Using Book Companions for Virtual Home Practice & Therapy

Photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna from Pexels 

I love using book companions for in-person learning. Once the initial prep is completed, my planning is usually done for at least 2 weeks, sometimes longer. With distance learning being a reality, how can you use book companions for virtual home practice? It takes a little bit of planning, for sure. I've begun using a lot of virtual learning techniques with my in-person students. Sometimes I will let my students choose if they want paper homework or Boom™ decks. Guess which one most of them choose? 

Steps for Getting the Book Ready

  1. Take pictures of the book with an iPad, then crop so only the book is showing.
  2. In the photo app, choose "Select" & then "Select All". 
  3. Tap the download icon, then "Save PDF to Books"
  4. When the pdf opens in Books, tap the send icon and send it to an email address. Or, you can just use it in the Books app if you are going to use an iPad to record or if you will be reading it during a teletherapy session.
    1. To use in a teletherapy session, just open the pdf in a separate window and you're all set to read it to the students!

Now for the Fun Part!

Now comes the fun part: recording the book for your students! I use Screencastify and Loom, but I'm partial to Screencastify. Probably because that's the one I used first and am more familiar with. Both have free versions, but if you have a school address, you can upgrade to Loom Premium for free! (Screencastify's upgrade is $29/year, which is still a bargain! With the free account you will have up to 5 minutes of recording time.)
  1. Pull up the pdf on your computer. There may be a way to record the pdf on your iPad using Loom; I haven't quite figured it out yet.
  2. Once you have the recording service of your choice open and recording, make sure the pdf is in full screen.
  3. Scroll through the pdf, reading the book as you go.
  4. Once the book is read, you can snip out the parts you don't want the students to see. I usually snip the beginning and the end of the clips off since those are the parts where I am getting the book ready or have finished the book. 
  5. You can save to your Google Drive, YouTube Channel, to your computer, or just to the Screencastify or Loom website.

Sharing Your Recording for Home Practice

       Options to share through Screencastify:

Loom appears to only have the options to download and to copy the link. If you wanted it on YouTube or Google Drive, you could always download and then upload it to your preferred site. 

My school system is using Seesaw for elementary schools. This is an example of an activity using a Loom recording I shared with my students:

Here is an example of a Seesaw activity using Screencastify:

One of the advantages of using a Loom link is that the site will notify you of the number of times the video has been viewed. The negative for Loom is that when the student clicks on the Loom link, he is directed to the Loom website. With Screencastify, the video plays in the window where it is clicked. 

I just happen to have several book companions in my Boom Store. They may be purchased as a bundle, or, if you only need pieces of the companion, decks may be purchased individually. 

I am enjoying extending the use of book companions to virtual home practice. When my school system was in the extended closure, I used them with my students through teleservices. Book companions are a great way to pique the interest of reading while practicing speech and language skills. My students prefer to be assigned Boom Cards as opposed to paper homework. It looks like it's going to be a new way of doing things from here on out!


Back to School in a COVID World: Part 2

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels

If you're a school-based SLP (and I'm assuming if you're reading this, you are) who is preparing for the return to school, you may be anxious and quite nervous. I get it. The unknown of what the school year will look like; the changes you're going to have to make before and maybe even from week to week are going to make your life a little hectic, for sure. Quite honestly, I think the school systems are doing the best they can in trying to figure out the best way to have students educated while keeping everyone safe. First, let me say this: COVID is a real thing. It's a bad thing. You're probably a little worried about getting sick. It's like a co-worker said to me, "It's not a matter of if, but when." Just as I stated in my previous post, I realize everyone has different immune systems. Someone you've been in a room with may test positive yet you have no symptoms and test negative.

Hybrid: It's a new concept

Just 1 week after I wrote the last post, my school system has altered the "back to school schedule". We are now on a "hybrid" schedule, meaning that those who opted for in-school learning are on another staggered schedule: half of the alphabet comes one day and they rotate days with the other half of the alphabet. On the days they aren't at school, they are expected to be in "virtual class" with their teacher. We had a professional development day a few days ago, and the teachers have come up with some creative ways to teach their students virtually. 

But that's the classroom teacher. What am I, as a school SLP, doing? I serve 2 schools (+ a high school), which makes my schedule a little more challenging. Normally I'm at each school every other day, being at my home school 3 days/week. If I stick to that schedule, I would be seeing my students every other week. Even though my director said she didn't expect us to change our schedules, I opted to change mine. I now go to each school 2 days in a row, still being at my home school on Friday. That way I see each of my students once each week. Just to keep things a little simpler, once we go back to our normal schedule (with students being at school every day) I plan on keeping my schedule as is for the year. I think it will be a nice little experiment to see if my students progress more having speech 2 days in a row versus every other day. Or will it slow progression? Time will tell.

In my school system, we are mirroring what the gen. ed. teachers are doing: 50% face-to-face, 50% "virtual". That doesn't mean that we're providing teleservices. It means giving the students home practice, assigning BOOM Cards, or using Screencastify or some other platform to read books or explain what they are to be doing. The elementary schools have moved away from Class Dojo and Classtag to Seesaw, meaning I have yet another platform to learn. Luckily, they are all very similar so it hasn't been too challenging. My students are used to having homework every week so it shouldn't be very much of a change for them.

The fact is: we are essential workers. Just like the nurses, doctors, basically all medical personnel, we are expected to be at work. Even if we've been exposed. Because, really...think about it: Unless you've stayed in your house since March, chances are you've been exposed at some point. 

10 Key Takeaways After Being in School

Here are some takeaways I've learned in the past few weeks:

1. WEAR YOUR MASK. Unless you're in your classroom by yourself, have your mask on. You don't know who other people have been around, or who their families have been around. At this moment, the CDC's guidance for contact tracing is being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes.

Mask selfie

2. Be flexible. Things change from minute to minute. As I stated above, I think the school systems are doing the best they can with the information they have at that minute. Unfortunately, we can't predict the future. We don't know if cases will climb (which they probably will once school opens) and if the school will need to change its initial plans. Just be open to whatever comes your way and take it one day at a time. 

3. Be a team player. Also, be prepared for added duties. In the past, my principals have been fantastic with not assigning bus duty to me. But, with students' temperatures having to be checked before they get out of their car or before they come into the building, there aren't enough teachers to go around. Be a team player...just get up a little bit earlier and help out.

4. Don't worry about "what if". That's a sure way to increase anxiety! We are all learning about taking things as they come and being ready to change plans at the drop of a hat. It is what it is. 

5. Get into an after-school routine. Plan for time when you get home to decompress...take a walk, ride a bike, or just sit outside with a beverage. Whatever will make you relax and transition from home to school, build it into your schedule. Personally, I take my dog for a walk as soon as I get home. It helps me refocus on home and leave school behind. (Plus, my husband is still working in his home office when I get home, so I can give him a little more quiet time to work.) Whatever you left at school is going to be there the next day. Leave school work behind (unless it's crunch time with an IEP and you have to have it written) and be present to your family, your pet, your roommate, whoever you live with. 

Gurl Dogg that time we got caught in a rainstorm
Gurl Dogg that time we got caught in a rainstorm

6. Don't panic when someone in your building tests positive. It's going to happen. It's inevitable. You will be notified that someone has tested positive, but you will not be told who that person is. Just don't panic. Again, it is what it is. Wear your mask (see #1) and wash your hands many, many times during the day. Many of us are in small communities, so of course, word is going to get out who it is. It's not leprosy. Do we run around talking about staff who have the flu? (I'm not downplaying COVID at all. The flu is just the most comparable thing I can think of.) Just be there for moral support for that person and the family. 

7. Know that the students fall quickly into their new routine. I have been amazed at how quickly students at my schools have fallen into their new routine. When I go to the car to greet a child to take his temperature, he waits and will often automatically pull his bangs up so I can get a good reading. Many get out of the car with their masks already on. In the hallway, most of the students are wearing their masks correctly. There are a few whose masks are under their noses, but for the most part, the kids are keeping distance and are wearing masks. It has been amazing to see the kids respond! It's like they've been doing it their whole school life.  IF you need a social story for wearing a mask, you can find one here.

School Hug Line

8. Reassure the students. When I walked a second grader to the classroom on his first day, he confided in me that he was nervous. I assured him that it was going to be okay, and it was alright for him to feel a little nervous. We talked about how weird it is that everyone has on masks but that we would grow used to it very soon. I checked on him a little later in the day and his teacher said he was doing fabulously. Kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for!

9. Know the facts. I don't know about you, but I am tired of hearing people talking about what is and isn't going on. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and people are spreading it like wildfire. Go directly to the CDC and look at the facts. Here is the data from the week ending 08/01/2020 regarding ages and hospitalizations: (click the picture for a larger view)

I chose those ages because that is the population most of us are working with, as well as the ages most of us fall in. At first glance, it looks like the hospitalizations greatly increase within the typical age range of teachers. But look just below the graph to put the numbers in perspective. Again, I have to emphasize that I am not downplaying COVID. I am urging everyone to think for themselves and do the research themselves. And absolutely follow the guidelines set by the CDC and your school system.

10. Take care of yourself. With my school schedule, I'm getting up quite a bit earlier. I don't think I've ever set my alarm as early as I am this year. It's important to get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water, eat right, exercise, and vitamins couldn't hurt, either. Using antimicrobial sprays and better-for-you hand sanitizer are also good ideas. 

Rainwater Farm Hand Sanitizer and Antimicrobial Spray

If you are going back to school and will have to see the students face to face, I'm urging you to not be afraid or anxious. My advice would be to have a healthy fear of COVID, but don't let it paralyze you. I can't stress enough that everyone needs to wear a mask and wash hands. I also feel compelled to reiterate that I am in no way downplaying this pandemic. It is real and it can be serious, but I truly believe that with the proper precautions we will be doing everything we can to keep ourselves (and our students) healthy. 

Going Back to School in a COVID World

With school systems around the country deciding how to make sure children have an education, some people's anxiety levels are sky-high. My school system just started back to school on a staggered schedule. At the time I'm writing this (because it could change at any minute), students attend school twice on that schedule and then everyone who hasn't opted for virtual learning comes back. 

How are things going to look?

What is Speech/Language Therapy going to look like during this time? In my room, it's not going to look much different. Sure, I'll stay away from play-dough (I did that anyway!) and sensory bins. I'm still going to get out my articulation cards, except I'll be the one turning the cards and I'll be wearing gloves. ('Cause, y'all...I'm the world's worst at touching my face!) My procedures will look very much the same as they did pre-pandemic.  My students have been trained to not touch the doorknob to my room to cut down on the germs, so that's one less thing I have to teach them.  The students will get a squirt of hand sanitizer (or "hanitizer" as they call it) as they step in the room. I'll have their speech folders (with their homework) laid out on top of a cabinet so they aren't touching. I'm very fortunate that it's rare when I have more than 2 students in a group, so I'll have one student on one end of the table and the other student on the other end. For PPE, I'll have on a clear mask and a face shield as well as gloves. I plan on having the students wipe down their spot & spray their chairs (with non-toxic spray provided by my system) before they leave. 

The students will bring their personal items with them: crayons, scissors, etc. For BOOM Cards, they will bring their own Chromebook since we're a 1:1 school system. It doesn't sound too complicated, does it?

Just 5 things

I can boil my plan down to 5 things:

1. Wash, wash, wash.
    My students & I will be washing our hands and/or using hand sanitizer a lot more. 

2. Wipe, wipe, wipe.
    The table will be wiped down after every group...not just some of them.

3. Spray, spray, spray.
    Not only will I use the non-toxic spray provided, but I also have some anti-microbial 
    spray that I will be spraying in my little room at one of my schools. I have a full-sized 
    classroom at my other school so I'll be using my essential oil diffuser with germ- 
    fighting oils in that room.

4. Cover, cover, cover. 
    We'll wear masks in the hall going to & coming from my room. In the room, I'll wear 
     a clear mask, face shield, and gloves. 

5. Train, train, train.
     I don't think it will take long to train my students to wipe the table after their group. 
     After 3 days of school, the students act like they've been wearing masks and       
     social distancing all their lives. 

All in all, it's not going to be much different than the precautions during flu season. The key here is to not freak out. I realize immune systems are different from person to person. I'm going to do my best to make sure everyone is comfortable with coming to Speech and that the parents know I'm doing my best to keep them safe. 

My theme song for this year:

Distance Learning: What I Would & Will Do Differently

I've said this before: You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. As my very unique school year comes to a close, I started to reflect on what I would have done differently.

Teleservices: Hindsight

In a previous post, I mentioned that my state regulates teletherapy. The State Education Department took a little over a week, but they came out with a decision: Our therapy is considered an extension of the services the regular education teacher is providing, so we were given the green light to see out students through teleservices. Zoom was not available to us for a couple of specific reasons, and I wasn't happy with the lack of student interaction using Google Meet. I knew that if I was going to see my students through teleservices, I wanted to give them the optimal experience and go "all in". I didn't want to do this halfway. A couple of friends in different parts of the country had a platform they were using, so I tried it out (after receiving permission from my SpEd director). After a couple of frustrating weeks, I finally had it down and really enjoyed using that platform for therapy. Through working with it; however, I realized there were some things I wish I had started out doing at the beginning of distance learning:

  1. Set a ground rule with parents: have the child sit in a chair, preferably at a table.  I had several parents who already did this and it worked fabulously. There were a couple of sessions in the beginning when the child made faces at the computer (which made for some serious laughs), but then they settled down and knew it was time for business when they saw me. I had a couple of students who actually paid better attention through teleservices than when they come to school.
  2. Another ground rule: request that the parents set an alarm when it's time for therapy. I feel like I sat around and waited for the child to show up more than I saw him. It was a bit frustrating to have everything set up on my laptop, ready to go, only to have to wait. And wait...and wait. I don't think the parents realize the time it takes to set everything up so they aren't waiting on me to pull up the day's activities. 
  3. While a headset with a mic isn't necessary, if there is a gaming headset in the house it would be beneficial to have the child wear it during therapy. I had one student who, at the second session, showed up wearing her sister's gaming headset and the session went so much better. I ended up buying a very inexpensive headset on Amazon. It had good reviews and worked very well. It allowed me to maintain confidentiality since my husband is also working in the house, as well as allowed me to hear responses and have my students understand me more clearly. The best part was that I didn't have to spend $100 or more.
  4. Afterschool Care Attendees. I have a couple of students whose parents are essential workers. The afterschool care opened up for those parents who needed child care. By the time I realized I could see the student through distance learning while he is there, I only had another week of teleservices left. I emailed the director at one of the sites (thinking we could quickly get it set up before I presented the option to the parents) but never received a response. If this continues into next school year, I will definitely call the site director to see which of my students go to afterschool care and what we can do to set therapy up for them while they're there.

A Challenge

The SLPs in my school system have been challenged to think about what we've started doing during the extended school closure that we will continue. Here's what I've come up with so far:
  1. BOOM Cards. I had tinkered a bit with them during therapy over the past couple of years, mostly with my students who have scrambled sentences as goals, but this brought my distance therapy to a whole new level. I dove into converting some of my TpT products to BOOM to use in therapy. We were able to play games that we would have been playing in therapy (with the student actually playing with me). We were able to have therapy just as we would have in the school using these cards. When we are able to get into school and resume face-to-face therapy, I will be able to use these cards during my 5-Minute Days. I can even assign homework pages that way instead of having them take folders home. I don't think I would do that on a consistent basis, but over breaks when I don't send the folders home it would work nicely. I can assign them specific decks and check their progress (and if they actually completed it). 
  2. Google Meet. When parents aren't able to attend meetings or there are a lot of people involved in a meeting (such as DCS, counselors, etc.), I can use Google Meet to have everyone meet. It's a good alternative!
  3. I bought a couple of things specifically for use during this distance learning time that I will continue to use when I resume face-to-face therapy. The students will enjoy using the iPad as our activity. 

Teleservices: A Recap

I'm actually a bit disappointed that this is over. After Spring Break, when the changes hit, I couldn't wait to see my students' faces. I recorded a book that I promised (before Spring Break) the students we would read and sent the Google Drive link to the parents. The parent of a student who was not seen through teleservices thanked me and said that her child enjoyed hearing my voice. I tried to keep my sessions as "normal" as I could since the students are used to my routine. (For this reason, I didn't watch any "training videos" that were hurriedly put together...I did my therapy session as I normally would have.) I used the parents' emails for both the student's and my own protection. The parents were able to see "Speech in Action" and understand what a Speech Session looks like. Some of my parents saw me use cues so they can also use those cues at home. 
Overall, I enjoyed being able to see most of my students through teleservices. I was a little disappointed that a couple of parents chose not to go this route, even though the internet is available to them. I realize this is a crazy time and that parents are stressed to the max...they have to draw the line somewhere and, unfortunately, Speech is what doesn't make the cut. 

We don't know what the beginning of the school year is going to look like at this point. I'm going to take the summer off and reboot. I feel like I'll be ready if we have to continue distance learning. I also feel like my parents will be ready, too. 
Distance Learning: Lessons Learned during Teleservices

Ways to Cope with Distance Learning

This is a whole new ballgame for most of us: Distance Learning. How do we cope with it? As School-Based SLPs, how in the world do we best serve our students from our homes? I'm going to outline my plan in this blog post.

1. I've set up a Google Voice Number. I wasn't able to set it up through my school Gmail account, so I'm using another Gmail account. It would be very easy to set up an account through an email created just for this time period. I don't like to give out my home number, although the very few parents who have it have not abused it. Google Voice makes it very easy to give a number to parents, along with specific office hours, where they can text, call, or leave a voicemail. I changed the settings so it doesn't ring my attached number, it only rings through my laptop when I have Voice opened.

2. I already had somewhat of a home office, so that was already done. If you have little ones at home, you have to do the best you can. I'm an empty-nester so we have a couple of empty bedrooms that were easily converted. My husband (who is working from home right now) has his office on one side of the house; mine is on the other side. If you can't set up a home office, find some corner of a room that you can designate as your office. Don't stress about your little one demanding your time during your work hours. Everyone is doing the best they can in this situation. Take care of your family first!

3. When it's quitting time, QUIT. Seriously. My school system has given us "office hours", so when it's 3:15, my work computer is shut down and I don't turn it back on until 8:15 the next morning. The temptation is there to just open up the laptop and check your messages or schedule that meeting, but...don't. It will be there tomorrow morning.

4. If you have a school laptop, use that for your school work. At this point, we are still able to access our schools if we need anything, only on certain days.

5. Lunch break. Take it. Again, the temptation is to grab a sandwich and sit back down in front of your computer. Take your lunch outside for a getaway, or just sit at the table...away from your computer. Enjoy it; once we get back to school you may not get a lunch break!

In the past week, I've had to learn how to use Class Dojo for more than sending parents messages and for classroom behavior. I've also had to learn Classtag for my other school. I was a little discouraged after being excited to finally having the chance to use Google Classroom, only to realize that I can't because of confidentiality. If I were to set up a class with all of my speech students at one school, the other students/parents would be able to see the names of everyone in the class. Luckily, Dojo and ClassTag are ways to send videos and pages digitally to parents/students.

This is unprecedented for all of us. We're all just trying to cope and serve our students the best we can. We had hoped to see our students via teletherapy, but my state has regulations that forbid anyone without a private license to serve students that way. So, we wait to see what's going to happen. Meanwhile, some SLPs are scrambling to get packets for students; others are using the homework folders and having the parents review them (with a tracking form being used to record when they are working on their speech). Never have I been more glad that I have given my students homework on a regular basis!

Stay safe, stay healthy, and get outdoors and get some exercise and Vitamin D!
How are you coping (or planning on coping) with Distance Learning? Leave a comment!

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