Month: March 2016

The Four Block Model for Students with Disabilities

reading buddiesLiteracy instruction for AAC users seems to be popping up frequently in Facebook groups, ATChats, and other blogs!  Unfortunately, it hadn’t been a focus of mine until this past year.  But now that it is, I’m excited to share what we’re doing!

I was very focused on making sure everyone had an AAC system to communicate.  And that IS an important step.  But I wasn’t focusing on WHAT comes NEXT?!  Last year, I listened to the presentation Carole Zangari did at the Minspeak PALSS webinar last year.   She discussed the importance of making sure our students become literate and shared the curriculum she is working on for preschool classrooms.  A couple of coworkers and I were psyched to try to implement something similar at school.  That presentation is not available but it’s similar to this one.  I highly recommend reading through it!

This school year I had the opportunity to go to presentations by Caroline Musselwhite, Gretchen Hanser, Karen Erickson, and Susan Norwell. They inspired me to just GET STARTED!  It took some time, planning, and convincing others to get on board, but we’re doing it!  The first step was describing the four block model to my coworkers and coming up with a plan to get them going!I strongly suggest reading the Four Block Model book for children with disabilities!  Here is a brief overview!

four blocks


Guided Reading – This block teaches students how to comprehend text.  The goal of this block is to increase background knowledge, vocabulary meanings, comprehension strategies, and reading fluency through repeated readings.  A crucial component to this block is to Anchor Read and Apply.

To be honest, some of our students still early emergent readers and not quite ready for this block!  But that’s why we work on shared reading with them instead.  Check out this presentation to learn more about the difference.

Self Selected Reading – This block is important as it allows student interests to drive an interest in reading!  This block helps develop expressive language, reading comprehension, and students’ ability to select interesting reading materials.  Teachers may help guide this block by providing students with books similar to the one they are looking at in Guided Reading or by encouraging students to pursue reading materials of personal interest!

Writing – This block helps students learn to independently write for real purposes.  This block utilizes shared writing, writing mini-lessons with revisions an editing, and writing on self selected topics.

Working with Words – This block is one of my favorites!  It’s purpose is to help students learn to recognize high frequency words faster and to decode and spell phonetically regular words.

Literacy Instruction for Students with Complex Communication Needs


I don’t know about you, but where I work, it’s often hard to convince people that our students have SO much MORE potential.  The first step is presuming competence but the second step is providing our students with the opportunity to learn.  So many students have been passed over and deemed unable to learn to read or write.

Often the students with more complex needs are passed over for actual literacy instruction.   I’ve actually heard the phrase “maybe they can learn read objects.”  I don’t even know what this means!  Good literacy instruction involves words and print!  Do I provide students with multi-sensory stories and use objects with some of my kiddos with vision problems, absolutely.  But it’s NOT the only instruction they should receive!

I’ve had the pleasure of going to many trainings and presentations this year about literacy and how the students I work with can benefit from literacy instruction.  To clarify – I work with students with complex bodies and complex communication needs.  Many are nonverbal, many are in wheelchairs with limited fine and gross motor skills, many have complex medical conditions, and many face low expectations set by those supposed to teach them.  After listening to Caroline Musselwhite, Gretchen Hanser, Karen Erickson, and Susan Norwell I couldn’t wait to get back to school and start putting real literacy instruction in place!

The first step was reading up about the Four Block model for students with disabilities.  The second step was ordering information about alternative pencils.  The third step was to convince a classroom to adopt this model and give it a try! With the help of a fantastic teacher, an incredible SLP, and an amazing OT; we’ve been able to get actual reading and writing instruction off the ground!  We’re 12 weeks in and I’m going to be sharing a series of posts about:

  1. How we got started!
  2. Getting staff on board 🙂
  3. Kinks we had to iron out!
  4. Lesson ideas
  5. Progress
  6. Getting other classrooms on board!

high expectations phrase


We need to raise our expectations and take the plunge!  Literacy is a basic human right and ALL students are entitled to literacy instruction.  Let’s make this happen!

high expectations fish

Adapting Candy Land!

Amanda received a grant earlier this year for adapting toys and games. We made a giant list of games and all of the materials we thought we might need to adapt them. Candy Land was at the top of the list. I had seen an idea for adapting the game with textures on Pinterest a few years ago (you can click here to see the original post) and wanted to add something similar to our game collection. Continue reading to find out how we adapted Candy Land for our school.


AAC Chronicles #7


It’s so frustrating to do an AAC evaluation, finish the trials, and submit the report to insurance and then have to WAIT for months until the student gets his device.  I have a student who is practicing on the school Accent 1400 with NuEye until his device gets approved.  He has the best sense of humor and has been rocking the device!

This week when I was working with him during a literacy “Working with Words” group, he used the device to say “look look” when the teacher forgot to show him the materials!  The next day his teacher asked if he needed to be changed and he quickly said “do want need!”  He’s been chatting up a storm and making sure everyone knows he is there and ready to communicate!

Such a nice change from a few months ago when he had no communication system!

AAC Chronicles #6


It’s both exciting and sad to be doing evaluations with older students who have complex communication needs.  To hear them say their first independent words and see them communicating for the first time is incredible!  But with it comes with a huge range of emotions – excitement and awe, hope for their future, and then an overwhelming sadness and urge to cry.  It’s so frustrating to see how much some of my students have to say and know that it took 18+ years for someone to believe in them and give them the tools they need to succeed!  How much farther along could we be if someone had done this years ago??

This week we did an AAC evaluation with a student who is 19.  He is unable to move except for slight head movements.  He often has his eyes closed and I hadn’t been sure what to do with him for some time.  His SLP and teacher showed him the Accent 1400 with NuEye and he was apparently cracking up to see his eyes on the screen.  So I brought it in last week, set him up, got it calibrated, and boy did he have a lot to say!!  He quickly advanced from 28 1-Hit with a field of 4, to everything unmasked, and then 28 Sequenced in a 30 minute period.  He actively explored all of the vocab and attended to the clinician’s modeling.  Soon he said “stop” and then closed his eyes to rest.  When he opened them, he said “go” and then got to talking!

We showed him the games on Look2Learn and then brought him back to the communicator.  He quickly said “play.”  His SLP modeled “want play” and he said “play want!”  His IEP is coming up and we asked him what he wanted to work on in the upcoming year.  I modeled that he could work on math, learning to read, going on the internet, etc.  His reply? “Xbox.”

Can’t wait to hear everything he has to say!

Making A Sandwich // PowerPoint Activity

This week, the students have been reading Pete’s Big Lunch as part of their Speech and OT co-teach lessons. Pete The CatThey have gone to the classroom “grocery store” and made a giant sandwich with this Sandwich Stacking Game.Stacking Sandwich Game

As a wrap-up lesson on Friday, we will be making actual sandwiches. I made a quick PowerPoint activity to accompany the lesson.

Make A Sanwich Activity

Sandwich Activity

Students can choose each ingredient and build a sandwich. The best part comes at the end when they get to watch the sandwich disappear as it gets eaten.

You can down load the PowerPoint activity by clicking here.

Let us know if you use the activity. We would love to hear how you used the PowerPoint to enhance your lesson.

Switch Scanning for Mobile Students

Switch Scanning

Working with students with complex communication needs, it is often difficult to figure out how we are going to provide the student with a robust language system when determining access may be difficult.  PRC’s CoreScanner™ is a robust language system that allows students to gradually increase vocabulary while maintaining consistent motor plans.

I have a student who is unable to make direct selections with her finger, so we started looking at two switches as an access point for her.  This made CoreScanner™ perfect for her, but she’s mobile!  She doesn’t have great body awareness so attaching the switches to her was not a viable option.  After some brainstorming this is what we came up with!

Back of Switch BoardWe cut an acrylic board to the width of her device.  We made sure to add holes that would align with the strap holes on the Accent.  There are small holes for the screws and larger holes so we can turn the switches off and change the batteries.  We attached PRC’s Freedom Switches to the device which work via Bluetooth so there are no extra wires hanging around!  Lastly, we etched the acrylic with the student’s name!

Back of Switch

The nice thing about this system is that it ensures that the switches are always attached and available with the device.  When we went to the Smithsonian a few weeks ago, I wore the device across my body and when the student wanted to talk, she would tap it.  I would move it around to the front of my body and she could talk!  When she sits a table, the board is flexible (on zip-ties) so it sits perfectly on the table in front of her.

She’s been chatting quite a bit and we’re all thrilled that we figured out a way to make this happen!