If you are a parent, friend, or practitioner that knows and loves a speller, it is almost certain that you have experienced the frustrations of public school and how to navigate academics with a letterboard. With assignments built for people who are speaking and can complete fine motor tasks with ease, it can feel discouraging when the material is not as accessible for people who use S2C as a form of communication.
As a teacher and an S2C practitioner, I have spent time with both neurodiverse and neurotypical kids in clinical and school settings, wondering what changes can be made to help spellers 1) have opportunities to be more involved in classroom environments and 2) find ways to turn multiple choice questions and open-ended questions into leveled questions that are manageable for spellers while also addressing classroom standards. In my time working with an amazing speller in 7th grade, I identified some areas and tips to help our spellers succeed in the classroom.
1. Ditch those multiple-choice questions!
Multiple choice (MC) questions are the default questions, especially in testing and assignments that determine grades, placement, etc. The problem with MC questions boils down to fine motor and accuracy – like most things that present challenges for nonspeaking students! Whether it be the 3 boards, 26 board, or a laminate, all of the MC options are right next to each other and therefore pose an issue for spellers. I mean, how many of us have typed and accidentally hit ‘D” instead of “S” on a keyboard? I sure have many, many times!
A way that I like to combat pesky MC questions is by assigning the choices to the corner letters of A, E, U, and Z instead of A, B, C, D. This way, the choices are spread further on the letterboard, and there is no confusion about a “mis-poke”. Keep in mind that this can get loopy (in my experience), so use caution. By providing words to choose a letter, it is more purposeful than choosing one letter and more accurate. Another option would be to spell the first word of the answer of their choosing. If you have a speller that is open, I suggest spelling the answer instead of the corresponding letter for that question. This is also helpful for completing sorting activities and math assignments.
2. Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold.
A huge issue that I have noticed is comprehension questions in language arts. The students are expected to read a whole passage or book and answer open questions about the material. The beauty of these assignments is that they are lessons in waiting. When reading passages, I circle keywords and underline possible questions that can help my speller talk about the text without the motor demand of writing a paragraph to show their understanding. From articles to chapter books, it is always possible to identify keywords, known questions, semi-open questions, prior knowledge questions, and open-ended questions.
3. Maintain open communication with your school community and educators.
As a teacher, communication is integral to doing my job. I like knowing how my students work independently, at home, with friends, etc. I also like knowing if something is hindering my students’ ability to do their work! In my experience in spelling in a public school, teachers have been more than willing to listen to how a speller communicates and have been open to giving extra copies of work for me to make it more accessible for the speller to complete as well as giving a speller extra time to answer questions in class discussions in the way that they communicate. Not every person will be open and willing to do such things, but being open and honest about what your speller needs to succeed is the first step in creating an accessible education.
School assignments can be daunting, especially when testing a student’s motor ability (holding a pencil, writing, sitting upright) and not necessarily their cognitive abilities. The good news is that there are ways to make school assignments more accessible for spellers so they can engage in grade-level curriculum as well as be an active member in their classroom. Reflect on your expectations regarding academics and make space for your speller to navigate this world in a way they feel comfortable! The road to open communication is a marathon, not a sprint. In the meantime, consider these tips to help your speller show the world what they’re made of!
Kinsey Showers is a Spelling to Communicate practitioner, practitioner mentor for I-ASC, and teacher based in Eagle Mountain, Utah. After working at Invictus Academy Tampa Bay for over 4 years as a lead teacher and communication and regulation partner, Kinsey shifted to teaching in public elementary schools. Kinsey is passionate about helping non-speaking, minimally speaking and unreliably speaking students reach their academic goals, while also gaining access to reliable forms of communication. Kinsey is passionate about all things education and enjoys learning about new topics alongside spellers!