Top 10 Oscar Moments 2016


Happy Oscars! Whether you watched last night or you went to bed early, everyone is buzzing about the Academy Awards today. Our students shouldn’t be left out of the fun! Be aware that this activity is most appropriate for high school-aged students and older. There are some sensitive topics, like racism and sexual assault.

Use the embedded Playlist to follow along with some of the top moments of this year’s show and record answers on the downloadable worksheets (click below). One weird thing… The movie ‘Spotlight’ is listed as a ‘Who.’ Just don’t tell your SLP and we will be fine.

Download the worksheet here: Oscars 2016

And enjoy the corresponding videos below:


Happy Holidays!


Happy Holidays, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad, Happy Festivus, Happy New Year and Super Solstice! I haven’t written as much as I would have liked this semester due to a variety of (good) reasons, but I do want to share the way we wrote a class holiday letter!

First, I had everyone in the class complete an ‘About Me’ page… and I mean everyone! I had students, peers, and classroom staff complete them. I offered picture supported choices for students who needed the extra help, but others I only handed the template to.

After we completed the sheets, each student presented theirs to the class. We simplified some of the sentences for students who use AAC devices. For example, ‘One holiday tradition my family has…’ became ‘My family…’.

Lastly, I typed everyone’s blurb up and added it to a holiday letter! I wrote a little blurb and added a picture in the middle to tie it together. I am happy with how it turned out and I am glad that everyone was able to participate!

Holiday letter



Video Music Awards 2015


MTV’s Video Music Awards were last night and typical students (and staff!) are abuzz with talking about them. People are talking about what everyone was wearing, who was feuding, and which were the best performances!

I made an activity using BoardMaker Studio to allow students with disabilities participate in the fun while working on wh-questions. The worksheet goes along with the first ten videos on this webpage.

vmas 1 VMAs 2

You may want to skip the first few seconds of the Nicki Minaj vs. Miley Cyrus video since Nicki Minaj uses some profanity, but everything that was bleeped out on MTV’s production is bleeped out on these as well.

Some of the outfits and performances are rather…ahem…mature….as well, so I recommend checking them out before you decide to show them to your students.

On another note, I think I am getting too old for the VMAs!

Download the activity here: VMAs 2015

Conversation Cards


For a student with autism, conversations are hard. For a student with autism who uses an AAC device, they are even harder. For that reason, I created a deck of twenty conversation cards. I hope that this is the first of several decks that I will create.

The free download is here. They are printable and the fronts and backs of the cards print separately. I recommend mounting the fronts on card stock, cutting them out, and then applying the backs separately. They don’t match up correctly if you try glue the pages back-to-back. I laminated mine and that works well!

The cards are divided into different categories: giving compliments, what questions, where questions, when questions, and who questions. The ‘scripts’ are color coded to indicate when it is the other person’s turn to speak. Each card has two sides.

communication cards 1

Communicator A follows the green text. Communicator B uses the red text to respond. He/she may choose one of the options on the card to respond or come up with his/her own answer.

communication cards 2

Communicator A responds to B’s after school plans with a comment. No text is presented with the picture choices to avoid echolalic responses.

These cards are good practice for students who struggle with reciprocal conversation. I introduce them 1:1 and then use them at times when typical students would engage in conversations (i.e. eating a meal in the community, leisure times, etc.).

They are ideal for low-level readers and students who use AAC with a core vocabulary. When students need to choose an answer, picture supports are provided without text so students must practice word retrieval and are less likely to just read or type out the first or last choice.

communication cards 3

Communicator A (green) asks Communicator B (red) about his favorite place to eat.

communication cards 4

Here, communicator A will need to choose their response based on B’s opinion.

The free download is a PDF file. If you would prefer to be able to edit the file and you have access to BoardMaker software, leave a comment and I’ll send you the project file!

An idea that I have seen but haven’t tried is to have a conversation box. You can place it in the middle of the table during snack or lunch and have students pick a card to talk with a classmate. After he is done, he can put the card in the slot in the box!

conversation box

Happy conversing!



Students with significant needs require that the teacher focus on functional life skills, communication, and self-advocacy. In order to practice these skills as authentically as possible, the teacher will occasionally have to create stressful situations that require student action to correct.

Listen all of y’all it’s a SABOTAGE!!!

-Beastie Boys (duh.)

Today’s sabotage is brought to you by those people who insist that sitting at work will kill you.

While students were out sensory-breaking, bathroom-ing, and otherwise occupied, I collected the classroom chairs and put them in a storage closet. When students returned, there were mixed reactions. Some seemed not to notice any difference. Others seemed amused. Still others started looking around the room as if they were searching for the missing furniture.

Not one student commented that the chairs were gone.

Not one student asked for a chair.

The rest of the day was simultaneously hilarious and sad. It was funny to watch the students try their best to follow their schedules without chairs to sit in.

photo 5

It was sad that the students were not able to find the words to ask for the object when it was out of sight.

photo 3photo 4

The students were without their chairs for five hours of the school day yesterday.

photo 1

This morning, the chairs were still gone but I primed the language by projecting several pictures (including chair) with labels on the SmartBoard. With varying amounts of prompting, all students finally asked for their chairs within the first three hours of school.

This was eye-opening for me. All students had the capacity to ask for their chair. The vocabulary was in their devices if they used one and all students had demonstrated the knowledge of the vocabulary. All students had even asked for their chairs if someone else was using it. As soon as the chairs were out of sight, however, it was a different ball game.

These two days have reminded me that I need to be sabotaging more often in order to stimulate functional communication and provide students an opportunity to advocate for what they need. Typical adults and caregivers throughout their lives should not have to be in the business of mind-reading!

A Group Activity Flop


Lately, I have taught group activities that have fallen flat. My district uses the Unique Learning System and we were doing a lesson straight from the curriculum on the SmartBoard. In a nutshell, the lesson required the students to check boxes indicating whether certain items did or did not use electricity. There were three pages containing items from home, from school, and in the kitchen.

I multi-modally laid out the ways to tell if something uses electricity. I had actual objects on hand when possible. I talked, I sang, I basically tap-danced in front of the room to keep everyone’s attention.

The activity was a disaster. Everyone, students and assistants, tried to race through the lesson. People were talking over each other. Students did not engage with the actual lesson or material—they pointed to answers until an assistant or I gave them an ‘ok.’

I took a step back and just watched. Some students were sitting and stimming. Others were loudly talking or whining. Still others were pointing at answers and trying to read staff members’ faces until they thought they landed on a correct answer.

It wasn’t a group lesson at all. It had morphed into a carousel of staff members working 1:1 with students in a poorly designed lesson, with too much wait time and not enough student engagement.

I typically do three whole-class activities per week and I had the formula down pat last year. This year, the population has shifted—the attention span and ability level of my students has definitely increased. Additionally, fewer of my students have a formal diagnosis of autism.

As a result, I have rightly moved away from super-highly structured group lessons (technical term), but I have over-corrected. I need to re-establish some middle ground so that all students can engage meaningfully with the material, even if they are working on different skills.

I also need to make sure that I make my expectations for each student clear to the other staff in the classroom so they know what to focus on. Part of the reason the lessons have been failing is because the assistants and I are falling over each other trying to ‘fix’ it. If the design of the lesson isn’t any good, no amount of staff can right the ship during the lesson!

Finally Finished Administering the Dynamic Learning Map!


I finally finished administering the Dynamic Learning Maps ™ (DLM) test! Well, I found out that I was finished. I actually finished on Thursday last week. It just wasn’t clear that I was done because the interface doesn’t tell you. You just stop receiving tests in your KITE inbox. This made the end of the testing process rather anticlimactic.

The DLM project is pioneered by researchers from the University of Kansas. According to the form letter they wanted us to send home (and have signed by our building principal), the DLM is an “exciting process” with assessments that are “revolutionary and important to the future of educating students with cognitive disabilities.”

According to their website ( , the DLM project is a research-based “innovative way for all students with significant cognitive disabilities to demonstrate their learning. “ Interestingly, exploring the website revealed only three ‘research papers’: One was basically a 9-page definition of text complexity, the second was an attempt to simplify their learning nodes,

You know...Simplify.

You know…Simplify.

and the third was an evaluation of a pilot conducted by the good people at the DLM from which they concluded that everything was awesome.

It seems like the DLM researchers glossed over the teacher evaluation portion of their pilot evaluation. Most teachers (68%!) rated the assessment system a C, D, or F. Apparently, teachers only know how to rank things by grades. This poor response from teachers would indicate to me that another pilot is necessary before implementation.

The researchers used other comments, such as teachers asking for more symbol-supported text, as an opportunity to suggest that teachers simply need to be educated on what the DLM was all about rather than seriously considering that symbol supports might help students to perform on the assessments. In other words, teacher complaints were due to their own ignorance of testing strategies rather than due to the deficiency of test items.

My own experience with the tests was similar to those teachers’ who participated in the pilot. I know that different students received different testlets, so my own reflections will be short and sweet! I administered the tests to a young man with classic autism who uses an AAC device for expressive communication.

Inauthentic—My student understands the difference between pipe cleaners and band-aids. He knows that they are different, could sort them easily, and use the correct item functionally when necessary (when was the last time you used a pipe cleaner functionally?). He was awfully confused when I asked him to hand me one or the other due to his difficulty with auditory processing. The system likely logged that he does not know those items or the concepts of same/different, when this is not a fair or accurate conclusion of his abilities.

Frustrating—My student learns best with errorless learning. He gets frustrated when he does not know the answer and can sometimes demonstrate that frustration with aggression. Thanks, DLM! Luckily, we have been working on using calming breaks and I had a huge bag of Froot Loops on hand. Unluckily, he has learned, correctly, to ask for help when he doesn’t understand something. It broke my heart that I couldn’t help him. Instead, I praised the heck out of him whenever he gave me any sort of answer–correct, incorrect, building a tower out of the band-aids and pipe cleaners, didn’t matter!

Poorly Designed—When will these companies who make tests for students with significant disabilities, especially Autism, learn that you cannot list answer items from top to bottom, or left to right, and expect students to thoughtfully choose what they think is the correct answer? These students will usually choose the last answer when they are presented linearly! The answer choices need to be presented in a circle of sorts. To make matters worse, the DLM did not even off-set the answer choices and the questions were often embedded within a text. This made it extremely confusing—the student could not even guess at what the answer might be because he couldn’t visually discern which items on the screen were supposed to be the choices.

Just off-setting the questions from the rest of the text like this would have been an improvement to the on-screen presentation.

Good intentions with accessibility options, still falls short—The testing interface seemed to offer a variety of accessibility options for students. All students are expected to interact directly with the computer. I administered the test on an iPad and didn’t have trouble with accessibility. A coworker had a student who needed enlarged text and, as a result, only a very small part of the screen could be viewed at one time. The teacher eventually gave up, unchecked the visual impairment box on the student profile, and then presented the test items on the SmartBoard to allow for a larger view of the whole screen.

To conclude, I found that the DLM fell short of its own description of being “exciting” or an “innovative way for all students with significant cognitive disabilities to demonstrate their learning.” In the DLM’s defense, however, I don’t have a better alternative for a standardized assessment for our students with the most significant disabilities. The Illinois Alternative Assessment (IAA) fell short in its own way as well. I only hope that this is another stop on the way to the design of a minimally intrusive test that will highlight a student’s abilities in a meaningful way.