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Speech in the Schools

Verb Choices and Learning Opportunities
March 27, 2015 8:23 AM by Teresa Roberts

Our daily lives are filled with a combination of both obligations and opportunities. Sometimes we may even have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Having the chance to work hard, to push oneself to accomplish tasks, and to learn new things is an opportunity. Access to education is not universal – learning is in many ways still a privilege, regionally and globally.

There is a unique balance within each of us, of demands that are within our capacities, and complexity that is within our proximal zone of development. We may have personal limits at any given time and our understanding is continually expanding, however, we are often stronger than we know. This may mean that we thrive when we work just a little harder than we think we can. We grow when we appreciate the moments that challenge us.

We have the ability to change the perception of any given task or event with only one word. Verb choices carry more semantic meaning than we often expect. The verb choice may show either obligation or opportunity. Consider the following two statements:

“We have to read this book today.”
“We get to read this book today.”

Which statement makes you more interested in reading the book? The first sentence is about obligation and the second sentence is about opportunity. When we use the verb “have to”, we automatically demote the task to something that is undesirable. When we “get to” do something, we elevate it by adding excitement, eagerness, and adventure. We are affected by our word choices and our own self-talk. Think about what you will gain from your accomplishments and how lucky you are to “get to” to do things.

Our clients are affected by our word choices and how we present tasks to them. They can often read our moods, and their own responses to the activities may be predetermined simply by how we introduce them. We can entice through verb choices, highlighting newness, curiosity, and interest. Think about what you and your client will “get to” do at your next session.

Professionally, our colleagues are affected by our word choice. Consider these two statements:

“I had to go to a training session on behavioral intervention yesterday.”
“I got to go to go to a training session on behavioral intervention yesterday.”

The first statement might elicit a response of sympathy or commiseration, while the second statement has the potential to pique someone’s interest, e.g., “Really, how was it? What did they say?”

When we remember that learning is a gift, we can present the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of skills as the opportunities that they are. We can let our words entice others to participate.

Hearing and Seeing “He/She” Pronouns
March 20, 2015 8:46 AM by Teresa Roberts

Children with language disorders may have difficulty with subjective personal pronouns “he/she”. They may use only “he”, only “she”, or appear to alternate between the two terms indiscriminately. They may even use objective personal pronouns “him/her” instead.

We can analyze what we hear and what we see with “he/she”. Auditory/acoustic and perceptual/visual information shape our understanding of these terms. “He” and “she” are short, consonant-vowel (CV) words that rhyme (share the same syllable nucleus, i.e., same vowel or same rime). The initial phonemes of /h/ and /sh/ are both low amplitude (quiet) sounds with minimal resonance (in relation to other consonants). The sibilant “sh” is comprised of turbulent airflow at high frequencies. The glottal fricative /h/ has noise produced by turbulent airflow throughout the entire open vocal tract, and takes on the characteristics of the following vowel.  Acoustically, “he” and “she” are words that sound similar.

In sentences, “he” and “she” are affected by intonation and tonal units (sentence-level stress patterns). As the tonic syllable (the loudest and most emphasized syllable) is often placed on the word with the most semantic importance, “he” and “she” are rarely prominent. In natural conversation, when we say, “he is going to the store,” both the verb “going” and the location “store” are more acoustically salient (louder and clearer) than the pronoun “he”.  Even when we deliberately try to highlight the pronoun in intervention settings, we are likely still highlighting “going” and “store” to some extent, e.g., “HE is GOING to the STORE.” We don't automatically and artificially change our rhythm pattern throughout the remainder of the phase, just because we said “he” louder.

“He” and “she” are naturally emphasized in contrastive and informational settings, e.g., “Did he go to the store? No, SHE did,” and “Who has the ball? HE does.” Contrastive and informational stress point out the differences between people, and call specific attention to the correct pronoun. If we designed therapeutic activities that focused on “he/she” in contrastive and informational positions, we could increase the acoustic salience of these terms. Our natural intonation patterns would emphasize the target pronouns.

Perceptually and visually, gender is often delineated by an arbitrary set of societal markers for binary traits, e.g., male (pants, short hair, blue) and female (dress, long hair, pink). These markers are often exaggerated in cartoon drawings to the point of caricatures. Within society, we have fluidity in color choices and styles for our clothing, hairstyles, and other features. Using photographs, instead of cartoons, may give clients more realistic examples of gender and encourage generalization of the pronouns into their daily conversation. We can introduce “he/she” (using informational stress) when we show the photographs to the client for the activity.

Using sets of contrastive photographs with actions (running, jumping, swimming, etc.), states of being (tall, wet, sleepy, etc.), and possession (has a book, has a ball, etc.) allow us to design activities that mirror the stress markers in our natural speaking patterns:

• “She is a girl. She is jumping.” (Show matching photograph)

• “He is a boy. He is standing.” (Show matching photograph)

• “Who is jumping?”

• “She is!” (Show appropriate photograph)

We can make “he/she” sound and look clearer to our clients.

Advocates for Acceptance
March 13, 2015 9:57 AM by Teresa Roberts

In our practice we recognize differing communication and learning abilities. As clinicians, we work to increase our clients’ access to social opportunities and interactions. We understand that all people have a unique way of expressing their thoughts and ideas.

Within the nature of the human condition, skills vary across domains, and throughout an individual’s lifetime and circumstances.

In Cynthia Lord’s Newbery Honor Book, “Rules”, a young girl describes her life with her brother with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although this book is acclaimed for the narrator’s perspective of having a sibling with ASD, a second plot exists within the story of the girl’s emerging friendship with another child who uses Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Peer pressure affects this relationship and the author highlights the courage it takes to advocate for acceptance.

Many of us may not have a personal sense of having a socially perceived disability, or having a relative or close friend with a socially perceived disability. We may benefit from increasing our own awareness:

- Read books and articles which share the perspectives of both individuals with communication challenges and their family and friends.

- Watch films which feature the feelings and events which may reflect individuals with differing abilities, their loved ones, and roles in society.

- Attend community events sponsored by agencies which support individuals with disabilities.

- Talk with clients and their families about their personal experiences.

- Seek out simulation activities, such as learning differences simulations, in which you are placed in situations that mirror experiences (check your local dyslexia association, other non-profit agencies for disability services, and understood.org).

Awareness is a fundamental step to increase understanding of the privileges that exist within a culture that sorts individuals by ability, and empowers us to advocate.

- Display books about individuals with disabilities in your office and work space.

- Share children’s books about acceptance and understanding with your clients and their families.

- Track current terminology to describe different conditions or states-of-being (e.g., person-first language, “contemporary” versus “archaic” descriptors, etc.).

- Adopt the new terms (times change and words change their meanings).

- Recognize that wording mistakes are common (wrong words, saying something inappropriate, etc.) and that we have the power to correct ourselves.

- Focus on the positive intent of each communicative interaction.

- Politely and subtly re-state and re-frame another person’s use of terminology, if they are not using appropriate terms, to model respectful language.

- Offer to lead a lesson or training on differing abilities with staff, colleagues, and students.

- Understand the pervasive effects of societal collective forces for conformity to a pre-established “normative” set of skills.

Continue to question your own behavior and how you confront bias within your own life.

As clinicians, our daily work is founded on accepting people and partnering with them to address communication goals. We support them when we advocate for a broader understanding of abilities, and we increase everyone’s social opportunities.

White/Gold vs. Blue/Black Dress
March 4, 2015 9:25 AM by Teresa Roberts

Millions of people on social media and later mainstream media recently viewed a photo of a particular dress that stirred a national debate. Due to the background lighting and photographic exposure, people saw the two colors of the dress differently.

For all of us who debated the colors of that dress (blue/black or white/gold), we had a personally relevant mini-lesson on qualia. The philosophical terms quale/qualia encompass the concept that sensory experience is subjective. People have their own individual responses with unique perceptual properties for a given stimulus item or event.

We don’t have a universally shared sensory system. We don’t experience the same things when presented with an identical stimulus. We are neurologically diverse. As clinicians, much of our daily work is with individuals who have a range of mild to profound differences in neurological profiles. The color of that dress, and the disparate views, continued to surprise us, even though our work gives us an advanced understanding of sensory responses. We are reminded that our perception is only our own – and not necessarily that of our clients, and those around us.

We gain valuable information when we ask direct questions about sensory perception. A few years ago, I watched a skilled teacher show a drawing of stick figures standing in a row on a blank background as a visual reminder for a child to stay in line in the hallway. Depth and directionality may be challenging to achieve in simple line drawings. As adults, we saw the vertically placed stick figures as children standing in a line. The teacher asked the child what he saw. She expected him to say something about standing in line, instead he said, “All of the kids are standing on my head.” This drawing represented an entirely different concept to him. He saw the directionality differently.

Client sensory experiences vary. Many clients with articulation disorders may have different perceptions of speech sounds, e.g., possibly unable to differentiate maladaptive productions from target productions.  Ear training helps establish a shared perception of distinctive speech sounds. Clients with behavioral concerns may perceive the relative safety of a given situation differently, based on possible earlier life circumstances, which required hyper-vigilance for survival. Clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder frequently report painful responses to certain sounds.

The photo of the dress showed us the neurological variation in visual discrimination that exists for all of us. Taking time to ask our clients how they perceive the situation (setting, context, etc.) and the stimuli (materials, activities, etc.) gives us insight into their experiences.

Acoustic stimuli

What did you hear? What does it sound like to you?

Visual stimuli

What did you see? What does it look like to you?

Olfactory stimuli

What did you smell? What does it smell like to you?

Gustatory stimuli

What does it taste like to you?

Tactile stimuli

What do you feel? What does it feel like to you?

Proprioceptive stimuli

How does it make your body feel?

Emotional and regulatory system

How does it make you feel?



Compensatory Articulation for /r/
February 23, 2015 2:17 PM by Teresa Roberts

Compensatory articulation means that we can produce a sound in more than one way. We can use different configurations of our tongue, jaw, lips, etc. to form a target sound. This target sound is perceived to be the same sound by a listener regardless of which mouth posture we are using.

Compensatory articulation guides /r/ production. In the United States, in General American English, there are two basic mouth postures for /r/:

Bunched /r/: the tongue is retracted to the back of the mouth and forms a “hump”, the sides of the tongue elevate and may touch the back molars, the tongue shape is like a valley (high on the sides and lower in the middle)

·     Retroflex /r/: the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge in the front of the mouth and the sides of the tongue are slightly curved inward (like a scoop)

Understanding which way you make /r/ and learning the other way to make /r/ allows you flexibility in designing an articulation plan and modeling production to meet clients’ needs based on their abilities.

Which way do you typically make an /r/?

·     Look in the mirror with a flashlight. Shine the flashlight into your mouth.

·     Open your mouth wide and while keeping your mouth open the whole time, slowly say, “ray”. (It will sound a little distorted because we don’t usually talk with our mouths wide open.) Pay specific attention to your tongue position for /r/.

·     Did you see your tongue retracted to the back of your mouth and tensed to form a compact structure? You are making a bunched /r/.

·     Did you see the underside of your tongue (maybe even part of the lingual frenulum) as it lifted to the roof of your mouth? You are making a retroflex /r/.

Our tongues are hydrostatic (like an elephant’s trunk), which means they maintain a constant volume that can be shaped (extension makes our tongues skinnier, and retraction makes them fatter). The bunched /r/ uses a fatter tongue shape.

Can you make the other type of /r/?

·     If you make the bunched /r/, try making the retroflex /r/. Start with the /l/ sound, “la, la, la”. With /l/, your tongue tip is on the alveolar ridge. Hold the /l/ starting position and curve the sides of your tongue inward (to make a scoop shape) and slightly retract the tongue while phonating.

·     If you make the retroflex /r/, try making the bunched /r/. Start with the /k/ sound. Hold the /k/ starting position with you tongue in the back of your mouth. Elevate the sides of the tongue so that they start to press on your upper molars (forming a valley) and phonate.

·     Practice making this different /r/ in a variety of words. See if you can blend it into vowels.

Examine and analyze the /r/ production of your friends and family. See if you can teach them to make /r/ with a different mouth posture than the one that they are currently using. With friends and family, it is likely that you will be able to practice teaching the two types of /r/ to people who do not have any underlying articulatory/muscle weaknesses or coordination/timing challenges. This is a great way to have an accelerated view of learning production. 

Vowel /r/: Starting with the Vowel
February 16, 2015 1:03 PM by Teresa Roberts

Vowel /r/ distortions are common and often challenging to remediate. We may benefit from starting with the underlying vowel and then re-introducing the /r/. In the United States, we generally have a rhotic /r/, where the vowel is “colored” (changed) by the /r/. Many children recognize this change in the state of the vowel, and when they are not able to produce the target, they may substitute another vowel, a common diphthong, or even an idiosyncratic diphthong.

For example: “I dug dowd” represented “I dug dirt” for a child with an /r/ distortion (and mild voicing errors). Her production showed an underlying change to the vowel. “I dug duh-d” would have been a closer approximation. In recognizing the vowel /r/ difference, she attempted to change her vowel, too. She substituted a diphthong that is produced in a different part of the mouth from the original vowel. The “ir” sound in “dirt” is produced in the middle of your mouth. She used “ow”, a diphthong of two vowels, with lip rounding, made toward the back of the mouth.

What if children have lost a sense of the original vowel in their attempts to find a substitution for vowel /r/? Think of “caw-uh” for “car”, where there is added lip rounding (both changing the original vowel and adding a second vowel), forming a diphthong of vowels that may not be in the original target word at all. (Remember lip rounding for “ah/aw” and full realization of /r/ varies by regional dialect.)

Let’s start with the vowels.  

Sample /r/ word

Underlying vowel

Sample vowel word





lips spread, no lip rounding, tongue high and forward




mouth open, jaw lowered, no lip rounding, tongue low and forward




slight mouth opening, no lip rounding, tongue slightly low




lips rounded, tongue high and back




East Coast style

lips rounded, sides of tongue raised and curved (like the tongue makes a valley), tongue back




mouth open, jaw lowered, no lip rounding, tongue low and back

One way to start vowel-r treatment is by checking the accuracy of each of the vowels before we introduce the r-coloring.  

Have the child say each sample vowel word (without r-coloring) while watching in the mirror.

Point out the different lip, jaw, and tongue positions for each vowel

Show that some vowels have lip rounding and some do not

Practice making the vowel sounds in isolation

Slowly add r-coloring (with retroflex /r/): “Say the vowel. Hold it. Now lift up the tip of your tongue and curve it backward.”

Continue to practice blending the original vowel with the /r/ to smooth the process of change

Remember to reinforce lip rounding that should be present and reduce lip rounding that should not be present by returning to practice the underlying vowel.

Ideas: The Power of Sharing
February 11, 2015 10:01 AM by Teresa Roberts

Each time we work with a client, we are learning about successful intervention and so are our clients. When a target is met, a good idea has been implemented – and when we share credit for these ideas, everyone blooms. Developing a generous and giving mindset toward ideas and reducing instinctive proprietary reactions, may help us to empower others.

Let’s help everyone recognize the power of sharing ideas.

Clients: Helping clients recognize the facilitating contexts for their own successes may foster ownership. Even for young children, you can show the connection between an action and an outcome; “I heard /k/. You pulled your tongue back – that was a great idea you had.” You can help students believe that they have generated solutions, because, in partnering with you, they have.

Families: Many families know what works best for them. Present a couple of possible strategies to implement at home. Solicit feedback on integrating one of the strategies into daily life. Wait. Let the family come up with the idea of how it will work. Praise the family for their great idea, because it is now their idea.

Staff: Teachers and staff members understand classroom routines and have an incredible sense of the patterns of behavior for students. Share a student’s goals and ask staff members for their ideas about practicing these goals. Before you offer suggestions, wait, and it’s likely that teachers will have their own ideas of ways to support them.

Colleagues: Remember all of those great ideas you have about therapy and intervention. Your colleagues have great ideas, too. Start sharing ideas, and soliciting ideas from your colleagues, e.g., “I tried these strategies with this client, and this was the outcome. What ideas do you have?”

Administration: Tell your administrators about one small aspect of a successful therapy session. Wait. Perhaps this will prompt them to share their own memories of positive gains with clients. Many administrators have wisdom and ideas to share; yet they may rarely be asked to share them.

Community: Friends, family members, neighbors, and acquaintances are seeking solutions to minor communication and learning challenges all of the time. We know how people communicate and how people learn. You can politely offer to share your expertise, e.g., “As a Speech Language Pathologist, I help children and adolescents with organizing and sequencing information every day. Do you want to brainstorm some ideas about how to work on that project together?”

A magical aspect of any idea is how it is changed and shaped by the various people who implement it. Ideas take on the nature of the individual and the situation in which they exist. When we share ideas with others to be continually re-created, we may foster everyone’s personal growth and their self-esteem.


Learning with Small Steps
February 3, 2015 9:36 AM by Teresa Roberts
When I was in middle school, I liked running and signed up for track team. When we met with the coach, she pointed to a far away water tower that was a tiny speck in the distance.
“At the end of the season, you will be running to the water tower and back,” she announced.
I could barely see the water tower, and I did not even know where it was. I dropped out of track the next day. 

I wish things had been different – that I would have had faith that the coach would lead us through planned, sequential, supported practice that would make that run to the water tower effortless. We all have different levels of resilience, and our ability to respond to challenges changes throughout our lives. For me, in that moment, the water tower was too far and I was too overwhelmed to even try – in an instant I lost the self-identity of being a runner, something that I had once loved.

Sometimes we may be presenting students with tasks that appear to be too much. 

Filling an entire 8 ½” x 11” piece of blank paper with written text may appear to be an insurmountable task. A five-paragraph essay, personal narrative, short story, etc. involves the composition and organization of multiple ideas. Finding the words to cover all of that white space may be overwhelming for a student with a language/learning disability. When people feel that a task is impossible, they may panic or freeze. 

We can visually change the perception of a task by changing the physical size of the piece of paper. Some students may benefit from being presented with a sequence of small and manageable steps. Eventually they are surprised that these pieces enable them to complete such a large project.

 Post-Its

 Index Cards

 Sentence Strips

o Use 1 ½” x 2” Post-Its to list key vocabulary words (main characters, events, topic areas, etc.). You can alternate colors by theme.

o Use 3” x 3” Post-Its to list the key vocabulary word with one descriptive element (relationship, adjective, definition, location, etc.).

o Use 3” x 5” Post-Its to compose one sentence.

o Transition to 3” x 5” lined index cards to write two sentences.

o Expand to 4” x 6” lined index cards to write three sentences.

o Make small (2” x 8“) Sentence Strips to write the introductory sentence for each paragraph.

Writing an essay may be easier when the elements are completed incrementally. Assembling pre-written ideas and organizing them may mirror the internal composition process in writing, making the discrete steps of the writing process visual. It’s OK to work on only one small part of an enormous project at a time. 

Small successes may build needed confidence. Sometimes just seeing the steps themselves leads us where we want to go.
Your Clinical Space has a Voice
January 26, 2015 12:17 PM by Teresa Roberts

There are occasional jokes about the types of rooms that are available for specialists who provide services to students in public school settings. Many school buildings are packed with classes, special activities, storage, and designated work/meeting areas.

Clinical spaces may vary in size from an entirely empty classroom, a classroom shared with three other specialists (and partitions), a small office, or a repurposed storage closet, to even a section of the hallway. It’s likely that you have impressive stories of the smallest, the loudest, or the most awkward clinic rooms you’ve ever seen.

Maybe these were once your room or the room of one of your colleague: a clinical space that was previously the boy’s locker room, or the corner of the stage in the auditorium. We spend a lot of time in our clinic rooms. Our students regularly spend time in our clinic rooms and we hope that we are offering them a safe haven to develop and increase their skills.

Many basic factors are often outside of our control: room size and shape, wall color, overhead lighting, acoustics, ventilation, etc. Even though it may feel like there are limits on the freedom of design, there are still many factors within our control: layout of furniture, organization of materials, items on the wall, etc.

Some clinicians change the lighting and ventilation by bringing in lamps and an air purifier. You may spend eight hours or more per day in one room. You have the ability to customize your space.

Your clinic space is talking to you everyday. Brooks Palmer, Author of “Clutter Busting”, reminds us that we have the ability to listen to the messages our clinic space has to share. He recommends the following (excerpted and adapted from his book): At the end of a busy workday, sit in the middle of your clinic room all alone. Ask the room a series of questions:

“How was your day today?

“How did you become a clinical space?

“What do you think helps the students learn?”

“What do the students love about you?”

“What are your secret dreams for yourself?

“What are your favorite clinical materials?”

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“Off the record, what do you secretly hate?”

“What do you think the students would like you to change?”

Answer honestly, speaking from the voice of the room. What does the physical space want you to know? When we are able to analyze something familiar in a new, fresh, and objective manner, we may have insight into what we need to do.

Teaching About the Articulators
January 19, 2015 7:49 AM by Teresa Roberts
Do your students know about their own mouths? Teaching children about the parts of their mouth and the placement of sounds increases proprioceptive skills and may improve volitional control over speech sound production. Once while walking two kindergarten children to the speech room, I stopped the pair, as one child was ‘walking' a bit exuberantly, nearly skipping down the hallway. I said to him, "Remember, we walk in the hallway. Look down at your feet and tell them that they need to walk." He looked up at me with an expression of disbelief and adamantly responded, "They're your feet. You can't tell them what to do. They just go." This exchange led to an interesting discussion about what we can and can't control.

We have the ability to teach children that they have the capacity to alter their own motor patterns, and we can show them how. Many clinicians introduce children to their own mouths, but if you don't do this yet, here are some tips. Start by teaching the landmarks of the mouth (include both the passive and active articulators) by having the children point, touch, and label their own:

  • Top lip
  • Bottom lip
  • Top teeth
  • Bottom teeth
  • Front teeth: the first teeth you see when you smile
  • Molars: the large square teeth in the back of your mouth
  • Alveolar ridge: the speed bumps on the top of your mouth behind your front teeth
  • Hard palate: lick the top of your mouth and feel the hard round bone on the roof of your mouth
  • Soft palate: lick your tongue back as far as it can go and see if you can reach the soft, squishy part at the very back of your mouth
  • Jaw: put two fingers right below your ears (at the bottom of your earlobes) and feel the bump when you open and close your mouth
  • Tongue tip: stick your tongue out and make it really pointy -- that's the tip

Give the children each a penlight (small flashlight) and a tiny cosmetic mirror so that they can see inside their own mouths. After they become familiar with the articulators for speech, practice comparing and contrasting front and back sounds that they are able to produce correctly, such as "t, t, t" and "k, k, k." Ask them to say the sound slowly and identify whether the sound was in the front or the back of their mouth (an alveolar or a velar sound). Have them make the sound slowly and freeze the position in their mouth. Ask them to describe what they felt for each sound. When we empower children to recognize that they are in control of how they form sounds, we may be fostering the skills they need to make positive changes.

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Is It Time to Donate Some Therapy Materials?
January 12, 2015 7:59 AM by Teresa Roberts
Professional organizers and wardrobe consultants tell us that we only wear 25% of the clothes we own. Apparently, the other 75% just takes up space in our closets. Perhaps this same ratio holds true for our therapy materials. You may order a book, game, activity, resource guide, etc., based on the title, a passing recommendation from a colleague, a discount or promotional special, or after reviewing a couple sample pages. You usually can't try it before you buy it. You may not know how well it works for your students and for you until you've used it a few times. As clinicians we may change work settings and have new caseloads periodically. At any given time, we may have a variety of materials that we no longer use.

In one of my first years of work, an SLP who was planning to retire gave me a box of her materials. She was slightly hesitant and said that she wasn't sure if I would want them. I was excited and gratefully accepted everything. Apparently these materials had been in her possession for a long time. I realized that they were no longer culturally relevant and that I probably wouldn't use them. I never told her because I didn't want her to feel bad. Don't let this happen to you. Look at what you are storing in your cabinets, on the shelves, in your closets, etc. There are probably items that have been stuffed to the back of the drawer, or are sitting in storage bins.

A common organizing trick is to evaluate whether you have used an item in the last twelve months. If you haven't used it in a year, it is less likely that you will use it again in the future. There is a new clinician who might use these materials right now. Somebody else needs the materials that you aren't using -- recent graduates, SLPs who have changed work settings, special education teachers, families, etc. Give other therapists the chance to explore their clinical style by augmenting the materials they have. Even your out-of-date items may spark their creativity.

Use a series of guiding questions to help you rehome some of your materials:

  • Have I used this item in the last 12 months?
  • Do I already have something else like it that I prefer?
  • Does the item align with the learning needs of the students?
  • Do the students like using this item?
  • Do I like using this item?
    • Is it easy to use?
    • Can it be adapted to different levels?
  • Does this item support the cultural and linguistic background of the students?
  • Is this item current and relevant to students?
  • Who else could use this item?

You can make sure that everything you are not using finds its way to where it needs to go. You can help other clinicians by sharing and gifting materials. You might even end up with a cleaner, more streamlined office, too!

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Teaching Gratitude: Perspective and Resilience
January 5, 2015 9:18 AM by Teresa Roberts
One of my talented colleagues uses a "Gratitude Wall" to teach students about recognizing the positive aspects of their lives. She was inspired by the Mind Up Curriculum, a structured social-emotional program, which emphasizes kindness and the development of empathy skills. My colleague works with children and families experiencing life stressors, ranging from lack of financial resources to significant domestic issues. She has an important holistic perspective about student needs, as do so many of us.

"Gratitude" is a complex concept -- an abstract noun that represents an intangible expression of a feeling or an emotional state. Teaching the concept of gratitude is a semantic task that allows students to explore levels of meaning and how one word can represent so many different ideas that are specific to each individual. Recognizing that we may all be grateful for unique elements within our own lives is part of appreciating the multiple viewpoints involved in perspective taking.

She designed the "Gratitude Wall" to be a quick daily activity at the completion of each therapy session, ensuring that the students leave the room with an optimistic outlook. To make the "Gratitude Wall," she used a blank wall space in the clinic room and a stack of Post-Its. Initially, she provided a general explanation of "gratitude," e.g., "something that you are thankful for -- something that you are glad is part of your life." Students wrote their responses on a Post-It note that they stuck on the wall. For younger students she wrote their verbal response or had them draw a picture.

In the beginning stages, students frequently interpreted the definition as preferences or favorites, and wrote things like videogames, foods, music, etc. While recognizing personal preferences is an important part of self-awareness, my colleague would push them further to think about things that are meaningful to them and things that make their lives good. She provided modeling and made suggestions. Whenever a student shared good news, she would ask, "Aren't you grateful about that?" which raised their consciousness and awareness of gratitude. Responses gradually changed to include family members (siblings, relatives), peers, situations (when X happens), and opportunities (when I get to X).

Finding positive elements of one's life and within any given situation may serve as a lifetime tool for resiliency, the ability to recover from challenging events. Recognizing and being grateful for the wonderful parts of the human experience may help us to maintain hope and strength amidst hardships. As speech-language pathologists, we teach the meaning of words, and our words reflect our thoughts. We teach students ways to organize ideas and express themselves. By teaching gratitude, we have the opportunity to instill an understanding of higher-level semantic content, varied perspective, and increase internal fortitude through attitude and outlook.

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Using Disney's "Frozen" in Speech Therapy
December 29, 2014 8:53 AM by Teresa Roberts
Have you ever thought that going to the movies could be part of your job? Think about the students on your caseload and the movies they are watching. Keeping current with blockbusters lets you add culturally relevant context to therapy. If you work with elementary children, you will likely watch family films and animated offerings. If you work with adolescents, you may need to do a little research to find the top teen films of the year. Adding contemporary culture to therapy helps make connections across topics and settings. Using current references may be an important part of generalization. You don't even have to see movies in the theater, because there is often a resurgence of attention when the DVD is released (and many children and families do not have the resources to see the film when it debuts anyway).

When you watch the movie, think about how different elements could be used in a therapeutic setting. Let's take Disney's "Frozen" as an example:

Articulation: Make note of the names of characters, places, events and actions. Use these words to create custom word lists:

  • Frozen /s, z/ words: Elsa, Kristoff, Sven, Hans, princess, sister, frozen, snow, snowman, freeze, ice/icy, trolls, castle, sleigh, horse, save, ice skates, and more.
  • Use the words to create tongue twisters: "Elsa and her sister ice skated."

Semantics: Use the setting to generate semantic webs (connect objects and concepts relating to the theme). Discuss the relationship between the different items and generate synonyms and antonyms.

  • Frozen themes: castles (king/queen/princess, doors/chambers/halls, kingdom/realm/village), winter (ice/snow/cold, hats/gloves/jackets, seasons/months/holidays).

Syntax: The events in the movie can serve as sentence starters with coordinating (and, but, or) and subordinating (because, before, after, etc.) conjunctions.

  • Elsa had magic abilities but (Anna) ...
  • It looked like the King and Queen were talking to mossy rocks, but (they were really) ...
  • Elsa wore gloves all the time because ...
  • Elsa ran away from her sister because ...
  • After Elsa ran away, (Anna) ...

Pragmatics: Characters in the movies have feelings and expressions. Still images of characters show how facial expressions indicate an emotional state. Identify the physical clues that show emotions, generate reasons (using the context of the story) for the character's feelings, and make hypotheses about what happens next or what could have happened.

  • You can use Google Images or Disney's Frozen Gallery.
  • Frozen addresses important social and relationship elements, such as duplicity (e.g., Hans lying/pretending to like Anna), and accidents (e.g., Elsa inadvertently harming Anna). Have students relate these situations to their own lives.

We can bring our perceptual, analytical and reflective abilities to create therapy activities using popular media. Movies for children and teens contain elements that can add fun to treatment sessions. We can help students express themselves with topics they love.

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"What Do You Do? Noble Work!"
December 22, 2014 8:36 AM by Teresa Roberts
Our work is noble. We are making improvements in the lives of our clients and their families. The communication and swallowing therapy that we provide has the capacity to change the course of a person's life, and it's time that we let people know about the great things that we do! It's common to be asked about your profession, from the friendly conversation-starter, "What do you do?" to the more deliberate information seeking, "So, what do you do for a living?"

Every time we are asked about our careers, we are given an opportunity to increase public awareness and understanding of our field. We are the professionals who represent a legacy of service to improve an individual's ability to communicate. We can pique interest, share stories, make connections and even provide referral and consultation advice simply by how we answer a stranger's query.

Let's try new ways of responding to this common question:

  • "I ensure that all children have the ability to develop friendships and interact with their peers. I work as a speech-language pathologist with children with autism spectrum disorder."
  • "I provide training to parents and caregivers to help them talk with their children. I work as a speech-language pathologist in early intervention."
  • "I help young adults prepare for their future jobs and living settings. I work as a speech-language pathologist in adult community transition."
  • "I assist adolescents with organizing their thoughts and ideas to be successful in school. I work as a speech-language pathologist in a middle school."
  • "I am proud to help every child have a voice and share their thoughts and ideas. I work as a speech-language pathologist in a school."
  • "I provide children with special needs with a meaningful way to communicate. I work as a speech-language pathologist in augmentative and alternative communication."
  • "I help children speak clearly and express themselves. I work as a speech-language pathologist in an elementary school."
  • "I support reading and literacy development for children with language and learning challenges. I work as a speech-language pathologist in an elementary school."
  • "I support adolescents with special needs to become part of their community. I work as a speech-language pathologist in a high school."

Think about your work and how it is different from everyone else's work. Your clinical setting is unique. Your skills and training are specialized and you provide important services. Every exchange is a teaching opportunity. Personal interactions within the community - our neighbors, our distant relatives, friends-of-friends, etc., all of these people need to know that we change lives. Let's start to tell them.

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Emotional Intensity in Adolescence: Teaching Nuance
December 15, 2014 8:55 AM by Teresa Roberts
Semantic gradient is the fancy term for ranking concepts along degrees of intensity -- making nuanced measurements of meaning. We use gradients in everyday casual speech. When someone asks you how you're doing, you might use gradations of neutrality, e.g., "so-so," "okay," "not bad," "fine," "alright," or "pretty good." Reading Rockets, a wonderful early literacy website from public broadcasting, describes how to use semantic gradients with younger students, including specific directions and a video of children comparing size differences from miniscule to gigantic.

We can use semantic gradients to help adolescents understand their feelings and internal states of being. Adolescence is a time of heightened emotional responsiveness, as students are forming their identities, navigating peer relationships and group belonging, establishing separation from parents/caregivers, and are challenged with higher-level academic content. All of these changes transpire while they are undergoing incredible physical and neurological growth. Even in our modern world, from an evolutionary biology perspective, adolescents are innately programmed to perform socially to attract potential mates. The emotional highs and lows may be unique to this time period. We can teach them about varied levels of emotional responses by sorting and ranking adjectives for emotional terms.

  • Adjectives for mad: confused, bored, cranky, crabby, irritated, annoyed, perturbed, agitated, flustered, exasperated, mad, angry, furious, livid, etc.
  • Adjectives for sad: blue, listless, sad, unhappy, hurt, depressed, despondent, distraught, devastated, heartbroken, etc.
  • Adjectives for happy: interested, curious, hopeful, pleased, amused, delighted, happy, overjoyed, enthused, elated thrilled, excited, ecstatic, etc.

Students can work in small groups and rank the positive and negative responses along degrees of intensity. Recognizing shades that exist within any given emotional reaction increases students' self-awareness and descriptive vocabulary skills. There is not one correct way to complete a hierarchy, as emotions do not necessarily have discrete linear elements; however, it is important that students recognize extreme ends of the continuum. Once the adjectives are ranked, you are able to bridge to a variety of activities using the emotional terms:

  • Describe the physiological reactions related to the different emotions (heart racing, changes in breathing, body posture, etc.)
  • Describe (role play, photograph, video model, draw) the facial expressions associated with the emotions (always end the lesson with happy emotions -- we can feel the feelings we imitate)
  • Match adjectives to emoticons or icons
  • Use the emotional terms for daily check-ins or journaling
  • Choose emotional responses based on sample social situations (pictures and short narratives)
  • Self-reflect and generate examples of times that students have felt different emotions
  • Choose from a variety strategies to self-calm for the different emotional responses
  • Self-reflect about how quickly the students move along the continuum of emotions (does a student go from irritated to livid immediately?)
  • Match the adjectives to characters in sample social situations, literacy texts, videos, etc. (social perspective)
  • Expand the lists to include gradations of amusement, fear, surprise, etc.

Think back to your own adolescence and remember the intensity of feelings that we all felt at 16-years-old. We can use this melodrama as a learning tool!

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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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