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speech therapy

He told me

Joey is amazing. (You can read more about Joey here, here, and here.). He’s amazing all day every day, but tonight, in this moment, here is why he’s currently kicking some serious butt:

I wrote out the “Plan” of what we had to accomplish during our session. He read it and asked, “What do you mean ‘think of questions and give answers’?”

“Good question,” I replied. “So, we will read the book for number 1. Then for number 2, we’re going to use the question words and think of questions about the story. Then we’ll have to figure out the answers to the questions.”

He scrunched up his face. “I don’t get it,” he said.

This is so big. Please tell me you get how big this is. Years ago, maybe even months ago, Joey wouldn’t have told me he didn’t get it. And I don’t know why – maybe because his neurons didn’t yet have the association that a direction + a swirly foggy sensation = I’m confused + need to say something to convey that. But he would’ve nodded and smiled, and halfway through I would’ve realized that he had no idea what we were doing. Or seemingly out of nowhere I would’ve seen seemingly random behaviors – all a way of his brain trying to convey the confusion. But today? He knew. He knew and he TOLD me! Self-awareness! Self-advocacy! Communicating! Wait, it gets better.

So I wrote it down for him, just like I did on the whiteboard. I silently wrote:

-Read book
-Think of questions to ask about each page
-Answer questions

He silently followed along. He clarified (he clarified!), “You’ll write the answers to the questions. That’s fair.” And I agreed. And then he looked up at me, again, nodded, and confirmed, “Oh. Okay. I get it now.”

He told me. Again!

And so, I did my try-not-to-get-teary thing and told him how awesome it was that he told me when he was confused, and told me when it made sense in his brain again, and he wasn’t really into the mushy-gushy and was really just ready to read the book, so we moved right on, but really I didn’t move on because I’m still sitting here thinking about how awesome he is.

And how some small things are not small. Some small things are huge. And how the skills are there, and they come, and how they come in their own way, in their own time. And how we need to – always – meet them and their neurology halfway. And how I just feel so blessed and privileged to be the one who gets to witness these incredible successes.

Winning materials

[Ed. note: While these are both affiliate links (meaning if you purchase them from Amazon, using this link – I will receive a very tiny referral fee), this is not a sponsored post. Just sharing some truly wonderful materials!]

As I’m sure nearly every single one of you SLPs can agree with, when a child is motivated by a game, a book, or any sort of material, sessions are infinitely more successful and productive.

So far this year, the two most popular (and most frequently asked for by kids) products have been:

Tell Tale (<–click on link)

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Tell Tale is a game created by Blue Orange, the company who also makes Spot It. There are probably 50 or so cards, and each card is double-sided with two random pictures. A princess, a moon, a pig, a city, a hospital, etc. We play it as a story-telling game. Each player gets 5 (or however many) cards, and one person chooses one of her cards to start the story (e.g., Once upon a time, there was a princess named Jen). The next person chooses any of their cards to add on to the story (e.g., She had a pet pig named Snorty). We go on and on until all cards are done.

There are endless ways to play this game, and endless targets. I use it for articulation, fluency (clear speech, using speech strategies), story-telling, grammar (past tense, future tense), turn-taking (even if you have a great card, it’s not your turn yet), flexibility (hmm, that wasn’t what you wanted to happen in the story, but we are working as a team and he had a different thought in his brain), and the list goes and on and on. (We have also played where one person has to create a story with their five cards; where we put random cards out and then create a story and retell it; we have written out the narrative that we’ve told using story elements; etc.)

The kids are obsessed. I can pretty much motivate them to do anything throughout the period as long as we leave 5-10 minutes for a quick game of Tell Tale at the end of class.

I can’t even stress it enough – this is a MUST HAVE in your bag of tricks, and for such a cheap price, you will not regret it.

The Froggy Books (<–each word is a separate link)

$_35

When you work with little ones who beg to be read to (and who have reading and language disabilities, so you will happily indulge them in being read to), you are constantly on the lookout for books.

The Froggy books, by Jonathan London, are fantastic. They have that repetition and rhythmic sound about them as I read them, and they are also a wonderful balance between predictable (Froggy’s mom always yells, “Frrrooooogggggyyy!!”) and surprising. They hold kids’ attention and the illustrations are interesting enough that even kids who can’t read can practice telling or re-telling the story from the pictures alone. My 8-year-olds loved these books so much that I just ordered three more. We work on story elements, retelling, inferencing, answering WH questions, predicting, and good old reading aloud.

Again – a must, at least one of them!

What are your gold-star materials these days? What motivates your kids at all costs?

The contraction “let’s”

One of my 4th grade groups is learning about contractions. They all know what they are, but one very rigid, very anxious student refuses to use them in writing (and often in speaking), just because he likes saying both words better. And another misuses them, saying “I’m” instead of “I’ve”. So it was time for a re-teach and review.

We went through what each contraction stands for, we practiced taking each one apart and putting it together, and everyone was getting the hang of things (despite my anxious little guy, constantly checking, “But I do not have to use contractions, right???”). Then we got to the contraction let’s. We talked about how it stands for let us, but how most people say Let’s because Let us go play on the swings or Let us play a game sounds kind of strange, and it sounds more regular to say Let’s go play on the swings or Let’s play a game.

One of the students raised his hand. “This is kind of off topic, but…. [the number of times I hear that statement in a day…!] well, it’s kind of on topic. It’s about the contraction let’s.” I told him to go ahead and share.

“Well, you know how we just learned that it stands for let us?” he began. “So that means it’s what more than one person is doing, not just one person. But sometimes people use it wrong. And, I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful. But teachers use it wrong all of the time.”

I was intrigued and asked him what he meant.

“Well, when a kid forgets to take out a pencil, teachers always say Let’s get out pencils now when it’s not the teacher that has to get one out, it’s just the kid. Or if a kid is having a hard time, the teacher says Let’s take some deep breaths even though the teacher doesn’t need to take deep breaths. You guys always say stuff like that. And I think I know why. It’s because it makes a kid feel better. If you tell them You need to get a pencil out or You need to take a deep breath it can sound kind of rude, you know? Like you’re singling the kid out. But when you use let’s, it makes everyone feel better, cause it makes them feel like they’re not the only one. It’s like everyone’s on a team and all working on things together. And so I think it’s a good thing you do that. Because it’s much nicer.”

I was speechless. “Wow,” I told him. “You are so right. Teachers absolutely do that, and I am so impressed that you were able to figure out why. I’m so glad it makes you feel better when teachers say that.”

“And,” he continued. “Well, you know how I love Minecraft and I have my own server? Well, sometimes players break the rules or something. They might swear or do something not good. So I tried using that. And I tell them Let’s not use swears. And it works! And I think they listen way better than they would if I told them You can’t swear.”

At that point I had to move on, because one student had started singing a Maroon 5 song, another one was humming the Mario theme song, and the third was increasingly unhappy that we were slightly off topic. You know, the usual.

But three days later, I can’t stop thinking about that incredible, amazing exchange.

Writing a paragraph

Each year I think of more and more things I want to help my students with. Each year I feel like I have less and less time, and that there’s more and more they need. One skill that is constantly requested by teachers, parents, and districts, is writing a paragraph. Despite that fact that our kids have language and learning disabilities and often do not have the fundamental language skills to write a well-constructed sentence, let alone a paragraph, writing is how progress is measured these days. MCAS, PARCC, formalized testing….so much of how it measures “success” is being able to write a well-constructed 5-paragraph essay. You already know my feeling about standardized testing, so we’ll let that one go for now.

So, okay. This year we will work extra-hard on written language when my kids come for speech/language 3 times a week. Despite the fact that there are a zillion other benchmarks to be targeted, vocabulary to be learned, auditory processing deficits, need to learn language comprehension skills and strategies, reading anywhere from 2-6 grades below their current grade level, lack of inferential knowledge, inability to summarize or extract the main idea…..yes. We will squeeze in written language.

But I was thinking hard the past few weeks as we get into a groove at school. We have to start at a basic level for our kids. And then an even more basic level than we had thought. There are so many holes, things that must be explicitly taught, things that our language/learning disordered kids don’t naturally pick up on. So, I did some reading on Bloom’s Taxonomy (Revised) and decided to use that as my framework for writing benchmarks and targeting skills this year. Because really, if our kids haven’t mastered the first tier, “Remembering” (e.g., remember what a paragraph is, what it contains), or “Understanding,” the second tier, we can’t expect that they will be able to jump right into “Apply” and “Analyze”, let alone “Evaluate” and “Create.”

I tried something out. I see kids elementary through high school, so I posed the following question to an 8th grade group and a 9th grade group: “What is a paragraph?” Some of the answers I got?
-(Silence)
-“I don’t know”
-“A  bunch of words”
-“A rectangle shape of writing on paper”
-“Sentences that talk about something”

And right away, that reinforced my gut feeling that we have to start at the basic level. Remembering. So, we talked about four vocab words. Paragraph; Topic Sentence; Details; Clincher. We talked about what each of them meant and why we needed them in a paragraph. We didn’t do any writing. Just Remembering. We used a color-coding system. Topic Sentence is green, Details are yellow, and Clincher is red. We wrote the terms and their definitions in colors. The next day, we read several short paragraphs (short and simple – probably around a 2nd grade reading level) and practiced finding the topic sentence, details, and clincher. We underlined each in their respective colors. We reviewed the terms and the colors. It was hard for them. We talked about it. We took it sentence by sentence.

This is where we’re at. But. We have to build a foundation first. I really truly believe that. And eventually, we’ll be writing a paragraph.

Learning rambles

This is going to be incoherent but I have to write before I lose the thoughts and the concepts deep into the folds of my brain, never to be even partially articulated. 

I’m reading a book. It’s called Your Brain on Childhood, by Gabrielle Principe. I’ve only read about 60 pages so far, but I’m captivated. It’s very research-heavy, citing lots of studies regarding child development, animal development, and ultimately the clear theme is that our kids aren’t being kids. Between phones, ipads, computers (all screens), lack of true “play” time (which is actually a necessity for kids! It’s how they learn – truly learn! Not just memorize what they’ve been taught), and a push to be fastersmarterwisermoredeveloped, we’re causing more problems than we’re solving. In trying to help our kids be smart and brilliant and successful, we’re actually doing the opposite sometimes.

Now, I speak as someone who is NOT a researcher, not an expert in human development, not (yet) a mother. So I can’t speak with fact or certainty. But I can speak intuitively, and I can speak from experience, with about a zillion kiddos, all across the spectrum.

And I can observe. And notice what is hardly a surprise: that the rise in learning disabilities is increasing. That more and more kids are on IEPs. That more and more kids are falling behind in school, and more and more kids are hating school. That anxiety and depression are consuming kids younger and younger. I can’t convince myself that this is random, that there’s no reason behind this. Why is it, well, I can’t state with certainty. But from my observations, of my own students and my friends’ children? I’m observing the amount of homework is increasing. That kids have less and less time to play. That more of an emphasis is placed on MCAS and other state testing. That the “fun” units can’t be taught in school because there’s no time. That kids are taught rules and things to memorize but there’s no time to learn what they want. There’s no more time to learn naturally. 

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that my most successful speech/language therapy sessions are the ones in which we veer off course and have a completely child-directed, randomly-flowing, session. It can’t be a coincidence that my students seem to learn more when we’re talking about something that they brought up or noticed. It can’t be coincidental that what they seem to retain most comes from natural learning opportunities, and often ones they have brought upon themselves.

I don’t know what else to say. There are clearly a lot of thoughts in my head and I realize this is anything but coherent, and probably full of vast accusations and gross generalizations. But I gave you the disclaimer that this is based on absolutely no fact, nothing but my own brain, my life, my experiences. I’m sure they’ll be more to come, more to say, and maybe some cohesiveness eventually. But in the meantime?

Does anyone else, whether you’re a student, a professional, a parent, get this? Feel the same way? Totally disagree? Tell me your thoughts. It’s okay if they’re not based on anything other than the neurons firing in your head. 

Using curriculum in S/L Therapy

The year is getting started, and I’m thinking about how to approach my caseload and my kiddos. My kids all have language-based learning disabilities, and many of them have other things going on too — Asperger’s, ADHD, etc. So, it’s hard enough for them to pay attention, and when they are able to, for those brief spurts of time, it’s hard for them to internalize what’s being said, and even more difficult to connect anything I work on to the rest of their day.

So my goal: make speech/language therapy more functional, instead of teaching concepts with random sentences and worksheets and examples, connect it to their curriculum — teach parts of speech with their science vocabulary, work on inferencing with their history books, etc.

I’m just putting out a feeler for thoughts — what have other SLPs done to streamline this process, get curriculum info from content teachers, implement it into what you do, etc?

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