Collaboration Corner: “Out of my Mind” Speaks Volumes

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This year, I worked with a fifth grade class who was reading “Out of my Mind” by Sharon Draper. The story is about a nonspeaking 11- year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Her classmates, teachers, and even  her doctors underestimate her abilities. Little do they know she has a photographic memory. One day after months of fighting with insurance, Melody (the protagonist) is given the gift of voice through an AAC device; the drama unfolds from there.

The teachers read a little of this book every day to the class, but wanted the students to get a better understanding of Melody’s struggles. They asked me to come in and show students various kinds of AAC devices.

This was the perfect launching point for a lesson on inclusion and AAC. This was one of the most effective ways I’ve worked with teachers and students regarding the challenges AAC users face everyday.

Here’s all I used:

  • A PECS book;
  • Two iPads with two different communication apps;
  • An alphabet board;
  • Low-tech battery operated voice output device;
  • A sheet with a picture of two “thought bubbles” and two hearts (see below);
  • Index cards with written scenarios; and
  • A sheet of emotion cartoons.

First, the class gathered together, and I gave them an overview of how people might communicate. Most understood body language, words, and some mentioned sign language. Then I brought out the different systems. Their eyes lit up. Then they started to make connections to other children in the building who used these systems. They were hooked.

Next, the children broke up into groups of four or five. Each table had two AAC systems. Within each group, students paired off. One student had a “speaker” card, and the other a “listener” card. Speaker cards had clues like, “you can’t speak, but you can point and read. You really want to tell your friend about the movie you saw last night.” The partner’s card (“listener”) read, “Your friend can’t speak, but she can point and read. She really wants to tell you something, find out what it is.”

I wish I had taken a video. The interactions were amazing, and the students really dove into the activity. Each group got a turn with a different kind of system. A nice, unexpected experience: Teachers went by and facilitated interactions with tips like being closer to the speaker, or waiting and not interrupting.

Finally, I collected the devices. Each group received a copy of a words related to emotions and a worksheet, which they worked on individually. This gave them a chance to reflect.

On the worksheet were only two fill-in the blanks on top:

When-I-was-the-speaker

On the bottom were two more:

When-I-was-the-listener

And then the teaching part happened! Here were some of the responses:

  • I was thinking, why can’t he understand me!!! I was outraged!
  • This is so hard! I felt like giving up.
  • I don’t have enough words. I felt like oh, well, never mind.
  • I wanted to help you, I’m sad and frustrated for you
  • I can’t understand you, I felt impatient.
  • Keep trying! I felt helpless.
  • I can’t spell, this takes too long! I felt annoyed.

I kept copies of every single sheet, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with them, though I’m fighting the urge to wallpaper my office with them.

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.