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Using Visual and Manipulative Tools to Improve Students’ Ability to Understand What They Read


The presentation will demonstrate the process of collaborating with students to create a unique set of symbols to assist them in deriving meaning from what they read. Each symbol represents a component of a narrative and the selection of each provides rich vocabulary development and conversational experience. Through the process, students develop enhanced abilities to understand the parts of a story, learn which components are needed to respond to comprehension questions, and engage in higher level thinking. The use of tools to mark text and guide thinking will be explained and demonstrated. The selection of a variety of manipulatives and specific conversational techniques which shape students’ ability to accurately respond to questions will also be discussed. Participants will have the opportunity to learn how to incorporate these tools and strategies with their own students.

As a result of this acivity, participants will be able to:

About the Presenter

Debora Head

Dawn Head

Dawn Head is a speech-language pathologist with a passion for helping students on the autism spectrum to “tell their story.” Originally from Okinawa, Japan, Dawn received a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Hearing Science from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and a Master of Arts in Speech Pathology from the University of Florida. Before joining the Hillsborough County school system in 2001, Dawn served as the speech/language pathologist at a long-term, acute care hospital. In this capacity, she assisted patients with medically complex diagnoses in improving their communication and swallowing skills. Her work in Hillsborough County schools includes initiating and co-teaching a social skills class for students on the autism spectrum at Coleman Middle School. Catherine Zenko’s CARD presentation on improving literacy for students on the autism spectrum motivated Dawn to search for a method of literacy improvement that addressed the theory of mind, central coherence, and executive function deficits which pose challenges for these students. The guidance and support of her CARD mentor, Katy Langevin, as well as the educational opportunities provided by CARD and PEPSA greatly increased her ability to meet the needs of her students. Dawn has enjoyed collaborating with her students to develop unique symbols and manipulatives to facilitate their ability to understand and discuss what they read. She looks forward to continuing to share these methods and materials with teachers and speech/language pathologists in her district.