Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When There's Drama in the Workplace

Quote courtesy of Brainy Quote
Being in a workplace where the majority of employees is women, there's bound to be some drama. I hate to say it, but you know it's true. Women (and some men) can be relentless. It definitely makes for a stressful situation.  As school-based SLPs, we have to work with everyone in the building, from the teachers to the custodians and everyone in between. How do you continue to do the best job while steering clear of the drama?

1. Keep to yourself.

That's easier said than done. I know that for a fact. Most of us are very social and we want to feel as if we belong. When there's a lot of drama in one of my schools I make every effort to just do my job while still being visible. There's a very fine line between knowing what's going on and getting sucked into the drama. Know when to step back and fade into the background. Sure, it may take trial and error and you may find yourself in the thick of it. Learn from it and don't get sucked in again. People will be more likely to forgive if it happens once, but if it happens time after time you're going to be labeled. 

2. Be honest.

When a co-worker comes up to you and starts rattling off something that another co-worker did, stand up and say (in a nice way) you don't care to hear about it. Remember, we have to work with everybody. It makes my job a lot easier when I get along with everyone, especially when it comes to scheduling!

3. Change the subject.

There are times when I have something in my lunch that has to be heated up, so I will stay in the "lounge" and eat with other teachers. That's a perfect time to find out what's going on in the school, but it's also a perfect time to get sucked into the drama. If it starts heading down the drama route, change the subject. (Or, if you really want to know what's going on, just sit quietly!) 

4. Be careful.

We all know that gossip can ruin one's reputation. In education, that equals occupational death. Turn the tables: how would you like if someone created all that drama and you were the target?

My friend Annie from Doyle Speech Works had these additional suggestions:

5. Be careful of collusion.

Watch out for those coworkers who will try to "win you over" and get you "on their side" to the detriment of another coworker. When it's all said and done, no one is going to win!

6.  Don't take things personally.

Everyone is looking out for number 1. In the end, you need to watch your own back.

7. You don't have to be right all the time.

This piggybacks on the suggestion that everyone has their own opinion. They may not be true facts, but opinions. Everyone thinks they're right. It's okay to back off and say that you see where the other person is coming from. The trick is to know when to say it.

Drama can dramatically (ha, ha) change the morale of the faculty & staff. It makes a huge difference in the attitudes of the school employees. Believe me, it's much better to be able to say you don't know what's going on than to indulge in the drama and gossip. Stick to your guns and your beliefs, and remember to be professional. You were hired to do a job, so get in there and do it, and keep the drama out.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Visual Tips for /f/

You wouldn't think that working on /f/ would be that difficult since it is such a visual sound. But...there are times when a student has trouble when they get to the word level. I was going to write everything out, but then I decided that it would be easier & faster to show you what I do in those cases.
Do you use any of these tips already? Do have any to share?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Those Pesky /r/s....the Sequel

Every now and then, I like to go back through old posts and see if I've evolved with my therapy. I ran across the post Those Pesky /r/s which I wrote back in 2013.

What's the Same

I'm still
1. snagging the students when they are 7 years old
2. using Char Boshart's technique of using the Nuk brush & toothette for stimulation.
3. using straws to strengthen the back of the tongue.
4. using /i/ as a starter
If a student isn't getting a correct or approximation with /i/, I'll use the "karla technique". 

What's New

 Along with the "karla technique", the students learn a new term: anchoring. It's really just having the tongue at rest, which is essential for a good vocalic /r/. Think about it. Go ahead and try it: say some words with vocalic /r/s and think about where your tongue starts out. It's essential that students understand about anchoring their tongues to get a good vocalic /r/. 
I start with a vocalic /r/ when teaching production of /r/  because, in my opinion, it's much easier to have the student make a prevocalic /r/ from a vocalic /r/, not the other way around. I can name which of my students who transferred to me worked on prevocalic /r/ to make the /r/ sound: they have trouble with the vocalic /r/. With those students, I begin by teaching them to anchor their tongues. It takes quite a bit of concentration on their part and a lot of practice. I'm not going to's difficult for them to get. It's frustrating, but once they understand how much better those vocalic /r/s will sound, they'll get it. And they will be beautiful!

The main thing when you're working on /r/s is not to panic. Relax and the student will be relaxed. When I have started from ground zero with a student, I haven't had one that didn't eventually get it. Lately, it seems that my students struggled in isolation, but when we got to the word level they quickly got it and carried the /r/ over into conversation. It's not hard and it's not rocket science. It just takes a good ear and patience.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Got Homework?

Hate it...or Love it?

Speech Homework. Some love it, some hate it. Personally, I love it, especially when I can incorporate it into the independent station during 5-Minute Day. I try to give my students homework every week. Just once a week, that's all they need to realize that they aren't supposed to only say their sounds correctly in speech, but at home as well. If a student comes to me on Mondays/Wednesdays, then Wednesday is his day to receive his homework folder. That gives him 5 days to say his target to his parent/caregiver, have it signed, and bring it back on Monday. If I don't have the time to have homework ready on the correct day, most of the students ask me about it. I would conclude that most of the students love having homework!

Put the Responsibility on the Student

The benefits of giving the student homework (and him actually doing it) will be seen during therapy. If the parent is actively involved, the student will progress faster. It seems that most of the students who rarely bring their folders back progress slower. I don't have data or numbers to back this up, just years of observation. One thing I ask the student who says, "Mom forgot to put it in my backpack" is "Whose responsibility is it?" Even my Kinders know that it is their responsibility, not their parents'. That may seem a little harsh, but they catch on quickly! I occasionally will have the student who will be tearful when he doesn't have his folder. I don't make a big deal out of it, I tell him that everyone forgets things sometimes and ask him to try to remember it next time. 

Determining Motivation to Improve

Using homework is a way that I determine an older student's motivation to improve. I keep track of whether the homework is returned with a signature, returned without a signature, or not returned.  With those older students, I can be a little more firm. To the student who has only brought his folder back once this whole year and who isn't progressing, I can highly suggest that the lack of progression may be due, in part,  to not completing his homework.  On progress reports, I make sure to note how often homework has been returned. 

Short & Sweet

If you're considering sending home a speech activity, make it short; no longer than 5 minutes. Parents work, they get home, and they're tired. Speech homework on top of class homework is probably not high on the priority list. Keep the homework short and sweet, and make sure that the page either has a line for the helper to sign, or put a stamp on it asking the parent to sign. I prefer to have a box on the page where all I have to do is check what the child is to do, but I have some pages that I use where I have to stamp requesting a signature. On those pages, I write what they are to do, such as "Say each word". 

Getting the Folder Ready

I like to use folders that have 3 prongs in them for homework folders. I prefer that type as opposed to the ones with only the slots so that the pages don't fall out.  I tape a piece of paper in the front of the book with instructions for the parent/caregiver. This paper informs the parent of when their child comes to speech when he receives his folder, and what day it is to be returned. I also request that the parent sign the last page in the folder so I will know that it has been completed. At the beginning of the year (or, if the student begins later than the first day) I review the note with the student. They are usually excited to get their folders; the ones who have been in speech for at least a year will ask me the first day of school when they are going to get them.

Age-Appropriate Homework

For my younger students, I use pictures. I want them to be able to say the word/sentence without having the parent model it, so I steer clear of printed words when possible. If I have a sheet that doesn't include pictures as an option, I will use a blank sheet (if that is provided) or will white out the words. The students choose a picture from a container that is specific to their sounds and glue pictures on the page.
Below are some examples of what I've used for homework for my students. (Click on the pictures to be taken directly to the product on TpT.)
This is a typical homework sheet for a younger student that I would put in the student's folder:

This is a great activity for an independent station for a 5-Minute Day: The student pulls out a picture from his container, says the word into a curved PVC pipe "x" amount of times, then glues the picture on his paper. Since my Kinders haven't started 5-Minute Days, they glue on the pictures while they are waiting for their turn during a game.
My older students prefer to write down words so they aren't doing anything "babyish". During a 5-Minute Day, the student writes words from a list provided. During a traditional session, he writes down the words that he missed while saying his target cards.
I have just added "Search and Find" pages in my TpT Store. During the independent stations of a 5-Minute Day, the student looks for pictures containing his target sound and colors/circles them. During a traditional session, he finds and colors/circles whil waiting for his turn. The older (3rd through 5th graders) also enjoy doing this activity.
Winter Search & Find is currently in the store. Spring Search & Find will be uploaded soon!
Even language students take work home to practice. This is an example of what I would give a student working on story retell. We would complete the page in therapy and he will take the sheet home and go over it with his "helper".

Don't Forget the Reward

In my opinion, having some kind of reward is key in homework being a successful tool as part of the student's progression. It doesn't matter what you use: sticker chart, an extra turn on the reinforcement bulletin board, extra ClassDojo points...whatever you use. There has to be some incentive for bringing the folder back signed. It doesn't have to be big; it doesn't have to be anything major. Don't think for a minute that the students don't keep up with if they get their folders or not. There have been several times that they've had to keep me in line, especially when things get too crazy and I don't have time to get homework together for a couple of weeks. The parents start asking about it, too. 
It may take a while to get the students and the parents in the habit of Speech Homework. I haven't had any parents tell me they wish I didn't send anything, but I have had parents ask me about it when they notice their child hasn't brought his folder home consistently.
Does it take extra time? Yes, but if you put in your planning routine, it will eventually take less time and it will become part of your routine. 'bout it? Do you send homework home with your students? If not, what's holding you back?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Motivating Those Hard-to-Motivate Students

PIcture courtesy of Pexels
You're in therapy with a student and you spend most of the 30 minutes staring at each other because he absolutely refuses to participate in the activities you have planned. You've made sure that you have planned fun, motivational activities, but he isn't biting. And the frustration level for both of you (well, mainly you because he's perfectly fine not doing anything) mounts and is at an all-time high. What do you do?

A pill reminder is a great motivator

One thing that I have successfully tried is using a pill reminder. Velcro a picture of each activity on the top and put a reward in the pocket. I've used stickers or goldfish with fabulous success. First, explain to the student the activities and show him the pictures.
A pill reminder can be very motivating to some students.
Pill reminders come with 3 or 7 pockets. If you need a number in between, you could use masking tape to mark off the ones you don't need. In the picture above, I used the iPad as a reward when he completed the 3 activities I wanted him to complete. Sometimes I may put an "all done" picture, depending on the student.

When the pill reminder doesn't work

Using a pill reminder is great...except when it either doesn't motivate the student from the get-go or ceases to motivate. What do you do then?
A co-worker discussed using puzzles as motivators and the lightbulb went off. I made one to try with a student, only using 2 pieces at first. We've worked up to 3 pieces, and this student is ready for 4 pieces.
Very similar to the pill reminder, I show the student the activities I have planned for that session. I put down the First, Then sheet. I put the puzzle pieces on "First", and the reward on "Then".

All I've had to do is redirect the student to remind him that he will receive a piece of the puzzle when we're through with an activity. When the puzzle is put together, he gets the reward. 
I check the clock to determine how long he can work on the iPad and set a timer. I remind him that as soon as the timer goes off the iPad has to be turned off and it's time to go back to class. This has worked like a charm for me! 
More seasonal puzzles will be added soon. Each set has options for 2 to 6 activities with 2 options for 6 activities. The straight lines decrease frustration for the student when putting the puzzles together.
These puzzles may be purchased in my TpT store. I haven't had a session with my students who are using it when they didn't complete the tasks I had planned that day. 
What do you use to motivate your "hard to motivate" students?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Picture courtesy of Pexels
There has been a lot of talk lately in the SLP world about how to do "mixed therapy": therapy when you have artic, language, and fluency students in the same group. It takes some getting used to, but it can be done. After you do it for a while, it will come naturally to you and you should have no big problems. But that's not what this post is about.
Just as you have to tap into your creativity to work with mixed groups, you can work with more than one objective with your language students. Very often, it happens by accident with me. I don't have plans to work on a couple of objectives during an activity, it just happens. Those "aha moments" are quite inspiring.

Be familiar with your students' objectives

Obviously, it's very important to know what each student's objectives are. It's okay to have it written in front of you to refer back to. If a student has 10 objectives, you definitely will want to have them written down, but the issue of 10 objectives will be saved for another day. Refer to those objectives often, daily if necessary. That will make working seamlessly on more than 1 objective a lot easier.

Don't force it

Now that you have your students' objectives in your head, it's time to get to work. It's important not to force it. Be natural with the mesh of objectives. If the objectives aren't remotely related, don't attempt to work on them at the same time. You can work on one objective at a time.

Some examples

The other day I was working with a student on beginning inferences. She read a passage and identified the keywords. As she was doing that, it occurred to me that she was working on describing at the same time. So, I pulled down my "Desi" (the name for my EET beads), reviewed them with her, and pulled in her describing objective with the inferencing. 
Thanks to The Speech Owl for her No Print Receptive and Expressive Language-Winter Edition
With my students who are working on "wh" questions and yes/no questions, it's pretty simple. Just turn the "wh" question into a yes/no question, and you have it! For example: If you're reading a story and you ask "Where did Steve go?" following the answer, you could ask "Did Steve go to the store?" You can ask for verification of how he/she answered with the yes/no question. Or, if the student has difficulty answering the "wh" question, turn it into a yes/no question then ask the "wh" question again. 

Those are just 2 ways to pull in more than one objective. The main thing is to become familiar with your students' objectives. From then on, it's a piece of cake! 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Mid-Year Reward Check

Now that we’re at the midway point in the school year, it’s time to evaluate how my plan of “no prize box” is working out.

Decisions, Decisions

At first, my students were absolutely horrified at the thought of not earning prizes. It didn’t take long for them to get used to it, though. I struggled with what to use instead of a prize box or “treasure chest”. I thought about not using anything, but how was I going to reward the students for bringing back their homework with a parent signature? Would my success rate with homework dramatically decrease if I didn’t reward them?

The answer was "new school" mixed with "old school"!

One of my schools is pretty heavy into technology. Most, if not every class, is using Dojo, so it seemed like a no-brainer. My only problem was how to modify it to work for me.
Honestly, I wasn’t 100% sure how I was going to use it when I started. The students would be rewarded for earning a determined amount of points (according to how many students are in the group), but what would the reward be? I thought about a couple of different things: a small party (having the group make something), or letting them take data for the other group members. That last one didn’t sound like too much of a reward, and I’m not really big on bringing in food because of all of the allergies. So, those 2 things were scratched off my list. I decided to “throwback” to my earlier days and let the groups have a “free day” when they reach their points. The students have to decide as a group what game they want to play. With the groups who have had a free day, there have been 1 or 2 from whom I still needed to get a little bit of data, so we did very quick 10-responses and had a free day. The students absolutely love it! There’s still speech & language going on, they just don’t know it.

The Specifics

Here's how it works: Instead of putting in each child's name, I put in their group time as their name.
If a student brings their homework back signed, the group gets 2 points; if the folder is returned but not signed, the group gets 1 point; if the homework wasn't returned, no points are rewarded. At the end of the session, as long as the student has followed procedures, another point is awarded to each student.
If hallway procedures are not followed, the group can have a point taken away.
There are a lot of other features on Class Dojo, but these are the only ones I use.  At this point, every group has had a free day and are well on their way to their 2nd one. 
The students are keeping very close track of their points, and some groups have already chosen their next game! The treasure chest is hidden away in the closet where I plan on keeping it. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Keys to Modifying Therapy Activities

PIcture courtesy of Pexels
Wow! Has it really been 4 months since my last post? Thank you for not forgetting about me, and for reading this post. This year has been crazy busy for me, both professionally and personally. I hope to write more this year!

I've been thinking a lot about modifications during therapy, and how it really doesn't come naturally. It's a skill that takes a lot of time to develop.

A Poor observation score is sometimes the best thing that could happen

As a young SLP, one of the most difficult things for me was to know when and how to modify activities for students. I trudged through a session without any modifications, sure that a light would eventually go off and the poor child would suddenly “get it”. During an observation, I was going through a list with a Kindergartner. I don’t remember the specifics, but I knew in my heart this activity was too difficult for this child. When I received the feedback from my special ed director, it wasn’t good. In fact, it was far less than good. It was downright awful. I went in that afternoon to see her, and she said she was expecting me. She sat me down and said, “it was too hard for her.” What could I say? I knew without a shadow of a doubt that she was speaking the truth. We brainstormed, and I left her office being more determined than I think I had ever been up to that point in my life. When I left her office, I was embarrassed but realized that she had just given me a very special gift: the gift of knowing when to modify activities.

It’s our professional responsibility to modify activities according to our students’ needs

I make products that are specific to students on my caseload. I’m assuming other SLPs who are also TpT authors do the same thing. It is my expectation that buyers of my products will modify them to fit their own needs. As an example: I bought a winter concept package that included a flip book. Some of the pages included concepts that were too difficult for a particular student. I simply left out those pages. The result was a somewhat “mini” flip-book that the student could take home and review with the parents without frustration.

Body language is a big indicator of when to modify activities

How do you know when it’s necessary to modify an activity? Watch the child. He may not come out and tell you, but if you watch him, you’ll get the information you need. It’s okay to begin with something that you know is too difficult, you just have to realize the frustration point and then modify. The child may show disinterest, he may appear as if he isn’t paying attention. He may begin to get “antsy”, or you may see it in his eyes. There are still times when I have a “crier”; that tells me that I pushed too hard. All you can do at that point is simply back off.

Keep modifying until the child has some success

It’s true that a lot of knowing when and how to modify takes experience. It also takes a lot of trial and error. I don’t know of anyone who started in the field being an expert on modifying activities. Don’t get discouraged if a child doesn’t pick up on a concept right away. Just watch him and change what you’re doing until he has some success. Then you have your starting place! Sit back, relax, and most of all, have fun!
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