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Speech in the Schools

‘Tis the Season!
April 23, 2014 9:10 AM by Valerie Lill

No, not the holiday season (it's only April!). I'm talking about yard sale season! In my part of suburban Pennsylvania, signs advertising upcoming yard sales are sprouting up outside of neighborhoods left and right. All school-based SLPs should get excited when yard sale season starts. Why? Yard sale season is prime time to acquire some gently-used, inexpensive therapy materials!

I'm well aware of (and am a user of) the countless of digital therapy materials available - anything from SmartBoard activities to free iPad apps to Teachers Pay Teachers. However, call me old-fashioned if you will, technology can't replace (but certainly can supplement!) hands-on therapy materials and activities.

In this time of school budget cuts,  the money for therapy materials is likely limited, or in some cases, non-existent. Yard sales are an inexpensive way to add or replace materials on your shelves. In addition to the cheap prices (which are always negotiable!) yard sales offer an eclectic mix. Whatever you may be looking for, if you go to enough yard sales, you probably can find something to meet your needs. I highly suggest going to neighborhood yard sales in which certain blocks or even entire developments  (as is the case where I live) are having yard sales simultaneously. This way you can just walk from house to house instead of driving all over to different sales. Look for houses that are selling children's items. If you are desiring any of these types of therapy materials, you just might want to check out some local yard sales:

  • Puzzles - especially sturdy, wooden/knob puzzles. Pick up a few for your OT too. I'm sure she'd appreciate them!
  • Books - various ages, various topics. All for less than $1 a piece!
  • Games - I've already blogged about my love for games and how I feel they are a great asset in therapy.Every time I go to a yard sale, I'm always on the lookout for more.
  • Toys - especially if you work with younger children or developmentally-younger children. Remember, if it is plastic, it can always be washed!

Over the years just by going to the yard sale in my neighborhood and the one in the next to ours, I've scored some great deals on useful therapy materials. Here is just a sampling of the many treasures I've purchased from yard sales:

  • Cranium - $1 - the playdoh was dried out, but otherwise all the pieces were there and in great shape
  • Pictureka! - $1 - Great game to adapt for receptively identifying vocabulary and finding objects based on description
  • Trivial Pursuit, Jr - $1 - missing the die and some of the questions were a bit outdated, but my middle schoolers enjoyed it!
  • Crocodile Dentist (travel version)- 50 cents - I already had one at school, but I knew this game was discontinued and hard to come by, so I stocked up with an extra one.When my original Crocodile Dentist broke, I was thrilled to have a back-up!
  • Two sets of phonics cards (monster consonants, sea animals digraphs) - 50 cents each - I've used these for articulation practice many times, including matching games and go fish.
  • NEWsticker packs - 10 cents each - a neighbor's father gets these from somewhere. I don't know the story, but all I know is I was thrilled to hear she'd have more out for the sale this year
  • I've saved my all-time best yard sale purchase for last - a NEW, sealed Webber Vocab Bingo game. I don't know exactly the story of how this got to be out at a non-SLP's yard sale, but what I do know is that I paid $4 for it, and at the time I bought it, the cost on the website was about $40.

You make think "yuck" when you think of yard sales and assume everything is dirty and worthless. (That used to be me!) However, with an hour plus of free time on your hand, and a $10 bill in your pocket, you just might find some great new-to-you therapy materials!

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Apps for Working on Sentences, plus a GIVEAWAY!
April 17, 2014 12:14 PM by Alexandra Streeter

When I have a few minutes left at the end of a session,  I LOVE to use apps that target sentence structure. Here are some of my favorites:

Fun with Verbs and Sentences: Hamaguchi.  ($15.99 in the App Store.)

 

This app is one of my favorites. The child chooses a character, an action, and an object, (such as  " boy is catching a bubble".)  After choosing, the child watches an animated movie of the sentence, gets to record and listen. Even my little preschoolers enjoy this one!

I am LOVING Sentence Builder from Abi Talk ($4.99 in the app store). There are three levels, in which children create sentences about a picture using scrambled words.  Non-readers can hear recordings of the words and put them in order, readers of course read the words. My favorite feature is the ability to use your own pictures and create the scrambled sentences. My students love to build sentences describing funny animal pictures (that I find through Google images.)

 

 

Language Builder by Mobile Education ($9.99) in the app store, helps students understand sentences, create sentences with increasing independence through a cueing hierarchy, and improve expressive language by recording and playing back the sentence.

  

Do you have favorite apps or strategies to work on creating sentences? Please comment on the ADVANCE webpage or the ADVANCE Facebook page, and your name will be submitted to win a free copy of the Abi Talk Sentence Builder!

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Getting Lost in the Lingo
April 9, 2014 7:54 AM by Valerie Lill

I've been a speech-language pathologist for (yikes!) almost 15 years, 14 of which have been spent working in schools.  Sometimes I feel like I've been doing this so long that I don't know what it would be like to not have a "speech brain."  I'm always using speech-related terms at work or at home to the point I don't even notice it any more.  I guess 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of grad classes drilled that into my brain.  I think most SLPs use speech vocabulary naturally and don't even stop to think that others (co-workers, students, parents, family members) might not have a clue what we're talking about.

I really thought that I didn't use "speech jargon" too often with my co-workers; however, this week when talking to a co-worker about speech articulation evaluations (she was asking questions for a grad class), I realized that, yes, I do! The worst part is, I had forgotten that terminology I use on a daily basis is not familiar to other professionals. When I use terms like "stimulability," "speech sample," and "sound substitutions," not everyone knows what I'm talking about! Fortunately I've found that most co-workers will question/ask for clarification for unknown words; however, that shouldn't be an expectation.

We interact with numerous, educated professionals on a daily basis. We interact with parents from varying backgrounds on a regular basis. We need to make sure that we're knowledgeable in our field, but not so much so that we speak professional jargon that no one (but us!) understands!

Here are two strategies/suggestions/tips that I use (realize I need to use more!) to prevent us overwhelming others with speech terminology:

  • Use professional terminology in reports and meetings, but always follow up an explanation of terminology and specific examples.I find this is really important in the area of articulation and phonology.The average parents would not likely understand that their child is "stopping fricatives in the initial position of words."Follow up a statement such as that with a "non-SLP" explanation such as, "Susie is say short sounds instead of long sounds at the beginning of words. For example, she says, ‘dun' instead of ‘sun'."The same rule applies for writing reports. Anyone should be able to pick up the child's IEP and have a clear understanding of what the child the childs needs/goals are.I can't stress the importance of examples.It is the easiest way to make speech-language and its lexicon more understandable to everyone.

 

  • Explain/give a reasoning for your procedures.There are times when parents, teachers, or administrators mayquestions our recommendations, procedures, or ask for further information. Be prepared with professional responses."Why aren't you working on /r/ with my kindergartener?" "Why don't you see my child everyday for speech?" I don't often cite researchers or specific articles, but I find it is often helpfulwhen discussing AAC (see, there's one of those SLP terms again!).Parents might need to know the reason I'm recommending a core vocabulary approach (and what it is), so I cite examples refer them to the work of Gail VanTatenhove.Other times I use it to explain where my goals come from - the term "communicative competence" for AAC users something to work towards , and the goals I've developed based on these competencies come from the work of Janice Light.

Do you find yourself getting "lost in the lingo" of being an SLP? What strategies do you use that help?

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Writing Goals for Narrative Language
April 2, 2014 7:45 AM by Alexandra Streeter

In a blog a while ago, I discussed some great apps for narratives. I recently noticed that I had a comment asking for ideas about GOALS for narratives. I am not the expert, but here are some I have seen:  (I will call these goal stems, because of course you would include your  from/to statement and levels of prompts and supports.

Joey will retell a story that includes 6/7 parts.

Joey will retell a story to include narrative elements including character, setting, problem, solution

Joey will retell a story to include cohesive elements such as "first, next, and then. "

Joey will create a 5 sentence narrative (and on up).

Joey will summarize non- fiction material to include main idea/details.

Joey will answer "wh" questions about narratives.

 

I found these fabulous resources online:

http://www.speechlanguage-resources.com/support-files/langthersemgoalsworksheet.pdf

http://www.speechlanguage-resources.com/support-files/languagetherapnarrativescorechart.pdf

 

My favorite resource right now is found at http://www.languagedynamicsgroup.com/. There are FREE (yes FREE!) narrative assessments (and scoring for preschool-third grade). The scoring lends itself beautifully to goal writing for narratives.

Targeting narratives ties well with speaking and listening strands of common core, and overlaps with reading.

Do you have resources you have to target narratives in therapy? Please let us know below or on the ADVANCE Facebook page!

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The Power of Observation
March 26, 2014 1:40 PM by Valerie Lill

We all observe students on a daily basis - whether it be during our pull-out sessions, going in to classrooms, in the hallway while on duty, or during an assessment session. We are experts at observing children. But what about observing other SLPs? Or allowing other SLPs to observe us? How will these types of observations help us? As I blogged about in the fall, this year I'm serving as a mentor to a new speech-language pathologist in our district. One of the requirements of mentors is to observe their mentee four times this school year. I've done two of these observations so far. Observing other SLPs working within the schools is something that I've rarely had the chance to do in the past. I think it is an excellent opportunity for us to learn about one another and gather new ideas. 

Two ideas gained by observing another SLP in my district:

Reward alternatives to the traditional "prize box" - This is way too technical for me, but I think it's genius. She uses QR codes that she cans for the students to find out what "prize" they earned.  These include things like, "sitting in the SLP's chair" or "taking shoes off during speech." I really like the idea of these types of rewards rather than the trinkets that students choose from my prize box (typically pencils, erasers, little notebooks).

Don't reinvent the wheel - use online resources- She gets everything from lesson plan formats to therapy activities to progress monitoring probes online.  She subscribes to and regularly reads several SLP blogs (not sure if mine is included among these!).  She has found amazing resources and materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Although I obviously read the blogs on "Advance for Speech & Hearing" and do follow a few bloggers on Facebook, I don't use online resources nearly as much as I should.

Would I have come to these conclusions on my own without doing these observations? Maybe. However I thinkit  is great seeing new approaches and new ways of doing things!  I wish I had more opportunities to observe other SLPs in my district on a regular basis. Do any of you have the chance to observe your SLP colleagues at work?

We should take things a step farther than to talk about observing other SLPs. How about allowing others to observe you? I know a lot of classroom teachers who get really nervous when the principal is coming in to observe. I think I'm immune to this fear. I was observed so many times by so many different people in my undergraduate and graduate programs that it doesn't faze me in the least. Rather than stressing out about being observed, I welcome it!  I've had many other professionals comment that they "know" what I do (i.e., in the official title/role of my job as an SLP) but who tell me, "I really don't know what you do with the kids." My answer is always the same - feel free to come in and see sometime!  I have certain students or groups who attend sessions with paraprofessional support. Time and time again the paraprofessionals compliment me on my work with the students and express sheer amazement at "how much they "talk in your room!"  Plus they've reported that it is a great way for them to work on carryover of skills. Push-in therapy lends itself naturally to observation. 

Use your SLP powers of observation for more than just your students. If possible observe SLP co-workers and welcome other professionals into your speech world for observation!  It's a great learning experience for everyone!

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Two New Games!
March 17, 2014 12:56 PM by Alexandra Streeter

Last week I splurged and bought two new games to use in speech. I have been working hard at using curriculum materials and common core targets, but sometimes you just have to have a game!  I found two that were popular all week!

The first, "Where's Waldo, Join the Search" consists of six Where's Waldo scenes, with a spinner, and cards picturing and describing items. After one attempt playing the game according to the rules in the box, I abandoned the spinner, and just used one or two scenes and the cards that went with them. There is lots of action to discuss in each scene, and I had the children take turns describing items on the card and then finding them.

 

 

We worked on skills including descriptions, sentence structure, asking/answering questions and taking turns! 

I also added to my Angry Birds game collections. I have had the original "Angry Birds" board game for a while and it is always a big hit! My students were very excited when I brought  "Angry Birds in Space" to school, and the franchise continues to grow with versions created by Jenga.

I found "Angry Birds GO" on sale. 

It is quite a bit simpler than the other versions (fewer blocks, no cards) but there is a bird in a car that takes off up a ramp to knock down the tower. The children are VERY motivated to take their speech turn so that they can launch the car over the ramp to knock the tower over.

These new games both got thumbs up from all my students!

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The Madness of March
March 12, 2014 10:29 AM by Valerie Lill

Most people think of basketball when they think of the madness that goes on in the month of March. For a school-based SLP, it means something entirely different. March is usually the craziest month of the year  at school for countless reasons including the following: kindergarten registration, early intervention transition students and all the meetings and paperwork that comes with them, numerous annual IEPs due, multiple referrals as a result of February/March parent conferences, end of the 3rd marking period progress reports, monthly Access billing,  initial evaluations starting (so timeline-wise we can get them done before the end of the year),and meetings, meetings, and more meetings...oh yeah, and there are those 50 or so kids I need to see for therapy. This year I have no school days off/no break (thank you, horrendous Winter 2014) in the month of March, so that doesn't offer me any relief either!

So in this time of chaos, how does a school-based SLP maintain her sanity?  In one simple word - organization. The more organized we are, the easier we can get all of our work finished before the ever dreaded "must be done by this date!" timeline.  I have a system. It works for me. I've been complimented many times over the years at getting my paperwork done on time (versus at the last minute). Do I have some magic answer that I can share with other SLPs on how to get organized to reduce stress this time of year? Not really - what works for me won't necessarily work for you; however, if you need somewhere to get started, here are a few suggestions that can help reduce the madness this month (and any time of year really).

  • Have the right materials around you - Things I can't live without include black pens, the sticky notes function on my laptop, actual sticky notes, file folders, folder organizers, paperclips, and my old-fashioned paper calendar. Yes, I have an online calendar through my email, but somehow seeing it on paper in front of me is a constant reminder of due dates.Plus if the Internet is down I always have access to my calendar!
  • Use small increments of time to your advantage- Sometimes in our schedule there are small gaps - like 10 or 15 minutes.When presented what seems to be insurmountable paperwork, it is hard to figure out how to use your "free" time (however brief) to your advantage. I always avoid tackling large undertakings, such as Reevaluation Reports or IEPs until I have a larger chunk of time to work on them (including at home in the evenings).I find it seems to take longer if I just whittle it away 10 minutes at a time. I'd rather just get it done in one try.Instead, find little things on your to-do list that can be realistically done in a short period of time.Things like cleaning out your inbox, one student's progress report or Access billing (yes I realize for one student this can take longer than 15 minutes), printing out icons, typing new therapy logs, photocopies, making a quick phonecall.I find that doing smaller tasks that you can cross off your to-do list will make you feel more productive than doing one longer task that never seems to get done or crossed off your list.
  • Lists, lists, and more lists- I'm the queen of lists. I have my "IEP due dates" page in hard copy on the computer.I have my meetings in hard copy and the computer.I use sticky notes to write up a list of diagnostic assessments I need to administer to a child and stick it right in his/her file. Why all the paper copies? One reason is that I won't forget things if I have them written down multiple times.Plus I get a thrill out of crossing something (anything!) off a to-do list. Speaking of, I use that system to keep track of which reports I need to do an in what order. I put them on my calendars and typically work on them in the order they are due. When I'm done with that student's reports for that meeting, I check it off. That way every time I look at my calendar I can see which ones are checked off (yeah!) and which ones I need to complete.
  • A mantra-.When drowning in paperwork tell yourself, "This paperwork WILL get done."I've been working in schools almost exactly 14 years, and every year I feel overwhelmed and think that I'll never finish everything on time. I ALWAYS do. The paperwork ALWAYS gets done.Remind yourself - you'll make it through!

These are just a few ways I try to keep organized and keep my sanity, pretty much year-round. I realize these ideas might not work for you; however I'd love to hear what tips/strategies you have to help stay on top of things at school and not go mad!

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Play Planning!
March 3, 2014 8:39 AM by Alexandra Streeter

One of the best things about being an SLP who works in preschool, is using the preschool  routine, toys and activities to work on communication.  The curriculum used in my district is The Tools of the Mind Curriculum.  There is an extensive philosophy  to  this curriculum and a crude description  is that through scaffolding, children develop self regulation skills and to see themselves as students without needing typical rewards and consequences seen in other preschool curriculums.  Literacy, communication and preacademic skills are embedded into this program, which makes it easy as an SLP to slip into the classroom and work on communication for the speech and language kiddos.

One of my favorite times of the day is "play plan" writing. Each day, the children pick a colored clip corresponding to the area of the classroom they will play in. They then write their names, draw a picture of themselves playing in the area, and with varying levels of scaffolds, create a  verbal/written plan about what role they will take, and what they will do in this area. It is fascinating to watch the children progress in the play planning over the course of the year, and because the children are performing the same task each day it is easy to track their progress.  I like seeing how the complexity of the play has improved, how the language of the play plan has improved and how the following of the plan has improved. The ability to plan play is a precursor to being able to plan all sorts of tasks such as breaking down academic tasks as children progress through school.


Even if the preschool classrooms you work in doesn't use this curriculum, working on language through planning is as easy as asking "where are you going to play today?" "What are you going to do?" If a child identifies a role, help flush out the role by providing scaffolds and modeling.

Please follow this link to see samples of preschool play plans.

Does your preschool program use Tools of the Mind? What are your favorite elements?

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Not Quite Magic But Still Fun!
February 24, 2014 11:43 AM by Valerie Lill

Early this school year I had written about using games in speech therapy. Although I had thought I had put that topic to rest,  I've recently become acquainted with a new game that I need to share with my fellow school-based SLPs!  On a recent visit from his grandmother, my son received a game called Magic Jinn.  Every time this game is played all I can think about is, "I wonder when my son will outgrow this so I can bring it to school to use in therapy?" I've seen the game priced anywhere from $15 - $20 and is available at any large chain retail or toy store.

To play the game, the player needs to think of an animal.  Magic Jinn asks a series of yes/no questions ("I don't know" and "It depends" are also acceptable answers) regarding the animal's salient attributes (i.e., size, shape, color, diet, location).  Based on the player's responses, Magic Jinn attempts to guess the animal.  Magic Jinn is not a genie, rather he resembles an odd-looking, blue cat with orange stripes.  To top it off, he speaks in a British accent.  Just try playing this game a few times and not end up talking in a British accent for the next hour (or longer!).

Last weekend, my son and two adolescent nephews had an absolute blast trying to stump Magic Jinn. We all got a kick out of the familiar animals he couldn't guess (despite multiple attempts) such as a gorilla and a bear.  We were surprised that he was able to guess some less common creatures, such as a leech and a sponge.  We were able to stump Magic Jinn on a few rarer animals such as an orangutan, a capybara, a Gila monster, and a naked mole rat. Magic Jinn gets quite creative with his guesses sometimes, including fictional creatures such as a werewolf and a hippogriff!  (He's British, so I guess he's a fan of Harry Potter?)

Although it might be a few years until I can actually try Magic Jinn in therapy, here are some ideas on how it could be used/how students may benefit from it:

  • Accurate answers to the questions posed by Magic Jinn are very important. If you don't know the answers to the feature questions or answer them incorrectly, the odds of Magic Jinn guessing the animal in mind is slim.Gives students an opportunity to practice answering yes/no questions.
  • Describing/Naming salient attributes - Any child working on these semantic language skills would benefit from playing this game.Students need to think of responses to questions such as, "Does this animal have fur?""Does this animal eat plants, fruits, and vegetables?"
  • Categorization - Magic Jinn poses questions about categories of animals such as, "Does this animal live in the sea?" "Is it a reptile?" Students need to be familiar with sub-categories of animals when playing this game.
  • Magic Jinn asks a lot of questions that don't make sense based on previous questions asked. For example, he asked if an animal had fur. When I answered "no" a few questions later he asked, "Is it a guinea pig?"For students working on more advanced semantic language skills, these absurdities and non-logical questions provide a great teaching opportunity. Example: Why doesn't it make sense for him to ask if the animal is an insect?Answer: Because I already answered "yes" when he asked, "Is it a reptile?". (This exchange actually happened when trying to get him to guess Gila Monster. The closest he got was "iguana").

Are any of you familiar with Magic Jinn? If so, how have you used it in therapy?  If not, I highly recommend adding it to your repertoire of games. His guesses aren't magic, but they certainly are fun!

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Free APPS for AAC!
February 19, 2014 10:18 AM by Alexandra Streeter

It's been fun this year to experiment with some free AAC IPad apps for a couple of non/low verbal students.

Here are some of my finds!

Sounding Board was recommended by an SLP at a local Children's Hospital. It's free, easy to use, and you can import pictures from your photo gallery, or take your own.  When I needed pictures for "more" and "all done" I took a screen shot of pictured signs from Google Images, and saved them into the program. I struggle sometimes to change pictures on boards, but for the most part it is simple, easy to use and adequate for the little guy I'm using it with.

Another app I downloaded to check out was Pogo Boards! WOW! This app has tons of free boards including some assessment/training type activities. If you are a member (and it's not too expensive at $69 per user per year) you have access to thousands of boards, the ability to create your own and print/share with other users. I couldn't find how to upload your own photos, so I'm not sure if that is a feature or not. This app would have been amazing to use with a child I worked with years ago who ended up with a Dynovox.

Finally, I checked out Niki Boards. There is a free version and the ability to purchase more. I really liked that this app helped children create sentences (for those who are more advanced and ready for that.) Again, I struggled to figure out how to import pictures and create a variety of custom boards, however perhaps that becomes apparent in the paid version!

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Give a Little, Get a Little
February 12, 2014 11:57 AM by Valerie Lill

I know many (most? all???) school-based SLPs feel overworked and underappreciated.  We spend our days doing direct services for student (i.e., therapy, evaluations) and our schools (i.e., bus duty, recess duty) and countless of indirect activities related to our jobs (i.e., IEP meetings, emails, phone calls, consulting with teachers, paperwork).  I know that I work hard to do my best when providing direct and indirect services. I (try to) plan motivating, functional activities for students to keep them engaged while working on their speech-language targets.   I plan push-in lessons. I consult with teachers for planning purposes  and to discuss carryover of skills to the classroom setting. I get all of my paperwork done on time.  I remember which students ride which bus and can greet many of them by name.  It's just in my personality to do my job the best I can, even when stressed out/overwhelmed by work.  I don't know if you've ever had a moment like this in your career, but have you ever wondered, "If I stopped working so hard would anyone care or notice?" 

Ok, so the kids care if we do our jobs. It's not like we go around asking for kudos from our co-workers, but once in awhile it is nice to feel appreciated. But does anyone else at school care or even notice our efforts?  In my school I had the recent opportunity to find out the answer to this question. To make a long story short, there are about 10 stuffed hamsters floating around my school right now. Whomever receives one needs to give it to another school employee as a way of recognizing that person for something positive they do and record that on a log sheet that comes along with the hamster. The recipient then needs to pass it along to someone else, adding the new recipient's name and the reason why that person deserves the hamster....and so on.  I know I feel like a "lowly" school-based SLP who goes unnoticed most of the time, but once I started receiving hamsters on my desk, I began to feel better!  Little written comments from co-workers such as, "flexible,"  "plans ahead" and "completes paperwork on time" put a smile on my face. Someone out there notices!

But that's only half of it. Once I received my hamsters, I had to stop and think - what do I appreciate about my co-workers?  It was something I had never thought about before.  Showing appreciation is a two-way street. Yes I want my students and co-workers to appreciate what I offer to our school, but it is also important for the people around us at work every day to know how much we appreciate them!  With all of our weather-related delays, the school schedule has been crazy.  I wanted to let two  teachers know how much I appreciate that they are "always flexible with rescheduling speech."  I'm forever looking for theme-based books, so I let our librarian know that I appreciate her help in finding the exact types of books I need every week. There is currently one hamster still sitting on my desk.  I see it as another opportunity to show a co-worker appreciation, but I feel like there are too many people to thank to choose just one!

In the spirit of Valentine's Day this week, find a way to let your co-workers know how much you appreciate them. In turn, I'm sure you'll start to realize how much they do appreciate everything we do!

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The Special Education Super Bowl: Teams at School!
February 4, 2014 11:06 AM by Alexandra Streeter
As I sit here in the northwest on Super Bowl Sunday I am reflecting on what it means to be on a "team" as an SLP in the world of special education. Clearly to be a team player it is important to comply with the basics in order to be respected:
  • Do your job!
  • Be on time, see students as documented on the IEP
  • Meet deadlines

These basics go a long way in helping anyone integrate into a school team. Beyond those, I believe there several other things we (or at least I, and I have thought about this a lot!) can do:

  • Respect what other team members bring to the table.
  • Assume the best; we are all here for kids, we might have different ways we want to meet the needs of our students, but our end goals are the same.
  • Share a vision, what is the goal in this situation? Ask what we need to do to work together to accomplish it.
  • Have some fun! There's nothing like bringing a treat or having a good laugh to help bring team members together.

Some of my favorite times as a school SLP are when I can brainstorm with my peers to plan effectively for kids. It's when we can put personal agendas aside and focus on children that we win the Special Education Super Bowl (no competition needed!)

How do you work with teams?
Do you ever feel left out of the culture of the school as an itinerant or because your job is slightly different?

Please comment below or on the ADVANCE Facebook page.

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Complex Communication Needs + ELL students = One Confused SLP
January 30, 2014 9:34 AM by Valerie Lill
A decent portion of my caseload consists of students with moderate-to-complex communication needs. I really enjoy working with these students and am thrilled each time I see growth in their communication skills through any modality. These students use speech, signs, gestures, vocalizations, PECS, AAC devices and any combination thereof to express their wants, needs and ideas. In the last few years I've noticed a growth of one particular sub-population of these students - students with complex communication needs who are English Language Learners (ELLs). This adds another layer to unravel for students who already have high needs in the area of functional communication skills.

A few months ago I talked to an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher about this very topic. She has made the same observation as I have: there are more and more students who are ELLs who also have moderate-complex communication needs. I know how to work with students with communication difficulties. She knows how to work with students for whom English is a second language. However, neither of us has come across much information in terms of research or therapy for working with these students. The educators with whom I've spoken to regarding ELL students with complex communication needs have all indicated they pretty much have no training in how to assess or work with these students.

Despite my basic knowledge of American Sign Language and my below average skills in Spanish, I am fluent in one language and one language only - English. The teachers I work with also only know and teach one language - English. So, herein lies the problem. The students do not all speak the same home language either; in the few years none of my ESL students have spoken the same language as another ESL student on my caseload, rather up to 5 different languages! The majority of students I've worked with who are ELLs hear little to no English at home; however, English is the only language they hear all day in school. For non-verbal students and those with emerging verbal skills, this presents quite a challenge. There have been many times I've heard students vocalizing using sounds that are not English phonemes, and I'm left to wonder, "Are they babbling in their home language?"  It is hard to informally assess a child's understanding of basic classroom vocabulary (i.e., color words, toys, foods) when we're presenting the words in English, when it is very possible they've only heard the words in their home language.

All of my speech-language instruction is delivered in English. I find that using picture representations (i.e., icons) of common, functional, and core vocabulary words and verbally labeling words in English has been helpful for some of my students. I've had students who were ELLs successfully increase their expressive vocabularies using spoken words and sign, learn to use the PECS method with icons, and others learn to use AAC devices, all of which are in English. However, I still can't help but be left with a nagging feeling. Am I doing everything I should be doing for these students? Are the strategies I use for English-speaking emerging communicators the same as students who are from homes where English isn't spoken?

I would love to hear input from other school-based SLPs on this topic. How does your district assess ELLs with complex communication needs? Do your ESL teachers work with these students? Have you found any helpful resources and strategies related to this topic?

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Apps at School: Finds for Preschoolers!
January 22, 2014 1:15 PM by Alexandra Streeter
I continue to love working in preschool again, and am enjoying using the iPad with the  younger set.  A couple of months ago I shared some of my favorite apps, but I have some new discoveries I would like to add!

I mentioned Sago Mini's "Doodlecast" before, and continue to enjoy using it with the little ones. I was delighted to discover Sago Mini's "Ocean Swimmer" and "Forest Flyer," two apps in which children guide the action while exploring surprises and little adventures. My students love commenting and discussing the surprises they find along the way.

There are lots of opportunities to ask/answer questions, and create little narratives. Check out Sago Mini Sound Box; young children can play with a variety of sounds and animations, and Sago Mini Bug Builder, in which they create cute bugs and bring them to life.

The Sago apps are found in the ITUNES APP store, and range in price from free to $2.99!  Your littlest students will love them.

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Welcome Winter (Is it Spring Yet?)
January 14, 2014 9:04 AM by Valerie Lill

In much of the nation, winter is in full force.  Am I ready for work this morning?  Ok, I've got my laptop, iPad, lunch, and purse. I'm good to go. Oh wait, it's winter...Do I have my coat? Do I have my gloves, scarf, and boots?  Did I bring a shovel and a snowbrush? Do I have hand sanitizer, tissues, throat lozenges, cough drops, and various over-the-counter medications?  Winter is a difficult time to be an SLP in the schools. The two main culprits? Weather and germs!

1) Weather - The winter weather simply wreaks havoc on the school system. The worst part is, we simply have no control over it, yet must deal with the consequences.  All across the country, schools have been dealing with snowstorms, ice storms, wintry mixes, and the dreaded polar vortex.  Since we've returned from the winter break,  we have had only three full days of school as of today (even though we were scheduled to have 8!).  I feels like it has been ages since I've seen some of my students. No one is able to get back on their schedules - the staff and students alike.  The weather also prevents kids from getting outside!  Kids really do better when they can get outside for recess and breathe in the fresh air.  It's obvious by the end of the day on "indoor recess" days. Unfortunately when the temperatures get too cold and the wind gets too strong, they must stay in.

How does a school-based SLP deal with this culprit?  I try to keep things as "normal" and keep the routine/schedule as consistent as possible for the kids.  Our schools operate on a cycle-day system so luckily we don't miss "days" when the schools are closed.  Also if I know the kids have been cooped up inside all day, we'll try to do something more fun and active in speech.  Personally I also try to use snow days and two hour delays to my advantage - if there is a hint of foul weather, I always bring work home "just in case."  If there is a delay, once the roads are clear, I drop my son off at before-school care and head in a bit early.  Extra time to do paperwork? Yes please!

2) Germs-  This is my current winter nemesis.  It doesn't seem to matter how much hand sanitizer I keep on my desk, how many times I wipe down my table, how many times I spray things with Lysol at the end of the day, or how many times I wash my hands in a day, I always end of getting sick.  Being SLPs we deal with one of the germiest parts of the human body on a daily basis - the mouth!  Kids' mouths are always in close approximation to us - along with their germs! How many times have you had your therapy table, therapy data sheets, iPad, or yourself be sneezed and coughed on? For me, it is a daily occurrence!  Unfortunately, germs often lead to illness. Being a school-based SLP who is sick leads to some tough decisions... are school staff members also required to follow the fever- and vomit-free for 24 hours rule before returning to school?  Can I do our jobs well if I'm  coughing and losing my voice?  What about our medically-fragile students? Is it worth endangering their health just to make sure we come in to work? I know this is a tough one as the vast majority of districts do not hire substitutes for speechh. Missed sessions are a constant source of contention. 

So how do we deal with culprit #2? Take preventative measures as listed above. When it comes to calling in sick from work, think with your brain (I feel terrible and needs to rest. I could get my students sick.) rather than your heart (But I'll miss Susie's session today!). I know it is hard to do.  I used to be one of those SLPs who came to work when I should've been home.  Over the years I realized that I wasn't helping anyone by being at work sick.

How do you deal with the winter weather and germs?  Strategies to help us make it through?  Stay warm and stay healthy this winter!

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