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!


A Language Game You Don't Want To Miss! (And a GIVEAWAY!)

Are you looking for a new language board game for your students? I was contacted by Zoom on Speech, who is the creator of Zoom on Speech Kibbit Bingo Style Game Targeting Descriptive Language, Sentence Structure, and Ability to follow Multi-Component Directions asking if I was willing to try out the game for an honest review.
I have to say that this game was fantastic! My kids absolutely loved playing. I used it for almost every student on my caseload. Playing the game hit a target for almost every one of my students.
The rules are pretty simple: Roll the dice and see if you have a ball (or any of the items on the other 3 cards) that matches. The game description says there are 2 levels, but I would disagree with that. Doing what we do with modifying activities for our kids, there are multiple levels. I was able to modify it by adding dice for my more advanced students and changing the response required.
After rolling the dice, I had the student tell me what we were looking for. For example, "We're looking for a little/small ball with white stars." Another die can be added for a specific shape color to make things a little more difficult. And, you can mix up the response required to hit more artic targets. Or, hide the dice from the other players for more listening tasks. The possibilities are endless!
Included in the game:
  • 7 dice
  • 8 double-sided boards for a total of 4 themes
  • 40 chips


This will definitely be a "go-to" game. With 4 different boards (there are 4 boards for each picture), I can use them several times a year. And, at a price of around $30, I'd say it's pretty reasonable. This is a keeper! 
To order yours, click here.
Zoom on Speech has graciously offered a game as a giveaway. If you want a chance to get this game, all you have to do is let me know in the comments by leaving your email address or Instagram username! A winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday, 22 December 2019, at 10:00 pm EST
The winner will be notified by email. The game will be shipped through Amazon Fulfillment.
*Please note: I will not use your email for any purpose other than to notify you if you are the winner. 
**This giveaway is not endorsed by Facebook, Instagram, or Amazon.

Updated 12/22/19 at 10:10 pm EST


What is Appropriate For Speech Homework?

Photo courtesy of Pexels
As certified Speech-Language Pathologists, I think we need to be careful about what we are sending home for homework/home practice. I am a huge proponent of giving students homework (aka "home practice") so they will carry over the skills they learn in therapy to the home environment.

Sound advice from a long time ago

During one of my internships, I was given some very good advice. While working in a local speech clinic a man came in with some voice difficulties. After an evaluation,  he wanted me to just give him exercises to do at home. When I approached my supervisor, she said for me to tell him that I could give him exercises however they were not to be done without being supervised by an SLP. I think the same is true for students that we see in the schools for speech and language therapy.

It's not common sense!

Even though working on different sounds may seem like common sense to us, it isn't. We have had years of education and practice with each of the different sounds so we are the ones who should be teaching the students how to say those sounds, not the parents who have had no education in this area. Think about the placement of the articulators for each sound. I suppose if the average person thought about it they could figure it out. But what if they tell them the wrong way? It's kind of like playing an instrument: if you're taught the wrong way you won't get the good tone that the instrument should have. If you don't learn the correct fingerings that instrument is going to be a lot harder to play.

Practical Suggestions

We go through all that training for a reason: because it's not common sense. Here are some suggested guidelines for homework/home practice:

1. Make it simple. Remember, we may have some parents who may or may not have graduated from high school.

2. Make it short. I rarely give more than 10 words/sentences to my students because parents just don't have time.

3. Have the students return a sheet with a parent signature. This creates ownership for the students and it also keeps them accountable for working on their sounds.

4. Review the homework before you send it home. Even if it's just a quick review make sure that the students know what the pictures are. If they're having trouble saying a certain word or sentence you can review it with them before they practice it at home. I may send home notes on the page for tips that I use during therapy to get them to say they're sound right (for example for a /k,g/ I might write a note that says "make sure to tell them to open their mouths wide when they say the /k,g/ sound".

The Importance of Homework

Homework/home practice is just that: practice. We wouldn't expect an attorney to tell us how to draw up a will on our own or a dentist to send x-rays home with us so we can determine how to fix our teeth, so why should we expect parents to teach their children how to say their sounds correctly? That is exactly why, on my homework sheets that I make, I have an option that reads "After your helper says each word, tell where your sound is (beginning, middle, end)". If a student is working on the sound level, I don't want the sound to be practiced incorrectly, so I have discrimination worked on instead. At Eligibility Meetings, when parents ask what they can work on, I tell them to read to their child and let them hear how to say the sound correctly. I explain about the homework at that level and tell them they will be able to tell by the homework how their child is progressing.

Homework/home practice helps create ownership, responsibility, and helps with carryover to environments other than the speech room. Yes, it takes a little bit of planning each week, but aren't your students worth it?

picture of a woman puckering her lips, sitting with a little boy. Caption below: How to know what's appropriate for Speech Homework.

The Need to Tailor Lesson Plans to Your Own Caseload

The views and opinions in the post are my own. 
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
If you have to write lesson plans, then I'm truly sorry. From the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry that your administrators don't understand that the goals on the IEP are your lesson plans.

Over the past few years, lesson plans and activity calendars for Speech/Language Therapy have popped up on TpT. Your time and money can be so much better spent than taking (or buying) someone else's lesson plans. Take that time you are using to tailor them, and write your own. Novel idea? No. Every one of us is intelligent...if we weren't we wouldn't have those credentials behind our names. There is no way that someone can use another SLP's lesson plans; there are just too many factors. Besides the students' needs, there is also each SLP's personal therapy style as well as the principal's preferred format.  Sure, we all plan. Most of us at least write down (or have in our head as we become more experienced) what activities we're going to do for each of our groups.

You Know Best

No one knows your caseload like you do. No one knows exactly what skills your students should be working on like you do. No one knows your style of therapy like you do. So why buy plans and therapy activity calendars that someone else put together based on their caseload? Yes, it takes time, but it's not that difficult and it will benefit your students so much more. In addition, you will grow by leaps and bounds as an SLP.

Making Ideas Your Own

I'm definitely not saying that we shouldn't be looking at what other SLPs are doing and getting ideas from them. Some of my favorite things I'm doing with my data collection and therapy aren't my own ideas. But I have taken those ideas and tailored them to my style of therapy. What works for one person isn't going to work for everyone. Please don't try to fit your students into someone else's mold. It just won't benefit the student and it will probably end up frustrating both you and the student.

Individualize!

Write each student's goals to their individual needs. Don't try to write goals according to what cute materials are on TpT. To be perfectly honest, the students don't really care how cute it is; they just care that it's fun and engaging. My students love when they throw chips in a cup to see how many they can get in. Not cute, and to be perfectly honest, not very creative but they love it.

If at first you don't succeed...

My advice to young SLPs is this:  Save your money. Use your talent to create your own style of therapy. Tailor your activity calendar to your caseload. Have faith and confidence in yourself that you can do it. You don't have to do it perfectly those first few years of being an SLP; you learn best by trial and error. You can do it! I have complete faith in you!

Need help getting started? These posts may help.
How to Build a Play-Based Lesson Plan
Lesson Plan Template
coffee cup on table with plant and open writing book with text under the picture


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