June 29, 2016

How They Do It….Technology Integration in Gilly’s Life Skills Classroom

Posted in AAC, Aided Language Input, Assistive Technology, Augmentative Alternative Communication, Autism, Instructional Technology, iOS at 11:08 PM by kellyvansingel

June 29, 2016

This blog post is part of a project sequence for my most recent graduate school class:

When I think about how far instructional technology has come just in the past five years, I am so grateful.  Both of my daughters are living with autism.   My oldest is semi-verbal, but uses a lot of mitigated echolalia to communicate in scripts, while my youngest is functionally non-verbal.  Both of them, as most special education students do, rely on technologies, especially assistive technologies to support their daily learning, functioning and communication needs. Both of my daughters attend Life Skills classrooms in our local district, Saline Area Schools. This interview, reflection and summary will focus on the classroom of my daughter, Gillian, who is a user of Augmentative Alternative Communication, or AAC.

Natasha Boysal – Gilly’s Life Skills Teacher

What are some of the ways you daily integrate instructional technologies like the SMART Board into your lesson plans? Or group instruction?


I use the SMART board daily during my emergent literacy lessons. I display the story we are reading and highlight words we are focusing on. I also use the SMART board for our weekly News-2-You lesson. The kids love to come up and answer the questions using the interactive technology. 

Describe how you incorporate iOS technologies or ChromeBooks to help work on IEP goals of individual students?


I use iPad apps for students to practice and maintain skills we have worked on or mastered during direct instruction. I also use the iPad to display worksheets for students to view. Using the iPad allows the students to view the “questions” in a high-tech color format as well as save ink and prep time for me. I also use iPads daily for students to practice their reading and math skills using programs like Raz-Kids, Lexia and Xtra Math.

You also have a blog called “The Resource Teacher.” What inspired you to start your blog and share your resources and create curriculum materials available on Teachers Pay Teachers?

I do have a blog that I wish I could do more with. It is my hope that starting this summer I am able to post more and inspire other teachers and parents. Being a blogger also opens up a whole new networking opportunity. I have been able to meet tons of teachers and bounce ideas off of them. We are a support system for each other and continue to encourage each other.

I started making products for Teachers Pay Teachers when I found myself searching the website for hours trying to find something that would work for my students. Once I started creating materials I was able to tailor them to match my students needs perfectly. Creating resources for my students also makes me more excited about implementing them into my classroom.

You have some AAC users in your classroom.  What are some of the ways you like to integrate the use of the AAC device into accessing the curriculum and participate in the community life of the school building?

PROSLATELife Skills Student and AAC User – Gillian Van Singel

The main focus for my AAC uses is for them to use their device to make requests. Negative or atypical behavior may stem from not being able to communicate. If we focus on expecting our AAC uses to communicate their requests the hope is it will decrease the behaviors.

I also have students use their AAC device to greet peers and staff during normal conversations and while working the Food Cart. Each week I load words onto the AAC device that correspond with our weekly story. The student(s) is able to fully engage in the lesson.

Lin Nichols – Gilly’s Speech Language Pathologist

What are some of the ways you integrate instructional / assistive technologies into your work with students at Heritage?

We use a variety of apps for instruction and practice, and the speech to text feature is great support for intelligibility practice as well as to outline ideas for writing.  I also have several students who use high tech and low tech AAC.  I also create and use QR codes for scavenger hunts, riddles and Q and A games. 

Describe the impact AAC and iOS technology for communication has had on you in recent years and for your students…

The impact has been huge, primarily because it has become so much more accessible, and students don’t have to carry around cumbersome communication boards or devices.  This technology allows me to meet students where they are and provides more avenues for communicating, learning, and demonstrating knowledge than ever before.  

What are you some of your favorite digital resources and/or curriculums to use with your students?

I love the variety of articulation and language skill apps available and use them nearly daily. TouchChat and Proloquo2Go are great for students with limited verbal skills and I also like to use them to help verbal students formulate complete, correct sentences, even when they don’t require the technology for practical communication.  I also love apps by Erik X. Raj, and the Toca Boca apps for language based play.  I also use Between the Lines and other apps for video modeling of social skills.  

Karley Emeott – Gilly’s Paraprofessional

What are some of the ways you see Assistive Technologies / AAC benefiting students that you work with?

Assistive Technologies / AAC benefits students I work with by allowing them to be able to communicate with their peers and other staff members. In general, I’ve found that it is difficult for others to know what to say or how to go about talking to people who can’t respond on their own. By having this kind of technology, it takes down a barrier between my students and other kids or adults. It also allows my students to be able to request things they may need in a positive, effective way.

If you could choose professional development topics relating to instructional / assistive technologies that would be beneficial in your work with students?  What topics or areas would you like to learn more about?

I would like to learn more about how often we should model how to use this technology for our students. Is using their “talker” every now and then appropriate? If so, when are the appropriate times to model?

Reflection & Summary

We, the Saline Area Schools, will equip all students with the knowledge, technological proficiency, and personal skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly complex society. We expect that our students, staff, and the Saline Community will share in these responsibilities. Our ultimate goal is to instill in our students a desire for life-long learning.  

-Mission Statement, Technology Plan 2014-2017, Saline Area Schools.

The staff who support Gillian are taking great advantage of technology resources to support her and the learning of all students.   The classroom is equipped with a SmartBoard for the multisensory presentation and interaction with daily learning opportunities.  Her teacher, Natasha Boysal, not only uses some of her own created materials but also items such as News-2-You and other curriculum from Unique Learning System,

Unique Learning system is an award-winning, online, standards-based set of interactive tools specifically designed for students with special needs to access the general curriculum. Used daily in school districts and classrooms across the country, Unique Learning System provides preschool through transition students with rigorous, standards-based materials specifically designed to meet their instructional needs (https://www.n2y.com/products/unique/).”

The use of iOS devices in instructional technology in recent years has had a tremendous impact on special education and general education classrooms alike.  Staff members use both district devices and personal devices to interact with and support students with Saline’s innovative  BYOD or Bring Your Own Device initiative.  Those who have a personal device are encouraged to use them in the school setting in accordance with the district acceptable use policy which encourages responsible digital citizenship.  Use of iOS devices and ChromeBooks allow students to access curriculum in a collaborative learning environment.  Not only can paper be saved, but use of technology for accessing materials can help differentiate instruction and instructional materials on the fly.

Technology is also assisting ancillary staff in the therapy supports of students who may need speech, occupational therapy or social work services.  Speech Therapist Lin Nichols utilizes apps and technology to individualize therapy sessions and work on individual goals.  In her work with Gillian, the use of AAC technology allows both student and therapist to work efficiently on activities with speech output without the need to carry around binders full of velcro and laminated pictures.  While use of low to mid-tech learning materials may still be used on conjunction with voice output high-tech aac technology, it’s exciting to integrate them all together in supporting students with complex communication needs like Gillian.  Using the best of both older and newer technologies allows students to be supported with a vast array of possible materials.

Not only are teachers and therapists using technology to support students, but also paraprofessionals, especially if the student is an AAC user. Gillian’s primary support staff person, Karley Emeott, uses an ios-based dedicated AAC device to model language for Gillian and also to prompt Gillian’s use when needed to encourage requesting and commenting. The iOS device is locked into guided access to encourage constant availability and sole use of the AAC app. An AAC device, be it high-tech voice output or a low-tech laminated communication board can serve as a common ground or medium of exchange between the communicator and communication partner / listener.  Often the communication partner may be the support staff member, therapist or teacher, but it also can be the student’s same-age peers, resulting in lots of potential for peer to peer interactions.  Sometimes the communication partner or listener may feel they should not use the device, but current research and best practice in the study and practice of AAC says differently.  Aided Language Stimulation is the implementation and teaching strategy of combining spoken language while inputting symbols on an AAC device or communication board during a communicative exchange with an AAC user.   In simpler terms, this is known as modeling.

Modeling is also known as Aided Language Input or Aided Language Stimulation. It is a research-based strategy to help build a strong foundation for AAC use and language learning. In aided language input, when partners (parents, teachers, and therapists) talk with people who use AAC, the partners also use the same AAC system to communicate. This helps teach AAC by example in real-life interactions (http://www.assistiveware.com/support/faq/page/353).

Chris Bugaj SLP and AT Specialist from Loundon County Public Schools created a two minute PowToon video to help explain modeling / aided language stimulation.

How often should we model language for AAC user on their device or system?  It can be helpful to think of modeling on the device in the same way we would think of emphasizing important spoken words and phrases when trying to teach spoken language to typically developing communicators.  If the sensory processing differences and learning challenges of those with complex communication needs means that aided language input can result in the learning of more symbols, words and meanings over time, then modeling on their language system is a great strategy to implement as often as possible.  I love this graphic created by Rachael Langley AAC Specialist that illustrates the importance of  repeated exposure to aided language stimulation for complex communicators on their AAC system– comparing AAC modeled symbol-based language to the spoken language that is modeled for babies.

It can be helpful to think of modeling language at a language level just slightly above the AAC user’s current level of language use.  The AAC Chicks provide several examples in the following short video:

Overall, I am so impressed with the implementation of available instructional technology and assistive technology in Gillian’s LifeSkills classroom.  Staff are dedicated to fully utilizing available resources for both whole class, small group and individual instruction. They also express interest in receiving continual professional development opportunities to help with ongoing implementation. Special thanks to Natasha Boysal, Lin Nichols, and Karley Emeott for their help and participation in the creation of this instructional technology overview.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.