Errorless comprehension for Non-Verbal Students: How to include students with complex communication needs in reading comprehension.
I wish I could pass out pins to students that said “It’s not me, it’s you.”
Why? I was in a classroom last week and a teacher was doing comprehension questions with most of the class. Most, except for the premium parking section (students in the front of the room for preferential seating, but who are not engaged in any academics or social interactions). So, being me, I asked why not. Why were they not doing the comprehension questions too like the rest of the class? I got a stare- the kind that asks ‘did you take your medication this morning’. “Well,” the teacher slowly explained to me, “they can’t do that kind of stuff- that’s too high for them.”
Before I go any further, do you agree? Are comprehension questions too high and too hard for some students? Hold that thought…
A lot of the curriculum available for students with severe and profound disabilities includes picture icons of some sort. There are several students in the classroom who can have icons presented to them to answer multiple choice questions successfully. Then there are students above that level who can do multiple choice comprehension without picture supports. Finally, there are students below that who cannot be successful with a multiple choice format for comprehension even with picture supports. But that does NOT mean they don’t have to or get to participate. It is us, not them.
A Script for Comprehension
Very similar to the script for offering choice to students with complex communication needs from last week’s blog post, asking errorless comprehension questions has a predictable rhythm. For this example, I will be using this picture and one icon.
Easy. Right? They only had one icon to choose from to answer the question. They could not get it wrong, but still had the option to participate. So, easy. Right? Well… exactly. You will really have to be particular about what your student’s response mode is. Are they expected to point to the icon? Touch it? Look at it? Pick it up and put it in your hand? Grunt? Use a VOD or switch? Whatever you have decided to use as your students formal mode of communication, be sure to have it available and use it in as many opportunities as you can.
So, obviously the above example is errorless comprehension, but where was the choice? Some students progress past a single icon choice and need more, but are not quite ready for true multiple choice. Try the errorless choice format. For this example, we are using the same picture, but now with two icons.
“Student, who is the story about?” Show the student the response icons.
“Is it about Grandma (show icon) or about a boy (show icon)”.
Student gives a response.
“Yes, the story is about Grandma.” or “Yes, the story is about a boy.”
Since both icons are right, no matter which one the student picks, they will be correct. They cannot make an error. And, as mentioned, response mode is critical here.
What’s the Point?
So after this mini lesson with the teacher I mentioned, she looked at me and said “I really don’t understand what the point is. They are still not making a real choice and showing real comprehension.”
Do you agree? Let’s think about this. If a student has moved from passively sitting through a class with little or no academic challenges to using a consistent response mode to interact with academic stimuli and answer questions (no matter if they are errorless), then that is a huge win to me. This will be the prerequisite skill needed to move to authentic comprehension responses. But we can’t necessarily get there without this skill first.
So What Now?
Remove any parking lot from your classroom. Do not allow students to sit and be passive in the classroom. Offer choice and opportunities for authentic learning and interactions with the curriculum. Remember, we never know what is happening inside of the minds and hearts of students with complex communication needs- we have to presume competence. We have to treat them like a fully aware and academically at level student. And with dignity- always with dignity.
Now get out there and offer errorless choice and errorless comprehension activities!
Want more about offering choice to students with complex communication needs? Check out this post on NoodleNook today! Need some extra icons to use with comprehension or choice making to use the things you are reading about? Check out Word Wall available in the NoodleNook Teachers Pay Teachers store and print them small enough (6-9 to a page) to make PECS type icons for your classroom. You may want to try a communication board, like the PECS Communication Flip Board or the Communication Board. Check out this blog post if you want to read more on Least Dangerous Assumption or Offering Choice to the Minimally Responsive!