Monday, July 13, 2015

Primary-Secondary Facilitator Model

In a previous post, I discussed a format in which the teacher uses an Animated Step-by-Step Activity on the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) to conduct a literacy activity on Day 1 and uses a projected communication display on the IWB to conduct the actual activity on Day 2. On Day 2 students are required to use their natural speech and/or their voice-output devices to direct the adult in conducting the activity previewed the day before. The beauty of this format lies in the fact that all students have been pre-exposed to both the steps and the symbols necessary for directing the actual activity the following day. There is, however, one last matter to address … consider adopting a Primary-Secondary Facilitator Model to further optimize the learning environment for your students.

What is a Primary-Secondary Facilitator Model?

Group activities can lapse into a cacophony of noise when there are several adults taking part in the lesson ... several adults ALL TALKING AT ONCE! A Primary-Secondary Facilitator model attempt to sharpen the focus for students by advocating distinct roles for the adults taking part in the group. This model is especially helpful when therapists/specialty teachers (Occupational Therapist, Speech-Language Pathologists, Vision Teacher) are ‘pushing into’ the classroom for this group lesson.

Primary Facilitator

The adult leading the group at the IWB is the Primary Facilitator. In general, the Primary Facilitator has a ‘group’ responsibility … his/her job is to keep everyone engaged throughout the lesson. He/she is the sole adult voice during the activity and is responsible for

  • conducting Aided Language Stimulation (ALgS) on the IWB

  • creating lots of communicative opportunities for the students in the group.
Given the ‘group responsibility’ it is important to note that the Primary Facilitator never spends an inordinate amount of time with any given student. If assistance is required in pouring or stirring that brownie mix, the task is handed off to the Secondary Facilitator while the Primary Facilitator returns to the IWB to fill in the potential ‘down time’ with the productive task of compiling a message on the interactive whiteboard, e.g. RAYHANNA … IS POURING ….THE WATER … INTO THE BOWL.

The complexity of the messages compiled will of course be dependent upon the cognitive level of the group. With younger students you might opt to use only the content words while older students might be exposed to messages that are more linguistically complex.  

When conducting ALgS, the Primary Facilitator strives to minimize his/her use of questions, especially yes/no questions. I typically encourage Primary Facilitators to achieve an 80:20 ratio of statements to questions when conducting their group activities. When staff are able to make the shift to using statements that ‘invite communication’, rather than questions that ‘obligate communication’, we often see a spike in student communications. Instead of always resorting to an overused question such as “What do we need to do next?” think instead of using ALgS to provide clues/hints (general to specific) that invite students to problem-solve, e.g., “We’re ready for our next step.” (general) ….  “I think we need to do something with our brownie box” (more specific) … “We need to get the brownie mix out of the box” (even more specific). Don’t forget to build in an expectant pause (I like to refer to it as ‘soak time’; time to process what they’ve heard/ seen AND time to figure out the message they'd like to add given the 'hints' provided. 

Secondary Facilitator

The remaining adults in the room are referred to as Secondary Facilitators. They assume the role of ‘silent coach’. While the Primary Facilitator has a ‘group’  responsibility, the Secondary Facilitators are typically responsible for an individual student(s). They work in concert with the Primary Facilitator, silently helping their assigned student(s) recognize and capitalize on those communicative opportunities that are being created by the Primary Facilitator..

Let’s imagine that that Primary Facilitator is creating an opportunity for students to communicate, ‘Open’ … or “Open it” …or ‘Open the box/Brownies”

Here are some examples of how various Secondary Facilitators might facilitate their assigned student(s) to produce a version of that message.

  • Using a small pen light to conduct Shadow Light Cuing (more on that in a future post!)(Goossens’ & Crain, 1992)

  • Removing a ‘blocker’ on a keyguard of a voice-output communication device to reveal the target symbol on the underlying communication overlay (more on that in a future post!). 

  • Plugging a child’s switch into the appropriate jack on a device with jacks (e.g., TechTalk with remote switches from AMDI; TalkBox from Enabling Devices; Cheap Talk 8  from Enabling Devices)

TalkBox (Enabling Devices)                  CheapTalk 8 with Jacks (Enabling Devices)                    Tech/Talk (AMDI)

  • Opening a popup for a student (using the eraser end of a pencil) to allow the student to more quickly capitalize on that communicative opportunity by using their emerging skill in row-column scanning to navigate to the OPEN symbol. This is often conducted in conjunction with shadow light cuing.

  • Showing a student a Dual=Representation symbol of OPEN to provide a little additional support for nurturing speech or perhaps using the symbol as an opportunity to layer in a greater literacy agenda for a student.  (photo depicts setup ... a small dry erase board with female velcro around edge for attaching symbols)

  • Offering a switch/device or using a Y-cord (see 06-29-15 post) to allow a cognitively young student to use a voice-output device such as a BIGmack to claim a turn performing a task such as opening, pouring, stirring. A generic message such as “Let me!”  can be very powerful for a student that is cognitively young.

  • silently using gestures to signal the Primary Facilitator when a student is composing a message and needs more time (e.g., tap watch) or signaling that a communication has been missed by the Primary Facilitator (depicted)


I’ve always used the analogy that ‘you have to pour a lot of water into the glass before it overflows’.  If you place greater emphasis on making the comprehension piece crystal clear and simultaneously strive to include lot of opportunities for expressive communication (opportunities associated with an expectant pause), the expressive piece often falls into place. 


Goossens', C. & Crain, S. (1992).  Engineering the preschool environment for interactive symbolic communication: 18 months -5 years developmentally. Birmingham, Alabama: Southeast Augmentative Communication Publications.

'til the next post ...

© 2015 Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.