I agree with the basic premise of McCleery’s and Frost’s argument. We need to be mindful of which words we are teaching our kids. We need to integrate vocabulary in a thoughtful manner that best suits the learner’s ability to internalize and generalize a given set of words.
That being said, I recommend that you consider the following after listening to McCleery’s video:
- There are many lenses in which to view language, and how we label vocabulary can easily obscure what the focus should truly be. Take the word “mine,” for example. Yes, “mine” can be seen as a grammatical function word, as McCleery notes. But “mine” also happens to be a pronoun and a modifier. The point is, the categorization of words into broad classes isn’t the only heuristic by which to examine their comparative values. It doesn’t take a speech pathologist to realize that “mine” is far more valuable than “here,” both in frequency of use and the obvious function “mine” serves. “Mine” is likely not going to be a first word or even among the first 50 words for many children. However, when compared to other core words we could teach, a case for “mine” is not hard to make.
- Speaking of lenses, you might want to check out this post by The Speech Dudes on keywords.
- I don’t think anyone in the core camp is (or has ever) suggested throwing out fringe vocabulary. Anyone who is so wedded to the idea of core as to ignore any and all fringe certainly doesn’t get it.
- If we’re being honest, most of us core proponents spend an excessive amount of time teaching verbs than other word classes (at least I do). This is because verbs are the gateway to sentences. By the way, remember that verbs happen to fall under content words, which McCleery rightly points out make up first words.
- Let me muddy the waters by presenting to you a fictional character I’ll call Alex. Alex is a five-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who might be defined as “minimally verbal.” Alex sometimes requests using unconventional means, such as pulling the hand of another to a desired object or outcome. When he wants something, Alex will sometimes state the object’s name to an adult who is close by without providing eye contact. During snack, Alex will occasionally grab at a snack out of reach or held by an adult. On other occasions, he will say, with an uprising intonation, “you want fish crackers.” Joint attention is fleeting; however, when movement is involved, Alex becomes more engaged, laughs, and exchanges eye contact with others. Alex has demonstrated the ability to point to at least 100 items from the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (given informally). Rarely will Alex spontaneously name objects, and most of the sparse language he produces is comprised of gestalts (e.g., “back off mister! Look it!”).
In this situation (which I’ve encountered many times), it is hard to predict or efficiently navigate the exact path the student will take to generative language. Communication is a messy process, and clearly, this student is not taking the typical route to morphosyntax development. So would teaching a bunch of fringe words to the exclusion of core, phrasal verbs, or other useful gestalts really be the best use of time? Is it an argument even worth having?
- I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: core vocabulary is not and has never been a “thing” the way PECS is. To say one uses core vocabulary says nothing about what words are being taught and, more importantly, how they are being taught. Though many of us using core vocabulary cite the work of Meher Banajee, it doesn’t mean she directs some type of curriculum. Indeed, it is possible to have two students with similar profiles using the same exact speech-generating devices and yet have two very different prompting styles thrust upon them. Things can get very interesting, however, if we allow ourselves to think creatively. It is possible to marry the best features of PECS with core vocabulary. If you haven’t already, check out my friend Megan Brazas’ work with the Core Vocabulary Exchange System (CVES).
While I am thankful to both McCleery and Frost for pointing out the importance of choosing our vocabulary carefully, I believe their argument was a bit reaching in its assumptions. Furthermore, I was disheartened to see the following on a slide during Frost’s presentation:
- Presume Communicative Competence?
– Anne Donnellan (Donnellan, A. M. (1984). The criterion of the least dangerous assumption, Behavioral Disorders, 141-150.)
- Strategies that presume competence
– Aided Language Input