously. It forms the basis of my IEP goals which form the basis of my program. In order to ensure that student goals are appropriate, attainable, realistic, and with just the right amount of challenge you have to have solid assessments.

I use my cobbled together checklists and rubrics that over the better part of a decade have come to cover much of the curriculum. A little piece of this and a part of that fused together in an attempt to capture the learning paths of my students.

And then I found the Communication Matrix. This free online assessment tool has become my go-to for all things communication.

It resembles a periodic table that spans 7 levels of expressive and receptive language development from pre-intentional communication through to speech across 4 domains; refuse, obtain, social, and information. Dr. Charity Rowland, Ph.D. created this assessment tool for children with developmental disabilities and understands that communication doesn't look the same for any two children. She accounts for tactile cues, photographic and picture symbols, sign, gestures, eye gaze, etc.

When you begin a new assessment there are a series of questions about the student and how they communicate. You read a page of instructions ensuring that everyone completing the matrix is using the same defenitions. There is also a section on communication devices including concrete objects and picture symbols.

Each section of the assessment asks a specific question about how the child communicates. There is also the option to see a picture or a short video example.

Once the assessment is complete you are presented with the matrix. It shows you where the student has mastered a skill and where a skill is emerging or not yet used. It is easy to see where the gaps in learning are and what a student's next step should be.

There are amazing things you can do with the matrix once it is complete. One view allows you to see your answers, another shows you a bar graph with percentage of skill mastered at each level, you can even create reports and charts.

This is a brief overview of all that this site offers. I hope you take the time visit the site and try an assessment.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Draw Race Review

There is a lot being written about how the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch are being used for communication and direct teaching, but that isn't all we use it for.  A big part of the reason that my students are so engaged with touch technology is that it is fun! There are some really fun apps out there that are also educational.

Draw Race by Red Lynx is one of these apps. It is a racing game that works on fine motor skills.

Using an index finger players draw their way around the track. Once each player has had their turn the race starts. The cars follow along the lines that the players drew, racing around the track to the finish.

I like this app because the students aren't aware of the learning that is going on. They are racing cars and having a great time! They learn quickly to draw accurate lines for their cars to follow. They also learn that the cars will follow any line they draw around the track, and sometimes that is much more fun!

This game can by played with up to 3 players, the social interaction is built right in. Students are encouraged to cheer each other on while they draw their laps and during the race.

There is also a lot of math involved in playing this game. Each car is a different colour and the track lines match the car colour providing students an opportunity to work on colour recognition. Students can graph the race winners by colour or by time. They can try to beat their times and work out the math to find the difference in times, or the differences in time from first place to third.

This app can be extended into the classroom by asking students to map their own race tracks. They can then drive toy cars on their tracks further developing their pincer grip and fine motor skills.

What are your favourite games? Why do you like them? Please share in the comment section!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Study

My school is involved in a study with the University of Toronto. The study is examining the effect of using touch technology in classrooms with students who have a developmental disability.

The study is not only examining the effect that using these devices has on students' communication skills, but as well the effect that they have on their social peer relations.

In the fall of 2009 some of the teachers had been excitedly talking about the new iPod Touch and some of the apps we had been hearing about for students who use AAC. When the parents saw what one of teachers was doing in class with her own personal device a dialog was started about using them in more classrooms and collecting data for research. We partnered with the University of Toronto's iSchool (Faculty of Information) and Dr. Rhonda McEwen.

In the winter of 2010 we bought some iPod Touch devices. Using the data collection framework set up by Dr. McEwen the study began. It is the first academic study to look at both quantitative and qualitative data on children with developmental disabilities in a school based setting.

In the fall of 2010 we expanded the study to include the iPad and began data collection on more students. All of our teachers are very committed to the study and the work that goes into supporting it. Our students benefit from being on the cutting edge of education research investigating touch technologies.

I encourage you to watch this video where Dr. McEwen talks about her research and some of her preliminary results.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Why I Love the iPad

I have a lot of tools in my teaching bag. My classroom has picture symbols on the walls. I have a tactile schedule on the board. I have visual cues for every transition. I have books, CDs, puzzles and games.

We are in the process of setting up a communication binder for a student. We are pulling together the pictures we need. There is computer programs, printing, laminating, cutting, Velcro (lots of Velcro!) and a ton of time involved. It has taken 2 weeks to get this binder up and running.

It took me less then an hour to do the same thing on my iPad. The pictures were all there as part of the app, or I was able to take a picture of it with my camera and grab it onto the iPad quickly.

I can then have the images in my photo album to swipe through one at a time or in a program like Proloquo2Go or First Then Visual Schedule.

I have all of my music on the iPad. Classroom songs we like to sing, 6 versions of O Canada, transition songs, days of the week songs, dancing songs and relaxing songs.

I have anecdotal notes that I have been able to record without having to leave the student's side. I can type in observation notes as the children play and learn.

When the students do something on the iPad that I would like to keep for their portfolio or my assessments I can take a screen shot of it and put it in their album.

I have apps that work on literacy skills, numeracy, fine motor, vision, auditory processing, receptive language, communication, and social skills.  All on one little device. A world of information stored in a 0.68kg box.

I will always have symbols, books, puzzles and games. That isn't going to change, but no amount of lamination and Velcro can compete with my iPad!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Special Tech Revolution

The iPad, designed for the business world, is revolutionizing the special education world.

Every time I look in the App Store there is another app designed for this population. The most exciting recent discovery is the wave of apps that support scanning and single switch use.

We are trying an app called Alexicom AAC.


It offers communication boards with pictures, symbols, and words. In the Settings it allows you to customize how the student will interact with the app. You can turn on scanning, step scanning, auditory scanning, define how distinclty you want the selected cell boarders to be highlighted, and the scanning speed, to name a few.

You can use a single finger anywhere on the screen with little movement or pressure to start the scanning. It can go cell by cell, or row by row.

Pairing this with the bluetooth iPad Cordless Super-Switch from R. J. Cooper makes this accessible to all users.

Guess what we are going to looking into fundraising for next!

Monday, 7 March 2011


Everyone has something to say. Some of us talk with words, some of us point to pictures, some of us use our hands, some of us use our eyes.

With the iPad or iPod Touch in the classroom there is an app for all of these communication methods. Probably the most well known app is Proloquo2Go.

What is Proloquo2Go?

It is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication System designed for iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad. It is a very sophisticated tool that allows users to touch pictures or type words.

We are working with emergent communicators. This app allows us to use the symbols that come with the program, Symbolstix, or our own pictures. This is an important feature for our students who are using photographs. Our school has it's own dictionary of objects, photographs, and symbols that we use. It helps create a consistent language that students use no matter what class they are in or where they are in the school.

We can adjust the settings so that there is only one image on the screen at a time. We can have 2 images to use for choice making or 'first-then'. We can have an array of images for choice making.

It is easy enough to change the settings that they can be done on the fly so that the images presented to each student are appropriate for them.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

iPad 2

I watched Steve Jobs' talk about the launch of iPad2. I don't care much about the thinner case, or the faster processor. The case is cool, but won't work for my class, we need something a little hardier. We all guessed correctly that there would be camera and video in the new iPad, and yes, I want one.

But what got me really excited was the mirroring option. Every since we started using these devices in the classrooms we have struggled with how to display the information for all to see. I have tried document cameras, webcams, and stills. What usually happens is everyone huddles together around the tiny device trying to see and no one can see anything.

There will now be an accessory that allows you to plug your iPad into an HDMI screen or projector. According to speculation it should also work with iPad1!! This will be another game changer for us. Being able to plug it into our Promethean Board, data projector, television will allow us to teach to larger groups of students and present information in a way that they can see on a much larger scale. It will also mean that giving presentations about the work we are doing will be so much more meaningful when we can show, in real time, what the students are using on the device.

So excited!!

Getting Started and Sound Shaker Review

I use technology as part of my teaching program for students with special needs. I use high tech, low tech, no tech. I use picture communication symbols, tactile schedules, auditory scanning, choice boards, PECS, iPads and iPods, gestures, sign language ... you get the idea!!! At my school we use what works and are always looking and learning.

We are very excited about the work we are doing with touch technology. We have a lot of apps that we use with special education students. We are looking every day for new ones, but of course we have our favourites! Please let us know what your favourites are, what we should check out, what you like.

One of our top picks is Sound Shaker by zinc Roe.

Students touch the screen and make music. Each touch brings a sound and image reward. The longer you sustain your touch the higher the notes move through the scale until a little bird hatches out. Moving the device around causes the little sound balls to bounce around the screen making music.

It engages students hands, ears, and eyes. You can ask them to tip it the left or right, up or down, teaching spacial awareness and direction. There are multiple sound options including an animal choice. You can ask the students to hold the ball until they hear a specific animal sound. The colours cycle through the notes as you sustain touch and you can ask students to create balls of a certain colour.

There are so many teaching opportunities with this app, so many ways to engage students. We are able to plug the iPad directly into a student's personal FM system so that the sounds are being delivered directly into their hearing aid. I might not be able to hear what he hears, but I can see him working hard to move the iPad around the shake the balls and holding his hand on the screen to create different sounds.

You can't do that with a single switch ... unless you have a bluetooth single switch!