When the characters are a whole classroom of students: Some high and low-tech tips!

Character IconFor this first Technology Tuesday of 2016, we’ll be sharing some strategies for delivering whole-class instruction, some involving electronics and others...simpler technology such as giant sheets of paper! We recently completed a series of lessons in a classroom on a consultation basis. From our perspective, strategies such as SGM® benefit not only our students with specific needs, but also the entire classroom and teacher. For this series, we were seeking to integrate social-cognitive, language and executive function strategies for a particular student, but met an initial “Kick-Off.” Our principal raised concerns about devoting the time needed for 6 lessons and the potential impact of taking that time away from ELA instruction. This was easy to respond to, because:

  • Narrative language has many social impacts as well as listening and reading comprehension, and, of course, involves the story-based language of responding orally in class and producing writing.
  • Virtually any classroom context can be used to build these skills, so we assured the principal and teacher that the “flow” of classroom topics could be easily integrated in our lessons.

We started by setting the tone for the students, teacher, and specialists assisting with the lessons. Stories tap our comprehension, both listening and reading, expression, both speaking and writing, and social cognition in sharing stories and understanding situations. This was a lot to convey in an initial lesson, and involved abstract ideas for teachers less familiar with narrative language (and most definitely for students).

The classroom came equipped with a SMARTboard (one brand of interactive whiteboard), so this came into play instantly to support these ideas with visuals! Kids quickly engage with the visual supports that can be displayed on a whiteboard, and seemed AMAZED when I connected an iPad to the board. This is not complicated at all, and just involves the 30-pin to VGA or Lightning to VGA adapter (depending on the port available at the bottom of your iPad) connected to the VGA cable from the board, which generally is connected to a computer in the classroom. Of course, this setup does not allow for use of the board interactively (i.e., an attempt to tap on the board or use the pen/ink SMART tools and manipulate the iPad will not work), but still, the visuals writ large can be very powerful.

The other tool involved in this initial lesson was Popplet (free or $4.99 for full edition). We created a quick visual that opened up discussion about the role of stories in many areas, and previewed that we’d be using SGM® and visualizing as tools for helping us with storytelling:

Class 1

We were thrilled that the class was currently reading The SOS File by Betsy Byars. This fun chapter book consists of a series of “SOS Moments” by a classroom of students, in which they essentially experience a “Kick-Off” such as a soapbox derby practice gone wrong, an anxiety-producing parental visit to a baseball game, or an overindulgence of candy bars meant for a school fundraiser (great pictures support each chapter). Our first class lesson introduced SGM® along with Visualizing and Verbalizing®, with Stickwriting being an additional method in retelling a story. We asked students to retell a chapter through a group sketch (see another example of this below) using some of the “visual vocabulary” of Stickwriting and elements that make a good “image” via Visualizing and Verbalizing®.

It also helped to display the V and V “Structure words” on the board via a slide I created in the Keynote app:

Class 2

The kids did a great job working together to make a collaborative sketch on a giant sheet of paper (a low-tech tool)- their work retold chapters of the story and incorporated the targeted story elements in simple sketches that captured a “gestalt” snapshot of the story (via the help of the V and V structures). We circulated using the Icon STAMPede Stamp Set, and the kids enjoyed identifying and stamping sections of their sketch that showed Characters, Setting, Kick-Off, and Actions! On the teacher’s part, she loved the strategy of collaborative sketching and the interaction between the students that she witnessed. Before the kids got to work, we had discussed the social-cognitive strategies of “taking a role” and “When working in a group, do SOME, but not ALL or NONE of the work” (via Social Thinking®).

Following this lesson, we had students “present” their sketch posters to the group. A tech tool that came in handy here was the document camera (often known as the ELMO, one brand of doc cam, in the school setting). A document camera allows you to project written or other work, again writ large, when connected to a projector or interactive whiteboard, like so:

Class 3

Using this tool along with SGM’s Complete Episode Maps allowed us a number of opportunities to demonstrate analyzing a chapter for story structure, with the kids following along with the engaging displays.

Later in the series of lessons, the class moved on to The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. This provided a great context to introduce the Critical Thinking Triangle® Mini-Poster, as the story contains many implied feelings, plans, and differing perspectives. We modeled some Critical Thinking Triangle® examples with the whiteboard:

Class 4

Then, we asked the students to work in groups, again with giant sheets of paper, to create a Critical Thinking Triangle® including one of the Kick-Offs in the book (choices were provided).

Again, the kids did a great job and teachers and specialists got to see how higher-level thinking and inferences can be tapped in the process of narrative retelling:

Class 5

Each of the class activities involved the students working on a task for a period of time, so one way we targeted executive function skills was to include Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen’s work on planning and self-monitoring through the Get Ready-Do-Done process. Their recently released app, 360 Thinking Time Tracker, provided a great visual to the class (as displayed on the whiteboard) on the time allotted to the sketching task and keeping pace around the “half-way” point.

We greatly enjoyed integrating SGM® with complementary strategies and high/low-tech tools in this series of lessons!


Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Author

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Newton, MA, and consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at sean@speechtechie.com.



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