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Using the SETT Framework to Create

Opportunities to Communicate








On A


Then You’re SETT to Go!!!

Student, Environment, Tasks, Tools

Presented By:

Raynell Clark, M.A., CCC-SLP

Kim A. Ceasar, M.A., CF-SLP

June 23, 2009

MITS Summer Institute

Traverse City, Michigan



Learner Outcomes

  • Participants will identify the four components of the SETT Framework

  • Participants will identify the special education mandates related to AT/AAC

  • Participants will develop an understanding of the benefits of the SETT Framework
  • Participants will discover how the SETT Framework is necessary for engineering the environment

  • Participants will extend their skill set in At/AAC selection for students with disabilities

SETT Overview

Dr. Joy Zabala, a special educator, designed the collaborative planning and decision making tool called the SETT Framework. SETT is an acronym for Students, Environment, Tasks & Tools. Out of her passion for students with disabilities, Dr. Zabala created this framework because of issues related to device abandonment & underutilization. SETT looks at students with complex communication needs. Although devices are selected by professionals and educators to warrant communication, unfortunately, the kinds of changes expected are not attained in participation & productivity.

Special Education Mandates

Legal requirements tell us WHAT we need to do, but not HOW…Joy Zabala

The IDEA Act ’97 mandates the provision of assistive technology (AT) and offers clear definitions of assistive technology devices and services. Assistive Technology Devices are any item, piece of equipment, or product system-whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized-that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. Assistive Technology Services are any services that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Services include the following:

  • Evaluating

  • Providing Devices

  • Selecting, Designing, Customizing

  • Maintaining, Repairing

  • Coordinating

  • Training/Technical Assistance-student, family, and school service providers

IDEA Facts
  • Schools are required to provide assistive technology at no cost to the student/parents if it is needed for a student to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

  • The individualized education program (IEP) team is responsible for determining whether a student requires assistive technology to achieve goals and objectives. This is documented on the IEP.

  • IDEA ’97 requires IEP teams to consider the assistive technology needs of all students during the development of an IEP.

The following is a 5 Step Model for considering a student’s AT needs.

  1. Review present levels of performance and evaluation data

  2. Develop goals and objectives

  3. Identify tasks necessary to accomplish goals

  4. Determine which tasks are difficult or impossible for the student at this time

  5. Identify appropriate supports and services, including AT

Be sure to consider the following questions as well when following the 5 step model.

  • If the student is currently using AT, is the AT adequate to address the goals and objectives?

  • Does the student need AT to participate in daily instructional activities?

  • Could AT help the student increase communication and social interaction?

The results of these considerations will establish whether or not AT is required and whether more information is needed to make a decision. Once all things have been considered, it time to SETT a “DATE”. A Dynamic Assistive Technology Evaluation, DATE, allows collaboration regarding issues of communication & AT in an evaluative process. This evaluation enables staff to:

  • Identify and define areas of concern

  • Gather Information

  • Analyze information

  • Generate and prioritize potential solutions

  • Develop an Action Plan

  • Identify Outcomes

This is “HOW” you do it!!!

The SETT Framework (Zabala)
The SETT Framework is a tool that helps teams gather and organize information that can be used to guide collaborative decisions about services that foster the educational success of students with disabilities. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools.
The SETT framework is based on the premise that in order to develop an appropriate system of Tools (support-devices, services, strategies, accommodations, etc) Teams must first develop a shared understanding of the student, the customary environments in which the student spends time, and the tasks that are required for the student to be able to do, or learn to do, in order to be an active participant in the teaching/learning process that will lead to educational success. When the needs, abilities, and interest of the Student; the details of the Environment; and the specific Tasks required of students to perform in these environments are fully explored, teams are able to consider what needs to be included in a system of tools that is Student -centered, Environmentally-useful, and Task –focused.

  • What does the individual need to be able to do?

  • What are the individual’s special needs as related to the task?

  • What are the individual’s current abilities?

  • What are the functional areas of concern?


  • What are the structural and physical arrangements of the environment?

  • What supports are available to both student and staff?

  • What materials and equipment are currently available?
  • What are the physical, instructional, and technological access issues?

  • What are the attitudes and expectations of the staff and family?


  • What specific tasks occur in the individual’s environment that enables progress toward mastery of IEP goals?

  • What specific tasks are required for active involvement in the identified environments – such as communication and participation?


  • Is it expected that the student will not be able to make reasonable progress toward educational goals without assistive technology devices and services?

  • If yes, describe what a useful system of supports, devices, and services for the student would be like if there were such a system of TOOLS.

  • Brainstorm specific Tools that could be included in a system that addresses student needs

  • Select the most promising Tools for trials in natural environments

  • Plan the specifics of the trial (expected changes, when/how tools will be used, cues, etc.)


Needs to do:
1. Participate with peers in leisure activity

2. Improve turn taking


Special Needs:

1. Limited Speech

2. Aggressive behavior

during transitions

Current Abilities:
1. Can make requests/


2. Some Speech,

“No want”

“Good girl”

3. Identifies some


4. Point to yes/no

5. Can follow 1-step


Functional Areas

of concerns:
1. Aggressive during

leisure activities

2. Needs frequent

cues to use VOCA

Classroom with mixed group of peers:
Available material and equipment
Physical arrangement of room:
Four circular tables

Special Concerns:

1. Noise in room

2. Aggressive behaviors

Instructional arrangement:
Three circular tables with 10 peers

Existing Supports:

1. One Teacher

2. One Teacher Assistant

3. “Quiet Table” at far end

of the room

Speech Therapist

School Social Worker

What Takes place in the environment:
1. Peers greet each other

2. Peers arranged in random groups

3.Peers select leisure activity

4. Distribute game pieces

5.Peers play game (turn taking, commenting, requesting)

Tasks that address IEP objectives:

1. Greet peers

2. Select leisure activity

3. Matching symbols

4. Turn Taking

5. Requesting/Commenting

during an activity

Critical elements of task:

1. Interacting with peers

2. Pre-empting meltdown by asking for quiet table

3. Making choices

4. Turn taking
Modify Game Time:

1. Providing interactive vocabulary on VOCA

2. Teaching to pair speech with visuals

3. Match game pictures

Technology Supports

1. Visual activity schedule for each component of the game (greeting, selecting game, playing game, interacting within peers, completing game, putting game away).

2. VOCA for interaction
3. VOCA for requesting break

No-Tech tools:

1. Photos of peers with “Hi”

symbol- for personally greeting each peer
2. Pencil and paper for keeping score
3. Activity schedule and pictures
4. Game Choice Boards with pictures


1. Nine message: Go Talk-VOCA ( my turn, your turn, no cheating,

do you have___? let’s play again, I won, I’m finished, Uh-oh)



  • AAC is useless without a supportive environment

  • Relate all activities to the student’s experience, knowledge base and relevance

  • Create participation opportunities within activities

  • Keep devices/boards accessible and within easy reach

Consider the following Communication Functions (Burkhart)

Language is not learned by straight imitation. It is learned through broad experiences that provide multiple repetitions of concepts, vocabulary and conventions. Students cannot be expected to know how to use something until they are given an opportunity to learn how to use it in natural contexts. Language stimulation-information needs to go in before it comes back out. A wide variety of communicative functions need to be represented during instructional activities for example:

  • Initiate or call attention

  • Greet

  • Accept

  • Reject

  • Protest

  • Request objects

  • Share and show objects

  • Request information

  • Name

  • Acknowledge

  • Answer

  • Comment on action/object

  • Express feelings

  • Assert independence

  • Ask questions

  • Share information

  • Relate events

  • Call attention to how things are related-similar and different

  • Talk about past and future

  • Negotiate and bargain

  • State options

  • Make up stories

  • Express manners and consideration for others

When planning for the use of AAC in the classroom, it is helpful to think of the daily routine as a framework. Each part of your routine should include specific activities, expectations and language. To begin, look at a part of the daily routine in which you plan to incorporate the use of AAC. Then determine what kinds of language tasks and expectations to plan for the AAC devices and messages you will need to provide for all students to participate. Here are some suggestions:

  • Recite a repeated line in a story/play/poem

  • Name the characters in a story

  • Sequence events in a story

  • Recall facts

  • Ask questions {who, what where, etc.}

  • Follow the steps in multi-step directions {recipe}

  • State the logical order {first, next, last}

  • Retell familiar events/stories

  • Name vocabulary words

  • Define terms

  • Yes/no questions to determine comprehension
  • Make comments {That’s scary, That’s funny, etc.}


  • Answer questions during calendar/schedule time

  • Recite the pledge of allegiance

  • Tell others about an event that happened (at home/community/another class)

  • Ask questions of others about their evening/weekend/special event

  • Ask survey questions of others {Who wants to watch a movie, listen to music, etc.}

  • Repeat auditory sequences {letters, words, numbers, rhythmic patterns}

  • Identify people to participate in a group project/play a game/determine “who’s next?}

  • Sing the chorus of a song music/video

  • Recite a poem

  • Sequence events of the day

  • Recite names of students

  • Greeting activities


  • Sequence items to go into a story

  • List adjectives/adverbs to go into a story

  • Provide vocabulary to be included in a story

  • Give details about different parts of a class story



  • Count forward

  • Count backward

  • Count the days of the week/month/year

  • Count sets of items

  • State money amounts

  • Recite addition/subtraction/multiplication facts


  • List key individuals (Mayor, Governor, President)

  • List regions (City, State, Country)

  • List major products of a State

  • List key current events

  • Sequence events of a recent trip

  • Bingo games related to curricular themes

  • Simon Says

  • UNO: turn claiming (MY TURN); requesting (I WANT IT); commenting (OH NO, RATS, YIKES), UNO language SKIP/REVERSE, etc.

  • Use key phrases (It’s my turn, you are next, you cheated, your turn, etc.)


  • Decorate pots using paint, stickers, etc.

  • Make fun to wear buttons

Sample Language: requests, colors, describing, numbers, etc.

Description: AAC users give nominations for snacks from a group of pictures.

Sample Language:

  • Listing items (cookie, juice, pop, chips, popcorn, cracker, etc.)

  • Commenting on food items (yummy, good, yuck, awful, etc.)

  • Discussing possibilities {telling who has to food items-I HAVE___, JASON HAS___, etc.


Bransford, J Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (Eds) (1999) How People Learn: Brain, Mind Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press
Beukelman, D. & Mirenda, P. (1998) Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Management of Severe Communication Disorders in children and Adults (2nd Edition). Baltimore, MD Paul H. Brooks Publishing
Burkhart, Linda. Key Concepts for Using Augmentative Communication with Children Who Have Complex Communication Needs. Retrieved from

Cafiero, Joanne, (2005). Meningful Exchanges for People with Autism. Woodbine House

Downey, D. Daughtery, P. Helt., & Saugherty, D. (2004, Sept 21). Integrating AAC Into the Classroom: Low Tech Strategies. The ASHA Leader, pp 6-7 & 36.
Downing, June (2006) Teaching Communication Skills to Students with Sever Disabilities (2nd Edition), Baltimore, MS, Paul H. Brooks Publishing
Hoge, Debra & Newsome, Cheryl (2002). The Source for Augmentative Alternative Communication LinguiSystems, Inc.
Koegel, L. (1995). Communication and Language Intervention In Teaching Children with Autism. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing
Zabala, Joy. The SETT Framework. Retrieved from


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