Ivymount’s Conversation Club curriculum was recently featured in the ASHA Journal, Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. The article, shared widely across social media channels, presented the Conversation Club curriculum as a promising practice for use by speech and language therapists in schools.
Designed by Ivymount teachers and researchers in response to a clear need within classrooms, the Conversation Club offers a comprehensive curriculum for teaching conversation skills to children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders and other social cognition challenges.
A critical element of instruction for students with higher level language and cognitive skills is successfully combining the teaching of skills with a rationale for why skills are important. Ivymount teacher Christy Beachley, who has been using the curriculum with small student groups for the last two-years, explains that the “why” behind the conversation is vital. “It’s important that students don’t just memorize elements of conversation,” says Beachley.
Despite the fact that conversation is critical to enabling us to build and maintain friendships, the art of conversation can be difficult to master for children with social cognition challenges. These children often spend their lunch and break times in silence or reciting scripts. Conversation Club helps get these children engaged in fun and meaningful conversation with their peers, by using a team of cartoon characters including Friendly Freddy, Listening Larry, Good Memory Marge, and Polly Parrot. The curriculum is illustrated by an Ivymount student.
The curriculum teaches students to select topics and then maintain conversation around that topic, as well as teaching the importance of active listening. The aim is for students to engage in longer and more meaningful conversations.
A seven-student pilot study produced promising results, with all participants demonstrating increases in peer-directed interactions, questions asked, use of particular words to introduce new topics and/or extend conversation on existing topics, and attempts at repairing simple conversation breakdowns.
“Students actively want to ask questions during conversations in order to learn more about what their peers are thinking,” enthuses Beachley. “To see students carry the classroom concepts into the lunchroom and other activities is very rewarding and demonstrates the success of the Conversation Club curriculum.”
Ivymount’s Conversation Club has received praise from teachers and related service providers, as well as a number of renowned researchers from within the field. The curriculum has been described as innovative, compact, focused, easy-to-use, motivating, highly engaging, and a simple way for students to engage in two-way conversations.
According to Dr. Eve Müller, the school’s Program Evaluator and Coordinator of Outcomes Research, “the difference between lunchtime at the beginning of the year and lunchtime at the end of the year was like night and day. Students were actually talking with each other about a wide range of topics, including what they did over the weekend or a favorite new video game, and maintaining conversations across multiple turns.”
Conversation Club is set to be the first release of the forthcoming Ivymount Instructional Resource Series publishing label. The series of publications will offer a collection of innovative educational resources—including curricula, assessment tools, and apps—designed and tested by Ivymount staff to support the success of students with autism spectrum disorders and other learning challenges. Each resource will be developed by cross-disciplinary teams of Ivymount’s expert teachers, related service providers and program evaluators, and thoroughly vetted in Ivymount classrooms.
Ivymount has a number of additional projects in the pipeline, including an integrated arts curriculum developed by Maddux School staff that supports social learning through the arts, and a number of resources that will support transition from school to work that have been developed by Post-High School staff, all of which will be published under the Ivymount Instructional Resource Series label.
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