Safeguarding the future conference - Canberra, 23-24 May 2024

Students as Communication Partners

When we use the curriculum within a social justice and human rights lens, then everybody wins!

Many mainstream schools have literacy and numeracy frameworks. But how many have a Communication Partner Framework? What are the benefits of having one?

In this presentation, we visit an innovative primary school that saw an opportunity where others might only have seen a challenge. It developed a Communications Partner Framework which

  • ensures students with complex communication needs (CCN) are learning alongside their peers
  • provides unique opportunities for learning, leadership and growth for students without CCN

Students with Complex Communication Needs

Students with Complex Communication Needs (CCN) often use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems and devices at school. Examples of these include

  • partner-assisted auditory and visual scanning
  • yes/no switching
  • morse code input

It’s unusual to see a student with CCN in a mainstream classroom. When they are present, they usually work solely with an aide or adult. They rarely get to work with the class teacher or their classmates. This reliance on adult support is far from ‘best practice inclusion’. In fact, it’s potentially detrimental to many students.

Gina introduces us to an innovative primary school that uses a communication partner framework with curriculum-based outcomes. The framework creates growth and learning opportunities for all its students, with and without complex communication needs.

The Communication Partner Framework has the same format as the frameworks for literacy and numeracy. It provides a structure for all students to become competent communication partners for one of their peers who use AAC.

Classmates without complex communication needs

  • learn how all the AAC equipment works
  • are able to set up the different systems
  • acquire competencies in troubleshooting
  • often design their own activity adaptations which, at times, are quite inspired.

Meet Gina Wilson-Burns

Gina Wilson-Burns is an unapologetic advocate for her son. She promotes the life-changing experience of parenting a child with multiple severe disabilities, not as a ‘traumatic or crushing experience’ but one of hope and possibilities, of love and laughter.

Gina acknowledges we need to remove the red-tape and perceived limitations of living with disability. She strives to empower families to do what families do best… live, love and grow.

Gina is a former management committee member and current Chairperson of All Means All, the National Alliance for Inclusive Education. She was a participant in a knowledge-sharing exchange with Inclusion Alberta, CA in 2009 along with twenty other representatives from Australia and New Zealand. She is the author of the inclusive education blog, Inky Ed!