Texting Goals: Just Say ‘No’

Executive Brief: Texting, typing, stamping, and handwriting should not be IEP goals.


Yep, I understand that this notion can be mind warping. I know that things like typing goals are an unexamined and pervasive cultural component among IEP writers, and that I am disturbing that calming sense of comfort and stability.

I hope that you can forgive me.

When goals conflate (a) tool choices with (b) the underlying FAPE-related activities (that the student accesses with those tools), the intent of the goal is obscured. When a tool like texting (and so on) is used in the service of an activity such as spelling/writing (to convey formulated info), then the goal should be grounded in the spelling/writing itself (as well as the student’s cognitive formulation of the content of the composed message). The tool use, whether general or specific, should only be ancillary.

 Clarity of Intent

The student accesses spelling/writing (activities/goals) through the use of tools for such processes as texting, typing (e.g., large-key, high-contrast keyboards), stamping, or handwriting (e.g., pencils and grips and so on). That tool choice and provision should appear in the PLAAFP narrative and in the list of aids. Then, when the underlying spelling/writing function is clearly central to the goal (and the function of the message that needs to be conveyed), the tool use can be mentioned as an ancillary parameter in the goal; however, in such a case, the content should also specify what will be done if you need to change the supporting tools. Without that sort of contingency in place, if the designated texting device fails to be usable to provide access to the needed underlying function, then you will have to amend the IEP just to switch tools.

It also matters (in the goals) what sorts of messages the student will be composing, such as ‘signature’ versus ‘list of wants/needs’ versus ‘a display of reading comprehension’ versus ‘how to spell <a set of words>’.

You have to get at what the communicative content of the message needs to be.

 Communicative Content

Maybe the content is the student’s location at any given time while out in the community (where their caregivers are the specific recipients), in which case the sending location matters as well, such as from the bus or a stable job site. That difference narrows down the set of potentially useful tools (which we need to ensure are usable for that student). Maybe in such a case the structure of the content is not even formulated by the student (on the fly, anyway), where they might just poke a button on a thing that sends a location ping to a recipient.

When it comes to generalized texting (i.e., not at school), “small talk” can characterize (or caricature) an important type of content; in fact, while the inescapable presence of “nattering” in the environment can drive some people quite mad, it is a vital part of other people’s sense of social health and comfort. Note that it does take some skill to know how to express the message, “I am enjoying the simple pleasure of sitting around in your company” by saying something like, “Remember back in 1932, what a stir Lucille caused when she flirted with Bertha's beau?” or “My cat farted today,” and so on. Twitter was invented by a guy – an adult living on his own – whose mom incessantly hawked him for pings. With his app, he could continually pepper her with messages throughout the day about hygiene events, getting a snack, tying his shoes, and so on. In exchange, he could receive her messages about crumbs in the butter, Bennifer splitting up, how long she was in labor with him, and whatnot. Lots of people natter at the family dinner table... but some people can’t stand it.

In short: the function matters. (We intend for the student to learn to do/be/know something or go somewhere.)

 Intent Informs Tool Selection

Which means that some of those tools fit the needed function a lot better than others. To send a message from the bus, you might need to access cell service; in contrast, at a job site, you might be able to use wifi, or maybe you would also want the student to learn to use a desk phone.

Or maybe the function is interpreted as such an intense matter of safety that its success should not depend on the student’s current level of mastery, in which case the function might be served by the student wearing a tag (which might end up not even being a student goal at all if someone else were responsible for ensuring that the student and the tag were together in certain environments).

And while the education is intended to improve the usability of a tool that has potential for a given student (such as remembering to bring the tag), the grounding function in the goal is still the student conveying the location message. The development of that skill requires guided practice, but the goal is still centered around what the message content is supposed to be; otherwise, you’re just talking about poking away at the tool without having specified the way that anyone will know whether that poking is successful.

 The Influence of Home on School

We need to stem the burgeoning tide of (well-meaning but misguided) requests for cell phones at school to support “texting” goals.

While texting has become prevalent in our personal lives, it is not required for general education instruction (yet), so it is not covered by AT in schools. Yes, texting on personally-owned devices is often available to students during leisure time (as well as access to their music, videos, email, and so on), and that sort of access to personal tools should be equitable across placements; however, AT for education does not replicate that sort of leisure activity at school.

Now, if a student’s education included vocational activities (for example) where texting happened to be a need specified by the employer, then AT would support the education-related access to that function (subject to the guidelines presented in this editorial).

Finally, there are times when a student’s interest in texting at home will bring an educator to ask for a cell phone at school, where the cell phone use is usually presented as a scaffold for AAC.

If an AAC evaluation brings a team to identify texting as the most appropriate tool in our scaffolding of the student’s development of communication skills, then AT will support that function; however, a cell phone does not represent the only (or even the best) way to embody texting. That tool selection should be based on further discussion.

Sorry for going on for so long, but this is a way of looking at things that doesn’t tend to get taught, so I don't know how much familiarity people already have, or whether a shorter discussion would risk being muddy about a culturally obscure idea.


Other topics…

Clyr Ink Press © 2020 (most recent update: 2023)

Policies and Terms

Email the webmaster.

Built with Sparkle.