Monday, June 1, 2015

Getting the Most Out of Crafts.

While some craft activities are conducted solely as a vehicle for artistic expression, there are times when a craft activity is being used primarily as a forum for promoting language development. When using a craft activity to promote language, it is important to strike a balance between providing the predictable and structured environment needed to promote language development and the desire to nurture free artistic expression. This is especially evident when working with students that are cognitively young. 

As you will recall from a previous post, each page of an Animated Step-by-Step includes a visual of the final project in the upper right hand corner. 

This serves as a constant reminder of the project’s ‘long range agenda’. We don't, however, want to give children the false impression that their final project needs to look exactly like the final product depicted in the corner icon. I therefore strive to provide at least two samples of the final project (shown at the beginning of the activity) to impart the idea that there is no one ‘right version’ of how your final project should look. ‘Make it special ... make it your's!’

When using a craft activity to promote a language agenda, it may be helpful to initially create a more predictable structured learning environment by giving each child a plastic baggie with pre-packaged items. The facilitator also has a set of materials that he/she shows when conducting the group activity. It is important to note, however, there is a progression of possible baggie options. Here is a continuum of options when using the Butterfly Puppets Animated Step-by-Step:

Option 1 (most restrictive)

Includes single samples of the items needed to construct the craft. This option works well with cognitively young students, children with poor comprehension skills or children who are highly distractable (too many choices are just too overwhelming).  As the class proceeds through the steps, each child is looking for the requested item in their individual baggie. Obviously this approach is designed to nurture receptive language. With very young children I have found it helpful to sing repetitively while looking for the needed item, “ Look look look for the tube …. Look, look look for the tube …. in your plastic baggie (e.g. tune skip to my loo) ”  Tunes derived from  familiar preschool songs seem to work best. Don’t forget to vary the tunes to keep it interesting.

Option 2

Provides students with limited choices, e.g., a choice of two colored paper rectangles, two colors of pipe cleaners etc. Now the child not only has to find the target item but make a choice of which item he/she wishes to use, “ Your butterfly puppet could have small black eyes OR big green eyes. You pick.”  Note the heightened emphasis on the expressive use of describing words.

Option 3

Provides choices (similar to Option 2) but seeks to create more opportunities for expressive communication by using a strategy called, ‘shorting the goods’ in which some of the requested or required materials are missing. While one child has one googly eye in their bag, another might have three. A third child might have no pipe cleaners in their baggie while a fourth is missing his/her colored paper rectangle. This can be conducted with great fun, “Boy was I mixed up. I’m sorry Jarod. Your butterfly does need to have two eyes!” These ‘accidental’ omissions create opportunities for the classroom assistant or speech-language pathologist to prompt the child to use their natural voice or AAC systems to comment on the absence of an item, ask questions and/or request the needed item from either the lead facilitator or more ideally from another student. 

Obviously, option 3 is a more advanced phase typically introduced after students have experienced several projects reflective of either option 1 or 2. Additionally, with all three options I always try to have a pool of alternative materials available to allow students to request substitutions if they so desire (“Don’t want the green pipe cleaner. Want a red pipe cleaner”.  “ Jesse you have a blue and a pink pipe cleaner in your baggie … You want a different color? …. I have lots more colors over here. Just let me know if you want something different”.)

Whether you are applying one option across the entire class of children or implementing a combination based on individual student need … a predictable structured language learning environment can be extremely helpful for chldren struggling to make sense of the language.  

… ‘til the next post

© 2015 Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.