Form and Follow the Rainbow to the Pot of Gold

Mar 15, 2023

Learning is a process that varies based on the individual. It is a process filled with celebrations, challenges, tears, smiles, and everything in between.

Learning and growth can feel scary, but we can foster learning environments and experiences that are supportive and make learning meaningful and manageable. One must form and follow the rainbow of learning that leads to the pot of gold to achieve goals.

Setting SMART AAC goals is the first step in facilitating growing and learning in communicators. They are the starting point of the rainbow that leads to the pot of gold and are also the gold in the pot which the communicator aims to achieve.

SMART goals provide direction for intervention surrounding AAC at home, school, and in the community. SMART goals also give the learner something to work towards. They set high yet realistic expectations for the learner to strive to achieve.

However, learning is more than achieving or mastering the SMART goals set for the learner by their support team. Completing the task or demonstrating the skill the SMART goal aims to develop is just one component in the learning process. It is the what of learning.

purple speech buttons with the words "where," "what," and "how" on a colorful pastel background.

The how and where of learning are the colors in the rainbow that lead to the pot of gold. They are essential to creating the what of learning worth your and the communicator’s time and effort.

The how of learning is comprised of the activities and experiences from which the communicator develops skills. For example, infusing language use and modeling into routine daily activities is the how of developing linguistic competency.

The where of learning constitutes the context in which the communicator develops skills. For example, infusing language use and modeling into routine daily activities that are familiar and motivating to the learner is the where of developing linguistic competency.

The how and where of learning are subjective and must be reflective of the learner’s interests, motivations, learning style, and goals.

Although language and communication growth look different for every communicator, environments (the where of learning) that promote learning should be the same shape (curved to form the rainbow). These curved connections are the foundation of learning experiences that help communicators thrive and allow communication and language to flourish. All learning environments should be learner-centered (Martin, n.d.), which means that the environment in which the communicator engages and progresses toward their goals should be one that:

  • encourages agency – the communicator has control over what they do, say, and receives natural consequences of their words and actions.
  • makes learning feel relevant and personal – learning experiences should be relevant to the learner and increase their functional capabilities in their immediate life situation. They should reflect their goals and interests.
  • provides the communicators with transferable competencies and skills necessary to engage in meaningful learning – learning experiences should prepare the communicator to engage in future learning opportunities and experiences that are naturally occurring so that they can further develop their communication skills and advocate for the supports that they require in order to successfully learn.

Learning environments that encourage agency, make learning personal and relevant, and build skills and competencies that are transferable so that they are able to extend their learning beyond the immediate learning opportunity are learning environments that are necessary for the communicator to achieve goals.

Within such learning environments are learning experiences. These experiences are the fabric of learning (the how of learning) and are connected to the what of learning. Learning experiences serve as the colors of the curved connections of the rainbow (the what of learning) and are ultimately what is needed by the communicator to achieve their goals.

Every learner should have different colors in their rainbow to represent their unique learning experiences. All learning experiences should be learner-centered (Martin, n.d.), which means that the experiences that promote the development of language and communication skills should aim to uncover the learner’s potential through experiences that are:

  • authentic – opportunities are provided to the communicator to apply the language and communication skills being developed to real-world situations.

    For example, if the communicator’s SMART goals target social etiquette, greeting a friend when the communicator sees them in public is a great authentic learning experience.
  • competency-based – communication and language learning experiences are scaffolded based on the communicator’s language level.

    For example, once the communicator engages with books outside of structured shared reading time, it is a suitable time to start encouraging and practicing writing core and sight words.
  • personalized – communication and language learning experiences are customized to meet the communicator’s unique needs, strengths, skills, and interests.

    For example, if the learner likes to play with cars, incorporate the communication function that is targeted in their SMART goal into playing with cars (e.g., if the communication function is commenting, you might model “go fast”).
  • inclusive and equitable – communication and language learning experiences are accessible to the communicator regardless of their needs, strengths, and skills.

    For example, if the communicator is motivated by cooking but they have fine motor deficits, you may use switch activated appliances so that they can participate in the cooking while commenting, requesting, and/or directing with their AAC system.

The communicator’s development of their language and communication skills toward the achievement of their goals is a process. It is a learning process in which the experiences that the communicator has and the environments that the communicator is immersed in are as transformative to the communicator as the skills that they acquire by achieving the goal.

A rainbow is to the learning process as achievement of the goal is to a pot of gold – a pot of gold cannot be reached without following the rainbow and achievement of a goal cannot be reached without going through the learning process and forming and coloring the curved connections of the rainbow. Both are unfamiliar adventures, but both are also transformative to an individual when they are pointed in the correct direction by the colors of the rainbow.


Martin, K. (n.d.). Learning Is a Process, Not an Event [web log]. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from

Hannah Foley

Empowering Teams of Those With Complex Communication Needs Through Support and Implementation