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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

iLanguage: creative language teaching using the iPad

The visual touch screen interface of the iPad brings many possibilities for creative language teaching - today I'd like to share with you a few of the ideas (and apps) that I've been trying out in recent therapy sessions with ASD individuals:

1. Action verbs:

Concrete nouns are relatively easy to teach using objects and static pictures. But action verbs are more complicated because they (by their nature) involve movement - so it's hard to be certain that what the therapist thinks they're teaching is what the student is actually learning.

Here's a short video showing Adam creating sentences using Word Mover (a creative writing app that works like magnetic fridge poetry). I would give Adam one or two words, he would add more and put a sentence together. Then we used Stop Motion Studio Pro HD (an iPad animation app) and small clay figures to "illustrate" the sentence meaning - because the end product was a film clip, rather than a static picture, it was easier to see what Adam understood and where he might have gaps in his interpretation of the language meaning:

Here's another video showing Kevin using Word Mover, traditional pen-paper drawing and FlipBoom Cartoon (a different iPad animation app) to illustrate the meaning of a short story he wrote (using one of the words he had just spelled in Montessori Crossword, another app I really like for the structured way it connects written letter patterns to the word sound patterns):

And here's one more video (from Kevin's session today) where I would give Kevin a verb (in Word Mover) and then he would write a complete sentence using that verb. He uses both pen-paper drawing and the FlipBoom Cartoon animation app to illustrate the meaning of the sentences he's written. (note: I am a big fan of grammatical errors - they show me that I'm getting original generative language rather than rote language chunks):


2. Creative Writing:

The Word Mover app is also useful for writing "starters" and inspiration. You write one or more words and then let your student write additional words and arrange the words into a sentence. I'm finding that the "puzzle" nature of the exercise and the ability to modify (add/delete/rewrite) without visible "errors" at the end is encouraging more risk-taking (trying out words that are not well-known, trying to write sentences that are more grammatically complex).

I gave Michael the words "boy" and "horse" - he changed "boy" to "cowboy", and added some more words to make the sentence "A cowboy needs a horse". He drew an illustration by hand (marker on paper) and then he made an entertaining animated short (using FlipBoom Cartoon) of a cowboy unwillingly transforming into a horse. He was calm and focused and expressed a complete (and funny) original idea. Watch the video:

So go ahead, get creative, use the iPad technology to its best advantage - it is a wonderful direct visual interface that can help you make the world of verbal communication less mysterious and more accessible to your students with autism.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What's it all about?

Life is short. I know that ... and sometimes life is too short and people leave before we're ready to say good-bye to them, before they've done all the things that they hoped to do.

A friend died this week. Too young ... my age, in fact pretty much exactly my age (we used to joke that we were "litter mates", born in the same month, same year). I met him almost 25 years ago when we both worked at a school educating teens and young adults with autism. A good man with a wicked grin and a kind heart.

His loss leaves a big hole in the local autism community, and a far bigger hole in the hearts of the friends and family who loved him.

And today I'm once again thinking about how short life is ...

... my daughter died of cancer when I was 29 and she was almost 3. I couldn't make sense of it, couldn't see how to go on past that point. All of the things that had seemed so important - employment, income, professional standing - were blown to dust in this new shockingly clearer view of life and death. My only regrets were the times that I had let my fears and worries stop me from fully living, loving and laughing in the moments I had with her.

My work with individuals on the autism spectrum came after this point. When I deal with an ASD individual and their family, my primary goal is always to maximize the enjoyment of the present moment - it doesn't matter that things are not perfect, they rarely are, and really (as I frequently tell my students) perfect is a bit boring. There's always something that's going right, something that's funny and endearing and quirky. It's not naive or silly to focus on the positive, it's essential to helping people blossom and reach their potential. And you just don't know how long you have.

And so with this in mind, and in honour of my friend Roc, here's a cartoon drawn by Adam a few years ago featuring a baby and a skeleton (I think Roc would appreciate the humour):

Live your life fully with an open heart, laugh until you snort tea out your nose, let tears fall when they want to and leave your legacy written in people who count themselves better for having known you.