Thursday, June 26, 2014

Social Thinking Providers' Conference 2014

This past weekend, I was thrilled to be part of the Social Thinking® Providers' Conference in San Francisco, CA. I always leave this event (this was my third) with renewed energy and a ton of ideas informing my work, which nowadays centers around language therapy and a whole lot of social cognitive work with kids who have learning challenges in this area.

This year's agenda featured updates from Social Thinking founder Michelle Garcia Winner, of course, but also great presentations from prominent thinkers in social cognition such as Dr. Jed Baker, author of The Social Skills Picture Book among other works, and Kari Dunn Buron, creator of one of my favorite tools, The Incredible Five Point Scale.

Breakout sessions featured terrific information from Maryellen Rooney Moreau, creator of Story Grammar Marker, Jenny Sojat presenting a great therapy idea about teaching kids "levels of like" to address black/white thinking, Alana Fitchtelberg on great simple activities addressing the skills in the ILAUGH model, and Nancy Clements and Anna Cotton on Project Based Learning and Social Thinking.

Some specific ideas I walked away with:

Social Thinkng is about providing very accessible language to define super complex ideas at the level of therapy. (Michelle Garcia Winner)

It is very hard to teach kids "rules." Adults think it's awful to put a "Kick Me" sign on someone's back but if doing so with humorous or gentle intent, kids actually are showing each other they are "thinking of each other"- it's validating! Similar example, if a friend gets a good grade on a test an expected response can be: "You suck!" To kids that can handle it, we must teach nuance. (Michelle Garcia Winner)

A new concept in assessing and treating early learners in play contexts is the Social Thinking GPS (Group Play and Problem-Solving Scale): ME-based players are self-focused on their object-oriented play and include adults when adults join their attention "in a tunnel" or follow the child’s lead. WE-based players are emerging or emerged in their ability to socially attend to peers and able to engage in peer based play with varying levels of support. (Kari Palmer, Nancy Tarshis, Ryan Hendrix)

The idea around the 5 Point Scale is that more language is not working, so we systematize (see Simon Baron-Cohen's Empathizing-Systematizing Theory). Similarly, calming sequences are based on training of first responders and automaticity: "when this happens, we do this, this, and this." (Kari Dunn Buron)

Working with students around formulating "Levels" and sequencing items within them can target concrete thinking and build acceptance of shades of gray. Start with "Levels of Like" (e.g. foods, games) and creation of an "OK Line" can help students to compromise when making a group plan regarding an activity/compromise. (Jenny Sojat)

Try to avoid examples of "non-active listening" when working with resistant students (I recalled saying some of these myself, ruefully) :
• “There’s no reason to be so upset.” (Denial of Feelings)
• “Mrs. Peru was just doing her job.” (Defense of the other person)
• “I think you’re missing the point of the assignment, again.” (Blaming)
• “Just do it and get it over with.” (Advice)
• “That’s life. You don’t always get to do it your way (Philosophical response)
• “I feel so sorry for you!” (Pity)
"Sounds as if you (feel/thought)..." is a good way to start an active/empathetic listening statement. (Nancy Cotton)


And then our Ely Center staff took advantage of flying all the way from Boston to the West Coast to...go to a Red Sox Game!

---End Intermission---

Jed Baker, an amazing speaker, discussed the efficacy of peer training at middle and high school level in changing a school climate to be supportive of students with social learning challenges. He also mentioned that response cost systems (e.g. Class Dojo, taking away points) should be used with students who are disregulated with positive emotion, not negative emotion.

Students can build social cognition and skills through project-based contexts (see Project-Based Learning). These interpersonal effectiveness videos are great resources for expected and unexpected behaviors in contexts of working in a group.  (Nancy Clements)

Finally, I was very happy to be presenting at this conference myself. My session was a new approach for me, presenting 3 different apps (Pic Collage, Keynote, Toontastic) that could be used for Social Thinking along with an analysis of their features and presentation of examples of how I have used them. The participants then had time between each resource to brainstorm at their tables and add ideas to a collaborative digital "wall." This in-depth "zooming in" on resources was a lot of fun and those who attended added many great new thoughts on how the apps could be used for social development.

Here are the 3 walls on Padlet, below (just use your mouse to move around the wall and "hover" on any boxes hidden in order to read them):

I highly recommend getting to a Social Thinking conference soon!

Social Thinking is based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner. See for great products and free resources.

Disclosure: Author is employed by The Ely Center, LLC and is a contractor with Mindwing Concepts, Inc. for provision of blog content and professional development.

Friday, June 13, 2014

World's Worst Pet-Vocabulary

I am often asked about apps that build vocabulary and am at a loss for an easy answer. Are you looking for apps for basic or more advanced vocabulary? Do you mean semantics instead? There are many terrific apps that can be used to build semantic networks, categorization and description (take Bag Game, Naming TherAppy and Describe it to Me as a few examples), and though these skills provide the foundation for expanding vocabulary, this is sometimes not what the person was asking for.

What I often try to do is guide people toward context and repeated exposure, two principles of vocabulary development espoused in the terrific Bringing Words To Life by Isabel Beck (more on this in a minute), and again my answers aren't so straightforward:
-Read books and use Kidspiration or Inspiration to map or categorize vocabulary in context
-Keep a vocabulary journal in Evernote

While the above approach aligns with my philosophy about apps, i.e. that they are tools to be used as part of a bigger context, process, sequence of pre-/post- activities etc, it was really nice to find an app that can be used to develop vocabulary by providing content and context within an engaging package. I'm speaking of World's Worst Pet-Vocabulary (FREE!) from the folks at Curriculum Associates, which was designed specifically to develop Tier 2 Vocabulary (another concept discussed in Beck's book)- those high-frequency words used by "mature" speakers.

World's Worst Pet contains tons of content that can be worked with across 5 grade levels (grades 4-8 are suggested but with scaffolding, this can be used with younger grades in the same way kindergarteners learn Tier 2 words using Beck's approach). The concept is that Snargg, the world's worst pet, keeps bolting and you need to interact with vocabulary to "chase" him through a particular setting (e.g. a bakery) and retrieve him. You move vocabulary words to complete tasks such as matching words to the main idea of "book" titles, finding synonyms or antonyms, responding to questions/categorizing around the vocab words, or identifying examples/nonexamples. Your choices guide Snargg via steps, catapult, rocket, etc in engaging ways, and the app follows a commonly-enjoyed structure of encouraging accurate completion of each level by earning "pupcakes."

My favorite part of the app is that the sets of 10 vocabulary words are contextual, related, relevant to real life, and supported by student-friendly definitions (more Beck). The sets include topics such as words about performing (audience, popular, melody, public), words about going places (journey, roam, guide, proceed), and words about the mall (merchandise, extravagant, desire, vendor).

The levels and sets give you a place to start for students with weak vocabulary and a structure that might serve you (and them) over several years of instruction. You can challenge the students to complete each set perfectly, and the pace of the game will give you a lot of "air time" to discuss each word and provide additional models. Each level can be a doorway to activities over several weeks, including a suggested writing activity, and can be a topic of consultation with teachers so that there are multiple exposures to the words (as building vocabulary only in the "speech room" can have limited efficacy). EVEN BETTER, you can flip this model and use this app as the context for in-class programming, thereby facilitating vocabulary development in the classroom. Beck's book will give you many more ideas for wordplay activities to provide students with multiple exposure to words!

Let me know what you think of this app-it's one of my favorite finds this year. Thank you to Richard Byrne of iPad Apps for School for pointing it out.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Summer Professional Development

Summer approaches! Here's what I will be up to:

I am happy to be presenting at the Social Thinking® Providers' Conference in San Francisco this month (June 20-22). The topic is Zooming in on App Integration: 3 Apps and Divergent Uses for Social Thinking Instruction.

The Ely Center is hosting two sections of Mindwing Concepts' terrific Story Grammar Marker certification course, followed by a 3rd day focused on technology integration with Mindwing's narrative and expository text comprehension and production tools (I facilitate the 3rd day). The two sections will be held July 21-23 and August 18-20. See Mindwing's website for more information and registration.


Webinar for Administrators (please let your administrators, even beyond MA, know about this one)- Integrating the iPad for School Administrators, various dates.

Tell Me A Story: iPad Apps for Digital Storytelling and Explanimation (July 24, Waltham).

The iPad as a Social and Organizational Tool: Apps to Promote Social Cognition and Executive Functioning (August 21, Bedford)

Have a great summer!

Disclosure: Author is employed by The Ely Center, LLC and is a contractor with Mindwing Concepts, Inc. for provision of blog content and professional development.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Everything You Need To Know About WWDC 2014

You may be thinking, "I don't even know what WWDC is," which is fine. However, the Worldwide Developer's Conference is one of Apple's (usually 2) opportunities each year to announce what's coming next (in this case, this fall). Yesterday's Keynote featured a number of announcements that are important for SLPs and other language teachers to know about. Here's a brief rundown.

iOS 8 coming this fall: iOS, of course, is the brain of the iPad. New releases of operating systems not only add features to the device or change the look and feel (as iOS 7 did substantially), but also affect the way all your apps work and update. After an iOS update, many developers update their apps and add features--so if you don't or can't update the operating system, you would miss out on app updates. Even more importantly, if you are running an outdated operating system, this makes you vulnerable to security issues when you surf the web (e.g. and buy something with a credit card). Some main points about iOS 8:

iPad 2 users, you're still in! Apple deals in an element of "planned obsolescence"- as their software advances, sometimes the hardware has to drop out for the software to run properly. This has happened with the 1st generation iPad, which though still usable became technically obsolete when iOS 7 came out, as it could not be installed on that device. The rumors ahead of WWDC were that the new operating software would not be able to be installed on the iPad 2 (which is no longer being sold by Apple), but it seems we have a reprieve here, and your iPad 2 will be able to be updated. This is important for all the reasons listed above. Because I help integrate a cart of 30 iPad 2s at a local school, I also breathed a sigh of relief about this one.

QuickType is an advanced word prediction technology that will be available in the Messages app. This feature actually responds to your previous messages with any given contact and suggests words as you are typing that correspond with your communication style with that person. This will be a boon to people with print or other disabilities- I hope it will also be available in word processing tools eventually. You can see how it works here. In Messages you will also be able to record and send short audio messages that expire after playing, SnapChat style, and this is also a nice feature for those with communication issues.

App Store will have a number of enhancements making it easier to get information about apps, including App Previews, videos that developers can upload so you know what you are getting before you buy. This is essential information before purchasing dedicated SLP and other apps and will help you evaluate your potential purchases. Bundles of apps will also be available for the first time at discounted prices.

Passcode protection on everything including third party apps. This was not demonstrated so I am not exactly sure how it will work, but it seems to mean that you can set a passcode to prevent students from opening certain apps.

Family Sharing is a set of features making iOS like a "virtual refrigerator door" for families- the demos of sharing calendar items and reminders between family members look great for those with autism or executive function issues.

Health will be fostered through iOS 8 with a new app that synchs with now popular simple body-monitoring devices to track everything from sleep to blood pressure.

iCloud Drive is a new aspect of iCloud allowing addition of files from compatible apps. This may end up being easier to use than Dropbox or Google Drive, especially if you are using creation apps and "app smashing" a product from one app to another.

Metal is a new technology for creating apps that looks like it has great potential for interactive experiences that foster language. The Apple team demonstrated an amazingly detailed and interactive Zen Garden app (that, incidentally, will be available for free when iOS 8 is released).

Photos as always continue to improve with shooting and editing features, as well as easier sharing between devices, which you will want to turn off because beverages.

iOS 8 will be released for free this fall for iPad 2 and above, iPhone 4S and above, and will be available through your Software Update in Settings at that time.

Mac users: a new version of OS X called Yosemite (these operating systems are now named after California locations) will be released in fall as well. Its features include a new look and feel, translucency ala iOS 7 that brings a sense of context on screen, and many aspects that link your Mac to iOS devices. I am particularly excited to be able to AirDrop rather than email photos to my Mac, as I need to do this a lot when writing email updates to parents about therapy sessions. You can see a rundown of new Yosemite features here.