Saturday, August 6, 2016

Developing a 'System'

Animated Step-by-Steps® (ASbySs) are a set of resources that are available in three formats (Regular, SymbolStix, PCS) from the Teachers Pay Teachers site. They are designed to simultaneously address literacy, language and AAC (if you have purchased a symbol-supported version). For a quick overview of the Animated Step-by-Steps® system please visit the website using the button to the right of this post.

ASbySs are a consistent system that can be applied to a broad range of early childhood activities (recipes, crafts, science projects, poems, songs, games and stories). This consistency of approach across a variety of activities is beneficial for all students. but especially students with special needs. 

The bottom line: whenever you are developing educational materials for students with special needs, strive to develop ‘a system’. The greater the AAC needs within your organization/agency, the greater the need to put in place a system that can serve the needs of many students across many classrooms over an extended period of time.

Continuing this concept of developing ‘a system’, consider what you could put in place for your students using interactive software authoring programs such as Smart Notebook  ( or ActivInspire ( Interactive whiteboard (IWB) authoring software is a powerful tool for developing interactive lessons for the classroom. Although there is a bit of overlap in what PowerPoint and IWB software are capable of doing, each has unique strengths that complement the other, nicely. 

PowerPoint has the advantage of having robust animations, the one feature that makes it ideally suited for creating Animated Step-by-Steps®. IWB authoring programs have the advantage of allowing you to easily create lessons that allow students to manipulate content on the Interactive Whiteboard or the computer.  Although SmartNotebook has iPad/Android versions of its software, early versions seemed to be missing many of the ‘bells and whistles’ that are available on the computer version.  In general, I have been frustrated by the fact that the iPad software does not provide a direct translation of complex content created on the computer. A perhaps better option is to use Splashtop Classroom to mirror the IWB content on to your iPad allowing a student to directly access the IWB lesson using their iPad.

Over the years, I’ve developed several theme-based units (e.g., Butterfly, Hot Chocolate, Tomato Soup) to complement various Animated Step-by-Steps® (Hot Chocolate Recipe, Tomato Soup Recipe, Butterfly Puppets, Egg Carton Caterpillars, Fuzzy Grassy Caterpillars, Baggie Butterflies). In general, these theme-based units are designed to address the Common Core Standards for Traditional Math and Language Arts for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 1.  

Launch Pages for Three Theme-Based Units

Because the content is being used by both regular and special education students, it is always designed with alternate access in mind.  For example, when using a memory game to ‘identify pairs as same or different’ the cells are also number coded to allow a student with physical challenges to participate by selecting numbers on their communication device. As mentioned earlier, we also have the ability to allow the child with Complex Communication Needs to access the IWB content through their iPad/Android tablet when using Splashtop Classroom (

As Common Core Standards are widely used in the USA, I’ve adopted this format as the framework for developing a series of lessons targeting Traditional Math and Language Arts (Pre-K through Gr 1). The challenge, of course, is to develop highly interactive content for each and every item in the CCS, while staying within the overall theme of the Unit. Here are several examples of how some CCS (Counting and Cardinality) were targeted across three very different themes.
Counting & Cardinality - Count to Tell Number of Objects (linear array)

Counting & Cardinality - Count to Tell Number of Objects
Counting & Cardinality - Compare Numbers

Counting & Cardinality - Count and Write Numbers (0-20)

 A ‘system approach’ can work to your advantage in mixed ability classrooms.  All three Units are designed to address the same content … the same continuum of Common Core Standards. They are identical in every respect except for the graphics used to illustrate each lesson.  Therefore, a teacher is able to start with one theme, e.g., Tomato Soup, continuing to move forward in that Theme for a couple of weeks then shift to a different theme, e.g., Hot Chocolate, by simply picking up where he/she left off in the continuum of lessons. She can even conduct a review of what was recently covered using the content of the ‘new theme’.  If a particular student has not quite mastered the CCS targets of the previous theme,  he/she can continue to work on those emerging skills … but is able to do so within the ‘new theme’, i.e., the same theme that everyone else in the classroom is using. This ensures that the ‘lagging child’ will still have the benefit of the new vocabulary and concepts being introduced with the new theme but will be able to continue to target those math skills within the theme being addressed by the rest of the class. This is especially evident in the Butterfly Unit that uses graphics relative to the life cycle of the butterfly.

Theme Progression
Purple reflects targets of  current theme
Green reflects unmastered targets now being reflected within new theme

When the Animated Step-by-Steps® system is used in conjunction with a system targeting Common Core Standards Math and Language Arts, created using Interactive Whiteboard Software system, learning can be very interactive and very fun for students with Special Needs.

So … what systems are you putting in place for your School/Agency? 

…’til the next post …  (new posts every Monday)

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©2016 Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.
Augmentative Communication Consultant
Speech-Language Pathologist
Special Educator