Foundations of Communication

Foundations of Communication is designed for classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, ancillary staff, and administrators who support students with complex communication needs. 

This learning opportunity is designed to:

  • Help educators understand how their own knowledge and skills in the area of language development can and should be applied to language instruction in the area of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC).
  • Increase understanding of language development and implementation strategies for students with complex communication needs.

Targeted content includes:

  • Typical language development.
  • The Communication Bill of Rights.
  • The presumption of potential.
  • Core and fringe vocabulary.
  • Aided Language Input (a language strategy that promotes both symbol comprehension and production for students who use AAC).
  • The importance of core vocabulary.

Evidence Base

Project-Core offers supporting research, access to a variety of universal core vocabulary boards, and professional training modules. Content is geared toward:

  • The implementation of core vocabulary.
  •  Aided language input.
  •  Emergent and conventional literacy strategies.

How to Receive This Training

You can choose to partner with Alt+Shift or attend a scheduled Statewide Event. Read more about each option below. If you’d like to be notified when the next statewide event becomes available, you can request to be notified.

Partner with Alt+Shift

Training is provided to ISD staff as part of an ISD partnership. Training is typically provided to the entire district, building, or program staff. This depends on the specific ISD's implementation plan. Training is one piece of the partnership. Strategic planning, implementation support, and capacity building are also addressed through the partnership.

Attend a Statewide Event

Statewide events are opportunities to receive training, but with limited opportunities for follow up support. Participants can expect to gain ideas and strategies that would be usable immediately in their practice, and to gain a better understanding of the nature of the training as part of an exploration process for sites considering a partnership with Alt+Shift.

There are no upcoming events for this training.

Implementation Stories

Alt+Shift asked partners around the state to share their implementation experiences and the impact on adults and students where they work.

Toni Kucharczyk

Speech Language Pathologist
Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (ISD)

Alt+Shift (AS): In what ways have you implemented ideas and information from the Foundations of Communication (FoC) training/implementation process?

Toni Kucharczyk (TK): The first thing we learned is everyone needs to have access to the core boards within our school. We put up poster-sized core boards in all classrooms, the lunchroom, bathrooms, and the gym. We even put small boards on the buses for students to use. We are fortunate all of the staff in the building participated in the initial core board training. We were able to meet as classroom teams to see how we can take what we learned and use it the next day in the classroom. The first step for many of the classrooms was using core boards during guided reading in large groups.

AS: What impact has the training/process had on you and those you work with (e.g., teachers, students, ancillary staff, administrators, parents, Community Mental Health (CMH), etc.?

TK: The Foundations of Communication training has really helped us to develop a school-wide aided language system that is consistent across classrooms and ages. It has greatly impacted my therapy sessions as well as the carryover into the classrooms because it is a consistent system used in the entire school. The teachers and paraprofessionals at the Learning Center have adopted the system and are helping to develop new ways to use the core board during the school day. I believe that it has made a positive impact not only in the students’ communication but in their behaviors as well.


AS: Describe one implementation highlight or success.

TK: One implementation highlight is our Core Board Activity Boxes. We wanted to have an easy way for everyone to get started using/practicing the core boards. We received three different grants to help fund 60 boxes of activities that focus on 8-10 core words per box. It is a grab and go system that everyone (speech and language pathologists, teachers, paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and even substitute teachers) can use to reinforce the core board use. This has been a way for everyone to become comfortable in a variety of ways to use the core boards.


AS: Describe one implementation challenge/barrier and how you're working on overcoming it.

TK: The biggest barrier we have encountered is using our core boards with the older students. We are working toward having the students interact with their peers using the core board while playing different games. We are also encouraging them to design their own pictures (e.g., emojis) for the core board words to get them involved in the process.


AS: What are your next steps in the implementation process?

TK: Our next steps include doing our end-of-the-year staff survey to determine their use and comfort level using the core boards, doing an observation on our focus students to collect data on their use of core boards, and to develop more Core Board Activity boxes with the focus on science and math. In addition, we are in the process of starting a library with a variety of books that incorporate core words as well as fringe vocabulary that will be available to the entire school.


AS: How has Alt+Shift supported your district's FoC journey?

TK: We have had a great deal of support from Alt+Shift! They have provided initial trainings for our entire staff, helped us to develop our three-year timeline for our implementation plan, and have provided monthly check-ins to help keep us on track and to problem solve and discuss new ideas.

Continue the conversation with Toni Kucharczyk

Lacy Lauzon

Principal / Program Supervisor
Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (ISD)

Alt+Shift: Tell us about your students.

Lacy Lauzon: We serve students from seven school districts in Delta and Schoolcraft counties. We primarily serve students ranging from those with moderate cognitive impairments to those with severe cognitive and physical impairments. In addition, we house Early Childhood Special Education classes for the 3-5 year old population.

AS: What is your connection with Alt+Shift?

LL: Given the complex communication needs in our school, we engaged in the Foundations of Communication training. We immediately thought this would be an excellent resource to implement school wide. We have developed an implementation team which meets regularly, collects data, and plans meetings with our Alt+Shift consultant to continue to improve our services for students.


AS: How have your interactions with Alt+Shift influenced your work with students?

LL: We have learned that it does not take much work to improve the use of AAC within our school for the benefit of all of our students. I believe even the verbal students have benefited in the area of language development as a result of increased modeling and use of core vocabulary in our school.


AS: Why did you choose a career in education?

LL: I love kids, and I want them to have hope for the future.


AS: What is one of your deeply held beliefs about education?

LL: I have always believed that everyone can learn but have come to realize even teachers who thought they could not learn more are capable of expanding their knowledge beyond what they thought. Proper support for them and involvement in the work they do from an administrative perspective helps teachers to realize a higher potential.


AS: What have you noticed since the implementation of school wide core vocabulary?

LL: We have experienced increased visual supports throughout the school. All staff has engaged with it. Students are responding to the core boards. Parents are making comments about more communication at home. I have observed student-to-student communication using the core boards. The staff is excited about this and it was easy enough for everybody to get started immediately after the training.


AS: How does this fit in with the goals of your school?

LL: Behavior is communication, and we are always looking for better ways to support the behavioral needs of our students. The best place for us to start was to look at our communication with students. We were then able to look at the ways our students communicate with us. Implementation of core vocabulary has improved our ability to communicate with students and their ability to communicate with us. We have even seen students using the core vocabulary to communicate with each other.


We have had lots of success, and we have been able to do this together. Often times strategic planning does not include daily activities. We use core vocabulary throughout the building daily and feel like we will accomplish our goals. We are all in this together, and the success comes from us all doing the same thing. We have trained teachers, therapists, outside agencies, parents, paraprofessionals, transportation personnel, and kitchen staff.

Continue the conversation with Lacy Lauzon

Elizabeth MacGregor

Speech-Language Pathologist
Mount Pleasant Public Schools

AS: In what ways have you implemented ideas and information from the training?

EM: Mount Pleasant Public Schools has received support and training from Alt+Shift for more than a year. We are so excited about using core vocabulary in our classrooms (both special education and general education). We have created an Aided Language Input Initiative within our district to help organize us and keep us moving forward! This initiative was made possible by our administrative team, Stefanie House and Kelly Merrihew. Our main focus is on using the core vocabulary board (36 board provided by Project-Core) with our students in the Mildly Cognitively Impaired and Moderately Cognitively Impaired classrooms to improve both receptive and expressive communication skills. We use the core board with students from developmental kindergarten to high school to post secondary.

AS: What impact has the training had on you and those you work with (e.g. teachers, students, consultants, administrators, etc.)?

EM: The impact of this training has been above and beyond our expectations! We are profoundly grateful we've been introduced to this evidence-based practice for communication. We have trained all of our speech language pathologists, classroom teachers, and para-professionals on Aided Language Input (ALI). We demonstrate daily in these classrooms as well. In addition, we are teaching peers, general education staff, and other team members (physical therapists, occupational therapists, and school social workers) on the use of ALI. We have so many success stories in our classrooms with the student's use of the core vocabulary boards!


AS: Describe one implementation challenge and how you overcame it or are working to overcome it.

EM: We have had many challenges over the course of the past year. I am proud to say those challenges have not stopped us from making progress. The initial launch of core vocabulary was difficult for some of our teachers and paraprofessionals who have used the Picture Exchange Community System (PECS) for a long time. In order to help work through that challenge, we did our typical training and demonstrating of ALI, but we also encouraged a blend of the two approaches. We suggested adding a core board to the PECS book, and we referred to the pictures in the PECS book as the "fringe vocabulary." That helped bridge the gap to some degree and allowed the students access to the core vocabulary words.


AS: Describe one implementation success or highlight. EM: There have been so many student highlights:

  • A verbal student while in a behavior and unable to use speech was able to communicate they wanted to "go" home.
  • Non-verbal students combining words on the core board to form statements/comments and questions (I want....I do not want, stop).
  • General education peers using the core board to communicate with students who have complex communication needs.


These are just a few of the exciting things we see on a daily basis in Mount Pleasant Public Schools.


AS: What is your next step for implementing ideas from the training?

EM: Our Aided Language Input team developed many different data sheets to monitor:

  • Core vocabulary use by staff (teachers and paras).
  • Communicative functions (student use of core).
  • Beginning communicators (student use of core).
  • Making choices (student use of core).

Our next step is to take quality data and analyze.

Continue the conversation with Elizabeth MacGregor

What Others are Saying

We asked partnership sites to share their experience related to the training. 

Nathan Johnson
Principal/Monitor/Transition Coordinator
Branch County ISD
Mount Pleasant Public Schools Implementation Team
Kelly Merrihew, April Scott, Emily Shiner, Tracy Wood, Sarah Starrs, Stefanie House
Mount Pleasant Public Schools