- Education and Science
Boardmaker Plus Essential Communication Software - Not Just for Special Needs
America is becoming a nation of functionally illiterate children.
The phrase "dumbing down" has been around for some time but things are getting way into the red zone in relation to simple vocabulary recognition and comprehension. Writing is going the way of the dinosaur.
This article is designed specifically to introduce you to what I feel is the best "special education communication software" on the market. I'm also going to give you a link for a free version.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing American schools?
More importantly, I'm going to tell you how to use it to teach all children, not just special needs.
We're going to learn to do it in a fast, fun way that you can do for free, if you can't get the super deluxe edition.
As a special needs teacher of over ten years, with a Vocational Adjustment Coordinator Certification among many other virtually useless pieces of paper, I used this program for years.
It started with lower level functional students. That's a politically correct way of saying I was teaching mentally retarded and lower functioning autistic students when I first started using Boardmaker Plus.
I so hate that word, retarded.
The reason I use it here is because I want you to really understand the level I was working with. We are talking average IQ ranges of 30 to 65.
Mental retardation is technically defined as an IQ level of below 70. The normal range is considered 80 to 100 with a 15 point standard deviation. What I so quickly grew to love about this program is that when really used, it works better than anything I have ever seen.
I've seen a lot. Before teaching, I worked in group homes and care centers for the developmentally disabled, another PC term for the same population only older and out of school. Mostly, I did behavior modification which included a ton of work on communication.
I've used light up boards, PECS, audio communication boards, so on and so forth into nothing that ever really worked well enough to make a meaningful difference in communication or behavioral change.
When I was first given the Boardmaker Plus program, I was less than thrilled.
One thing about being a teacher in a large title one school is that every year there's a new latest and greatest software package the district wastes tax payer money on only to abandon the next year.
After a four hour training class in which the projector did not work, so we couldn't really see the program in use, I was resigned to be pissed off about having to use it. Angry or not, I went back to my room, loaded it up and dived in.
That was the first thing I grew to love about the program, it was super simple to use.
I had left my training feeling annoyed and confused having had no visual support and the instructor using only program specific terminology that meant nothing to someone not having used it. I remembered she kept talking about going to the tool bar to do anything, so I figured scoping it out was a good place to start.
The program tool bar really is the gateway to everything and is basically self explanatory from the selections listed. I had it down in under 20 minutes.
Let's check out some of the basic things you can do instantly.
The program I had, the deluxe uber expensive version, came with a boatload of pre-installed graphics. This was really cool to start with but I found out pretty fast I didn't need it at all. Using the simple import option or just copy and paste, you can pull in any image you want with one key stroke.
When you import/copy paste, always save the image. You will never have to hunt it up again. The program comes with predefined categories like food and other groupings allowing you to quickly find the images you need. You don't even have to remember the file name as it will show all in the category at the click of a button.
You can take a visual image of anything that comes with accompanying text automatically, if pulled from the graphic bank. If importing, you have the option to type in your text. The constant visual pairing of text with an image is powerful for all learners. Using it on things from flash cards to copies of notes, chaining, sentences, you name it, you can immerse children in the written word in a way they can understand from the pictures.
Visuals can get expensive fast. Between outrageous prices for ink and printer paper, the pennies add up.This machine is the best one I've ever found for cheap. I really like how the final product comes out with a thick laminate not a flimsy one that doesn't last.
There's no better, faster way to whip up a great looking word wall.
So many teachers use something that is roughly index card sized displaying only the word to be learned. That's cool but it has a few drawbacks. First, from the back of the room, they can be really hard to read. Second, for all those that really didn't get it the first time around, a written card displaying what they can't read holds no meaning. Third, even if they did get it, without constant repetition at first, chances are high they will lose it.
Use Boardmaker Plus to create a stunning word wall that will passively teach as well as remind. Make each word one full sized page so everyone can see it. Be sure to use color in the accompanying picture and if possible, do a combination of pictures to illustrate concepts. To maximize impact, move things around at least once per week. The change gets student's attention.
What good is a room filled with words many of the students do not understand? It surrounds them in what they know they don't get and overpowers them. In effect, it can beat a kid down.
Get these in the big packs to save money. They come in thinner sheets from some providers, but the thin ones don't last well over time.
It's that lack of understanding that turns off most learners.
It robs them of a sense of power. Perceived helplessness leads to frustration and despondency. Learning becomes misery. It doesn't have to be that way. The first thing I ever made with Boardmaker Plus was a chain.
Basically, it was a picture sentence instructing students in the order of procedures for the class. It was a simulated work environment for a special needs coop class containing 13 steps. That's right, 13 for kids that were mostly non readers or slow/reluctant readers. It worked!
The reason it worked was the pictures. But, it worked in so many ways I didn't really expect.
I made each of the 13 steps one legal sized page and hung them above the dry erase board in order. The steps included things like clock in, fill out time sheet, get next job on your list from file, get your file, fill out your picture cue self evaluation after task completion and so on. Under each graphic was an accompanying short body of text. Considering the cognitive level of the students in question, I had my doubts as to this working or not.
It worked better than I ever could have imagined.
At the time, my definition of working was that the students could follow the steps independently of verbal direction, like a worker initiating required tasks. I started the year going over and over the chain out loud with the students. Each step was talked out, acted out and pointed to again and again. Soon, they were saying it with me. They had to. I required it. The average learner has to hear information eight times for it to stick.
In one week, my guys had it down. Yahoo!
By sheer accident, I found that not only were they picking up the steps by picture, but they were picking up the words too. Things quickly went from nine thousand "Miss how do you spell, insert simple word," to me pointing to a picture with text. Then, they went to students looking on their own without me telling them to or them asking me. Next, for a good number, by mid year it had moved to them independently writing the words, words high school students had never written, read or understood alone. This was powerful.
Mind you, this was a vocational class. I wasn't supposed to be teaching reading. Folks had given up on these kids learning to read. They were wrong. Did they learn to read well? No. But they did learn and gained a level of independence they had not before. More importantly, for many they regained a sense of wanting to learn. That's the great thing about learning. When it really happens, it become self reinforcing creating an intrinsic motivation for more.
My last two years saw me teaching regular and special education students.
I had heard most regular education labeled freshman could not read but thought it to be somewhat of an exaggeration. I had been isolated in my special needs world. I had worked with many regular education students who volunteered in my programs and had not seen the problem.
I knew it held true for the special needs population, but regular education level students? It couldn't be that bad. What I had not taken into account is that my volunteers were the cream of the crop, the honor roll students mostly.
It was worse! Way, way, way worse than you can ever dream.
When co-teaching a freshman English class, I quick as the speed of sound saw firsthand just how bad it was. Regular education students that were passing could not recognize simple vocabulary words like chameleon, viable, presuppose, contend, vial, more words than I could imagine. My heart broke for those kids.
They had no idea how bad off they really were. They had been taught to multiple guess really well and eek out enough meaning to get a gist, but never a real understanding. Many couldn't even read the words aloud and too many of those who could could not tell me what they meant. I was disgusted with my own profession. How did it get to be this way? That's the topic of another article but the question I had was what to do about it?
I fell back on what I knew. It was a fight but it worked.
I brought up my thoughts to my co-teacher. She agreed about all the problems but not my proposed solution which was to immerse students in visuals and repeat, repeat, repeat until they knew it backwards and forwards. My partner hated the idea. She felt it would stigmatize students on a high school level to have pictures. When I asked for an alternative I was told we would stay the course.
The course wasn't working, so I pulled a sneaky.
I knew she would be out for a whole week for training. I did a horrible thing. I did it my way against her wishes. I stayed after work on Friday, long into the night, printing a visual for every word in the texts we had covered that students didn't know. Then I hit the text that was to come. I plastered every wall, file cabinet and even the hall.
I had one week to sell this to the kids and I knew it.
My co teacher was a dear woman. While we didn't agree on the best method, I knew she loved those kids and would do what was best for them. The problem in my mind was too often kids don't know what's best and she loved to go with whatever they suggested.
Time to sell it.
I'm not good at sales. I'm too direct. I decided to try something too often not seen in public education. I simply told the kids the truth. I shut the door and openly and honestly told them what was up. I asked them to try it for a week and they agreed. Really, I think the honesty floored them.
For days, as we read Romeo and Juliet, I ran around the room pointing to visuals. Soon, I noticed some eyes would go to the pictures before I got there. Every day I asked, did you learn a new word today? Are the pictures helping? Everyday more and more said yes. By Thursday, even the hard core gang bangers agreed it wasn't bad and couldn't hurt. High praise indeed.
My co-teacher never forgave me.
She hated it. She said it looked horrible but God love her, she let it stay and even admitted by midterms it was helping as evidenced by the grade books.
Public school classrooms are overcrowded. Discipline is a huge problem. We have many non English speaking students, homeless students, hungry students and every other kind of challenged student you can think of. Too many are lost. Boardmaker Plus visuals, when used constantly, can help teach subliminally just by being seen everyday.
Districts pay a ton of money for this program. You can can download a home version for free. It doesn't come with all the graphics, but still you can use it to make your own. From flash cards, to chore lists, reading lists, rewards, communication, you name it, you can do it.
A few tips for using Boardmaker Plus in an out of the box way.
1. Use it to still the back talk.
Many kids love to argue and are verbally cued to do so. It becomes a habit. You say one thing, then they say something, on and on. In a discussion that's great. When you have given instructions to 35 kids and need them to finish the assignment, not so much.
Don't give the verbal cue to start the argument. Point to the appropriate Boardmaker Plus visual. Keep the rules posted and just point. It shuts down many and issue before it gets started. Try it. It works in the home, too.
Here's a few examples of ways I've used it for in home training with behaviorally challenged kids.
- Bath time arguments. For many special needs kids, bath time can be a huge fight. Have a large chain of expected hygiene daily routines posted in the bathroom. Give the verbal reminder one time and one only. When the arguments start, point to the picture. Give a simple reward to begin behavior replacement when the chain is successfully completed.
- Bedtime arguments.
- You get the idea.
2. It talks! It can talk to or for the user.
The pricier version has an audio component kids can use to have the computer speak for them after they arrange the pictures. To get non verbal students talking, turn off the speakers after they fall in love with it. Sounds harsh, huh? It works. When they try to make any sound, reward and praise, make a big deal of it. They will still call up the pictures. Say the word and have them repeat. If you're committed to no reward until effort is sounded and find a reward they want, you will see progress.
Honestly, I have gotten teen age students that were non verbal to speak doing this. Most never got really fluent or what one would call verbose, but all of my students got down please, thank you, yes and no, help and other basic words.
Too often we give up, say it's too hard for them. They deserve to learn to speak and can with enough patience, assistance and commitment. But, it has to be one hundred percent to work. If you ever cave in without getting the effort, you can kiss them trying goodbye. Be generous for effort but hold your ground to get it.
3. Kids love it so they want to use it.
It works fantastically for students to make their own presentations, posters, flyers, comic strips, story boards and on to infinity. Kids love computers. Let them communicate in every way possible with print always accompanying the more fun graphics.
Do be careful though that non verbal children don't come to rely on it to replace them learning to speak. It can, easily. Always keep trying for language acquisition.
Drop out rates in America are not what you think.
They are way worse. Most studies show drop out rates in the twenty to thirty percent range depending on the area in question. It's a damnable lie! Districts know this. How do they get away with it?
They manipulate the numbers. I know, I used to help compile the statistical data over the summer for extra money. Here's how it goes. The drop out rate is computed from the senior class. If two of ten seniors don't make it, you have a drop out rate of twenty percent. Sounds pretty honest, huh?
When one compares the number of incoming freshman to the number of graduating students four years later, it becomes glaringly obvious that drop out rates are over fifty percent.
Literacy in American graduates is not what you have been led to believe.
When looking upon a graduating class, we tend to think yahoo! All these kids made it. They learned the minimal amounts needed, at least. Wrong! Minimal amounts needed now vary greatly depending on labels.
How's that work? Many special needs labeled students have no real cognitive disability. A student is defined as having a learning disability in reading or math by ranking two or more years behind expected skill levels. Once the label is given, scores required for graduation can be and too many times are adjusted. This results in many graduating with good grades that read on elementary levels.
Take advantage of the free.
Don't worry about not being able to use the program. Check out these fast, free tutorials to get your little one on the good foot in relation to reading, communication, behavior and independence.
Use Boardmaker Plus to fill the gaps.
Teachers, you're only human. Use this passive communication method to constantly reinforce what you are teaching so you can teach more new material. Parents, use this not only for communication and learning, but to help children learn independence and responsibility from visual chains without you having to constantly remind folks of what is expected, such as making your bed, feed the dog, what ever is needed in your home.
It's easy when you spray it, not say it.
The program has what's called a "spray." It allows you to quickly create a "spray" of uniform boxes that you can then populate for your chain.
Use it to help with the little things that drive you nuts.
Does little Johnny always forget to flush, put the cap back on the toothpaste, shut the lid? Make a simple morning hygiene chain inserting reminders for what you know needs to be worked on. For example...
Get up, use toilet, flush, close lid, wash hands, wash face, brush teeth, put cap back on toothpaste, get dressed, make bed, gather books and supplies, eat breakfast, be ready to catch the bus on time.
In the morning, wake the child with a smile on your face. Say good morning. Point to the chain. Tap on it one time and say time to get started. When a step is missed, don't fuss or say anything. Tap on that step in the chain with a smile. When it's done, give the kid a way to go or other small form of verbal praise. Repeat. Over the course of one week, I guarantee you will see real improvement if you stick to the plan and don't get baited into arguments, doing it for them or allowing a missed step.
How do I get my hands on this?
You can obviously buy the program but you don't have to. If your child has a sped label, districts will often provide you with a copy. If not, download the free version.
You can get one here for free. It comes in many languages and for various operating systems. You have nothing to lose with a free download and so much to gain.
Let their gardens of knowledge bloom along with the good behavior and first steps down the road to independence. Check it out for yourself and your child.
A few final tips for using this powerful program...
Change up the font. Sounds trivial, huh? It's really huge. Many special needs students and a boatload of regular educations students don't generalize skills well. Without delving into some complicated cognitive definition, basically the proof is in the test scores. Kids always exposed to only one kind of font lose big time points when a test is given in another font. Change it up frequently so the generalization of letters occurs easily and passively.
Save money, paper, ink and time by always laminating your visuals. Even small ones used for chains should be laminated. You can then save them in a card file and reuse for making countless more chains. As little ones progress, add to the chains. Use a poster with tape or Velcro to pull this off fast in a way that lends itself to quick changes in the future.