This year Marshall County Schools began using a program in the special needs Pre-K classes and other Special Education classes that builds the students’ language skills by blending Special Education and Speech-Language Pathology.
The program titled TELL ME is an acronym for Teaching Early Language and Literacy through Multimodal Expression. It uses children’s literature to teach the vocabulary children need to communicate throughout their day and is tailored to the specific needs of each child.
Many children with special needs use augmentative-alternative communication (AAC). Augmentative communication is used with a person’s speech to help them be better understood. Alternative communication is used instead of speech by a person who is unable to talk. Both augmentative and alternative communication can be low tech such as picture cards or as high tech as speech generating systems, now most commonly provided through iPads. Some parents believe AAC will prevent their child from developing speech. Evidence shows the opposite to be true. The use of AAC and its consistent auditory model facilitates verbal language development in many children.
The TELL ME program uses carefully chosen storybooks that are presented for two weeks. The Speech-Language Pathologist introduces the book and its vocabulary and conducts enrichment activities. The classroom teacher reads the book to the children daily with emphasis on vocabulary expression and comprehension. Working together, important strategies for teaching children who use AAC, such as modeling and waiting for the child to respond, can be demonstrated and encouraged.
TELL ME focuses on teaching high frequency, core words. Symbol cards, for up to six core words from each book, are presented daily for the students to name and are displayed in the classroom. Core words are the words people say most often. They are words, such as want, have, here, do and not, that we use no matter the topic. Core vocabulary makes up 80% of what is spoken. Topic specific nouns make up the other 20% of the words in daily vocabulary. Both are important for children to learn, but more time needs to be spent learning the more frequently used core words.
The TELL ME program is providing an effective way for teachers and speech-language pathologists to structure lessons that will provide their students a foundation for improved language development.