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Collection: Word Prediction

purple arrow (1137 bytes)Getting to word prediction: Developmental literacy and AAC

Below is a paper entitled, "Getting to word prediction: Developmental literacy and AAC," by Yvonne Gillette and Jeri Lynn Hoffman. It is reprinted with permission of the authors.

REFERENCES: Gillette, Y., & Hoffman, J.L. (1995, March). Getting to word prediction: Developmental literacy and AAC. In Proceedings of the Tenth Annual International Conference, Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge.

PRODUCTS: EZ Keys (Words +); Scanning WSKE (Words +); HandiWORD (Microsystems Software); Speaking Dynamically (Mayer-Johnston Co.); Co:Writer® (Don Johnston Developmental Equipment); Write Out:Loud (Don Johnston Developmental Equipment); Routine Talk (Innocomp); Logical Language (Innocomp)


Yvonne Gillette, The University of Akron, School of Communicative Disorders, Akron, OH 443253001, 2169726115, YGILLETTE@UAKRON.EDU

Jeri Lynn Hoffman, Innocomp, 26210 Emery Rd., Suite 302, Warrensville Heights, OH 44128, 18003828622,

This paper is comprised of four components:


Many AAC/written language programs are based upon the principle of word prediction EZ-Keys, Scanning WSKE, HandiWord, the keyboard portion of Speaking Dynamically, and the Co:Writer, Write:OutLoud combination are examples. A significant number of literacy skills are essential before a user can be expected to be successful with word prediction. Initial experience in augmentative/alternative(AAC) and/or literacy can be scaffolded to facilitate the necessary skills.

Routine Talk (a pictureword access program) and Logical Language (a categoryletter program) are a sequence of AAC programs that provide the necessary progression. Both programs are designed to run on the Innocomp dedicated AAC devices and are packaged with the necessary overlays, manuals, and prestored messages. When AAC is not required, however, a similar sequence can be followed to lead to success with word prediction and other literacy skills. This paper will explain this progression, including the features of word prediction. It will also offer three criteria against which prescriptions for AAC devices/programs, as well as school program plans, can be measured in terms of their ability to provide scaffolding toward literacy skills.

Word Prediction

Word prediction is a feature built into some word processors to facilitate speed of word or message selection. The user types a letter, and the program offers a choice of words, each beginning with that letter. When another letter in the word is selected, another choice of words is offered to the user. When the program zeros in on the word the user wants to enter in the text line, the user can select it by number. For example, the user may want to type "where". By typing "w" the user may see "want", "will", "word", "while", and "what". Then, by adding an "h" to the existing "w", the user may see, "what", "where", "who", "why", and "whether". By typing the number 2, the user will place the word "where" on the line of type with three keystrokes, often followed with an automatic space.

The word prediction feature can save effort on the part of a person with a severe physical disability. In addition, it can provide cues for spelling words correctly for individuals who have not yet achieved good skill in spelling. It could remind a user to place the "e" at the end of "where", for example. A word prediction program can prompt users in several ways. First, it provides cues for words which it predicts may come next. When the word prediction program includes vocal output, some of the programs will speak the words in the prediction list if you select them with a mouse click, for example. In this way, the user can hear the word list to determine if that is the desired word Second, it provides a cue for incorrect spelling when no words appear in the list or none of the words which do appear match the user's needs. Also, when early writers need ideas, the word prediction list offers suggestions of words to use in writing. It facilitates ideation, which in Juel's Simple View (1988), is the generation and organization of ideas considered to be a major component of writing skill.

Word prediction clearly provides assistive technology for both written communication and augmentative communication, and it is used in both contexts. However, users with first letter of the word spelling skill use word prediction most successfully. While many potential writers or augmentative communicators have this skill many do not. When they do not, potential users of word prediction programs are often placed in programs to develop necessary literacy skills.

Getting to Word Prediction

Speaking, listening, protoreading, and protowriting provide this background; however, such experience is limited for many potential users, such as those with physical, cognitive or severe speech disabilities (Koppenhaver, Coleman, Kalman, & Yoder, 1991). Some of these skills include an understanding of the purpose of message sending in daily routines, the organization of messages in daily routines or stories, and the link between spoken messages and print (VanKleeck 1990). Prescriptions for AAC devices/programs as well as school program plans, can be matched against these three criteria to determine if the prescription/plan provides this scaffolding toward literacy.

1) Does the method for selecting messages to be taught allow for organized participation in daily routines?

2) Does the message encoding system have a direct and obvious link to print skills?

3) Does the device, computer program, or method of instruction offer texttospeech capability?

The following discussion will provide the reader with background information on each criteria and potential solutions to meet the criteria for AAC users, potential writers, or both.

Criteria 1:
Does the method for selecting messages to be taught allow for organized participation in daily routines?

One way literacy skills emerge in the student is through exposure to pictures combined with words in books and in the environment. Another is through exposure to others using literacy to place phone calls, write notes, and otherwise engage in their daily lives (Koppenhaver et al.,1991; VanKleeck, 1990).

Routine Talk (Innocomp), an AAC message system retrieves messages by using picture/word access. The method of configuring messages on the overlays also provides the user with experience in story organization or grammar (Stein & Glenn, 1979). The components of a story grammar include the setting, the initiating event, participation events, and an ending. Routine Talk messages are organized within daily life routines (eating, dressing, play, etc.) which parallel the settings. The 25 overlays each include messages to initiate the routine, participate in it, and end it. The message organization and the picture/word access to messages provide the user with a link between daily life and functional literacy.

A similar strategy can be followed when selecting messages to be presented without AAC technology. Teachers, families, and other facilitators can combine pictures with print to select and organize messages so the student has the ability to begin a routine as well as to participate in it and end it.

Criteria 2: Does the message encoding system have a direct and obvious link to print skills?

Several scholars and at least one consumer of AAC have raised concerns about the frequent discrepancy between symbolic encoding skills needed for AAC and conventional literacy skills (Beukelman, 1991, Light & Lindsay, 1991, and Beatty, 1992). The concern appears to be the competition between learning time spent on learning an AAC encoding system for communication and the graphic literacy skills necessary to read and write language. The solution is an AAC encoding system that incorporates traditional literacy symbols.

In AAC message retrieval systems, category/letter encoding systems provide a means for developing literacy sldlls. In using such a system, the user first selects the category to which the message belongs, then types the first (and sometimes second) letter of the word to be retrieved. Logical Language (Innocomp) produces messages by combining a category keystroke with picture/letter selections related to messages within the category. For example words about home (bedroom, family, and door) are retrieved under the same category (h) home. Ties between communication about life experience and literacy skills are strengthened with such an approach. Logical Language presents its message production system in two levels, scaffolding the literacy experience to include the more abstract literacy skills as the user develops skills at message production.

The first level uses category pictures combined with picture/letter combinations of individual messages to facilitate retrieval. Each of 26 categories has a separate overlay, so the user can be guided by the category picture as well as picture/letter cues to retrieve the message itself. For example, the message "horse" is retrieved by pressing the "animal" key for the category of the message, and the picture/letter "horse/h" to access the message, "horse".

At the second level, only categoryletter encoding is used. A single overlay provides the user with a visual aid to recall the organization of all the messages, but the first letter of the word must be recalled since only category and letter cues are provided. The "horse" message is still retrieved with the "animal" category key; however, the "h" letter is the second key. The horse picture is no longer visible because the combined overlay has the picture which signals the category "house". This more advanced level parallels the scaffold seen in the literacy experience of many early readers who begin by recognizing words with the aid of pictures, then rely more and more heavily on print alone.

Both levels of Logical Language also allow for visible print combined with vocal output to access grammatical refinements, such as access to pronouns, common verbs, and plurals. With a vocal output device, pressing the key can allow the child to reveal the spoken word under the printed key another exploratory literacy experience.

Teachers and families can use these principles to structure the early literacy experiences of students who do not require augmentative communication. Provide messages within routines or categories, use standard print combined with pictures as the encoding system at first, then gradually increase the need to access through print alone. More sophisticated messages can be developed by the students by providing access to grammatical refinement through word lists. Instructors can parallel the verbal feedback the device provides by giving the student verbal feedback when the student produces the first letter of the word. This can be done through onetoone instruction, or by selection of the appropriate computer technology. Dyson (1986) suggests that typical literacy skills develop through a similar picture/print sequence as students learn that they can draw

Criteria 3: Does the deuce, computer program, or method of instruction offer texttospeech capability

Dedicated communication devices or computerbased programs with text to speech capabilities are ideal technology for teaching the student the relationship between print and spoken language. Students who will benefit from this type of instruction, know the purpose of sending messages and have a notion about how messages are encoded in graphic forms. They may lack sophisticated skills to produce written messages or verbal messages (in the case of AAC users) in standard orthography, however.

Text to speech devices can provide this experience, as can teachers or families who provide feedback about what a written word "says" (Chomsky, 1979). With technology, notes can be given to the user, who then copies the note or words in the note to hear the device/program speak the message the note sent. Similar experiences can be set up with recipes, television guides, dictionaries, maps, newspapers, magazines, labels on food or other items, books, comic books, catalogs, and greeting cards, to name a few. When no technology is available, the instructor becomes the tool for translating text to speech. However, this method of translation may not encourage the same independence in message production and translation.

Word prediction is a tool within the scaffold toward literacy and sophisticated augmentative communication. The student who is able to access messages by categoryletter coding is in a position to learn to use word prediction combined with keyboarding to communicate in speech and writing. Learning costs of the AAC system are minimized because the same cognitive process is involved in retrieving verbal and written output. In some cases, the same device ( a computer) is used for verbal and written output as well minimizing equipment costs. In addition, the use of a computer for verbal output facilitates inclusion because the device is a part of the typical environment. Several products EZ Keys, HandiWord, and the Co:writer/Write Outloud combination are available for word prediction. These word prediction products are options only for students who have had the foundation in literacy. AAC products such as the Routine TalkLogical Language provide a systematic scaffold; a similar scaffold can be constructed for students who do not need AAC.


Beatty, H. (1992). Icons and the literate adult. Communication Outlook 13 (3), 89.

Beukelman, D.R. (1991). Magic and the cost of communicative competence. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 210.

Chomsky, C. (1979). Approaching reading through invented spelling. In L B. Resnick and P.A. Weaver (Eds.) Theory and Practice of Early Reading, Vol. 2. Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum.

Dyson, A. (1986). Transitions and tensions: Interrelationships between drawing, talking, and dictating of young children. Research in the Teaching of English, 20, 524.

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 4, 437447.

Koppenhaver, DA, Coleman, P.P., Kalman, S.L., Yoder, D.E. (1991). The implications of emergent literacy research for children with developmental disabilities. American Journal of SpeechLanguage Pathology, 1 (1), 3844.

Light, J. & Lindsay, P. (1991). Cognitive science and augmentative and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 186203.

Stein, N. & Glenn, C. (1979). An analysis for story comprehension in elementary school. In R. Freedle (Ed.) New directions in discourse processing ,Vol. 2. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

VanKleeck, A. (1990). Emergent literacy: Learning about print before learning to read. Topics in Language Disorders, 10(2), 2445.

Handiword, Microsystems, 1-800-828-2600
EZ Keys, Scanning WSKE, Words+, 1-800-869-8521
Speaking Dynamically, Mayer Johnson, 619-550-4084
CoWriter, Don Johnston, Inc., 1-800-999-4660

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