Communicating with Core Words

Posted by Gretchen Wood on 11/20/2020 7:00:00 AM

Have you ever heard someone say, “Every Child Deserves a Voice?” If you work in special education, chances are you have.  Its existence is heartbreaking but the truth of the matter is that some of our severely impaired students have been historically viewed as having No Mode of Communication. However in recent years, one diligent team has “No Mode” heading toward extinction. The Special Education teams in Greenwood Community School Corporation have been focusing on teaching students Core Vocabulary, or the words that comprise 70-90% of daily word use, for the purpose of Augmentative/Alternative Communication implementation. This approach focuses on the teaching core and fringe vocabulary words that are frequently used and relevant to the individual learner rather than context specific nouns. Once learned, these core words can be strung together to form meaningful two and three- words phrases. 

Each week, the team introduces a “W.O.W” or Word of the Week during whole or small group instruction where the students learn the associated ASL sign and locate the word within the 7 by 10 foot display of the home page of the ProLoQuo2Go application.  After the introductory learning, the students are saturated with the use of the word throughout the learning environment through daily instruction over the course of the week.  The teams also utilize flexible learning opportunities by labeling the areas of the room where the word could be used and featuring a bulletin board with related coloring activities, interactive vocabulary book, recommended app use, and activity sheets that highlight word use during transitions and gross motor activities.  After receiving a grant, the team added adapted books that coincide with the W.O.W to the learning target.  The use of these books provides a learning opportunity that is tied to a classroom curriculum and reflects skills targeted in general education such as answering WH-questions related to a story’s characters, setting, and plot. As the student’s functional communication has grown, teams have expanded the learning activities by sharing the weather report during morning announcements, and practicing language skills and device use on field trips to settings such as, a grocery store, restaurant, and nursing home. Through great efforts of the speech language pathology team, Core Word boards have been recently added to the playgrounds which allows student opportunities to communicate with their peers in a natural context.   

The teams’ efforts have resulted in tremendous student growth. Becky Pina, the Speech Language Pathologist at Southwest Elementary shared that one student, “went from touching fringe vocabulary words repeatedly "Elvis, Shrek, Shrek, unicorn, ghost, ghost" to producing 3-4 word sentences like "I want tablet please," and "this is me."  Core words provided him a way to communicate and he has even become more verbal in repeating the voice output of the Proloquo2Go app on his device.  Teaching him Core Words has made a huge difference.”  The Westwood Speech Language Pathologist, Cara Pyle, reported that every single student’s skills expand either verbally or through the use of the augmentative communication app. Through the use of sentence strips, students were taught sentence structure and fluidity of locating icons on their augmentative devices. This instruction provided them with functional statements that could be used all day such as, I need help.  The teaching of the W.O.W / Core Vocabulary has also had a positive impact on student behavior. Decreased communication skills often results in intense frustration and maladaptive behavior. By teaching students to locate highly motivating items on their devices, the team was able to decrease frustration and prevent emotionally charged breakdowns.

With the advances in technology, students that were previously viewed as have No Mode of Communication, now have a voice.  The success of the building Core Word vocabulary through the use of W.O.W instruction is an example of what educators can accomplish when they collaboratively plan, prepare, and implement a learning approach that provides multiple learning opportunities for students that rely on augmentative/alternative communication for social, functional, and academic engagement.  

Gena Swanagan Frazer, M.A., CCC/SLP

SLP Department Head