A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF
ACTIVE PARTICIPATION BY CHILDREN WHO ARE NON-SPEAKING
IN THE CLASSROOM
B.S., Southeast Missouri State University, 1983
M.A., Southeast Missouri State University, 1985
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
has been approved
Bodine, Cathy (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
A Qualitative Analysis of Active Participation by Children Who are Non-speaking in
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Alan Davis
The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the participation patterns of
teachers and children who are non-speaking and use augmentative/altemative
communication (AAC) devices in the classroom. The conceptual framework
undergirding this study was that of Cultural Historical Activity Theory, with its roots
in the work of Lev Vygotsky. Participant observation in the classroom, field notes,
videotape and interviews of the teachers and one child and her mother were used to
collect data. The interviews and classroom videotapes were transcribed and analyzed
at both the macro and micro level. Two children who were non-speaking, a four-year
old male and an eleven year-old female and three teachers participated as subjects in
this study. Results indicated teachers either to facilitate the lesson or to facilitate use
of the AAC device, used four types of scaffolding. Scaffolding types were identified
as: (a) conceptual scaffolding, (b) language production scaffolding, (c) physical
scaffolding, and (d) participatory scaffolding. Factors that increased active
participation included the teachers use of (a) direct eye gaze, body position and
alignment, (b) communication (both verbally and nonverbally) of expectations of the
child, and (c) clear differentiation between scaffolding the activities of using the
device and scaffolding the activity of learning within the lesson. Barriers to
participation included (a) poor physical position and alignment of the child to the
teacher and/or their peers, (b) the cultural historical norms that had been established
between the teacher, the child and the paraprofessional, and (c) the articulated
expectations for the child.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
Sincere appreciation is due to Alan Davis, Mark Clarke, Andrew Helwig, Paula
Hudson and Bonnie Utley for their support and guidance throughout the dissertation
process. Thank you. In addition, my colleagues at the CU Health Sciences Center
have been amazing during the past four and a half years. Special thanks to Pat
McAleese for her editing of quotation marks and Maureen Melonis for assisting in
triangulation of data and reviewing page after page of transcripts. And of course, to
Marlin the Magician, thanks so much for the MPG!
I truly appreciate the children, their families and the teachers who were willing to
share their lived experience and insights With me during this study. Thank you.
Special thanks to Kurt for putting up with me as I littered our home with papers and
books that just had to stay there! And finally, to my parents, Thanks for teaching
me the value of a good education!
1. INTRODUCTION................................................. 1
Arrangement of the Dissertation...........................14
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE....................................16
Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) and Inclusion .... 16
Pragmatics and Activity Theory............................26
Construction of Joint Activity......................44
Zone of Proximal Development........................49
Scope of the Study..........
Access and Consent..........
Observations and Videotaping
Scaffolding Events ....
Language Production Scaffolding...................91
Physical Scaffolding............................ 100
Reliability and Validity......................................104
Classroom Participation by the Children.......................106
Teachers Promotion of Participation..........................109
Figure 1.1 Model of an Activity System.............................9
Figure 1.2 Engestroms (1990) Model of an Activity System.........10
Figure 1.3 Example of Multiple Levels of Activity Experienced by a
User of AAC Devices During a Reading Comprehension
Figure 1.4 Example of Multiple Levels of Activity Experienced by a
User of AAC Devices During a Reading Comprehension
Activity with the Inclusion of Rules, Community and
Division of Labor................................................13
Table 4.1 Summary of the Types of Communication Exchanges
Used Within Each of the Three Classrooms................78
Table 4.2 Scaffolding Events Focused on the Lesson................80
Table 4.3 Scaffolding Events Focused on Accommodations/
ITS NOT FAIR Johns mechanical voice boomed out at me. Whats not
fair? I asked, automatically reaching over to turn down the volume on his voice, a
device called the TouchTalker. YOU CAN WALK IN A ROOM AND SAY
EXCUSE ME AND PEOPLE LISTEN.
That conversation has followed me for the past fifteen years. Why was it that
someone with this mans credentials, an honors graduate of one of the toughest
journalism schools in America, author of two books, and a solid career as a freelance
journalist, assuming that he does not have the power to inteiject himself into a
conversation? Granted, he has cerebral palsy and is unable to manage his body for
even the most rudimentary tasks, including speaking with his own voice. Yet, he has
a writers mind, supports himself financially, belongs to any number of organizations
and even though he started out in a non-inclusive school system, ended up graduating
with a four year degree in a highly competitive setting of able-bodied students.
Finally, why was it I felt I had the right to automatically adjust the volume of his
voice without permission?
Where do these assumptions begin? As our conversation continued, I
approached it from a speech language pathologists perspective. Using social
inteijections such as excuse me, is a very appropriate use of language. In fact,
during standardized assessment, an individual is actually scored for their use of these
types of conversational markers. Clearly this gentleman understood and could use
this simple phrase, but I realized as the conversation continued, he simply did not
grasp that he could.
Over the years, Ive known literally thousands of individuals who have
language, but are non-speaking. Yet, Ive met perhaps a handful that would actually
excel at any sort of standardized language assessment administered by a speech
Individuals who are non-speaking have any number of options for alternative
communication. They can choose to communicate without any technology at all by
using eye-gaze, gestures, sign language or vocalizations. There are low-tech
solutions such as a piece of cardboard with pictures, words or the alphabet arrayed for
the user to point to what they want to communicate. There are also very high-tech
electronic solutions that provide literally thousands of preprogrammed words, phrases
or sentences the user can access using any variety of selection techniques such as
touch, or scanning or other switch access. In short, as long as the individual can
twitch a muscle or even excite a brain wave, they can have access to anything they
want to say or are capable of generating cognitively.
Learning to use an augmentative/altemative communication (AAC) device is
hard work. The more sophisticated the device, the longer it takes to learn how to use
it. We know the first few years of life are critical for language development and use,
yet for children in the United States who are non-speaking the majority do not receive
their first device until after they enter the public school system. Beginning as
children and later as adults, they often spend decades appropriating an AAC device to
meet their communication needs. The problem is not that the technology is
unavailable, or that individuals who are rion-speaking cannot develop some type of
language proficiency even though acquisition of a device may be delayed. The
problem is that even for those children and adults who have the capacity to actively
participate in lifes activities, many choose not to.
The field of assistive technology is relatively young and encompasses the use
of any type of technology as a tool by people with disabilities.
Augmentative/altemative communication (AAC) falls within the field of assistive
technology. The first electronic devices were developed less than thirty years ago and
as such, attention has been primarily focused on developing technologies that enable
language to be mapped onto the device and retrieved with the minimum amount of
cognitive and physical effort by those who are using them. It has only been in the last
decade or so that attention has shifted to problems of practice.
For children with severe communication disorders, the goal of the AAC
device is that it be appropriated for use as a tool to communicate with those in their
environment. It is used to (a) communicate messages so individuals can interact in
conversations; (b) participate at home, school, work and recreational activities; (c)
learn their native tongue; (d) establish and maintain social roles; and (e) meet
personal needs (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998).
Children who are non-speaking do not have the same language use
experiences as children who are speaking. Participation in most classrooms is
typically focused on whether or not the child is physically able to manipulate
materials and otherwise engage in classroom activities. When alternative
communication devices enter the picture, attention is focused upon whether or not the
child is using the device and if so, how often. Little or no attention is typically paid
by adults or peers to what the child is communicating, how the child is
communicating and with whom the child is communicating. In short, little attention
is paid to whether or not the child is actively engaged and participating in the life of
the classroom. As Watzlawick (1967, p. 51) says, we cannot as humans, not
communicate Children are learning at all times. It is critical that we begin to
understand what it is that children who are non-speaking are learning.
A particular problem of practice for children who are nonspeaking involves
not only their use of AAC devices in the classroom, but more importantly their
participation in the life of the classroom. Becoming an active participant involves
being able to communicate and learning the conventions and norms of ones society.
In the case of these children, as their development proceeds, they not only
begin to learn the language of their community, they also begin to learn how others
react and/or communicate with them. They learn to identify listeners who will wait
for their communication attempt and they learn when it is simply not worth the effort.
Children who are non-speaking develop a number of strategies to communicate with
others. They learn, sometimes painfully, how others choose to communicate or not
communicate with them. They also learn what it means to be a non-speaking child in
a speaking world (Nolan, 1981; Rush, 1986; Sienkiewicz-Mercer & Kaplan, 1989).
This in turn means that when children learn language they are learning about
themselves as historical beings as they become aware of what it means to be a
speaker (a producer of speech).
It can be argued that for many children and adults who are non-speaking, their
use of language in general is predicated not only on the available vocabulary stored
within their device, but also on the cultural historical norms they have learned from
The purpose of this study is to explore the participation patterns of children
who are non-speaking and their teachers in the classroom. The information that is
gained from this study will be used to teach educators, families and others, strategies
to enhance the active participation of these children.
The conceptual framework undergirding this study is Cultural Historical
Activity Theory, with its roots in the work of Lev Vygotsky. Cultural Historical
Activity Theory is concerned with the normal development of children, especially
their intellectual development, through the process of internalization.
Activity theory places a central emphasis on language. In particular, the
relationship between the child and adult by way of shared activity involving tools and
language use is highlighted (Engestrom, Miettinen & Punamaki, 1999). The activities
of human beings, at all stages of development and organization, are social products
and must be viewed as historical developments. Beginning with Vygotsky, the
conceptualization of the term social emphasized its historical and cultural nature.
According to Vygotsky, The word social when applied to our subject has great
significance. Above all, in the widest sense of the word, it means that everything that
is cultural is social (1962, p.22).
Early work of the cultural-historical school provided a pivotal role in the
development of activity theory. Vygotsky, (1981, p. 163) developed the general
genetic law of cultural development.
Any function in the childs cultural development appears twice, or on two
planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological
plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and
then within the child as an intrapsychological category. This is equally true
with regard to voluntary attention, logical memory, the formation of concepts,
and the development of volition.. .It goes without saying that internalization
transforms the process itself and changes its structure and functions. Social
relations or relations among people genetically underlie all higher functions
and their relationships (Vygotsky, 1981, p. 163).
Vygotskys genetic law maintains mental functioning occurs within and
between individuals. Vygotsky viewed mental functioning as a kind of action
(Wertsch, 1998) that may be carried out by individuals or groups. Like Bateson
(1972), he viewed mind, cognition and memory not as attributes or properties of the
individual, but rather as functions that could be carried out intermentally or
intramentally (Daniels, 1998).
From this then, Vygotsky developed the concept of the zone of proximal
development. It is defined as the distance between a childs actual developmental
level as determined by independent problem solving and the higher level of
potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance
or in collaboration with more capable peers (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). He uses as
examples, the case of two children, each functioning at equivalent mental ages. He
suggests that when these two children are pushed to carry out higher-level tasks,
differences in their abilities become apparent. That which the child is able to do with
the help of an adult demonstrates their individual zone of proximal development
Vygotsky postulated the central tendency of the childs development is not a
gradual socialization introduced from outside, but a gradual individualization that
emerges on the foundation of the childs internal socialization (Vygotsky, 1987, p.
259). He believed that child development originates in social processes and with the
aid of social processes, children transform and differentiate the processes themselves
and construct their own selves. Individualization is achieved through mediation and
tool usage. The most powerful mediational means are manifested in the process of
making ones own ways with words (Heath, 1983) or making ones own voice
(Wertsch & Stone, 1985).
Learning is an essential aspect of engaging in the ongoing activities of ones
community and, in the process, gradually mastering the purposes of those activities
and the means by which they are achieved (Lave & Wenger, 1991). In the
educational setting, learning activities are based on the joint activity of teacher and
student focusing on the production of new personal meanings. It is necessary for the
child to actively participate in specific tasks with the help of an adult, who provides
verbal commentary and transfers responsibility to the child at an appropriate rate
(Engestrom, et al, 1999). In the case of the child who is non-speaking, and perhaps,
due to motor impairments), unable to manipulate physical objects, this joint activity
is disrupted, creating additional barriers for both student and teacher as they struggle
to develop new personal meanings.
Early descriptions of Cultural Historical Activity Theory focused on the use of
a triangle to represent the subject, object and the tools or artifacts used to mediate an
action. An example might be a child (subject) using a book as the tool required to
answer a question posed by the teacher to demonstrate reading comprehension
Figure 1.1 Model of an Activity System.
Engestrom (1987) argued this model needed to be expanded in order to
understand the relationship between isolated actions and the ongoing cultural
activities in which they are embedded. An activity system integrates the subject, the
object, and the instruments (material tools as well as signs and symbols) into a unified
whole. It incorporates both the object-oriented productive aspect and the person-
oriented communicative aspect of human conduct. Production and communication
are inseparable (Engestrom, 1987, p. 67).
Figure 1. 2 Engestroms (1990) Model of an Activity System.
In Engestroms model, the individual action (subject, object, tools) is
related to the larger cultural and historical context by the relationships represented by
the other triangles. For example, the subject-object relationship is modified by the
cultural roles that apply to this relationship and by the division of labor in which it is
embedded. These rules might include the tools considered appropriate for use (in the
classroom written communication or verbal language), and the way in which control
of their use is distributed among the different categories of community members who
are regularly involved in this and related actions (student and teacher). Relationships
such as these are not static; they are continuously being constructed, reformulated and
negotiated with others in the course of their deployment in particular situated actions
(Wells, 1999, pp. 234-235).
This expanded model enables comparisons to be made between different ways
of enacting education and encourages a critical and innovative approach to teaching.
It also points out various potential points of leverage in attempting to shift the typical
practice of education to one that encourages student participation in the classroom.
For children who are non-speaking and attempting to operate within the confines of a
regular classroom this model proves useful for a number of reasons.
It is important to recognize that there are multiple levels of activity going on
within a classroom at any given time. Children who are non-speaking and use AAC
devices to communicate are actually engaged in yet another layer of activity, one that
requires additional physical and/or cognitive effort. Speech is not an operationalized
ability for them.
Figure 1.3 Example of Multiple Levels of Activity Experienced by a User of AAC
Devices During a Reading Comprehension Activity.
For example, there is the general activity of the classroom itself, the lesson
being delivered by the teacher, the individual communication of the various students
(using verbal or written language as a tool to mediate their activity within the action)
and there is the child who is non-speaking using a tool to mediate his/her language,
which is used to mediate the activity he or she is engaged in. All of this takes place in
an activity system operating with its own rules, community and division of labor.
Figure 1.4. Example of Multiple Levels of Activity Experienced by a User of AAC
Devices During a Reading Comprehension Activity with the Inclusion of Rules,
Community and Division of Labor.
This study attempts to gain a broader picture of the activity systems engaged
in by children who are non-speaking by making a detailed examination of those
instances of joint activity construction engineered by the child and teacher in a variety
of school settings.
To date, little research has been conducted to determine whether or not
teachers are aware of and make use of the attempts of children who are non-speaking
to participate in the educational environment. In addition to the need to develop a
more robust understanding of AAC users range of communication abilities, there is
also a need to better prepare families and educators, to facilitate and to teach those
who are learning to communicate in an alternative manner.
Although the research based on activity theory and augmented communicators
is limited to date, it appears to hold promise as we seek to discover how children and
adults recognize and demonstrate active participation, particularly in environments
such as the classroom. This study was designed to respond to this issue by focusing
on the following research questions.
How do children who are non-speaking participate within the classroom?
How do teachers promote participation of children who are non-speaking
in the classroom?
Arrangement of the Dissertation
The remainder of this dissertation is divided into four chapters. Chapter two
provides a review of the pertinent literature and is divided into three sections. The
first section focuses on the field of augmentative/altemative communication (AAC)
and inclusion. This is followed by an overview of activity theory and pragmatics.
The final section of chapter two explicates the conceptual framework developed for
Chapter three describes the methodology used throughout the study, including
site and subject selection, access, observations and videotaping, interviews,
transcription, analysis and triangulation. Chapter four provides the results of the
study and Chapter five focuses on a discussion of these results.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The literature review has been divided into three sections. The first section
provides a brief overview of augmentative/altemative communication devices and the
people who use them and the second section looks at research within the fields of
augmentative/altemative communication, activity theory and pragmatics. The final
section explicates the conceptual framework for this study.
Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) and Inclusion
Augmentative/Altemative communication (AAC) devices are tools designed
to augment or provide an alternative means of communication for those who are non-
speaking. These devices may be electronic or non-electronic. They may be letter,
picture or word-based systems. They may provide a live voice in the form of digital
or synthetic text-to-speech output.
The complexity and sophistication of these devices varies from the most
simplesingle picture, single meaning strategy to highly complex single picture,
multiple meaning encoding strategies. There have been a number of debates within
the field of AAC as to the most effective strategies for selecting and encoding
language within these systems (Glennon & DeCoste, 1997). However, little or no
research has been conducted to determine whether or not teachers, peers and other
educational professionals are aware of and accepting of childrens attempts to
communicate their engagement via alternative methods.
In addition to the need to develop a more robust understanding of AAC users
range of communication abilities, there is also a need to better prepare families and
educators to anticipate, to teach, and to support those who are learning to
communicate in an alternative manner.
Using an AAC device is hard work. Not only must the individual using the
device formulate the message he or she wishes to communicate, they must also
remember how and where the vocabulary is stored in the device; select the
appropriate string or sequence of icons to generate the selected vocabulary; access the
icons or pictures through some physical means; and then, wait to determine whether
or not the adult or peer they have chosen to communicate with understands the voice
output they have generated and will respond (Light, 1989).
For those with severe physical disabilities, vocabulary retrieval is often guided
by use of row column scanning. Selections are made through the use of a switch as it
highlights each row, column and then single picture. In many cases, children who use
AAC devices may speak only one or two words per minute. Clearly, free-flowing
communication is difficult even under the best of circumstances for children using
For many children in the United States, acquisition of an AAC device is
delayed until after they begin their formal education. In the meantime, like all
children they develop some form of idiosyncratic communication. For children who
are nonspeaking, these forms typically occur as vocalizations, body and hand
gestures, facial grimaces, gross approximations of verbalizations and eye-gaze
behaviors. Family members often report little or no difficulty communicating with
their child at home and in fact, because of their close relationship with their child
frequently interpret for others what their child is attempting to say (Beukelman &
Miranda, 1998; Glennon & DeCoste, 1997).
However, when children enter the classroom, new forms of communication
are expected and encouraged. In addition, the rapid pace and physical arrangement of
the typical classroom frequently impedes the inclusion of the non-speaking child in
Inclusive schooling is the practice of including everyone irrespective of talent,
disability, socioeconomic background, or cultural origin in supportive mainstream
classrooms where all student needs are met (Stainback & Stainback, 1996). In
integrated classrooms, all children are enriched by having the opportunity to learn
from one another, grow to care for one another, and gain the attitudes, skills, and
values necessary for our communities to support the inclusion of all citizens (p.19).
However, simply including students with disabilities within general educational
classrooms might not result in learning benefits (Marston, 1988). It has been found
that students with disabilities learn more in integrated settings when appropriate
educational experiences and support are provided than they do in segregated settings
(Brinker & Thorpe, 1984; Epps & Tindal, 1987).
When proper arrangements are present, inclusion works for students with and
without disabilities in terms of mutually held positive attitudes, gains in academic and
social skills, and preparation for living in the community. The key of course is when
proper arrangements are present. For students who are non-speaking, little is
understood or documented as to these proper arrangements.
A survey of special education teacher attitudes about children using
augmentative and alternative communication devices found that teachers who
perceived themselves as competent when providing communication training in the
classroom also perceived their students as having a higher level of ability. At the
same time, teachers who did not perceive themselves as particularly skillful when it
came to implementing communication devices also viewed non-verbal children as
less competent communicators (Soto, 1997).
It stands to reason if children are perceived to be functioning at a lower level
by their teachers, they are less likely to be expected and/or encouraged to participate,
either in the classroom or on the playground. It also stands to reason that if families,
educators, para-educators and the evaluation team are not tutored in the application of
AAC devices, the childs ability to participate effectively is compromised. Nor will
adults be able to enhance participation effectively, if they do not understand how to
mediate communication and teach the child to mediate communication, with the tools
the been given to use. Indeed, in many cases, it appears as though the child is
unaware that the AAC device is intended to serve any purpose at all, other than that
of a paperweight!
Professionals working in the field of special education, rehabilitation
engineering or any of the related services are caught in the cross-fire of being
required to provide comprehensive assistive technology services, yet they are ill-
prepared to do so. With the increasing role that technology is playing in the lives of
individuals with disabilities, it is crucial that professionals working in their respective
fields have some level of formal training in assistive technology applications (Cook &
Hussey, 1995). Since there is little documentation as to best practices, clinicians and
educators working in the field are forced to implement technology solutions without
fully understanding how and what to do in order to ensure success for the people with
disabilities they serve (DeRuyter, 1997; Fifield & Fifield, 1997; Galvin & Scherer,
McGregor and Pachuski (1996) provided an in-depth look at how 366 teachers
in Pennsylvania are coping with assistive technology devices and the children with
disabilities they serve. Beginning in 1984, the Pennsylvania Department of
Education established the Pennsylvania Assistive Device Center (ADC), later
renamed PennTech. It consisted of a technology resource center designed to support
the use of assistive technology for students with disabilities. Over the years,
PennTech has acquired a significant quantity of assistive technology devices available
for loan to schoolchildren throughout the state. At the time of this research project
over 600 students had been provided with access to assistive technology devices
through the long-term loan program.
A survey consisting of 32 items designed to gather information from teachers
about their experiences with technology in the classroom was developed. The
questions were organized into six content areas: (a) professional training and
experience of teachers; (b) availability, training, and experience in the use of
computers; (c) experience in the use of assistive technology; (d) teacher perceptions
regarding the outcomes of using technology with a specific student; (e) actions taken
by teachers to help their student use his/her device; and (f) teacher perceptions
regarding the support necessary to use the device.
Of 600 teachers receiving the survey, 322 responded (61%). Teacher
responses to the survey demonstrated emphatically their need to be competent in the
use of the technology in order for success to occur. In spite of the fact many teachers
rated themselves as being technology savvy, they were substantially less satisfied
with their ability to use technology in their teaching. Barriers to rose included: issues
of equipment complexity and the need for support in setting-up and programming
equipment, fiscal resources to acquire technology and lack of training.
An additional finding identified by the researchers was that many of the
respondents indicated the students primarily using assistive technology devices in
their classrooms were those with physical disabilities. Children with cognitive or
learning disabilities were least likely to have access to assistive technology devices
and services, leading the researchers to conclude a potential violation of the spirit of
federal law intending to make assistive technology services more readily available to
all people with disabilities who can benefit from such support (P.L. 100-407, 1988).
Another relevant article written by Hutinger, Johanson, and Stonebumer from
Western Illinois University (1996) provided a two-year longitudinal case study report
on the state of the practice in assistive technology applications in educational
programs. In this study, the authors focused on analyzing how assistive technology
devices were used in educational programs for 14 children with multiple disabilities.
Each of tire children had at least two and in some cases, as many as ten years
experience using assistive technology.
The approach consisted of a modified longitudinal approach to look at use,
effects of technology applications and barriers to the achievement of educational
goals. Through direct observation, videotapes, questionnaires and interviews with
teachers and parents, they were able to develop a comprehensive understanding of
how these children were performing in an educational environment.
Numerous barriers to success were identified. Comprehensive technology
plans for each child were not developed nor sent forward when placements changed;
ongoing technology reassessment was not a part of childrens plans unless an outside
agency was involved; and, when children moved to a new placement, the receiving
staff in many cases did not have technology competence.
Availability of equipment and software varied from environment to
environment for each child and procedures to ensure smooth transitions into new
placements did not consider the receiving teachers expertise. Nor was the
availability of appropriate equipment considered for new placements. Expectancies
and objectives for technology use differed between families and staff.
In spite of the barriers, all of the children made some gains during the two
years of the study. The authors recommended these barriers be identified, policies
developed and procedures enacted to ensure all children in educational settings who
use assistive technology have the opportunity for a successful educational experience.
Coots, Bishop, and Grenot-Scheyer (1998) studied the perspectives of four
general education teachers who had children with severe disabilities in their
classrooms. They found that teachers were the primary decision-makers and relied
more on the assistance of paraprofessionals and their own students than on specialists
to devise adaptations to include children. These teachers expressed concerns about
the match between student learning, the class curriculum, and adaptations on the one
hand and about designing suitable support systems on the other.
Most previous studies of classroom learning of students who are non-speaking
have examined the impact of environmental adaptations on learner participation
within the classroom. In general, they have shown that children were able to
physically participate more fully when environmental changes and other adaptations,
such as an oversized keyboard, were provided on an individualized basis (Beukelman
& Mirenda, 1998; Rosenberg, Clark, Filer, Hupp & Finkler, 1992).
In a study published in 1992, Rosenberg and others reported on the
development of a model program designed to enhance the ability of preschoolers with
severe motor disabilities to participate in program activities with as much
independence as possible. Called Project Participate, this model was designed to
identify the level of active participation of the child and then to develop strategies to
remove barriers to participation.
In this study, participation was defined as manipulating materials, engaging in
activities, and interacting with other participants. The term active was used
deliberately to emphasize that true participation has not occurred when children
passively view program activities (Rosenberg, et al, p.263). Five categories of
abilities affecting participation were identified. They included communication,
motor, cognitive, sensory perceptual and social personal abilities. In a menu driven
approach, intervention options were identified. The options were to increase a
specific skill, modify the environment, engage in alternative behaviors or adapt the
This approach was designed to remediate specific deficits in participation,
lending itself to efficient use of staff and parent time and available assistive devices.
The emphasis was also placed on increasing participation in areas of highest priority,
thus directing adult focus on a limited number of problems, which could be
ameliorated one at a time. The overall results of the project were encouraging. There
was a high degree of teacher and therapist satisfaction with the project (Rosenberg, et
Of note, however, was the overarching emphasis on removing physical
barriers, rather than focusing on the social-cultural aspects of participation. The
authors of this study found themselves primarily engaged in removing physical
barriers to participation, rather than addressing communication barriers (Rosenberg,
2000, personal communication).
In a recent dissertation, McMillen (2000) reported on a national survey of
participation patterns by students with disabilities. The purpose of the study was to
document participation of students with disabilities in school activities, to identify
underlying factors affecting students with disabilities level of participation in school
activities, and to examine sources of variability in participation of students with
disabilities in school activities. Based on Bronfenbrenners (1979) Social Ecological
Model, the study found that higher levels of participation were associated with
students over the age of ten, those with less severe impairment; use of assistive
devices (males only); higher quality of life (teacher report); students with attention
difficulties; larger schools; schools with more teachers; non-urban schools; and
smaller school districts.
Closer examination of the study revealed that teachers responding to this
survey were asked to identify and report on one specific student and the definition of
participation was left to the respondent. Also of note was that spectator activities
had the highest level of reported participation (McMillen, 2000).
The history of technology abandonment is much greater than the history of
technology success in our field. Indeed, as much as 80% of assistive technology
devices are abandoned by users (Galvin & Scherer, 1996). For children who use
alternate forms of communication the rate of voice output is slow and cumbersome.
This often makes it impossible for them to take part in the natural flow of real time
interactive situations. In many cases what is perceived by practitioners to be Teamed
helplessness and abandonment of the device, may instead be the recognition by these
children that social participation is simply not an option for them.
Pragmatics and Activity Theory
During the 1970s, the work of a number of diverse disciplines including
sociolinguistics, philosophy, psychology, speech language pathology and linguistics,
came together and began to develop pragmatic descriptions. The study of
pragmatics is focused on the intentions of the speaker during a communication
exchange, the functions that language serves, as well as how one modifies language
according to contextual considerations, such as the age and relationship of the
communication partner, the formality or informality of the situation, and so forth
(Aram & Nation, 1982).
Investigators recognized that communicative competence (Hymes, 1971)
was as important to language learning as was syntactic or semantic achievement. The
basic assumption of the pragmatic perspective is that language acquisition is one
aspect of social development. Early caregiver-child interactions are the force behind,
as well as the conditions for, language learning (McCormick & Schiefelbusch, 1984).
A frequent hallmark of children and adults with language disorders is their
ineptness in the social use of their language. They often present an inability to grasp
the subtleties of the communicative context or to adapt what they want to say to the
demands of the situation they are in. In short, they are impaired in communicative
competence or what Semel and Wiig (1976) have referred to as the social
perceptions related to language.
For children who are non-speaking and use an alternative form of
communication, communicative competence is difficult to measure for a number of
reasons. A child may for example, have such severe physical disabilities that one is
never sure whether one is measuring their use of semantics, syntax, pragmatics, or the
physical disability itself. In addition, many children have communication devices
with few words, phrases and/or sentences available, thus making it impossible for
them to generate linguistically or pragmatically appropriate language. In many cases,
the adults responsible for providing vocabulary, operating and maintaining the device
have little or no experience with AAC devices and services. The ability of children to
communicate with an AAC device is often a reflection of the adults (incompetence
in designing, programming and teaching the child to use the device.
Another area of concern is that of disciplinary blinders. Dependent on the
discipline of the primary evaluator (e.g. Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational
Therapist or Special Educator, to name a few), the evaluation of a child who is non-
speaking can go in any number of directions. To date, the field of assistive
technology, including augmentative communication specialists, has not developed
measurement tools that clearly and completely assess a childs need and ability to use
specific AAC devices and services.
For most AAC users, their speed of communication also impedes their ability
to take part in free-flowing conversation. For children in preschool and elementary
classrooms, not only are they attempting to talk with others, most are still learning to
use their device. For still others, the motivation to locate and generate the appropriate
words, phrases or sentences encoded within a device does not exceed the cognitive
and/or physical effort required to maintain a lively presence within a conversation.
Over the years, researchers interested in the field of pragmatics have
broadened their scope of understanding to include recognition of the cultural
historical perspective, and in many arenas this is reflected through the use of terms
such as General Systems Theory, Social Communication or Activity Theory rather
than use of the term pragmatics (Light, 1988; Letto, Bedrosian, & Skarakis-Doyle,
1994; McMillen, 2000; Simpson, Beukelman & Sharpe, 2000).
Chapter one provided a brief introduction to Activity Theory as the basis for
the conceptual framework for this study. In this section, additional detail regarding
the underpinnings of Activity Theory is provided.
In the introduction to their book Perspectives on Activity Theory, Yrjo
Engestrom, Reijo Miettinen and Raija-Leena Punamaki assert that activity theory
tends to appear as an intriguing alternative approach only partially and briefly
revealed to the readers. To this day, its rich texture remains a well-kept secret to the
Western scientific community (1999, pp.1-2). Activity theory denies the
conventional assumption that abilities emerge independently from their historical and
cultural settings. Fundamental to this approach is the idea that human capacities
develop when, in collaboration with others, people act upon their immediate
surroundings (Blacker & Crump, 2000).
During the post World War II era, activity theory developed primarily within
the psychology of play, learning, cognition and child development. Language
acquisition and experimental development of instructions, mainly in the context of
schools, served as its primary focus. While these areas continue to be central, activity
theory research has broadened during the past two decades to include topics such as
mental health therapy, development of work activities and implementation of new
cultural tools such as computers (Cole, Engestrom, & Vasquez, 1997). What then is
activity theory and how does it relate to children who are non-speaking?
An activity always includes a subject, an object and a tool(s) (See Figure 1.1,
p. 9). The subject uses a tool to mediate the activity. For example, if the classroom
activity is reading out loud, the child (subject) uses a book and verbal language
(tools) to read out loud (object) thus accomplishing the activity.
Activity theory is focused on the normal development of children through the
process of internalization with a central emphasis on language. Historically, activity
theory has been applied primarily in the field of education. Its most salient feature is
the relationship between the child and adult by way of shared activity involving tools
(artifacts) and language use (Engestrom, 1999). In earlier writing, Engestrom (1987)
made the point that activity systems not only support goal attainment, they are also
Incoherencies, inconsistencies, paradoxes and tensions are integral elements
of activity systems. They become apparent in disturbances when people are
interpreting situations in different ways, inherent dilemmas in the overall pattern of
activity become clear, or unexpected difficulties emerge in the execution of day-to-
day tasks. Engestrom (1987) argued that relationships within activity systems are
made orderly only by the determination people show as they engage with the objects
of their activity. As disturbances become evident within and between activity
systems, actors may begin to address underlying issues and create new learning.
As individuals change their situations they change their activities, and
simultaneously, they change themselves. The work of communication specialists and
activity theorists has certain common characteristics. Both are concerned with how
language functions in, and is a function of, social interaction. Both view the child as
having an active role in their socialization and development. The difference lies in
the conceptualization of the term social. For pragmatists the process of
communication, of interpersonal interaction, is what social activity is all about
Beginning with Vygotsky, the conceptualization of the term social
emphasized the historical and cultural nature of activity, two characteristics not
originally included in the pragmatists definition. According to Vygotsky, The
word social has great significance. Above all, in the widest sense of the word, it
means that everything that is cultural is social (1987, p.22). For Vygotsky, social
does not mean interpersonal, social interaction is not what the child has to learn, nor
is social interaction all there is in the world or all that is possible to know about. The
activities of human beings, at all stages of development and organization, are social
products and must be seen as historical developments. In our case, a child who is non-
speaking has learned that communication at home with his or her parents results in
needs being met, fun, or perhaps even getting in trouble. This same child may have
also learned over time, that the same communication strategies so widely accepted at
home are incomprehensible to peers and teachers at school.
Hood-Holzman (1996, p. 94) describes language, not as a window on
cognition, as a reflection of reality, nor as a means of communication; rather,
language is a uniquely historical activity by virtue of the many language activities we
are engaged in. Human beings are historical beings. We are historical in that we
have the capacity for self-consciously asking how we know what we know,
understand what we understand, and mean what we mean.
Being social means being able to communicate, learning and using the
conventions and norms of ones society. This in turn means that when children learn
language they are learning about themselves as historical beings as they become
aware of what it means to be a speaker (a producer of speech). In studying child
language development, the focus shifts from how children acquire mental capacity or
develop communicative competence, to how children become self-conscious,
historical beings (Hood-Holzman, 1996, pp. 94-96).
Gordon Wells (1999) talks about the use of a tool-kit of discourse in the
activity of learning and teaching (p.231), by suggesting that schooling in the
Western world has become such a part of our culture we take for granted its
encapsulated nature and its almost total dependence on oral and written
communication. As such, language use in teaching and learning is viewed as though
it provides direct access to what is going on in the learners mind (Wells, 1999). In
many classrooms, children are expected to maintain a fairly passive role,
demonstrating their acquisition of knowledge by responding either verbally or in
writing to questions posed by the teacher. In the case of children who use AAC
strategies to demonstrate their knowledge acquisition and their relationship(s) with
peers in the classroom, their inability to provide timely oral (and frequently written)
communication significantly reduces opportunity to actively participate in the life of
In Western culture, like other cultures, learning is recognized as engagement
in joint activity with others. The difference is that we separate educational activities
into a separate category called learning and do not tend recognize other forms of
activity as learning. In other cultures, learning is not treated as a separate activity.
Simply having the ability to talk or write about a practice is not a substitute for being
able to engage in it effectively.
Discourse is a means, not an end in itself, and verbal information is valued not
for the correctness of the way in which it is formulated but for its use as a
means toward the achievement of some larger purpose. What we need to
attend to, in order to understand the role of talk in the classroom, is not so
much the talk per se, as the contribution it makes to the activities in which
students engage in the Tived-in world of the classroom, the actual structures
of participation, and the functions that talk performs-along with other semiotic
systems-in mediating the goal of these activities (Wells, 1999, pp.231-232).
This takes the concept of pragmatics focusing on the intentions of the
speaker during a communication exchange, the functions that language serves, as well
as how one modifies language according to contextual considerations, (Aram &
Nation, 1982) and broadens it to encompass a much wider spectrum of analysis
In 1994, Letto, Bedrosian, and Skarakis-Doyle attempted to examine whether
or not language acquisition could be enhanced for a child with cerebral palsy by
focusing on this concept. During a 10-month period, a young child was engaged in
collaborative interaction with an adult partner providing structured guidance (verbal
and physical prompts). The goal was to elicit certain prelinguistic communicative
functions. Based on the notion of Vygotskys zone of proximal development (ZPD),
the authors sought to examine the language acquisition of a young male child with
Specifically, a normal developmental model was first used to determine the
specific prelinguistic speech acts communicatively appropriate for the child to learn.
Once this was identified, they switched to a methodology sensitive to the concept of
ZPD (Letto, Bedrosian, & Skarakis-Doyle, 1994, p. 151) to study the acquisition of
these functions. Structured guidance and collaborative interaction with an adult
partner were used to facilitate learning of the new concepts.
The assumption was that if the child exhibited a clinically significant increase
in the frequency of his communicative interactions with the adult partner and then
generalized these abilities to new partners, there would be evidence of progression
through the ZPD to more internalized, independent functioning. Results of this study
indicated the child did indeed learn the communicative functions and was able to
generalize these abilities to new partners. The authors suggested the importance of
collaborative interaction, as a context for language learning, could not be overlooked
with children with little or no functional speech, particularly those with severe
physical challenges (Letto, Bedrosian, & Skarakis-Doyle, 1994).
Another study by Bujarski, Hildebrand-Nilshon, and Kordt (1999) looked at
the psychomotor and socioemotional processes of literacy acquisition. In this case
study, grounded in activity theory, the authors sought to determine whether or not a
young, non-speaking male (18 years old) could develop literacy skills through the
development of movement patterns to access the alphabet and through the
enhancement of personality development.
Historically this young man had met with any number of obstacles, both
physical and emotional in his attempts to overcome severe dyslexia. The authors
suggested two hypotheses:
If the articulatoiy, gestieulatory and graphomotor functions are severely
handicapped, they have to be compensated for by learning some other
voluntary movement patterns as representations for letters and other symbols.
Furthermore, the use of these patterns is one of the prerequisites for the
process of analyzing and synthesizing the letter strings of words in reading
and writing (Bujarski, Hildebrand-Nilshon, & Kordt, 1999, p.212).
Secondly, the authors hypothesized that progress at the micro level of literacy
acquisition is influenced strongly by integration of the literacy learning
actions and operations into one or more systems of social relations, providing
a positive emotional assessment (p.220).
In order to address these two areas, the authors first developed a
microcomputer program that enabled the young man to access the alphabet via a
switch. He was then engaged in weekly 90-minute sessions that focused on
developing interpersonal relationships with the investigators as well as learning to
read and write. The authors stated
The more reduced the possibilities of development seem to be because of the
magnitude of the physical disabilities that complicate any compensatory
efforts by the individual, the more important the remaining range of adequate
and workable means will become. And the more a person has been
disappointed, frustrated, and/or traumatized during development, thus
weakening the stability of the self, the more important it will be to integrate
the socioemotional processes into an attempt to reorganize personality
development in all its complexity, from the sensorimotor level to motivation
and emotion. In our view activity theory offers the great advantage of being
able to model processes of personality development in the full range of their
sociohistorical and cultural complexity (Bujarski, Hildebrand-Nilshon, &
Kordt, 1999, p.225).
Ten months after the authors first began writing about this young mans
success, they reported that although there are ongoing difficulties with the technology
being developed for him, he continues to improve his reading and writing skills and
he has demonstrated competence adequate to pass an examination in computer
literacy (in Germany called the PC driving license). He has become involved in a
self-help club, participating in the establishment and operation of a computer mailbox
and has become involved in an occupational learning program at the Berlin Spastic
The combined impact of communication and interaction with others was the
focus of a recent study completed by Simpson, Beukelman and Sharpe (2000). Based
on a model first articulated by Calculator and Jorgensen (1991), who emphasized the
importance of functional communication in general education environments for
students with severe expressive communication impairments (SECI), three
components were selected. They included (a) natural partners (b) interacting on
natural topics (c) in natural environments as the basic requirement for inclusion in
The authors used the concept of general systems theory (GST) postulated by
von Bertalanffy (1973). According to the authors, GST uses principles about systems
to emphasize dynamic interactions in order to understand the inter-relations of
elements in a system and in order to understand functional relationships.
Investigations must capture the reciprocal influence of partners on one another in
order to be considered an investigation of human systems (Simpson, Beukelman &
Sharpe, 2000, p.108).
To complete the study, nearly five hours of exchanges were recorded on
videotape, transcribed and coded based on the partner, mode, and function of each
interaction event. The basic unit of analysis was the interaction transition, composed
of successive antecedent and consequent event pairs. Of 2,737 transitions, none were
recorded with the teacher and only .8% was recorded with peers. This means 99.2%
of the interactions involved only the student and his aide.
Of importance in this study was the substantiation that patterns of interaction
for an individual can vary from partner to partner. For example, had this study been
focused only on the interaction of the student and teacher, the results would have
indicated the student was noncommunicative. By analyzing all interaction events, it
became clear the student and aide had a fairly robust communicative system. In other
words, natural partners were interacting on natural topics in natural environments.
The authors suggest it would be highly inaccurate to make a global statement
that the AAC user is the person with a communication problem, rather it suggests
that by identifying those dyads in which communication is proficient as well as those
that are not, it may be possible to use the interaction patterns of efficient dyads as the
model for those dyads in which interaction is deficient.
Referring to Engestroms notion of a central emphasis on language as a tool
for establishing joint meaning within the context of the western classroom, it becomes
clear that children who are non-speaking are placed at a significant disadvantage
when compared to their verbally proficient peers. Teachers also are placed at a
disadvantage if they are unfamiliar with children with these types of severe
disabilities and their alternative modes of communication.
Since messages transmitted and received serve as the core component of
measuring whether or not a child is learning and participating within the context of
the classroom, and teachers primarily use verbal discourse as their means of
enhancing the learning experience (Cazden, 1988), it becomes even more critical to
understand how communication exchanges occur within and between children who
are non-speaking and their teachers.
In a pilot study conducted by this author (Bodine, 1999), two children,
Bradley and Mindy (not their real names) were videotaped during a regular school
day. Both children were nonspeaking and used a variety of AAC devices and
strategies. Bradley, a four year old, attended a local preschool based in an elementary
school setting four hours a day, while Mindy, eleven, attended a regular fifth grade
classroom for the greater part of the day and a resource room classroom for one or
two hours a day.
A portion of this pilot focused on a preliminary look at how communication
exchanges occurred within and between the students and teachers. In Bradleys case,
he used a series of five low-tech communication boards filled with pictures and a
digital communication system with ten messages available that could be spoken out
loud. The teacher instructed him to show me on your board 29 times during the
four hour segment. Bradleys other communication strategies: vocalizing, mimicking
and pointing to objects were generally ignored. When he attempted to engage in play
activities with the other children, his attempts were also ignored.
Mindys was not called on in class to answer questions or engage in
discussions. In fact, her teacher used the aide as an intermediary to discuss Mindys
assignment for the day. Mindy in turn appeared unresponsive and completely
disengaged throughout class time. When Mindy returned to her resource room, and a
teacher familiar with her communication style, she read aloud and talked about her
blue dye celery experiment with her classmates-two who also used AAC devices.
This notice of a difference (Bateson, 1972) sparked the recognition that this data set
is worthy of an intensive second look and will provide the core data set for this
There is a need to develop a greater level of understanding of the activity
systems that occur in classrooms attended by children who are nonspeaking. There is
also a need to define participation as it relates to children who are non-speaking in
the classroom. The interactions between child-teacher dyads need to be explored in
detail. The use of language and its acquisition by non-speaking children via AAC
devices needs to be understood more fully.
Activity theory problematizes (a) what people are doing, (b) how they are
doing it and who with, and (c) how collective learning may occur. It
introduces the issue (d) how people can mold the contexts that shape their
practices. Activity theory also suggests a particular approach to research: (i)
practices should be studied as transformative activity, (ii) they should be
located within a broader analysis of their historical development, and (iii) by
highlighting disturbances within activity systems researchers can help those
they are studying to recognize, reflect upon and perhaps rebuild their activity
systems (Bladder and Crump, 2000, p. 281).
Although the research based on activity theory and augmented communicators
are limited to date, it appears to hold promise as we seek to discover how children
and adults recognize and demonstrate active participation in the classroom.
Studies of classroom discourse suggest the existence of fairly standard and
normative speech genres. One indication of this is that elementary and high school
teachers are reported as consistently doing most of the talking. A number of studies
completed at various grade levels report that teacher speech accounts for between
two-thirds and three-fourths of the talking within the classroom. In some cases, much
of this talk concerns discipline and classroom management, but even during segments
of discourse clearly intended to be instructional, teachers speech typically accounts
for the majority of the utterances (Wertsch, 1998).
Investigators have also looked at qualitative aspects of instructional discourse.
One of the most important distinctions used to examine instructional discourse, as
opposed to the general amount of teacher talk is that among authentic questions,
and test questions (Nystrand, 1997):
Authentic questions are questions for which the asker has not prespecified an
answer.... Dialogically, authentic teacher questions signal to students the
teachers interest in what they think and know and not just whether they can
report what someone else thinks or has said. Authentic questions invite
students to contribute something new to the discussion that can change or
modify it in some way.
By contrast, a test question allows students no control over the flow of the
discussion. Because authentic questions allow an indeterminate number of
acceptable answers and open the floor to students ideas, they work
dialogically...a test question allows only one possible right answer, and is
hence monologic (p. 38).
The use of test questions in the classroom corresponds to a typical situation
of speech communication (Bakhtin, 1986, p.87), recitation as a form of classroom
discourse. In a study of the discourse of eighth and ninth grade classrooms, Nystrand
(1997, p. 44) reported, in virtually all the classes, the teacher asked nearly all the
questions; few about literature were authentic, and equally few followed up on
According to Nystrand, authentic questions, discussion, and other types of
interaction, while important, do not necessarily imply that learning is occurring.
Much depends on the larger settings in which such practices occur. His findings
suggest that the practice of having teachers ask almost all the questions and
eliminating the use of authentic questions is not desirable from the standpoint of
student learning. In his view, these practices contribute to a setting that does not
assign significant and serious epistemic roles to students that the students themselves
can value (Nystrand, 1997, p. 72). In the case of students who use an alternative
form of communication, responding to yes no questions already comprises an
inordinate amount of their communication repertoire (Beukelman & Miranda, 1998).
By further denying opportunities to respond to authentic questions and to contribute
as valued members of their classroom, their motivation, like that of their classmates,
can be predicted to decline dramatically.
Both Mehan (1979) and Cazden (1972) described patterns of classroom
interaction as scripted. In an ethnographic study of an elementary school, Mehan
described most of the interactions he transcribed as beginning with the teacher
initiating a question, followed by a students reply. This was followed in turn by the
teachers evaluation of the response. From a corpus of interactions examined over the
course of nine lessons he found this three part sequential pattern to predominate.
Cazden (1972) also found a similar pattern in her research which she labeled
question, response, evaluation, or Q-R-E.
Cazden suggests we cannot study communication as the process by which
people relate to each other, instead, we must look at the context within which it
occurs the human relationship.
A mother holds and feeds her baby; two people enjoy talking to each other; a
community of mathematicians contributes articles and books to the academic
community; a whole society maintains a particular political system. Each of
these is a communication enterprise requiring the participation of two or more
people who have learned the required cultural codes with some degree of code
competence. A persons competence in using the cultural patterns or codes is
his ability to participate in societys life. When we use this point of view or
model of human communication, we can say that all of education is a matter
of teaching children to participate in the communication of their human world.
And we can begin to see that the fact of participation, the process itself, is
more deeply and interpersonally important then the content of the messages
themselves (Cazden, 1972, p. 6).
When we examine a human relationship, such as a conversation between two
people, it quickly becomes apparent there are other modalities or channels operating
in addition to spoken language such as nonverbal gestures. For able-bodied
individuals, these nonverbal channels appear as systematic patterns of the culture and
are readily apparent to individuals sharing the same cultural code (Cazden, 1972).
For children with physical disabilities however, these systematic patterns of
gestures are easily recognizable only to those who have co-constructed a shared
cultural code with them. They are often unrecognizable to those unfamiliar with their
non-verbal gestures or patterns or perhaps unwilling to recognize these patterns might
exist. Thus, their cultural code goes unrecognized.
Children may indeed be linguistically deprived if the language of their natural
competence is absent in the schools; if the purposes to which they put
language, and the ways in which they do so, are absent or prohibited in the
school (Byers & Byers, 1972).
Construction of Joint Activity
Leontevs (1981) concept of analysis of joint activity helps us to understand
what is occurring during the course of complex interactive processes and can be
recognized within the use of an AAC device. The activity may be a lesson occurring
in the classroom. The child who uses an AAC device must think about what he or she
wants to say and then construct a string of words on the machine in order to
communicate with individuals in the immediate environment.
The action is the childs conscious decision to use the device to retrieve
vocabulary pertinent to the communicative event by remembering how and where the
words are stored within the device. Operation is a pattern of action that becomes
routinized over time because of practice (Leontev, 1981). In this case, children who
have experience retrieving specific vocabulary from their device will do so
automatically, much like a second language learner who becomes extremely well
versed and practiced in using a second language.
However, when a word or phrase is needed that is not operationalized, a return
to action is required. An important question is whether or not the communication
partner recognizes this dilemma and scaffolds the interaction event for the child.
This activity of constructing a message using a tool is also nested within the
joint activity of education or learning, which in turn is nested within the activities of
the classroom, etc. For children who are nonspeaking, the context within which these
events are occurring is impacted to an even greater level by the teachers willingness
and/or ability to recognize the additional demands placed on the child by then-
physical and cognitive abilities, as well as the impact of their cultural historical
experience with communication, learning, peers, family and teachers.
Wells (1999) describes discourse as a tool-kit that is drawn upon in achieving
the goals of activities and their constituent tasks (p. 235). Language as a tool is used
to mediate activity and serves to connect humans not only with the world of objects,
but also with other people. For children who are non-speaking, in order to get to
spoken output, they must first use the communication device as a tool to mediate the
language used to mediate the activity-all from within their own cultural historical
context of the classroom aided by their own unique communication style.
Activity is inseparable from context and guides the interpretation of events.
Context can be regarded as a collective term used to encompass all the events
(including historical events) that tell someone what set of alternatives he or she has
available. Context is what counts as information to a participant as he or she
approaches their next move (Bateson, 1972, p.289). Thus context refers to the
environment as perceived rather than, as it may exist in objective reality
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The tools used, the people involved and the messages they
send and receive are all part of the context.
Context is different for every child in the class, because he or she perceives
the class from his or her own perspective, is aware of different things and brings a
different history to the situation. Context is reciprocally constructed.
Analysis of participation within activities makes it possible to view individuals as not
simply embedded within context, but actively involved in the process of building
context through intricate collaborative articulation of the events they are engaged in
(Goodwin & Harness Goodwin, 1989).
For example, within a typical classroom environment, there are any number of
activities taking place at any given time. The physical arrangement of the room, the
materials being utilized and the accessibility features necessary for the child must be
taken into account. In addition, the social information that is available to the child
may be even more critical than the physical constraints of the interaction.
Professionals working with children who are non-speaking are only beginning
to understand the consequences of severe communication impairments on an
individuals ability to take part in social roles. The activity itself, and the articulation
of the interaction through which it is accomplished, constitutes a self-explicating
system of meaning and relevance (context). In order to achieve coordinated action,
participants must display for each other the intelligibility of the events they are
engaged in, including what activities are in progress and what they expect to happen
next (Goodwin & Harness Goodwin, 1989).
If we are to understand communicative participation or the restrictions in
participation that accompany chronic conditions such as cerebral palsy, traumatic
brain injury and childhood aphasia we must understand communication as occurring
within a cultural historical context. People communicate within the context of their
daily lives. This includes the roles they choose or are expected to play, the
circumstances in which they exist, and the community culture that defines their
natural environments. To discover the communication strategies of a child, it is best
to observe the child within his or her natural environment and then carefully record
and analyze the communicative events.
Children who are nonspeaking use a variety of communication strategies to
deliver messages. They may rely on vocalizations, rough approximations of
verbalizations, facial expressions, eye gaze and the like. When using an
augmentative/ alternative communication (AAC) device, they typically must pay
attention to the device in order to compose a message.
Learning to use a device is an ongoing process. Many AAC users spend years
learning where and how vocabulary is stored within their device. Language
production via an AAC device is often slow and laborious. In some cases, it may take
several minutes for a child to compose a simple message such as Im ready to go
now. Competent use of the device does not always reflect the level of internal
language development typical for the child. Language development in many cases is
in excess of their command of the device.
Teachers also use a number of communication strategies within the classroom.
Like the rest of us, they rely on facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations to add
richness to their verbal language. If the child who is nonspeaking is busy formulating
a message on their device, it is not unusual for them to miss these metamessages,
leading to a lack of engagement as they strive to keep up.
Within the classroom setting, it is the teachers responsibility to notice
whether or not children who are nonspeaking are participating and if not, to intercede
on their behalf to facilitate communication exchanges. As discussed in Chapter One,
this intercession, or scaffolding, was identified by Vygotsky as the Zone of
Proximal Development (ZPD) (1962, p.22).
Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotskys view of development emphasized language and his belief that
individual development is rooted in society and culture. Human development is
dialectic, and involves the childs appropriation of culture through interaction with
others. Language and discourse are the most critical tool for the childs construction
of the social world, because it is through language that social action is generated
Vygotsky emphasized social interactions, particularly between children and
adults. Within the domain of classroom instruction, he recognized two
characteristics. The first was the development of conscious awareness and voluntary
control of knowledge (the product of instruction) and the second was the use of this
knowledge by the child to internalize and eventually transform the help they receive
into strategies for their own development of problem-solving skills. In short, a
critical role of schooling is to create social contexts for mastery of skills that then lead
to higher-order intellectual activity (Vygotsky, 1978).
For children who are non-speaking in a classroom setting, scaffolding may
take a number of forms: (a) conceptual scaffolding which might include the teacher
providing hints, explanation, or guiding questions that enable the child to refine or
extend an internal schema; (b) participatory scaffolding such as creating expectant
pauses, turn taking, roles; (c) language production scaffolding by helping the child to
use the AAC device (assisting them to locate appropriate vocabulary within the
device); or (d) physical scaffolding through the use of modifications or materials that
enable the child to physically access their environment.
Vygotsky defined the zone of proximal development as the difference
between what children can do unassisted with the performance level that could be
achieved with assistance (1978). Vygotskys concept of the zone of proximal
development (ZPD) is salient for children who are non-speaking placed in an
educational setting. These children are often using communication devices and
strategies they are unfamiliar with or just learning to use in order to construct their
world. It falls upon the teacher to recognize when the child is having difficulty
generating language via a communication device or other alternative means and to
provide sufficient supports in order to facilitate not only the childs communication
attempt, but their struggle to learn to use the communication device in order to
interact within the classroom. It also falls within the teachers purview to recognize
when a child does not have the necessary vocabulary or language skill to generate a
coherent exchange and to scaffold this learning opportunity.
There are currently no studies documenting detailed teacher interactions with
non-speaking students from this perspective. In fact, there is only anecdotal
information shared among clinicians about how these children and teachers interact.
Clinicians who work with children who are nonspeaking know that 71% of
adults with disabilities are unemployed and for those with severe communication
impairments very few go on to post secondary institutions. Most individuals with
severe communication disorders do not find employment and for those who do, it is
rarely in positions that pay more than minimal wages. In fact, the number one reason
that persons with disabilities lose their job or are not hired is because of diminished
social skills (Beukelman & Miranda, 1998; Freedman & Fesko, 1996).
It is critical that we begin to observe, document and analyze successful
participation of children who are nonspeaking within the educational setting in order
to share this knowledge with those who are charged with fostering their growth. This
information is necessary if we are to teach educators, families and others to recognize
and facilitate active participation of children who are nonspeaking in the learning
Scope of the Study
The research design for this study involved extensive analysis of video
recorded observations involving a primary sample composed of three teachers and
two children, an in-depth interview with a teacher demonstrating exemplary practice
and an in-depth interview of one child, and her mother, who was the student of both
the exemplary practice teacher and a regular fifth grade teacher. This was
accomplished by analyzing and describing (a) joint activity construction, (b)
contextual factors, (c) communication strategies and (d) scaffolding within the zone
of proximal development demonstrated by teachers and their students who are non-
speaking and use alternative methods of communication within public school
The results of this study have implications for educators who are interested in
making a positive difference in the lives of students who are non-speaking. In
particular, the study will provide an understanding of the learning, achievement and
participation within the culture of the classroom of students who are non-speaking.
The children participating in this study were chosen using criteria provided to
Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Assistive Technology Team Leaders
located within a metropolitan area. These professionals work full-time as assistive
technology specialists and are responsible for evaluating, prescribing and training
children who use alternative methods of communication as well as being responsible
for training educators and para educators working directly with these children.
The challenge was to locate two or three children who were non-speaking and
attending a regular education class in a public school. Age of the children was not the
primary consideration. What was important was that the children needed to be
identified as proficient AAC users meaning they had been evaluated for, and had
already received, an alternative method for communication and had been trained to
use the device by qualified members of the Colorado Department of Educations
technology team. None of the children were expected to demonstrate adult levels of
proficiency with their device; rather, they were expected to be proficient based on the
available technology and their length of use of the device. The final and most
important criterion was the fit between the teacher and the child. The instructor
needed to be someone who was openly welcoming to the child and had demonstrated
a willingness to ensure the active participation of the child in his or her classroom.
Three children were originally identified for the pilot study. Prior to its
conclusion, one of the children was recused due to serious illness. Two children,
Bradley, age 4 and Mindy, age 11 remained in the study.
Sites for this study included a local preschool housed within what was
described by the principal as a typical public elementary school, a fifth grade
classroom and a resource room in the same public elementary school. Both schools
were located in a major metropolitan school district and were representative of the
metropolitan area demographics. The second public school was situated in two
distinct city populations, inner city school age children who live in poverty, and
children living close by from a significantly wealthy neighborhood. The
demographics of this school reflect a rich cultural diversity (Heamon, personal
The preschool classroom used a center-based curriculum, distinguished by a
number of activity centers located throughout the room. Chairs and tables were
arranged in one area of the room for snack-time and table activities such as painting,
drawing and completion of other academic tasks. There was room for sixteen
students. Other areas of the room were devoted to a reading nook or library, a play
kitchen and dress-up area, a sand table, circle time, and clean up. Children were
allowed to move freely from activity to activity and were often guided to their next
task by either the teacher or paraprofessional.
The fifth grade classroom was designed for eighteen students. In one-half of
the room, the desks were pushed together and facing each other to allow groups of six
students to work together in peer groups. The other half of the room was available
for students and the teacher to gather on the floor for instruction, read alouds, and
discussion time. During the observation period, Mindy was removed from her chair
and placed on the edge of the group, near the front. First one and then a second para
professional were seated on either side of her. During deskwork, she was seated at
the end of one of the rows of desks. In addition to Mindy, one other child with an
obvious disability attended this classroom.
The resource room was located down the hall from the regular fifth grade
classroom. Three things were readily noticeable about the resource room. First, this
room was much quieter than the regular classroom. Second, there were computers
lining three of the four walls of the classroom, and finally, the demeanor of the eight
children present in the room. They were talking with each other, three with high-tech
communication systems, and clearly were enjoying each others company. This room
felt like a respite to me from the noise and activity going on throughout the rest of the
building. In this room, a round table was available for the children to gather for
lessons. A walled off cubicle in the room with mats was available for children to
either rest or have their personal care needs met. There was also a library nook and
three teacher desks available for the teacher and paraprofessionals to use.
Access and Consent
Prior to the initiation of this study, the parents and teachers of these children
were contacted and asked to consent to either their child or their own participation in
the study. Because this project was conducted under the auspices of the University of
Colorado at Denver as a student research project, the parents, teachers and children
were assured the information gathered was to be used for academic purposes.
Confidentiality was assured and both schools confirmed they had signed video-
release and observation forms for the children in their files.
Both schools participate in formal relationships with the University and are
designated as partner schools by themselves and the University. As such the
schools serve as laboratories for research by faculty and students as well as providing
practicum opportunities for aspiring educators. In addition to the videotape and
interviews completed originally, an additional interview was held with Mrs. H. the
resource room teacher, Mindy, one of the participants, and her mother.
Because the interview segments were a new addition to the study,
Instititutional Review Board permission was sought and obtained. A consent form
was developed for the teachers and parents to review with the investigator and sign.
In addition, an assent form for Mindy was developed and reviewed with her in the
presence of her mother. She indicated permission using her communication device
by saying Yes when asked if she understood what had been read to her and Yes
again when asked if she was willing to participate in a videotaped interview. Her
mother than added her signatures to Mindys assent form providing consent for the
interview to take place.
Observations and Videotaping
Observations in the classroom took place in late fall (2000), two weeks prior
to the Thanksgiving holiday break. Videotaping was completed mid-week (Tuesdays
and Thursdays) to avoid both the beginning and end of the week. As one teacher put
it On Mondays were getting up and running and on Fridays were winding down.
In Bradleys case, an entire morning of preschool was videotaped (he went home at
noon). In Mindys case, an entire day was videotaped from 8:00 am to 2:30pm.
In both classrooms, the teacher was asked to wear a portable, battery operated
microphone and the videotape was placed out of harms way, yet close enough to
capture full video of the children and those they were interacting with. In both cases,
the videotape was moved from one side of the room to the other, when the scene of
activity changed. In Mindys case, the video camera was moved from the regular
education classroom to the resource room midway through the day. It should be
noted that all of the teachers explained they were frequently videotaped and felt
like this day had gone as well as any other. Field notes collected during the visit
included rough drawings of the classroom layouts and comments about the various
activities taking place.
Prior to the analysis of data, I transcribed the videotapes. The initial
transcription occurred at the macro level. During the first viewings, teacher-child
verbal and AAC communication strategies were recorded. During subsequent
viewings, recorded utterances were reviewed and matched with the video recording to
ensure accuracy of transcription.
Following that, contextual features such as the physical arrangement of the
classroom and specific activities, accessibility features, implicit and explicit norms of
participation, physical plant, and the role of the student and teacher within the
exchange were identified and later verified through subsequent review of the
videotape by the investigator and through conjoint video review with the teacher,
parent and student.
From this the types of communication exchanges were sorted, coded and
counted. Types of communication exchanges included (a) classroom management
exchanges; (b) question, response, evaluation (QRE) exchanges; (c) authentic
question; and (d) test question exchanges.
Finally, a search of individual episodes of joint activity construction was
reviewed to identify examples of scaffolding within the zone of proximal
development. These episodes were noted on the transcription record. After these
recordings were completed, focus shifted to developing a system to identify episodes
for microanalysis. Two types of scaffolding events were identified and coded: events
focused on the lesson and those events focused on the AAC device. Also coded were
three types of scaffolding events: (a) verbal moves; (b) physical moves; and, (c)
combined verbal and physical moves.
Selections of each of the three types of moves within both types of scaffolding
events for all three classrooms were sought for microanalysis. In the case of the
regular education classroom (Mindys History Class), these three types of moves
were not available. In fact, Mrs. P. only spoke to Mindy on three occasions during
the class. Because of this, all available videotape of Mrs. P. and Mindy interacting
was used for the microanalysis.
In the other classrooms, episodes were chosen that reflected a clear beginning,
middle and end. Episodes were also selected because the quality of the audio and
video were good (no visual or auditory obstruction). At the micro level of
transcription, those episodes chosen for intensive analysis were fully transcribed to
include not only the audible utterance transcriptions, but also any non-verbal
communication strategies used by the child and teacher such as eye gaze,
vocalizations, facial expression, or gestural language used to improve the
communication exchange. Evidence of the non-verbal and verbal strategies used by
the teacher to scaffold interactive episodes was carefully transcribed.
In order to accomplish both levels of analysis, each videotape was viewed a
minimum of three or four times, although multiple additional viewings were the
norm. For the microanalysis, each episode was reviewed a minimum of fifteen times
(including the conjoint review). Transcription data forms were used to record
information for verification and review during the coding segment of the analysis.
In order to understand participation from the perspective of the student and the
educator, two levels of analysis, a macro and a microanalysis were employed for each
of the three classrooms.
The macro analysis focused on unpacking the nature of the classroom
activities that were taking place. The teachers purpose within the lesson plan and
how the lesson was structured was targeted, as well as the overarching discourse
patterns of the classroom, the physical setting within which the discourse occurred,
and finally, the macro analysis attempted to identify the implicit and explicit rules of
the classroom. The micro level of analysis focused on specific discourse episodes
within the classroom and entailed detailed analysis of the interaction strategies used
by both the teacher and the student.
The first level of analysis focused on a discourse analysis of the transcription.
This was done in order to identify the ways in which teachers and students interacted
when carrying out various activities within the classroom (activity level). Patterns of
interaction that have been learned by the participants and used, often without
conscious awareness, were documented in order to assist in identifying the implicit
rules of the classroom.
Evidence of authentic communication (Nystrand, 1997) as well as patterns
such as the Question, Response, Evaluation (Q-R-E) suggested by Cazden (1988)
were also identified and annotated. This type of coding facilitated identification of
the role of communication within the classroom environment. It also served to
highlight interactive episodes occurring between the teacher and child who is
nonspeaking. The initial phase of coding also assisted in the identification of specific
instances of participation.
During the second level of analysis, interactive episodes were scrutinized to
learn more about the strategies used by both the student and teacher to construct new
personal meanings. Within each interactive episode, the analysis searched for
evidence of (a) joint activity construction, (b) nonverbal and verbal communication
strategies and (d) scaffolding within the zone of proximal development.
The second level of coding incorporated transcription conventions used by
Ochs, Schegloff and Thompson, (1996) in their book Interaction and grammar.
Transcription conventions included (a) notations for temporal and sequential
relationships, (2) aspects of speech delivery, including aspects of intonation, and (3)
Coding included the communication strategies pertinent to use of the AAC
vocabulary and device and was based on the childs competence when attempting to
retrieve prestored vocabulary. For example, if the child used either a nonverbal
gesture or retrieved pre-stored vocabulary from their device without searching
behaviors, requests for assistance or other support, it was assumed he or she was fully
competent within that particular communication episode (FC).
If they needed verbal or physical prompts to retrieve specific vocabulary it
was assumed that scaffolding was necessary (scaffolded episode-SE). Equally
important was whether or not the teacher recognized the child had something to say
but was unable to retrieve the necessary word and the teachers strategies to scaffold
the interaction (i.e. provide appropriate assistance). Codes for this segment were
further defined throughout the analysis as the need for new codes emerged.
The microanalysis consisted of multiple viewings to determine how patterns
of interaction either supported or did not support the childs participation. Focus was
on the stream of action leading to the activity and the strategies utilized by the teacher
to scaffold the episode, and the childs response. The discourse strategy used
throughout the interaction and its results were also identified.
Following the initial transcription and coding, interviews with the exemplary
teacher and Mindy and her mother were completed independently. They were asked
to review three to five video clips and to talk in-depth about what was happening.
Specific questions regarding what strategies were being used to arrive at shared
meanings were directed to both the exemplary teacher and Mindy.
Mindy and her mother were interviewed as well to provide in-depth
information about Mindys perceptions of the classroom and her role as a student.
The goal of the interviews was to extract as much information as possible through
discussion and conjoint video review.
For each interview, three-to-five portions of the videotapes were chosen for
review. One portion included a segment focused on the teacher providing general
instruction to the classroom. Second and third segments were chosen of two
interactive events between the teacher and child. Each segment was first reviewed by
the group and then the interviewee was asked to describe what they saw happening.
In the case of the general instruction segment, questions were focused on what her
intent was at that moment in time and her impression of its effectiveness in achieving
that intent. Questions regarding the use of contextual cues, and any
accommodations/modifications were also explored. Interviews with the teacher were
audio taped, transcribed and reviewed for confirmation of analysis.
In the case of the interactive events, questions were focused on the
construction of a shared meaning. What was the joint activity underway? Did this
activity feel successful? What made it work? What happened to make the activity
feel unsuccessful? What were the cues that enabled the teacher to know she was
supporting the childs learning? How effective did she think it was?
During the interview with Mindy and her mother, the same segments of
videotape were examined. Mindy was asked to describe what was happening in the
classroom. She was also asked to talk about what she was learning and whether the
teacher was helpful. Questions were developed to elicit information from Mindy
about the communication strategies she was using in the videotape. Her mother was
also asked to identify whether or not these communication strategies were the same
ones Mindy used at home. The interview with Mindy and her mother was
videotaped, transcribed and reviewed for confirmation of analysis.
Additionally, a speech pathologist with extensive experience in developing
AAC systems and training children who are non-speaking was acquainted with the
definitions and coding system developed. This individual was asked to view the
videotape independently and code a number of interactive episodes. Comparisons
were made between both sets of coded data to determine reliability of the coding
Chapter four is organized into three sections. The first section describes two
children who participated in the study. The second segment focuses on the Macro
Analysis beginning with Mindys day, followed by a description of Bradleys day.
The final section provides the results of the microanalysis.
Two children were selected to participate in this study. For purposes of
confidentiality their names were changed to Bradley and Mindy. Bradleys teacher is
called Mrs. W. and Mindys two teachers are identified as Mrs. H. the resource room
instructor, and Mrs. P. the regular classroom instructor.
Bradley is an engaging four year old with a big smile and a dimple when he is
happy, and a slightly wrinkled worry-face when he appears concerned about what is
going on around him. He is ambulatory, with some fine motor impairment. His
teacher describes his gross motor movements as slightly behind where he should be.
This is also how she described his overall achievement in the classroom. He is non-
verbal due to oral apraxia (inability to control voluntary motor movements necessary
for speech). He is unable to communicate verbally with the exception of a few grunts
Bradley has five low-tech communication boards. These boards consist of
picture arrays generated with BoardMaker Software (Meyer-Johnson Company) and
printed out on legal size paper. Three of the boards were laminated, including one
designed as a placemat and used during eating activities. Each board has vocabulary
designed for use with the different activity centers (e.g. Block Area, Bathroom, House
Area, Snack time, and Art Area) located around the room. He also has access to a
Parrot Communication System (Zygo Industries), which contained four songs
digitally recorded for Circle Time. In addition, Bradley uses a digital device called a
MessageMate (Words+ Systems, Inc.), which contained ten items such as Im
finished. My name is Bradley. Play with me? and Friend that he could express
out loud by pressing buttons on the device.
Mindy is an attractive eleven year-old with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. She
uses a power wheelchair to navigate very efficiently throughout the building. She
primarily uses her left-hand index finger to access her communication device one key
at a time. She uses a thumbs-up and a smile to indicate success and is able to grossly
display the sign for I dont know to indicate when she needs help from the resource
room teacher. When she chooses, her facial and bodily gestures convey a wealth of
She uses a Liberator (Prentke Romich, Co.). This is a sophisticated voice
output device enhanced with a 3,000-word vocabulary package called Unity. She
used her Lib to communicate during class-time, with peers, family and friends, as
well as with members of her local community (Church, bus-time, etc.). In addition to
the single word vocabulary contained within the device, she also has an additional
corpus of 100 pre-programmed phrases and sentences. She uses her communication
device (with Serial Keys and MIKE) to access an Apple Macintosh computer located
in the resource room at her school.
The classroom where Mindy started her day appeared to me to represent a
fairly typical fifth grade room. There were a total of 18 students in the class. The
desks were grouped together on one side of the room in sets of 6 and the other side of
the room was left open so the students could gather on the floor for daily reading
Her teacher, Mrs. P. was a petite woman who spent the first several minutes
organizing the students, and reviewing local incidents. One student came to class on
crutches and another had a recently broken nose. Both were asked to describe what
had happened to cause their injuries. Soon after my arrival the class grouped
themselves on the floor around the teacher. Two paraprofessionals arrived and lifted
Mindy from her wheelchair so she could be placed on the floor with the other
students. Both paraprofessionals seated themselves, one on either side of Mindy.
Throughout the class she struggled to maintain her upright position, frequently
swaying forward and then jerking her body back to a more upright position. Toward
the end of the floor session, one of the paraprofessionals began to support her
physically with his hand. Mindys communication device was placed in front of her
on the floor and to her left. It was quickly apparent that she would be unable to reach
her device without falling over. The device remained unused throughout the floor
work session. Neither the teacher, nor the other children spoke to Mindy during this
segment of the lesson.
Time was also allotted for the students to talk about the rules of the class. The
norms for this classroom were very explicit. Students were not to talk or interrupt
while class was in session unless called upon. Marks would be made on the chart if
there were any infractions and punishment involved a visit with the principal.
The students in this particular class were engaged in a thematic history unit
focused on exploration of the new world. Balboa, Magellen and Amerigo Vespuccis
travels and their discoveries were under discussion. The lesson plan included a read
aloud activity, followed by a question and answer session. Later the students went
back to their desks for independent seatwork.
There were 714 communication exchanges recorded during this classroom
session. Of these exchanges, 148 (21%) were focused on classroom management.
Mrs. P. was clearly concerned with maintaining control and eliminating any
extraneous conversation. There were frequent admonitions to hush, with the ever-
present threat of having a mark placed on the chart.
The overarching discourse pattern of this classroom followed Cazdens (1972;
1988) descriptions of Question-Response-Evaluation (QRE). There were a total of 59
(8%) QRE exchanges recorded during the session with 54 (7.5%) test questions and 6
(<1%) authentic questions posed to the group. Interestingly, when an authentic
question was posed, it was quickly followed by a teacher explanation that often began
prior to the children completing their response.
There did not appear to be many accommodations and/or modifications made
for Mindy and the one other student with an obvious physical disability attending this
class. Following the read aloud, Mindy was placed back in her chair and positioned
sideways at the end of a row of desks. The paraprofessional who remained in the
room for the deskwork session seated himself at the desk on her left. Mindys
position placed her back to the paraprofessional. In order to see her textbook and
other materials, it was necessary for her to turn her head as far as it would go to her
left. She did have an easel with a small chalkboard placed on the desk beside her. On
the chalkboard, daily assignments, messages, etc. were written for Mindy and her aide
Mindys role in this classroom was primarily that of an observer. Throughout
the time (almost two hours) she spent in the classroom, the teacher spoke directly to
her on three occasions. She was not called on in class, nor did it appear that she was
expected or encouraged to offer any responses to the questions posed to the students
During the conjoint review of the videotape with Mindy and her mother, both
agreed that she did not appear to be participating in the activities of her class. After
watching the tape Mindys mother described the experience as .. .shes totally
checked out. Thats what my kid looks like when she knows it doesnt matter what
During the teacher interview, Mrs. P. clearly articulated her appreciation of
Mindy. Reviewing the field notes and the video tape confirmed that while she truly
liked Mindy as evidenced by her use of words like Sweetie and the way she
carefully smoothed Mindys hair away from her eyes, her expectations of Mindys
capabilities were minimal.
I dont do much adapting for Mindy, she has her para to help.. .you saw today,
how she just sits there and doesnt have a lot to contribute. ... I really like her
being in the classroom. I think its good for all of us to have her and H.
(another classmate with disabilities and Mindys best friend) there.
Following this class, an amazing transformation occurred. As we entered the
hallway, S., approached us. Within seconds, Mindy went from being a silent observer
to an engaging, communicative child. She turned to me, smiled, and with her
Liberator said, COME ON, ILL SHOW YOU WHERE MY CLASS IS. THIS IS
MY FRIEND S., WE SPEND EVERY WEEKEND TOGETHER.
The resource room we entered next is where Mindy spent the rest of her
school day. Mrs. H. appeared eager to get to work. Firing off commands to everyone
she soon had students working independently or seated comfortably at the table for
reading class, either in the available chairs or in their own wheelchairs. As she
worked to arrange everyone she described the days agenda.
First, she said, we need to finish our reading assignment. Mindy and H. you
need to finish up your hypothesis and observations today for your celery
experiment. J. you need to finish your spelling test and G. the animals need to
be fed. Are you ready?
The norms of this classroom were explicit. Here we work at grade level. I
expect these students to perform within their capacity. Even though they do things
differently, I expect them to produce. As Mrs. H. made this statement J., one of her
students looked up at me, smiled and shook his head in agreement. It seemed very
clear to me that these students not only liked Mrs. H., they knew they were expected
to learn while they were in this class.
This room was designed for all students to be comfortable. In Mindys case,
she remained seated in her wheelchair and was positioned so that she sat beside a
classmate and facing the table. Her lap tray remained on her wheelchair, as did her
communication device. On the table was an easel positioned to hold her textbook
while she used her communication device. The textbook was held open and in place
on a clipboard.
During quiet reading, Mrs. H. placed apiece of Dycem (a sticky piece of
plastic 8x10 inches) on Mindys lap tray and placed the clipboard with the book on
the Dycem in front of her, leaning it against her communication device. Each time
Mindy was called upon or signaled her intent to speak by raising her hand or looking
directly at the teacher, Mrs. H. walked over and moved these items to the easel,
returning them in front of Mindy when she finished talking. In this way, Mindy was
able to follow along with the reading as well as take part in classroom discussions.
Mindys role in this classroom was the polar opposite of the earlier
experience. Her role was quite simply, that of a student. She, like everyone else
present was expected to do her work, respond to questions and finish her homework
in the allotted time.
There were a total of 882 communication exchanges recorded during this
session. Of these, 43 (5%) were used for classroom management activities. These
management activities were concerned primarily with changing activities (e.g.
moving from a reading activity to a science activity). Two of the exchanges were
suggestions for one of the students to stay on task. There were 50 (6%) question-
response-evaluation (QRE) episodes, 42 (5%) test questions and 13 (1.5%) authentic
question exchanges during this session.
Mindy and her mother, agreed that in this class she was an active participant.
Look at her! exclaimed her mother, Shes learning. Mindys response to this
video clip was one of evident pleasure. She acknowledged how much she missed
Mrs. H. and also pointed out that when she was in the resource room, she didnt need
the paraprofessional as much.
Mrs. H. expected each of the children in her classroom to be active
participants. She signaled this intention by turning her body to face the child she was
speaking with, looked directly at them; waiting for the child to establish eye contact
with her, then spoke to them in a pleasant tone, using age-appropriate (fifth grade)
language. If a child needed time to compose a response on their device, she would
sometimes walk away or attend to another task, but she always turned back to the
child when she heard their device begin to speak or with an expectant pause if they
had not yet responded and her other task was finished.
During our interview, I asked Mrs. H. to tell me what is different about this
classroom and to describe her academic expectations.
The pace is a lot slower and Im lucky to only have eight students, and I never
have them all at once, so Im able to do a lot more individually. The
curriculum is not standards and test-based, Im going for what they are able to
do.. .1 dont have the pressures that a classroom teacher has, the wide range of
Academic expectation.. .depends on the kid. To be as functional as they can
be, if they have a device, to use it, both to communicate orally and written, so
they are comfortable speaking in front of other people.. .this class is much
more reading level appropriate. We do cover the fifth grade reading
curriculum, just in a different way. I do a read-aloud and then we stop and
talk about it and sometimes, Ill ask them to do some predictions or answer
some comprehension questions or talk about the characters. They are doing
grade level literature.
I think it might be harder for the teachers (regular education teachers),
because they are not seeing that much active participation to begin with, so
Im not sure. It really makes me sad that the classroom teachers dont know
Mindy the way I do-and dont know she is soaking it all up and taking it all in.
You know, what a neat, smart kid she really is.
I entered Bradleys classroom with my hands full of video equipment and
without any preconceived notions of how the day might go. Mrs. W. was a calm and
kind presence in this classroom. Listen (to me) during circle time, I review
everything they are going to be learning and doing during the day.
Bradley was easy to locate. He was a quiet and reserved young man, with
dark hair and eyes. When called to circle time he immediately ran to get his Parrot.
The Parrot is a small digital communication device that was usually preprogrammed
with the songs used during circle time. Unfortunately, on this day, someone had
recorded over his Good Morning song. Clearly disappointed, he continued to fiddle
with the device throughout circle time, ignoring the other children and in turn, mostly
ignored by them.
Throughout the room were several low-tech communication boards
strategically placed near the various activity centers. With the exception of the
Placemat Board, located directly under his plate during mealtime, Bradley did not
appear interested in the other low-tech systems. Instead, he relied almost exclusively,
with prompts from Mrs. W. on the voice output devices.
This room appeared representative of a typical preschool classroom, with
several activity centers located throughout the room and lots of childrens artwork
hanging from the walls. Tape was placed on the floor to indicate the perimeters of
each area and the children all moved busily from place to place.
There were 16 children in attendance with one paraprofessional available to
assist Mrs. W. throughout the day. The norms of the classroom were fairly explicit
and the children all seemed to know what the rules were. Each day started with circle
time, followed by breakfast, tooth brushing, free time, table work and playtime. The
children were allowed to chat with each other during all activities, but knew to listen
up when Mrs. W. had something to tell them or provided group instruction. Lessons
were structured around a brief period of teacher instruction (were going to do some
matching), with examples given, and time allowed for the children to finish their
In this classroom, a total of 432 communication exchanges were recorded.
Classroom management exchanges were limited to 21 (5%) and were focused around
moving from one activity to another and making sure each child had a plan for what
they were going to do next. There were 16 (4%) question-response-evaluation (QRE)
episodes, 2 (<1%) authentic and 15 (3%) test questions recorded during the day.
Although Mrs. W. enjoyed and welcomed Bradleys presence in her
classroom, it was clear that communicating with him was a frustrating task. When
communicating with him, Mrs. W. almost always approached him from the side and
focused on his communication board rather than establishing eye contact. She used
shorter sentences (three to five words) with him than with the other children and used
much richer (more descriptive) content words with the rest of the class. With
Bradley, she asked repeatedly, Are you finished? and then, Show me on your
Bradleys role in this classroom was primarily that of an observer. While the
other children played and talked with each other, he remained either seated at the
table or on the fringes. When he tried to enter into a play activity with the other
children, by offering toys or engaging in pretend play (washing dishes at the sink), he
was rebuffed or ignored. In every activity, he was the last to finish and while the
other children were excused when it looked like they had finished an activity, Bradley
was plagued with the constant refrain Are you finished? Show me on your board.
During our interview, Mrs. W. talked about how proud she was of the
progress he has made and was justifiably pleased with how well he performed on
academic tasks. She expressed quite a bit of optimism in his future and his ability to
latch onto his communication board.
As she talked, it was clear her knowledge of Bradley and long history (two
years) of working with him contributed to her vision of what he was capable of doing.
It was also apparent that she gauged his skills as being about a year behind the rest
of the kids. She spoke warmly of the collaborative efforts of his team, including both
professionals and family as equal members of the team. She was positive and excited
about the potential technologies available to him in the future.
Mrs. W. started her career as a paraprofessional and later returned to school to
complete both a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She
expressed her commitment to her profession and to the children in her classroom.
When asked what would help her in working with a child like Bradley she responded,
Maybe knowing what is out there and what is available. Because I honestly
dont know whats out there. I mean, his box! That was all new to me and
maybe knowing what type of materials and things that are out there would be
If he didnt have his box to use, I mean, he wouldnt be where hes at. Im
sure he wouldnt. He would be much more frustrated, a lot more people
would be doing things or saying things for him.
Table 4.1. Summary of the Types of Communication Exchanges Used Within Each
of the Three Classrooms.
Preschool History Classroom Resource Classroom
Total exchanges 432 714 882
Exchanges used for 21 148 43
classroom management (5%) (21%) (5%)
Question-response- 16 59 50
evaluation (QRE) episodes (4%) (8%) (6%)
Authentic Questions 2 6 13
(<1%) (<1%) (1.5%)
Test Questions 15 54 42
(3%) (7.5%) (5%)
Vygotskys (1978) notion of the zone of proximal development, the difference
between what children can do unassisted compared to the performance level achieved
with assistance, was used to facilitate identification of scaffolding episodes within
each of the three classrooms. Scaffolding in these three classrooms took one of two
forms. Scaffolding focused on the classroom lesson designed for the entire group of
children and/or scaffolding focused on accommodations/modifications to facilitate
the participation of Bradley and Mindy. The scaffolding episodes themselves were
comprised of four types: (a) conceptual scaffolding which might include the teacher
providing hints, explanations, or guiding questions that enabled the child to refine or
extend an internal schema; (b) participatory scaffolding such as creating pauses, turn
taking, roles; (c) language production scaffolding by helping the child to use the AAC
device (assisting them to locate appropriate vocabulary within the device); or (d)
physical scaffolding through the use of modifications or materials that enable the
child to physically access their environment. Table two provides a summary of the
number of scaffolding events focused specifically on the lesson within each of the
Table 4.2. Scaffolding Events Focused on the Lesson
Preschool History Classroom Resource Classroom
Verbal 17 10 10
Physical Move 5 1 2
Combined Verbal & Physical Move 10 7 17
Table 4.3 provides a summary of the number of scaffolding events focused on
accommodations/modifications specifically for Mindy and Bradleys communication
attempts within the lesson. The children were deemed fully competent (FC) within a
particular communication episode if they were able to generate a response that
continued the communication exchange without a verbal and/or physical prompt from
If they needed verbal and/or physical prompts to retrieve specific vocabulary
in order to continue the communication attempt or to generate new personal
meanings, it was assumed that scaffolding was necessary (scaffolded episode-SE).
Equally important was whether or not this scaffolding supported or did not support
the childs participation. Focus was on the stream of action leading to the activity and
the strategies utilized by the teacher to scaffold the episode, along with the childs
Table 4.3. Scaffolding Events Focused on Accommodations/Modifications
Preschool History Classroom Resource Classroom
Verbal 47 1 56
Physical Move 2 1 29
Combined Verbal & Physical Move 16 1 56
A closer analysis of these scaffolding events provided demonstrations of each
of the four types defined earlier. Conceptual, participatory, language production, and
physical scaffolding were all identified at various points throughout the transcription
analysis. The following two sections are divided into an analysis of scaffolding
events focused on the lesson, followed by an analysis of scaffolding events focused
on the accommodations/modifications necessary for Mindy and Bradley to participate
in their respective classrooms.
Conceptual Scaffolding. Conceptual scaffolding was defined as hints,
explanations, or guiding questions provided to the child or to the general classroom
that facilitated the generation of new personal meanings. In Bradleys classroom, the
focus was on learning to match sizes.
235 Mrs. W. Bradley, can you find more? Moves around table to Jacob, squats beside him
236 Mrs. W. Find more. He points. Eye gaze to teacher.
237 Mrs. W. Find more! Bradley stands up
238 Mrs. W. Can you look for more in here? Teacher points to the shapes lying on the table and moves her finger to indicate the group of shapes available to Bradley. He immediately reaches out and picks up one of the shapes.
239 Bradley IJhhhmm
240 Mrs. W. Does it match? Mrs. W. points. Bradley eye gazes to teacher
241 Mrs. W. Bradley shakes his head no
242 Mrs. W. Is it the same? Mrs. W. shakes her head no
241 Mrs. W. Where does it go?
242 Bradley mmm mmmnh! Bradley signals "I found it" with head shakes and pointing
243 Mrs. W. Match it on there Teacher stands up, and then squats back down to turn her attention to another student.
In Mindys classroom, the science lesson was focused on the Blue-dye celery
experiment. In this instance, Mrs. H. has asked Mindy to describe her observation
when conducting her experiment. What is interesting about this exchange is that even
though a number of things are happening during the episode, Mrs. H. and Mindy
retain their focus on the activity of describing observations from the experiment.
Throughout class, Mrs. H. often walked away from Mindy during their
conversations. During our interview I asked why she did that. Her explanation, later
confirmed by Mindy and her mother, was that written in Mindys Individualized
Education Plan (IEP) was a goal aimed at increasing Mindys willingness to generate
extemporaneous speech without being prompted by someone hovering over her and
her communication device. So even though this episode was focused on
understanding a science experiment, other layers of activity were happening at the
763 Mrs. H. what did you fill up with? Mrs. H. is seated in a chair, facing Mindy and looking directly at her
764 Mindy BOTTLE Mindy is busy locating icons to select on her device
765 Mrs. H. with? Looking down at the table and then standing to move some items around on the table
766 Mindy WATER
767 Mrs. H. Good!
768 Mindy AND Mrs. H. walks away Mindy continues to work on her device
769 Mindy WE FULL THE BOTTLE WITH WATER AND NO Waits for teacher to return
770 Mindy NO
Returns attention to her device. She is self-correcting her
homework and actually uses her device to speak aloud no
much as a person who is verbal would talk aloud to themselves
771 Mindy DELETE
Machine announces Mindy is deleting something
772 Mindy Selects additional icons on the device, but does not speak them out loud Looks up and waits for Mrs. H. to return
773 Mrs. H. Did you put the food coloring in something? teacher returns and busies herself picking up and putting away
774 Mindy YES
775 Mrs. H. Whatd you put it in
776 Mindy WATER
111 Mrs. H. Ok Mrs. H. walks away
778 Mrs. H. So you have food coloring and water ((Pauses)) and waits expectantly in ajar (.) or a bottle
779 Mrs. H. Then what'd you do?
780 Mindy THEN (.) WE (.) PICKED (.) UP Mrs. H. walks over to another student, touches her on the shoulders and looks at her work. She then turns and approaches the chair placed in front of Mindy seating herself
781 Mindy CELERY
782 Mrs. H. What'd you do?
783 Mrs. H. Did you eat it?
784 Mrs. H. I'm gonna tie your shoe (quietly) Sits in front of Mindy and reaches for her foot and ties her shoe as she speaks
785 Mrs. H. While Im right here
786 Mindy PUT (.) IT (.) WITH (.) WATER Mrs. H. finishes tying Mindys shoe and sits back looking at her expectantly
787 Mrs. H. Did you put the celery IN the water and food coloring? Looking at Mindy as she speaks
788 Mrs. H. Ok Mindy signals assent by looking up
789 Mrs. H. So that was what you did!
790 Mrs. H. And then what happened?
791 Mrs. H. What did you observe?
792 Mrs. H. Picks up celery holds it in front of her for Mindy to see In class yesterday
793 Mrs. H. And what did you just observe right now?
795 Mrs. H. What's your observation? Leaning forward with the celery
796 Mrs. H. Just observe right now
797 Mrs. H. What's your observation about the tubes and the celery right now? Holding the celery on top of the Liberator and wiggling the celery so Mindy can 'observe' it
798 Mrs. H. And what do they do with water
799 Mrs. H. We know they bring them from the bottom and all the way to
Mindy reaches out to touch the celery
Part of the art of Mrs. Hs teaching involved her recognition of when the
children in her classroom had mastered a concept and when they should spend energy
generating language with their device. When Mindy reached out to touch the celery,
Mrs. H. accepted her response as recognition that Mindy had grasped the concept
under discussion and they were ready to move on to a new phase of the lesson.
During the history lesson, Mrs. P. provided a number of hints and guiding
questions to facilitate her lesson with the class. She did not provide Mindy with any
type of direct scaffolding focused either on the lesson or on her communication
device. The following excerpt represents a typical exchange within the history
280 Mrs. P. umm, where did he go?
281 Mrs. P. Dejohn knows, and who else?
282 Student Unintelligible
283 Mrs. P. The isthmus of (..) ?
284 Mrs. P. The isthmus of Panama.
285 Mrs. P. That's right.
286 Mrs. P. Why did he go?
287 Student Because umm he thought he was going to Asia
288 Mrs. P. Ok and what did he find?
289 Mrs. P. What is he known for finding?
290 Student Isthmus
291 Mrs. P. Well, yeah. He found this isthmus
292 Student He led his men through it.
293 Mrs. P. He led his men through the jungle and on the west side they found a huge (..)
294 Student Body of water.
Participatory Scaffolding. Participatory scaffolding included turn taking,
assuming various roles and creating expectant pauses. In this instance, Mrs. W. is
facilitating an exchange between Bradley and another student. Bradley has been
attempting to get someone to play with him, without success. Earlier Vanessa (G-2)
had expressed an interest in the communication device and Mrs. W. has seized this
opportunity to assist Bradley and Vanessa to take turns and play together. Even
though the conversation is focused on the device, the intent of this exchange is to
397 Mrs. W. Bradley wants that back. Bradley moves next to G-2 who is holding his Message Mate (MM) and reaches for the MM
398 Mrs. W. Will you give it back?
399 Mrs. W. He needs to use it.
400 G-2 G-2 continues to hold the device and she tries to activate the buttons, but it is turned off
401 G-2 Can I use it? Bradley shows her how to turn it on
402 G-2 O.K. Bradley nods "yes'
403 G-2 SIT WITH ME G-2 randomly pushes buttons
404 G-2 LISTENING CENTER
405 Mrs. W. Bradley can you tell G-2
406 Mrs. W. Tell her something.
407 Mrs. W. Tell her something using your word box.
408 Mrs. W. Tell her: "Sit with me"
409 Bradley SIT WITH ME
410 Bradley mmmhmmm!
411 Bradley STOP THAT!
412 Bradley STOP THAT! G-2 giggles and looks at Bradley Bradley returns the look and smiles
413 Mrs. W. Ohh! You made friends
414 Mrs. W. Can you find "Friends-play with me friends?
415 Bradley FRIENDS Bradley begins pressing the button to speak the word Friends.
416 Bradley FRIENDS
417 Bradley FRIENDS
418 Bradley mmhmmm!
419 G-2 holds device on her lap, 2 other friends and Mrs. W. are watching now. Bradley and G-2 take turns pushing buttons.
420 Bradley COME HERE
421 Mrs. W. Did you hear that?
The following episode demonstrates a role reversal for Mindy. In this
exchange Mindy shifts from a learner to a teacher. She and D. smile at each other
and exchange a thumbs-up gesture during this exchange and appear to take
advantage of the opportunity to move the classroom discussion along. It also seemed
clear from this exchange and others like it throughout the class period that all students
are expected to serve as helpers and teachers for their peers. Mrs. H. signals her
appreciation of Mindys assistance with a quiet thank you. This exchange also
demonstrates Mindys concentration and involvement in the activities occurring
within her environment. It was clear that she derived a great deal of enjoyment from
this activity and understood through her demonstration that she is a competent learner
112 The students are reading aloud. Mrs. H. is out of camera view listening to another student read.
113 Mrs. H. Close!
114 Mrs. H. You've got the first two letters to T. as he scans
115 Mrs. H. Bluuu bluu bluu aahh
116 Mrs. H. Black
117 Mrs. H. Can you try?
118 Mrs. H. Where's black? Scanning continues
119 Mindy POLICE Mindy moves her book so that she can reach the buttons on her device. Smiles and hits some buttons on her machine-this is a 'hint' to J. on where to find the symbols to say the word black
120 Mrs. H. You helping him? Mindy smiles at her teacher
121 T. Scanning continues
122 D. D. and Mindy exchange glances and smiles
123 Mindy Mindy grins -she appears to know that J.'s scanning is getting close to the right symbol
124 T. Black
125 T. Black
126 Mrs. H. That button is black
127 Mrs. H. My button was? (...)
128 Mrs. H. Let's give Judson a chance
129 Mrs. H. Thanks for helping, Min. In an aside to Mindy
Mrs. P. demonstrated turn taking primarily within the context of class read
alouds. Test questions comprised a large portion of these activities. In the following
excerpt, the class is engaged in a read aloud and each student reads until Mrs. P. says
Popcorn and then chooses a new reader.
298 Mrs. P. Popcorn. Ferdinand Magellen
299 Mrs. P. Wait, where are we? Quietly
300 Mrs. P. Shh. Shh. Students begin to respond
301 Mrs. P. Just a minute, we're not ready to popcorn.
302 Mrs. P. We need you to be quiet.
303 Mrs. P. Quietly. There you go
304 Corry umm, Walt Corry chooses a new reader
305 Mrs. P. Adrien, adrien, shh Walt begins reading
306 Mrs. P. Shhh head shake and eye gaze
307 Walt Ma geh len
308 Mrs. P. Soft g-majellen. Like jello
309 Mrs. P. Popcorn.
310 Mrs. P. How many ships are left now guys?
Language Production Scaffolding. Both Mrs. W. and Mrs. H. demonstrated a
clear sense of responsibility when it came to facilitating language production for
Mindy and Bradley. However, there were differences in their approach. Mrs. W. was
very concerned that Bradley activate his device to signal he was done with each
activity. She was adamant that he needed to use his device, even when he was able