How I Increase Use of AAC in the Classroom
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
Hint: it doesn’t just happen on its own!
You did it. You got the assessment plan, completed a comprehensive speech and language assessment, and did trials to determine which AAC device or system will work best for your student. And now it’s here! It’s in your student’s hands and is going to help him communicate at school and at home! Congratulations, you! You’re a great speech therapist!
Now, you walk into his classroom expecting to observe him using his new device and it’s...wait. Where is it? It’s still in his backpack? No one’s bothered to take it out all day? Ughhh.
We’ve all been there. In grad school, I remember a professor telling me that the biggest problem with AAC was buy-in. Buy-in from the student, buy-in from the teacher, and buy-in from the family. Without buy-in, that AAC device is not going to be used. Because the people who interact with your student all day, every day don’t know how much the AAC device can help him until you show them.
A few years ago, I realized that I needed to come up with a quick, easy way to train classroom staff on how to support my students who had AAC devices throughout their school day. I needed to give them specific instructions and goals, and make sure they were achievable. So I created a one-page “AAC Participation Plan” for use in the classroom.
First, I collaborate with the classroom teacher to find language targets that will make an impact throughout the school day. I like to vary my goal areas, so I choose greetings, requests, needs, and descriptive language targets. Then, I find times in the school day that would be best for eliciting the target behavior. For example, if the teacher wants my student to make choices, I might create a target during reading for the student to choose between two books. The activity would be “Reading” and the target language might be “I want to read a book about ___.” If the teacher has a great morning meeting routine where the students go over the calendar and weather, I work with her to find ways my student can participate using his AAC device.
In the third column of the plan, I provide any instructions for classroom staff. These include instructions for modeling language on the AAC device themselves. So, if the classroom aide was asking what book the child wanted to read, I might give instructions for the aide to model “What book?” on the device. If the choices were a Splat the Cat book or Those Darn Squirrels, the aide could model “Cat or Squirrel?” I also give highly specific instructions for how to get to the pages in the AAC program where the target language can be found.
After creating the plan, I put it into action myself in the classroom. I work with my student multiple times, showing the teacher or staff how to model language on the device and prompt the student to produce the language targets on the plan. I show them how to collect data each day, by indicating whether the student produced the language target spontaneously, independently, or with prompts. I leave copies of the participation plan in the classroom on a clipboard, and check in throughout the week to see how things are going.
When the data shows that my student is consistently spontaneously or independently producing his language targets, fantastic! I update the plan by moving that language target off and adding something new.
You can download my free AAC in the Classroom Participation Plan Template in my TPT store.
Remember, in order for classroom staff to feel comfortable using AAC, you need to provide training and give them specific goals to aim for throughout the day. AAC can and will improve your student’s ability to communicate, as long as you set him up for success by supporting the people who work with him the most!
P.S. I’ve also used this plan with parents! We come up with a list of communication targets for the student to use at home, and I train the parents on how to model, prompt, and take data.
Now dust the cobwebs off those AAC devices and get your students communicating!