Language Competence: Don't Settle for a Piece of the Pie


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Presentation for the More Than Gadgets Conference, Perth 2011

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  • Let’s start by defining a few important concepts that will apply to our entire session.
  • Use example of Desi and Elizabeth to explain the idea of a baseline level of success.

  • Final point (read from slide)

    Even if you are competent in some situations and with some skills, you can continue to learn more and different skills that will allow you to participate in other situations and to use different skills.
  • Sample reasons come from SET-BC definition/goals.
    This idea comes back when we talk about social competence as well.
  • Self-talk
  • In my experience…
  • …Using receptive and expressive language skills to communicate functionally in the natural environment for a variety of purposes…(click)

    We are going to move into a discussion of the tools that we as verbal individuals use to achieve language competence. But first, what about defining the second half of our title: Language Competence: Don’t Settle for a Piece of the Pie.
  • Here is what the research says.

    Describe contents of article

    Reveal summary
  • Note, these summary points are her interpretation of research from several different authors
  • Let’s start with Quickfires.

    Most of us use Quickfires everyday but might not even know it. Let me give you a few examples.
    Think about a conversation you had on the phone with someone. As they were telling you about their day, what were you saying? Probably things like “OK,” “really?” “yeah,” or “no way.”
    Alexander (Kristin’s husband) is tall and athletic looking. Everyone thinks he must have played basketball at least. In reality, though, he does not really like sports. Alexander had a 20 minute conversation about football with someone while they were on the elliptical machines at the gym simply by saying “yeah,” “that’s right,” “I don’t know,” “wait,” and “look” (with a point to the TV on the wall).

    In both examples, people took their turns in a conversation using words that fit the definition of Quickfires. Quickfires are short, quick messages that allow for timely interaction. The same words can be used in many different conversations. Quickfires are powerful because they allow individuals to meet various communicative functions like expressing opinions, providing directions, simply interacting socially, being polite, or managing how the conversation is going. It is pretty powerful to be able to use a relatively small number of words to serve all of these functions.

  • Now let’s look at “My Phrases.” Unlike Quickfires, which are mostly single words, my phrases are complete thoughts that have a specific purpose. Still, they are complete thoughts that are useful in multiple different conversations.

    In our conversations, we use My Phrases to serve a variety of functions. For example, common greetings such as “How are you “ or “What’s up?” are considered My Phrases. Comments like “I like this” or “That’s not fair” would fit into My Phrases as well. Many statements about basic needs, like “I’m hungry” or “I’m tired,” fit here because we say them in multiple different conversations not just while we are in the kitchen or the bedroom. Finally, we all know people who have sayings that we associate only with them. One of my co-workers (Linnea) says “For the love of Pete” all the time. Add additional sayings that you, or people you know use a lot.


  • Now, let’s move on to our 3rd piece of the pie, Common Constructions.
    Most of you will probably identify with Common Constructions because if you have someone using a communication device you have probably brainstormed about them. You might have asked “What does Johnny need to say during circle time?” or “What does Tricia need to say at the grocery store.” Most of the things we identify as vocabulary needs for those specific contexts or situations are what we call Common Constructions. Common Constructions are messages—mostly phrases or sentences—that are typically or frequently said by individuals in a certain context. Common constructions may not be appropriate in other situations but they are very useful in that one setting.
    You may wonder how you and I use Common Constructions in everyday life. Let’s think about a few situations. What are things you, your students, your children, or your friends say:
    While riding in the car? (ask for suggestions)
    While watching TV? (ask for suggestions)
    Sometimes, we have common constructions that have some variation built in. For example, in the morning we might say “I want peanut butter toast” one day but “I want cereal” the next day and “I want waffles” the next day.
    If we can predict messages, whether they are static or have some variation built in, giving our AAC users access to these messages can really help them to be more efficient, especially in routine or familiar situations.

  • There are two other articles in this series as well. KW need to review these.

    Hoag, L., Bedrosian, J., McCoy, K., & Johnson, D. (2004). Trade-offs between informativeness and speed of message delivery
    in augmentative and alternative communication. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 1270 – 1285.
    McCoy, K., Bedrosian, J., Hoag, L., & Johnson, D. (2007). Brevity and speed of message delivery trade-offs in augmentative
    and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23, 76-88.
  • Note, these summary points are her interpretation of research from several different authors

    Make note that this is what we refer to as Language Structure
  • This is where we come back to the pie illustration.

    Each of the language elements I have just introduced is a piece of the pie.
  • We want a balance between the language use elements and the language structure elements.

    One argument I hear when I present this idea of balance is, “but if someone can spell, they can communicate anything so isn’t that the goal?” Or, if the individual isn’t literate I might hear “we need to teach her to put words together—then she can say anything she wants.”

    It is true that someone who is literate could use a keyboard to spell absolutely anything. It is also true that an individual who can use a core word strategy can put together just about anything. HOWEVER, using a keyboard or a core word strategy might not actually allow individuals to meet all of their communication needs or serve all communication functions. How can this be?

    Let’s look at a few examples.
  • Intro Rick.

    Uses communication software (not from DV) that is spelling based—text-to-speech.
  • This article appeared in Runner’s World several years ago.

    I say, “Rick uses a communication device via scanning. The reporter asks him a question and here is what he wrote”

    I read from “Y, he types. Then, three minutes later…” till the end of that paragraph. I say “the reporter thought he was answering yes and began to ask another question. Rick wasn’t finished so he continued on for half an hour!” Then I read the first bolded sentence. I read the entire message from “Yes, the disembodied electronic voice says…. To the end of that paragraph.”

    I finish by highlighting that the whole exchange so far took 45 minutes and make some comment about how long that really is. How many people would wait that long to get an answer?

    (click) This is a great example of what can happen when we don’t have balance.

  • Here is another way of looking at the same imbalance. Intro Justin and show video. Using a combination of spelling and single words in this clip.

    12 seconds may not seem like a long time to us (especially compared to 45 minutes for Rick). But…it was too long for this waitress.

    Would having access to Quickfires (wait please) or My Phrases (Please wait while I finish my order) or even common constructions (with frequently ordered items) have helped him be more successful? They certainly would have helped him be more balanced (click)
  • It works the other way too—how many individuals do you know who have had boards or pages like this (click) with no way to change from requesting apples or pretzels to requesting string cheese.

    Or boards like this (click) where they can ask for bubbles but not really be able to say who should blow the bubbles or comment about big bubbles or small bubbles or pop bubbles.
  • It isn’t just me thinking about this—it is supported by others.
  • Final point--the balance is not the same for every AAC user. Since AAC users have different skills it makes sense that they will use language use and language structure elements differently. We can make some generalities though.

    Emergent communicators are individuals of any age who are just starting to understand and use symbols for communication. They may have several other means of communication, like facial expression, body language, gestures, and/or behaviors (either socially appropriate or challenging) but they are just starting to add symbols to this mix. It is important for this group of communicators to experience success. To do this, they must have access to clear and simple symbols that they can use in motivating, everyday activities. Based on our descriptions of vocabulary, it makes sense that they would use a larger percentage of language use elements and a smaller percentage of language structure elements. If you notice in the chart, Quickfires, My Phrases, and Common Constructions are all pretty even. Word Lists come next, mainly because the communication partner can use these to introduce new vocabulary. Keyboards and Core Words may be present but not used regularly.
  • Context dependent communicators generally understand both spoken language and symbols better than emergent communicators. In fact, they are beginning to combine two or more symbols to create a variety of messages. Generally, they still do best in familiar, routine situations or with familiar communication partners but they are building on this. They are also building on literacy skills. As a result, context dependent communicators will use all of their language elements more evenly—although keyboards and core words are still the smallest percent of the tools they use they have grown significantly from the emergent level. The language use elements are still important because they will support successful communication in familiar and routine situations.
  • Finally, independent communicators are individuals of any age who are basically able to do what their same-age peers can do—just with additional tools. They understand language well and can use it in flexible ways to meet a variety of needs. Their literacy level is on par with their peers. When we look at how an independent communicators’ pie is divided, we see that core words and keyboards are used more often, but that Quickfires, My Phrases, and Common Constructions remain important. This allows independent communicators to have efficient communication when appropriate and creative communication when appropriate.

    In all three groups, the balance is different but there still IS a balance between language use and language structure.
  • Once you have specific needs, goals, and activities, you can start teaching! Here are a few teaching strategies that will help teach ANY of the language elements.
  • I show the video of Jerome before I talk about the bullet points. The clip has lots of negative communication partner behaviors in it. I show the video and then have the audience name the different negative behaviors.
    Talking on phone
    Talking with other staff
    Asking questions but providing no support for Jerome to respond
    Misinterpreting his gesture
    Asking questions but not responding when he answers
  • This tool is a visual to remind you of what it takes to create a positive communication environment.
  • Both pictures launch video clips of PAI
  • Bethany offered these ideas to add to the discussion of PAI:

    What if I gave you the handouts today in Swahili and asked you to participate in all the activities. This is what we do with our AAC users—give them something that they don’t understand and expect them to just use it. PAI let’s them see what to say and when to say it.
    Often, all AAC users see us doing on their device is programming. This probably looks a lot like pushing random buttons as quickly as possible to them. Is it any wonder they “play” with their device sometimes—isn’t that what our use looks like? Doing PAI helps them to see the actual use for the device.
  • This tool is a great way to plan ahead for ways to sabotage. You could use one of your priority activities and think about all different ways to sabotage it. Not that you would do all of these at one time but this way you don’t have to think on the spot, you can just check your worksheet before starting an activity. May want to post this in the part of the room where the activity happens.

    Not only is this worksheet on the toolkit, there is a guide for how to teach this (and other) communication partner strategies.
  • Once you are into the Implementation Toolkit, you will see a place to either search for resources or find them in collections we call “Learning Paths.”
  • To help both the communication partner and the user understand the concept.
  • Language Competence: Don't Settle for a Piece of the Pie

    1. 1. Language Competence Don’t Settle for a Piece of the Pie
    2. 2. Jane Farrall Speech Pathologist AAC Support Services Manager
    3. 3. Introduction to Language Competence • Language (linguistic) Competence • Receptive and expressive language • Learning and using • Vocabulary • Sentence structure • Pre-programmed messages 3
    4. 4. Introduction to Language Competence • Examples of Linguistic Competence (SET-BC, 2008) • Communicate preferences and interests using patterned phrases • I want... • I like... • I am... • Communicate requests for school or personal objects • I need my walker. • I need a drink. • Ask and answer basic questions (scripted, prestored) • My name is Sarah. What is your name? • I went to the movies. What did you do on the weekend?) • What’s that? 4
    5. 5. Introduction to Language Competence • Communicate requests and comments using simple generative sentences • “I + want+ book” • “Dad + like(s) + pizza” • Construct simple grammatical sentences using present and past tense (then future tense, then complex and compound sentences) • Use descriptive language • Funny • Big-little • Happy-sad 5 •(SET-BC, 2008)
    6. 6. Introduction to Language Competence • Participate in familiar, real-life situations using scripted patterns and/or generative language • Ordering food in a restaurant • Participating in circle routine in school • Playing a card game • Complete written and oral components of grade level assignments independently • Write an essay • Give a presentation • Participate in small group • Understand and discuss linguistic structures and forms and how this relates to their communication system • Verbs and verb tenses may be entered separately 6 (SET-BC, 2008)
    7. 7. Introduction to Language Competence • Part of a larger concept called communicative competence • “The ability to communicate functionally in natural environments to meet daily communication needs” (Light, 1989) • A baseline level of success in a communicative opportunity based on the demands of that situation • Composed of 4 parts—linguistic, operational, social, and strategic7
    8. 8. Introduction to Language Competence • Linguistic Competence • Receptive and expressive language • Learning and using • Vocabulary • Sentence structure • Pre-programmed messages 8
    9. 9. Introduction to Language Competence • Operational Competence • Skills related to the maintenance and operation of the AAC system • Accessing the system (e.g.., touch, scanning, etc) • Positioning the system • Adjusting the volume • Charging the device • Programming the device • Troubleshooting common technical problems, etc. 9
    10. 10. Introduction to Language Competence • Social Competence • Skills needed to communicate effectively and in socially appropriate ways to: • Interact with others • Gain attention • Introduce a topic • Change a topic • Make comments • Ask questions • Communicate about a variety of topics • Use a variety of communicative functions 10
    11. 11. Introduction to Language Competence • Strategic Competence • Strategies to overcome or minimize the functional limitations of AAC • Slower rate • “Computerized” speech • Strategies to prevent or repair communication breakdowns • AAC user doesn’t understand • Communication partner doesn’t understand 11
    12. 12. Introduction to Language Competence • Communicative competence is NOT • An ending point • An indication of “perfect” communication skills 12
    13. 13. Introduction to Language Competence • Part of language competence is being able to communicate for different reasons • Preferences and interests • Requests for school or personal objects • Ask and answer basic questions 13
    14. 14. Introduction to Language Competence • Communicative functions (Light, 1988) • Social closeness • “Can I tell you a story?” • “Let’s get together for coffee” • “Kiss please” • Social etiquette • “Please” • “Sorry” • “I really appreciate all of your help” 14
    15. 15. Introduction to Language Competence • Communicative functions (Light, 1988; con’t) • Information transfer • “My children went to the beach this summer” • “Two plus two equals 4” • “Big truck” • Wants and needs • “I need my glasses” • “I would like to wear the red dress with the pink tights” • “More juice”15
    16. 16. Introduction to Language Competence • Communicative functions—additional • Internal Dialogue • “Remember the library book” • “First I have to listen to the story, then I can swing.” 16
    17. 17. Introduction to Language Competence 17
    18. 18. Introduction to Language Competence • So, if language competence refers to… • Receptive and expressive language • Communicate functionally in the natural environment • Variety of functions 18
    19. 19. Elements of Language—Part One • Lieven, E., Behrens, H., Speares, J., Tomasello, M. (2003). Early syntactic creativity: A usage based approach. Journal of Child Language, 30, 333-370. • Those of us who speak construct our utterances by combining rote-learning forms/memorized chunks/strings of words and phrases with variable slots into which we insert appropriate categories of words/phrases. • We need consider how to provide AAC users access to these language forms with variable slots across the age ranges in addition to the ability to construct language word-by-word or letter-by-letter. 19
    20. 20. Elements of Language—Part One • Clendon, S. (2006). The language of beginning writers: Implications for children with complex communication needs. Unpublished dissertation. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. • Rote language forms and memorized “chunks” may comprise as much as 70% of the language produced by verbal communicators • Formulaic sequences include: • idioms (e.g.., that’s the way the cookie crumbles) • sentence frames and builders with open slots (e.g., Could you pass the ____?) • standard situational utterances (e.g.., “Can I help you?” or “What are you getting?”) 20
    21. 21. Elements of Language—Part One • What does this mean? • We as verbal communicators use language “chunks” to communicate • In routine situations • Routine messages in ANY situation • Efficiently • Successfully • AAC users should have access to the same language “chunks”! 21
    22. 22. Elements of Language—Part One • Language use vocabulary includes • Elements that encourage successful day-to- day interaction. Makes use of preprogrammed words, phrases, and sentences for a variety of different contexts. Three types of messages: • Quickfires • My phrases • Common constructions 22
    23. 23. Elements of Language—Part One • Quickfires • Short, quick messages that allow for timely interaction • A part of many different conversations • Messages that serve multiple functions • Express opinion • Provide direction • Social interaction • Social etiquette • Interaction management 23
    24. 24. Elements of Language—Part One • My Phrases • Complete thoughts that have a specific purpose and may be used in multiple different conversations • Various categories of formulaic sequences (Wray, 1998) • Greetings • Comments • Questions • Sayings • Standard situational utterances (e.g.., Can I help you?) 24
    25. 25. Elements of Language—Part One • Common Constructions • Messages that are typically or frequently said by individuals in a certain context • Not necessarily appropriate in other contexts • Can be both phrases and sentences • Can have variable elements 25
    26. 26. Elements of Language—Part Two • Bedrosian, J., Hoag, L., & McCoy, K. (2003). Relevance and speed of message delivery trade-offs in augmentative and alternative communication. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 800 – 817. • Subjects in this study (sales clerks) preferred a precise and 100% relevant message, even if it took longer (1.5 min) to produce • “Message relevance had the most positive impact on attitudes toward the AAC users and their communication” 26
    27. 27. Elements of Language—Part Two • Clendon, S. (2006). The language of beginning writers: Implications for children with complex communication needs. Unpublished dissertation. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. • Creative language systems allow the freedom to say what is unexpected • They also prevent speech from sounding too repetitive and clichéd 27
    28. 28. Elements of Language—Part Two • What does this mean? • We as verbal communicators sometimes access single words and put them together to meet our needs • Communicating in new contexts (not routine) • Being highly accurate (precise or detailed) • Successfully • AAC users should have access to the same individual words (or spelling)! 28
    29. 29. Elements of Language—Part Two • Language structure vocabulary includes • Elements that facilitate the development and use of higher level language and literacy skills. These elements allow access to grammatical components and the creation of novel messages. Three components of language structure are: • Word lists • Keyboards • Core word strategies29
    30. 30. Elements of Language—Part Two • Word Lists • Single words that fit into a category (food, drink, action) • Can be used alone, but typically used with other messages for description or clarification • Can be used in conjunction with core words 30
    31. 31. Elements of Language—Part Two • Keyboards • Promote participation in literacy activities • Allow spelling of any words (within abilities) • Utilize word and phrase prediction 31
    32. 32. Elements of Language—Part Two • Core Word Strategies • Single words to combine to create phrases and sentences • Tools to learn/use grammatical skills • Do not require literacy skills to use 32
    33. 33. Balance of Language Elements 33
    34. 34. Balance of Language Elements 34 •Language Use • Quickfires • My phrases • Common constructions •Language Structure • Word lists • Keyboards • Core word strategies
    35. 35. Balance of Language Elements • Rick Hoyt • With father, Dick Hoyt • Marathon runner • Triathlete • AAC user • Has Cerebral Palsy • 35
    36. 36. • “Letters appear on a small screen at Rick's eye level. He twitches his head to move the cursor through the letters, double-twitching when he wants to select one. Each twitch requires a concentrated effort. As he works, his arm waves spasmodically, occasionally getting caught in the computer wires. He is asked, "Do you ever have a bad race?" Rick considers for several moments, then sets to work. He scans down the letters, each twitch of his head accompanied by a small electronic beep, like a bird chirping. Y, he types. Then, three minutes later, E, and, after a similar interval, S. The next question comes, but Rick isn't finished with the first one. W...three minutes...H...three minutes...E...three minutes, and so on for a half hour. Rick communicates no sense of frustration or impatience. "Yes, when the weather is too cold..." finally appears on the screen. The reply is read aloud, but Rick still isn't finished. The twitches and chirps continue. And then the full reply sounds through the voice synthesizer. "Yes," the disembodied electronic voice says after several more long minutes, "when the weather is too cold and the women are too covered up." Rick laughs, his face twisting into a grin, his shoulders shaking. Forty-five minutes after the first question, the next one comes. 36 • ag_hoyt.html
    37. 37. Balance of Language Elements 37 • Justin Birch • Active in his community • Presents at national conferences • AAC user • Had a brain aneurysm • http://www.dynavoxtec etails.aspx?id=74
    38. 38. Balance of Language Elements 38
    39. 39. Balance of Language Elements Quickfires My Phrases Common Constructions WordLists Keyboards CoreWord Strategy
    40. 40. Balance of Language Elements • Todman, J., Alm, N., Higginbotham, J. & File, P. (2008). Whole utterance approaches in AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 24:3, 235 — 254 • A word construction strategy can compliment pre- stored messages in less anticipated situations or when specificity is critical • Need to move between pre-programmed utterances and the ability to construct specific novel messages when needed • Caution: remember that devices should be designed to promote social interaction rather than just generate speech40
    41. 41. Balance of Language Elements • Wray (1998): We need to use formulaic language to support efficient conversations and “save” our creative language for when we must be precise • Blockberger & Sutton (2003): Providing sentences, phrases, and single words is the best approach given “what we know now” 41
    42. 42. Balance of Language Elements • Emergent Communicators
    43. 43. Balance of Language Elements • Context Dependent Communicators
    44. 44. Balance of Language Elements • Independent Communicators
    45. 45. Teaching Language Elements • Introduction to language competence • Why do we communicate? • How do we communicate? • All communicators • Individuals with complex communication needs • Balance of language elements • Teaching language elements • Tools 45
    46. 46. Teaching Language Elements • Teaching strategies • Positive communication environment • Partner augmented input • Sabotage 46
    47. 47. Teaching Language Elements • Positive Communication Environment • Expectations and communication partner behavior make a huge difference! • Positive environments foster communication in many different ways. 47
    48. 48. Teaching Language Elements Creating a Positive Communication Environment 48
    49. 49. • Aided Language Stimulation (ALS) • Pointing to pictures while you are talking • With no expectation for the AAC user to point to pictures 49 Teaching Language Elements
    50. 50. Teaching Language Elements • Benefits of ALS (references on resource page) • Natural receptive language training • Variety of communicative functions such as questions, comments, greetings, requests, etc. • Hear a wide variety of available vocabulary • An immersion approach • How to communicate (what to say) • When to communicate • Why to communicate • Demonstrates that AAC is acceptable • Can lead to AAC users using their device! 50
    51. 51. Teaching Language Elements 51 • “The average 18 month old child has been exposed to 4,380 hours of oral language at a rate of 8 hours/day from birth. • A child who has a communication system and receives speech/language therapy two times per week for 20-30 minutes sessions will reach this same amount of language exposure in 84 years.” •(Jane Korsten, recorded at: c/consider.php)
    52. 52. Teaching Language Elements • Sabotage • Sabotage requires a communicative response • Sabotage changes the way an activity typically happens 52
    53. 53. Teaching Language Elements Sabotage Worksheet 53
    54. 54. 54
    55. 55. 55 •Teaching Vocabulary in InterAACT Learning Path
    56. 56. Teaching Language Elements • Examples • Introduction to language elements • Lesson plans • Brainstorming 56
    57. 57. Teaching Language Elements 57 Introduction to Language Elements Quickfires: Big Impact! Little Words! Turn computer speakers on while watching video.
    58. 58. Teaching Language Elements • Introduction Video • Role Play • Locating Quickfires • Choral Practice • Errorless Practice • Yes/No • Twenty Questions • Specific Quickfires (Bingo) • Combining Quickfires • Initiating • Specific Functions (Sorting) • Role Play • Scripting • Real Life 58 Lesson Plans
    59. 59. Wrap-Up • Language Competence • “The ability to communicate functionally in natural environments to meet daily communication needs” (Light, 1989) 59 Information Transfer “This” “is” “my” “brother” (Core Words) “His name is Sebastian.” (Common Constructions) “S” “E” “B” “A” “S” “T” “I” “A” “N” (Keyboard) “Brother” “Easter” “Eggs” (Word Lists) “Look” “Mine” “More” “There” (Quickfires) “I love to do this.” (My Phrases)
    60. 60. Wrap-Up 60 Wants and Needs “Let’s” “go” “to” “the” “pool” (Core Words) “I want a glass of wine.” (Common Constructions) “C” “O” “C” “T” “A” “I” “L” (Keyboard)“You” “Me” “Pool” “Drink” (Word Lists) “You know” “OK” (Quickfires) “I’m thirsty.” (My Phrases)
    61. 61. Wrap-Up • “AAC treatment philosophy stresses the functional value of communication and the use of any strategies and technologies to achieve successful communication.” (Ansel & Wienrich, 2002) 61