Implementation in the classroom

  • Overview

    helpful supports for students with communication support needs involves five key elements:

    1.Understanding what an inclusive education looks like

    • Consider the general features of an inclusive education (refer to the table “Is It Inclusion” – note this is relevant for students in mainstream education only and provides generalised examples of inclusion; it may not necessarily be applicable in its entirety to all students)
    • Consider how these features apply specifically to your student. Presuming competence and utilising their student profile are key
    • Presuming competence and utilising your student’s profile are key.

    2.Identifying the right supports for your particular student

    • Get to know your student (see Student profile section)
    • Get familiar with their communication method (see Communication methods topic)
    • Get to know your student’s speech pathologist (or ensure they have one!)
    • Consider their academic level for each curriculum area (see Student profile and ILP topics)
    • Consider their social skills (see Social supports topic)
    • Know and understand any recommendations from your student’s speech pathologists, occupational therapist and/or other medical or allied health professionals.

    3.Having clarity around roles and responsibilities of teachers and aides

    • Teachers determine the appropriate curriculum and set related activities
    • Aides support student to undertake those activities and may assist with preparing suitable teaching materials
    • Aides work under the direction of the classroom teacher and should always aim to foster the student’s independence as much as
    • You as the teacher are the most important person in the room for your student.

    4.Optimising planning time

    • Planning a modified curriculum especially for a student with communication support needs can take some time
    • Teachers need a regular time allocation to devote to this planning
    • Teachers and aides need shared planning time to ensure lesson preparation can occur
    • Therapist/s recommendations need to be taken into account when planning
    • Speech pathologists often need to be involved or consulted as part of planning process
    • Utilise inclusive lesson planning approaches
    • Draw upon best practice classroom resources (see technology, tactics and template section below)

    5.Undertaking training and development programs/courses

    • This involves actively seeking relevant opportunities
    • See links to relevant training provided in each topic above.
  • Lesson planning

    The first step in preparing an inclusive lesson is to be clear on what you want every student to get out of the lesson (the “goals”).  This can be effectively achieved by thinking about the following questions:

    1. What do I want EVERY student to know?
    2. What do I want MOST students to know (extensions for most students)?
    3. What do I want SOME students to know (challenges for students working at the most advanced levels)?

    (Credit to Dr. Patrick Schwarz for this approach; for more, click here)

    Once you have identified the answers to these questions, you are well on your way to implementing a best practice approach to inclusive education, known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  UDL principles are applied throughout all stages of teaching, from developing goals, to designing lesson content, activities, resources and assessments. 

    UDL is an educational framework for developing flexible learning environments to accommodate individual learning differences. It involves providing:

    •       Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge;
    •       Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know; and
    •       Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

    While UDL and differentiation are both strategies to reach all students, there are some key differences.

    Differentiation is a way for teachers to make a lesson more accessible to a group of students that isn’t already being reached by adding options in for learners. Differentiation is included in a lesson plan in the final stages of planning.

    UDL principles are included from the very beginning of lesson planning, back at the level of identifying a learning goal. UDL principles are designed to reach all individual learners, whereas differentiation includes learners on the fringe at the end of the process. In a way, you could say that differentiation is more ‘reactive’ and UDL is ‘proactive’ in providing a flexible learning environment.

    Here is an overview of how UDL can be applied to developing goals, designing resources and designing assessments:


    Group or whole-class goals should allow for student variability.  A good way to identify appropriate goals for each student is to ask the “every/most/some” questions mentioned above.

    Remember that the means of achieving the goal should not be confused with the goal itself.  For example, if the goal is for students to give a presentation (such as show and tell), the means of doing the task might include giving an oral presentation for some, but it should not necessarily be part of the goal. In this example, students with little or no speech may prefer to deliver a written presentation such as on powerpoint slides as opposed to an oral presentation – this would still be adequately achieving the goal of delivering a presentation.


    When designing resources, think about questions such as “can my student read this”, “can my student provide their responses using this”, “is the page too busy”.  

    Digital resources can be more accessible for some students with a disability.  For example, worksheets and workbooks can present difficulties for students who require reading support, have low vision or are blind, or those with other physical disabilities.  Digital content, however, can be personalised by students – eg content can be read aloud using text-to-speech devices, enlarged for students who have low vision, or converted to Braille.


    ‘One size fits all’ assessment formats may not provide a good indication of every student’s skill level.  Different assessment tools may need to be used for students with varying disabilities and challenges. Generally, flexible assessments options can be achieved by considering the barriers for a particular student, and providing tools to overcome these (such as text-to-speech and other reader/writer options) as well as using a range of assessment methods (eg typed, oral, multimedia).

    As with goals, remember that the method for assessing a student’s knowledge of a particular topic or concept should not be confused with the knowledge being assessed.  For example, if we ask a student who has difficulty speaking to do an oral presentation to show their learning and comprehension, we may learn very little about their learning and a lot about their speaking ability — something we already knew. If the student was asked to do a written presentation or to tick a multiple choice box to select their answer, this would better demonstrate their comprehension and abilities.

  • Technology, tactics and templates

    Tactics and Tips

    1.Remember it’s quite normal to feel a bit unsure, or nervous even, when first teaching a student with little or no speech.

    2. Be a role model for your student and their peers – understand the basics of your student’s communication needs and how to use their communication system. If your student uses an electronic device, it helps a lot if you know where some key words/phrases are located. You don’t need to know your student’s communication device inside-out, but this knowledge helps to adapt teaching materials and assessments so your student can learn, progress and achieve.

    3. Make sure you know who your student’s speechie is! Speech pathologists play an integral role in enabling students with little or no speech to be understood so they can then participate in learning and social environments. They will be a great resource for you and your team.

      • Speech pathologists with AAC expertise are critical for undertaking communication assessments and identifying appropriate communication systems so students have a means to communicate with teachers, classmates and others.
      • Speech pathologists also play a key role in providing training on how to use and develop a communication system.
      • Speech pathologists, however, are not teachers! You are your student’s teacher and the most important person in the classroom for them.

    4. Regularly provide your student with opportunities to use their communication device for different language functions, not just for responding to questions or requests. For example:

      • Commenting (I like it, yuk)
      • Requesting (I want, I need)
      • Social (hi, how are you, thanks, bye)
      • Asking questions (what’s your name, which is your favourite)
      • Directing (put it there, go further)
      • Argue/protest (don’t, go away)
      • Gain attention (help)
      • Sharing thoughts

    5. Provide your student with lots of time to respond/interact. “Waiting is so important for students using AAC. Using a communication device is much slower than speaking. Wait to give the student time to respond. Wait so the student knows you expect something from them” (this is a quote from ‘54 Top Tips and Tricks for implementing an AAC device into your classroom’ by Lesley Gallagher & Amy Litton Speech Pathologists, ILC Tech).

    6. Don’t be concerned or worried that using a communication device will negatively impact the development of their spoken language (in fact the opposite is often true!)

    Templates, technology and other resources

    Resources and strategies to help you get to know and plan for your student:

    • Sue Larkey ‘10 things about me’ document
    • Communication passport
    • Regularly (daily/weekly) spend some time (even just five or ten minutes) having a class discussion where students share something about themselves, something they have done or something they have read – or even telling jokes. For students using a communication device, this can be pre-programmed in before the activity, or even programmed at home.
    • Student profile template – download here
    • Example ILP template

    Strategies for peer interaction:

    • Play games in groups that require giving and following instructions, e.g. “Simon Says”, “What’s the Time Mr Wolf”. Make sure your student using AAC has turns to give the directions. Program pre-stored phrases in (“It’s dinner time!”). For secondary school students, give your student with little or no speech the opportunity to be “director” of a made up skit, suggesting places, styles, characters, etc.
    • Create opportunities to interview or conduct surveys of different people in the class and school (e.g. What colour is liked the most in class? Which football team do people support? What chores do people help with at home?). Your student with communication support needs can pre-program their questions into their device or have pre-prepared cards. Students tally results then compare/present/discuss.

    These ideas and many more can be found in 54 Top Tips and Tricks for implementing an AAC device into your classroom’ by Lesley Gallagher & Amy Litton Speech Pathologists, Independent Living Centre Tech.

    Apps and strategies for students to develop and demonstrate literacy skills

    • Sentence maker (app)
    • Magnetic board ABC (app)
    • Bitsboard pro (app)
    • Wordscapes (app)
    • Brain pop (app)
    • Phonics skills: get your student to type on their device answers to questions such as: “Tell me a word that starts with ‘c’” (or play ‘I Spy’!), “what rhymes with mat?”, “how many syllables in ‘rabbit’?”
    • Reading skills: write a description of a noun on the board, get students to guess what it is
    • Sequencing and practical skills: In pairs or small groups, get the students to complete a task that requires following sequential steps, for instance following a recipe, constructing something. Your student using a communication device can direct the steps, e.g. next we have to…
    • Creative writing: Get the students in pairs to write a poem or a story – the student using AAC could suggest characters, places etc.
    • Analytical thinking and listening skills: Pair and group work allow educational as well as social developmental opportunities for your students. For example, get your student with little or no speech to type his thoughts about a story or movie into his communication device, and then he and his partner can discuss the differences and similarities between their perspectives.

    Apps for students to develop and demonstrate numeracy skills