Monday, April 13, 2015

Autism Awareness Month: Make Social Learning Stick!

Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities by SLP and social cognitive specialist Elizabeth Sautter is a book all clinicians working with students with social learning and executive functioning challenges should have on their shelves! The book synthesizes the work of some greats in the field--Elizabeth herself, author of the Whole Body Listening Larry series, The Incredible 5-Point Scale creator Kari Dunn Buron, Leah Kuypers, author of Zones of Regulation, Emily Rubin of SCERTS®. executive functioning guru Sarah Ward, Michelle Garcia Winner of Social Thinking® and play expert Pamela Wolfberg-- into a practical how-to guide to teachable moments across the day. The book provides suggestions for structuring activities and scaffolding language and cognition at home, in the community, and around special events such as holidays. The goal of the book, above all, is to "make social learning stick" by emphasizing the power of the milieu and thus to maximize generalization of skills.

The book begins with a brief overview of cognitive factors in social learning, including sensory processing, regulation, language and theory of mind, but wastes no time in getting to its purpose: presenting functional suggestions of activities to build "social smarts" across daily events. These include themes such as starting the day, getting ready for school, meal preparation, play, chores, and other daily routines. Community themes target moments for learning while at the mall, supermarket, grocery store, restaurants, and other locations.

Each theme features talking points about "hidden rules" or expected and unexpected behaviors for the situation, as well as integration of "job talk" that "helps the child take ownership and become more willing to jump in and complete the task." For example, when asking the child to check the weather so as to plan for the day's events and clothing, one can say "You be the weather reporter." Also within each themed page are suggestions of activities and discussions that can help the child build observation skills, situational awareness, conversational language, organization and self regulation, among other areas.

Image from Make Social Learning Stick on Pinterest

The latter section of the book contains helpful gems: a glossary of social cognitive language, rationale for some of the evidence-based practices espoused in the book such as milieu teaching and social narratives, and visual strategies such as the 5-point scale, sample visual schedules, and conversational supports such as a web of "Wonder Question" starters to help the child come up with questions to ask other people (a sampling of these forms can also be found on the book's website).

To remain "on message" for this blog, as I reviewed the book I found many possible simple technology tie-ins. Technology, after all, is part of our "everyday routines" that the book promotes as context for social learning, and using technology can make visuals and information more accessible, as well as ease the process of creating visuals for children. Some examples:

  • Being the "weather reporter" as referenced above can be facilitated with an app such as The Weather Channel or simply asking Siri, "What's the weather?"
  • Visual schedules can be easily made with apps such as Pic Collage or Keynote (as can 5-Point Scales, as I outlined last week).
  • Asking kids to "match the picture" of a completed task or chore can be made more explicit by marking up the picture with Skitch.
  • Essential and frequently used pictures or visual supports can be saved to an album in the Photos app or as PDF to an iBooks collection.
  • Activities such as discussing the layout of the supermarket to promote executive functioning can be made more visual through a quick diagram in an app such as Doodle Buddy.
  • and so on...
For SLPs and others working with students with social learning challenges, this book can serve as not only an essential guide within parent training and consultation, but also contains many points that can shape our own therapy activities and use of teachable moments! The book can be purchased through Autism Asperger's Publishing Company.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Autism Awareness Month: Keynote and Displaying Visuals (and The Incredible 5-Point Scale)

I have always been a fan of using presentation tools like PowerPoint and Keynote in un-PowerPointy ways (i.e. no reading of bullet points). Presentation tools offer a flexible space to position and interact with text, images, and visual elements such as tables for a wide range of uses in therapy activities. Creating a weather journal, for example, is much easier in a presentation app because you can place the text and pictures (i.e. of the clouds) anyplace you want on the "slide"- thereby bypassing many formatting difficulties in the moment of working with the student. In our recent App-titude column, Nathan Curtis and I discussed how the desktop versions of Keynote or PowerPoint can be used similarly in telepractice activities to arrange and sequence personalized photos for targeting objectives such as verb and concept use, vocabulary and storytelling. You can add backgrounds, animation of slide elements, video and even audio to make activities even more engaging.

In another recent App-titude column, I discussed ways that apps can serve as visual tools to facilitate conversation and play, and tie in with approaches such as Social Thinking® and The Incredible 5-Point Scale. I had the pleasure of hearing Kari Dunn Buron speak last year, and she described how the 5-Point Scale was designed to tap into the "systematizing" strengths of students with social learning challenges, leading them to better perspective taking and empathizing (see the work of Simon Baron-Cohen). 5-Point Scales are an extremely helpful and versatile tool. They can be used in systematic, focused ways much like the implementation of an individualized social story for a student with more intense needs. For our students with more moderate or nuance-based challenges, instruction can include a repertoire of scales to be referenced in naturalistic activities.

Here's where I love the Keynote app for iPad ($9.99, free for any Apple ID linked to a device purchased after September 2013). A 5-Point Scale can be created simply within a Keynote Slide by using a table and colored fonts. Once the concept is established using a scale related to a target for your group, expand your students' thinking by creating other scales illustrating the range of social behaviors in other situations. The key idea is that the 5 represents extremely unexpected behavior or situations. Depending on the scale, the target can be a 1 (as in calmness) or a 3, as in moderation on a spectrum from too much to too little (as in talk time). Developing the language with your students helps them feel ownership for the scale and also gives you a good window into their thinking. The power of the tool is that it can spark discussion and gentle cueing, "I know this problem feels like a 4 to you. Remember what other kinds of problems we labeled a 4?"

Try developing your own scales in Keynote. Once created, to save the loading time (and potential of accidentally moving stuff around with your finger) tap the "share square" and "open in another app" as PDF, whereupon you can choose iBooks. Your scales will then be saved in the "PDF" section of the app for use in future sessions. 5-Point Scales are also excellent tools to extend into the classroom, as all children can benefit from social-cognitive strategies, and of course are great to send home. You can send your materials to anyone as PDF files from the Keynote app.

A file with a number of scales I have developed with students (silliness, a prank scale based on a recent discussion about April Fool's day and social judgment, one on the social thinking of Hide and Seek which was useful for an egg hunt and playing the game Snipe, and a few others) are available to be downloaded from Dropbox by clicking the image below. This is a PowerPoint file downloadable without a Dropbox account, so from your iPad you can tap Download, then Open In... and choose Keynote (once you have installed it) or use in PowerPoint or Keynote on a computer.

Click on the scale to download a template

Some resources to learn more about The Incredible 5-Point Scale are available at the website. Also check Pinterest for some innovative ideas about using 5-Point Scales. The Should I or Shouldn't I? games from Social Thinking are also good ways to start with Five Point Scales.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Apple Education "Lesson Ideas" iBooks

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Rhode Island Speech-Language Association's annual conference on the topics of "Pairing Picture Books with Apps" and using apps for content creation ("digital storytelling") for language development goals (see the Work with Sean page for some more info on the topics and locations of my presentations). With open-ended "blank slate" apps, you have a world of freedom in creating content to present to students or creating content in a language/executive function process with your students. However, it can be hard to know what to do with these apps, so it is great to see lesson ideas. Many of these can be found online--for example, search for "Pic Collage Education" to find many posts with examples of how that great app has been used in language-based ways.

Apple also has been endeavoring to publish resources that provide ideas on how to use apps in education, and now has a series of 5 iBooks. Take a look at Explain Everything Lesson Ideas (Free); like the others in the series (covering such apps as Puppet Pals, Stop Motion Studio and the coding app Hopscotch) includes video demonstrations, project examples and lesson ideas in various subject areas and age levels. The multimedia content of each iBook truly takes advantage of the eBook format, providing a great visual and interactive experience as you read. Looking at the projects, you'll easily see how many could be adapted to goals such as categorization, storytelling or following directions in speech and language therapy (see for example the "Beginning Letter Sounds Treasure Hunt" in Explain Everything Lesson Ideas).

From Puppet Pals HD Lesson Ideas

To obtain the books, first make sure you have the free iBooks app on your iPad or Mac. Search the store within the app for Apple Education and you will find the 5 free titles.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Social Stories™ and Book Creator

This week I am participating in Research Tuesday, an initiative promoted by Gray Matter Therapy to increase engagement in research relevant to therapy. You may have noted I like to do this anyway where I can be "on message" with this blog and also discuss technology tools that make our use of research-based practices.

For this post, I was interested in exploring research related to the use of Social Stories, Carol Gray's popular visual approach to describing situations and shaping students' behavior and use of scripts. Much information is available on Social Stories online and through Carol's books on the subject. Social Stories or story-based intervention has been included in a number of meta-analyses including one by the National Standards Project (2007) and another by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2014). Many of the studies have been small or single subject, but they are plentiful. Based on the UNC Report, I tracked down one of the studies to read individually, but you can examine these two larger reports to see how the practice of using social studies has been advanced as evidence-based.

Schneider and Goldstein (2010) conducted a study with 3 clients with off-task behavior during school-based situations such as class meeting and computer room usage. Details are as follows:
-Targeted social behaviors were generated by parents, teachers and SLPs and subjected to baseline data collection.
-Social Stories related to the situations were composed using Gray's suggested ratio of descriptive, perspective, and directive sentences
-The stories were produced and presented on paper with standard font and the use of Picture Communication Symbols for visual support.
-Students were read the stories daily and before the targeted situations along with simple comprehension questions and reinforcement by the reader.
-For all three students, a notable increase in on-task and targeted behaviors (e.g. listening, transitioning) was documented, with some variability, resulting in a "modest" effect size (1.33)
-The authors suggested further research on the effects of reading stories multiple times daily, at varying times, or composing different stories to target the same behaviors.

Of course we could benefit from studies of this topic of a larger scale; however, the idea of Social Stories is that they are meant to be individualized. My own experience with being part of teams using social stories includes both suggesting targeted stories and composing them. I have never been a friend of paper, and I always struggled with helping teachers and paraprofessionals keep such visual supports in an appropriate place and accessing them regularly. I also have generally hated inserting pictures in word processed documents as they tend to fly around all over the place--I have had more success with using programs like PowerPoint for these purposes. My experience also is that some students "love" their Social Stories but others can be bored by them, leading me to seek out other means of delivery or spin-offs of the method such as Power Cards, which incorporate students' interests in the discussion of target behaviors.

Of late, I have been recommending Book Creator (Free to try/$4.99 for full version) as a means for creating and disseminating Social Stories and other materials, and would suggest that it aligns with the findings the studies mentioned above. Yes, a Book Creator book is not the same as paper, but using the app has several advantages:
-A story created in Book Creator can not only include pictures and text, but also audio (perhaps recorded by the student himself) or video--aligning with the supported practice of video modeling. It is simple to insert personally relevant images such as the student's classroom in the book using the iPad camera.
-Stories can be shared in any format you want with Book Creator (which is why I recommend it over other creation apps that require uploading to the app's website) including emailing it to a teacher or paraprofessional as an ePub formatted book. ePub is a multimedia format that would carry the audio or video attached to the book, and can easily be opened in the iBooks app (Free) in an iPad attached to the student.
-The combination of all the above can pay off in student engagement!

There are a wealth of Book Creator tutorial videos on YouTube- but rest assured it is a very user-friendly app. I've taught Kindergarteners to use it!


Schneider, N., Goldstein, H. (2010). Using social stories and visual schedules to improve socially appropriate behaviors in children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 12(3), pp. 149-160

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chatterpix Kids

Chatterpix Kids (free) is a fun, simple app that allows you to turn any image into a "talking head" by recording a 30 second message. Apps that combine images and audio are prime targets for language as they lend context and engagement to your language objectives. Simply take or save a photo (this app allows you to save to the camera roll, so this is fair use copyright-wise unless you plan to export to YouTube or otherwise republish), slide your finger to add a "mouth" and record.

You can make this app part of a process by having your student write a short paragraph script (with a focus on your language objectives such as main idea/details, listing, sequencing or categorizing, or microstructure aspects such as complex sentences or pronouns), or treat it as an intervention context for students who don't do so well on CELF-5's Formulated Sentences. Chatterpix Kids gives us an opportunity to make therapy educationally relevant as well by having students describe curriculum-relevant people or objects.

Here, I am readying Boston's mayor Marty Walsh to talk about our terrible winter (note the mouth):

image via

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Twitter Book Club

Over the coming weeks, some colleagues and I will be reading and discussing the book Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Stemming from her popular blog of the same name, this book is a funny exploration of childhood, dog ownership, and other experiences through the author's writings and drawings. SLPs and educators might be interested in the unique and amusing narrative style and view of the psyche. Brosh's posts about her own journey through depression were noted to be extremely insightful when originally published on her blog, and are featured in this book. Despite this more serious content, the book is hysterical (this will be my second read--the first had me looking weird on a plane while shaking with laughter). Many of us could use a lotta laughs after this dismal winter.

In the words of the author:

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative—like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it—but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:
Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

How to join in:
-Buy the book. Using the iBooks or Kindle app is an attractive option as this is somewhat of an impromptu "club"  session and we'll be starting today, covering about 2 chapters a week. 
-Join in the discussion on Twitter by searching for and following the hashtag #slpbks. Yes, you need to be on Twitter. But of course it's ok to just "lurk."  I hope to see some of you there. 

For a preview of the first chapter, I'd recommend watching Allie herself reading "Warning Signs"-- a look back at her own development and "unexpected behaviors" as a child. Such as eating face cream.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Sentopiary ($4.99) is a new and very interesting app from one of the creators of Popplet (a favorite of mine) that has nice potential for use in targeting complex syntax. With Sentopiary, you can explore sentence building with students within two modes:
-The "create a sentence" mode lets you build leveled sentences (e.g. at level 1 with articles, nouns, pronouns and present-tense verbs whereas when you increase difficulty, tenses, adjectives, prepositional phrases and adverbs come into play)
-Similarly, the leveled "challenge" mode asks you to recreate a sentence using the above grammatical categories.

Check out this video to see how it works.

SENTOPIARY - Create - A Hungry Bull from eeiioo on Vimeo.

Sentopiary is fun and engaging, as well as aligning with research demonstrating the importance of phrase elaboration for development of literate language. Kahmi (2014) states "There are three basic ways to make sentences more complex: (a) noun phrase elaboration, (b) verb phrase elaboration, and (c) conjoined and embedded clauses." This app includes contexts for (a) and (b), but not (c)- so I wrote to the developer and requested that they consider this! They promised to do so for future updates.

Kahmi also writes "My general principle for targeting complex syntax in therapy is this: Target the meanings and/or functions conveyed by the syntactic structure rather than the structure itself"- i.e. to make the intervention pragmatically appropriate. This app would seem to contradict that principle with its emphasis on labeling the structures. However, the metalinguistic aspects do align with curriculum goals (e.g. identifying nouns and verbs) and clinicians can easily incorporate strategies to emphasize meaning as I often recommend "around the app" such as:
-incorporating sketching or visualization strategies about constructed sentences and at the same time increasing bombardment/elicitation of the structure.
-utilizing the app's potential for absurdity in constructing sentences.

So check out Sentopiary- looks like a great tool for a wide age range!

Boston area- EdCampAccessBoston 2015

Hi Folks,

I am happy to be helping out with a great, free event again this year- EdCampAccessBoston. Learn more about it below:

The Third Annual #EdCampAccessBoston
MARCH 21, 2015 (save the date and spread the word!)

WHAT is an EdCamp? An EdCamp is a FREE unconference for educators who love to further their learning.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience ― John Dewey

Watch the video below to get a better understanding:

EdCampAccess, in the tradition of EdCamps that have taken place around the world, is an unconference devoted to K -12 educators who work with struggling learners. It is not limited to special educators, but anyone who wants to reach students who struggle with reading, writing, organization, behaviors, executive function skills, etc. It will start with a student panel and then evolve into a "collaborative conference" where the conference attendees help to build and create the experience. As is the format for unconferences, we do not schedule any sessions; instead, we do so together as a group at the start of the day. Attendees may choose to facilitate a session, lead discussions or attend sessions of interest to further their professional learning.

Where: Marshall Simonds Middle School, 114 Winn Street Burlington, MA
When: March 21, 2015- Registration begins at 8:30, App Smackdown and prizes at 2:30, Closing remarks - 3:15
Cost: FREE
Patric Barbieri - @PatricBarbieri
Karen Janowski - @karenjan
Beth Lloyd - @lloydcrew
Sean Sweeney - @speechtechie

Interested in becoming an EdCampAccess SPONSOR? Learn more here.

REGISTRATION Ready to Register? Don't miss out on your opportunity to Register here!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

SpeechTechie is Five Years Old...Looking Back!

Next week marks my 5th Blogoversary! This is always a great time to look back at how this blog has affected my life- putting me in touch with all you great people via these posts, and sometimes in person! Thanks for reading!

Again looking back, I often like to compare analogue or even "retro" tools to the tools that are available to us today. "Sticker book" apps- those that let us make a simple visual scene- provide a good example. I always ask groups, "Remember Colorforms?" I certainly do- those low-tech (and Farily Priced) visual scene sets were often given to me as a reward for enduring some kind of epic shopping trip as a kid. Apps that let you assemble characters and objects within a scene are often FIVES-Friendly- Fairly Priced, Interactive as a creation tool, Visually representative of language, Educationally Relevant to Curriculum Contexts, and useful towards speech and language objectives, or "Speechie"

I have pointed people in the direction of the Buildo or ClickySticky apps for these purposes but was recently pleased to stumble across the free, simple, but context-rich Colorforms Revolution app.

Check out the app and consider the following "Speechie" activities:
-Create scenes with visual contexts for language targets (pronouns, verbs, elaborated phrases, causals). 
-Structure action sequences within a setting or add an initiating event or "Kickoff" in Story Grammar Marker® parlance (perhaps an absurd element from another set, as these are accessible in the app) to develop narrative skills. 
-Analyze the scenes and objects for articulation targets.
-Screenshot your scene and then use the image (App-smashing) with an app that allows you to add text (Pic Collage) or audio (Book Creator, Screenchomp). 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jeopardy Labs

As we wander down this road of technology integration, it's nice to see the development of web-based educational tools that are mobile-friendly. Historically, due to iPads not supporting Flash, many great resources could not be used in your Safari web browser on iPad. Jeopardy Labs (navigate to in Safari on your iPad or any web browser on your computer) stands as a step forward as a web tool that works anywhere!

Electronic versions of Jeopardy have been around for some years, but previously involved use of a rather complicated Power Point Template. Make one mistake--or download a template that has an error--and it could derail your whole activity.

In addition to being accessible from multiple devices, thankfully Jeopardy Labs is simple to use--and free! Create a game centering around:
-classroom vocabulary
-conjunctions- "make a sentence using..."
-morphological awareness aspects such as prefixes and suffixes
-social concepts, scripts or strategies

Your game will be saved under a password and you (or collaborating teachers, or students) will be able to access the game from any device. Consider also having students create the game with you--or for each other--which taps definition construction and other skills.