Today's guest blogger is Milya Maxfield, an instructor in the Academy of Inclusive Learning and Social Growth and a writing center professional at Kennesaw State University. She has a BSW and an MAT in Secondary English Education, and her experiences working with individuals with disabilities inside and outside the classroom have shaped her areas of study, combining her love of digital spaces, writing, differentiation, and accessibility.
At its core, the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University and the Advanced Leadership and Career Development (ALCD) program are designed to be “fully inclusive” and help “students who do not meet higher-education requirements for admission” integrate into the general student population, giving them similar experiences and socialization to those of their peers. These shared experiences make an enormous difference as they leave college and enter the workforce (Migliore, Butterworth, & Hart, 2009).
I developed this Communication Story Assignment for the internship class that Academy students take in the first year of the ALCD program. A communication story in the context of this assignment is an easily customizable, generally digital tool that individuals with disabilities use to teach others strategies for effectively and respectfully communicating with them (Pouliot, Müller, Frasché, Kern, & Resti, 2017). Students work on this project for the entire semester, completing mini-assignments and homework every week. The final product in my class is a 2-4 minute video and includes four main components: an introduction, their story, tips for communicating, and a conclusion.
VERY IMPORTANT: If you are doing this activity with students with diagnosed disabilities, make sure that they feel comfortable self-disclosing. Reiterate that they only need to discuss their disabilities if they want to.
Upon completing the assignment, students will be able to
- Record and edit footage using everyday technologies, such as their phones and tablets.
- Advocate for themselves using their Communication Story to negotiate a healthy and productive working environment.
Note: Learning outcomes may vary beyond these initial two because scaffolding and differentiation are critical to this assignment’s success.
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
- The St. Martin's Handbook: 16d, "Considering Visuals and Media"; 17b, "Writing to be Heard and Remembered"; 17d, "Practicing the Presentation"
- The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises): 3b, "Plan your Text's Topic and Message"; 3c, "Consider your Purpose and Stance as a Communicator"; 3e, "Think about Genres and Media"; 3f, "Consider Language and Style"
- EasyWriter (also available with Exercises): 1c, "Considering the Assignment and Purpose"; 1e, "Reaching Appropriate Audiences"; 1g "Considering Time, Genre, Medium, and Format"
Prewriting and Planning
- On the first day of class, we have a class discussion about what my students find challenging in their internships and jobs, particularly those difficulties which involve communication (and miscommunication).
- I show my students two videos: Disability Sensitivity Training and Young Stroke Survivor with Aphasia: Laura.
- We discuss what components of the videos we liked and what we might want to implement in our own videos.
- Using the "Do This, Not That" Graphic Organizer, students write:
- What people should do or not do when communicating with them
Example: Use my name when you want to talk to me.
- How individuals can implement these tips
Example: Start a sentence or instructions by saying, “Milya...”
- Why doing these things would help them to better communicate
Example: Sometimes I don’t know that people are talking to me because I’m so focused on doing my own thing.
- How it makes them feel when individuals accommodate these communication strategies
Example: I know that the person really wants to talk to me and values what I have to say.
Write, Write, Write, Revise, Revise, Revise
- Students expand the “Do This, Not That” graphic organizer entries to build the first draft of their scripts:
Example: When you want to talk to me, start your sentence with my name, Milya. Sometimes, I don’t know that people are talking to me and it seems like I’m ignoring you when I’m really not. Signaling that you want me to be a part of the conversation makes me feel like you value my opinion and want me to participate.
- Students are put into pairs and given a cut-up version of the transcript of the Young Stroke Survivor with Aphasia: Laura video. After they piece it back together, we have a class discussion about what information each piece of the script contains and why they decided to put the pieces in the order that they did.
- Based on the order and information the class decides on, we build an outline for what each section of their videos should include:
Introduction: name, major, year in school, career aspirations, relevant interests
Story: who they are, how they got there, and why they are making this video
Tips: 3-5 of their best tips for communicating (either dos or don’ts) with justifications
Conclusion: most important takeaway and a thank you
- Before students begin filming, they peer review each other’s scripts.
This is the part of the assignment that is most variable depending on what your final product looks like and which technologies you plan to use. Almost all of my students used the cameras on their phones, tablets, or laptops to record themselves. While some edited in additional content, such as pictures or additional videos, most recorded the video in one take and did not use any video editing software to make changes.
The number of ways to scaffold and differentiate this assignment are as unique and varied as your students, but here are a few suggestions that worked for mine:
- Allow students to handwrite, type, or dictate using a speech-to-text program.
- Provide a list of possible tips for students to choose from.
- Use additional graphic organizers to help students write their scripts, especially the introduction and the conclusion.
Because this assignment was designed for an internship class, it needed to have immediate, tangible, practical application for the students. More than helping others communicate with them, this assignment was designed to help my students identify and address communication barriers in a proactive, productive way. On the first day of class, one of the things we talked about was how we cannot control how others interact with us, but we can choose how to interact with them. Most of my students feel hurt when they are treated differently, so they were thrilled at the opportunity to help others “treat them normally.” From listening to their struggles—and from struggling myself to find alternate ways of explaining concepts in class—I’ve learned just how much the environments they interact with are not designed for them. As I have searched for resources to assist my students, I realize they have to accommodate others far more often than they are accommodated. While I hope creating this video is indeed a learning experience for my students, I also recognize that by interacting with them and learning to see from their points of view, I may be the one who benefits most from the project.
Pouliot, D.M., Müller, E., Frasché, N.F., Kern, A.S., Resti, I.H. (2017). “A tool for supporting communication in the workplace for individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or autism.” Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. 40(4) 244-249. doi: 10.1177/2165143416683927
Migliore, A., Butterworth, J., Hart, D. (2009). “Postsecondary education and employment outcomes for youth with intellectual disabilities.” Think College: National Center for POstsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Vol. 1.