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


4 Tips for Getting Back in the Groove

Photo by Miesha Moriniere from Pexels
While friends around the country are just settling into their summer routines, the Southeast USA is gearing up for a new school year. I tell my husband constantly that only having a couple of weeks vacation at a time makes it much easier to go back to work than having a couple of months off. I spent my summer avoiding most things speech-related. I definitely needed that break. I read books, watched some Masterpiece Theater, and did some things around the house that had been neglected.  But now, with the beginning date for staff in just a few days, I'm desperately trying to get into the back to school groove.

Here's how I mentally prepare for getting back in the groove:
  1. Get my new planner in order. I actually did this in June, as soon as it was delivered. I have all of my personal and school calendar information in with stickers on the appropriate days in the monthly view. 
  2.  Check my school email. I haven't checked my school email regularly all summer, so it's time to see what is happening. I have to admit to fighting off a slight panic attack when I saw a video from the SpEd Office Staff. 
  3. Complete online Professional Development Courses. My school system requires some online training, so the perfect time to complete them is right before I report for the school year. The SLP Summit is an easy, quick way to load up on some CEUs.
  4. Clean out my bag. I had a wonderful bag that I used the past few years but it was beginning to show wear. I purchased a new one; it's not as big as the other one but I think it will work. 
Just doing those 4 things has helped me tremendously. Being organized is definitely an advantage. Stepping away from Speech things for a couple of months has also helped. We all need to step away and realize who we are, not as SLPs, but as actual people!
All of the "beginning of the year" things (seeing whose class my students are in, getting ready for Kindergarten screening & 1st and 2nd-grade re-screenings, getting meeting dates in my planner) can wait until I get in the building. For now, just concentrating on the four things listed above is enough. 
What do you do to get your mind ready for the beginning of the school year? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

More Back to School Posts:
It's Time to Brush Up On Your Therapy Skills...Especially for /r/!
The Beginning of the School Year: YOU'VE GOT THIS!
Can I Get a Summer Do-Over?
planner next to red flowers with pen and paperclip beside planner. Text on the planner: Enjoy the little things. Text under picture: Getting back in the groove. 4 tips to help you get ready for the new year.

How to Determine If Your Students Truly Master a Skill

Photo courtesy of Pexels
When writing goals, it's easy to indicate that the student has mastered a skill with 80% accuracy over 3 consecutive data collection sessions. But has he really mastered the skill? A few years ago I learned how to determine if your students truly master a skill. The student could achieve 80% over 3 consecutive sessions, but what if you were to continue another two or three sessions and he didn't achieve that percentage? Can you truly say he mastered the skill?

Mastery or More Work Needed

Cumulative accuracy is highly suggested for data collection with children with apraxia (Ruth Stoeckel, Sue Caspari), so my thought is that it will better determine if a language impaired student has truly mastered a skill. It seems that my language students will do well on a skill one day only to have forgotten what was taught the next time they come to therapy. They may eventually achieve 80% accuracy for three sessions, but using the cumulative criteria takes into account those days of poor performance. I know that once they have achieved 80% cumulative accuracy and are able to maintain it, they have mastered the skills.
Here is an example of a student who achieved at least 80% accuracy two times in a row 3 different times:
Now look at her cumulative accuracy:
If the goal had been 80% accuracy over two consecutive data collection sessions, I would have marked that goal as mastered. But, is it? This student obviously needs more work on this skill.

Google is a Timesaver

What is cumulative accuracy/criteria? It's basically a "running record" of your student's performance. I keep a record of how many correct responses were given as well as how many total responses. For example: if the student is working on multiple meanings, she may have 15 correct responses out of 35 attempts. I record those numbers on Google Sheets through Google Forms and keep a running record of the responses. I include a formula so I don't have to do the math; the spreadsheet does it for me. All I have to do is keep an eye on the final number to determine mastery over a certain amount of time. The beauty of the formula in the spreadsheet is that as more data is entered, the sums and the cumulative average adjust on its own.
UPDATE: Apparently Google changed something because as you add more data, the sums don't automatically adjust. I have had to leave blank rows and then insert the formula for the sums. If you have to add more rows you will need to modify the formula to reflect the additional rows.

In some previous posts, I demonstrated how to use Google Forms to make progress reports less stressful. With cumulative data, I just had to change the form to accommodate the number of responses instead of using only the percentage.
Is it necessary to use Forms in order to use Sheets? No, but I found that it's faster (for me, anyway) to just plug the information in Forms instead of having to insert a row above the sums and then take time to make sure I'm putting the numbers in the correct columns.  If your school isn't a Google School, you could easily make a spreadsheet on Excel with the same outcomes. An advantage to using Google Sheets is that once you put the formula in a set of columns, it remembers the formula and will transfer it to the other sets of columns so you don't have to insert the formula for each set.

Letting Google Do The Work For You

How exactly do you go about letting Google do the work for you? Please watch this tutorial and many questions will be answered!
Questions? Comments? Leave them below or email me at tnslp29@gmail.com .
Other posts offering tutorials so you can work smarter:
Organizing Your Data for Progress Reports
Using Google Forms to Make a Therapy Schedule
Using Tasks in Google Calendar
How to Make a Chart to Report Homework Results

**Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission*

How Classroom Testing Changed How I Prepare an IEP

picture of a laptop on a desk with a piece of paper. Chalkboard in the background.
Be honest: Do you look over your students' classroom testing results? I mean, really look at the results when developing an IEP? As a school-based SLP, it is my job to support the classroom teacher by providing speech/language therapy to students who struggle. I have to admit that I've been very lax with looking at the results of the test that my students have to take a few times a year. I would print the results and stick it in the folder without a lot of thought. My school system previously used the STAR test to determine a student's progress for reading and math. We now use the iReady, which has changed how I prepare an IEP.

What is the iReady? According to Curriculum Associates, The iReady Diagnostic is an adaptive assessment designed to provide teachers with actionable insight into student needs. The Diagnostic offers a complete picture of student performance and growth, eliminating the need for multiple, redundant tests. Diagnostic results also set a personalized learning path for each student, ensuring they're working on instruction that matches their unique learning needs.  The test is administered via electronic device three times/year. After looking at several of my students' results, I'm hooked! I have been amazed that the results from the test correspond with the language test results.

Breaking It Down

Let's take a look at the results and how it will help with writing an IEP.
(Click on the pictures for larger views.)
The first page gives you some very helpful information. In this Reading Assessment, you can see that this student tested on a Grade 2 Reading Level. When the domains are broken down, we can pinpoint where the deficits are. This student does well with phonological awareness, phonics, and high-frequency words, but vocabulary and comprehension of informational text are in the red. Comprehension of literature is also a deficit, but not to the extent of the other two.

Now let's see what kind of information we get from looking at the results for the deficit areas.
First, take a look at the "Developmental Analysis". This student has a "serious vocabulary deficit" and there is a possible cause. In this case, it could be due to "second word categories and multiple-meaning words."
Next, look in the "Can Do" box. Don't dismiss this box when writing an IEP; it's perfect for writing the strengths! Of course, you can add to it during the meeting as the team is discussing the student, but this gives a fantastic starting point when creating the draft.
The "Next Steps & Resources for Instruction" intrigue me because it's what we need to focus on during language therapy. Look through and you'll see it's exactly what we do in therapy.
The Can Do sections also give great ideas for starting points in therapy. Even though this student is able to describe story elements and make inferences, the results indicate that she is on Level 1. Since the student is in 3rd grade, the level should be higher. Look through these "Next Steps & Resources for Instruction":


Are you understanding just how valuable these results can be to SLPs during IEP writing and developing a language program for each individual student? Goals and objectives (if needed) are right there, especially when compared to the results of language testing.
Lastly, take a look at the Information Text Comprehension results:
This student can do a lot in this area, but with support. The goal is for the skills to be done independently. How are we going to support the teacher?


The Correlation Is Surprising

I'm not a reading teacher (we have interventionists for that) but I do work on the language skills required for a student to be a proficient reader. Every time I look at a student's results from this test, I am amazed at how closely related the results are with my language testing. Almost everything is spelled right out. It is so easy to cross-reference the results from my testing with the results of the iReady.
I will say that I have had teachers tell me that they take the results with a grain of salt; they aren't convinced that the results are an accurate indication of where the student is in literacy. They seem surprised when I tell them that from my perspective, the results and the suggestions are right with my language testing.

How to Gain Access to the Results

I don't have direct access to the results; I have to contact either my SpEd Teacher or my Interventionist for the results. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to email them to me, and I am only asking for them as their annuals come up. As meetings are held strengths and goals are tweaked (as they should be for meetings), but these results give the team an excellent starting point in the development of an IEP. An added plus is that it definitely helps with individualizing the IEP since the results are individualized.
To answer my own question posed at the beginning of this post: In the past, I didn't really look at the results, but you can bet I do now. The classroom teachers may not be completely on board with the information, but I think it is invaluable to SLPs.
How would you answer my question? What testing does your school system use to determine progress in reading?
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Education Law: Does It Make You Nervous or Fascinated?

Scrabble pieces scattered on table with the word "Law" in the middle
Disclaimer: This post by no means is meant to be viewed as legal advice. I am not an attorney, nor am I an expert on social media. This post should be viewed as a summary of key takeaways from a presentation by an attorney who practices law in the State of Tennessee.

Education law: Does it make you nervous or fascinated? It makes some people nervous to the point of being scared of it. Personally, I find it fascinating. Maybe it's because I'm a definite rule-follower. I want to do things right; I don't want to get in trouble! Our SpEd Attorney spoke to the Special Ed Teachers in my school system and gave us a lot of information in a very non-threatening but informative way. I think his initial plan was to split the 3 areas he spoke on in equal parts; however, he ended up spending a lot of time on the subject of social media.

Social Media can be a good thing

Social media can be such a good thing when used in the right way. We have to remember that we are employees, and everything we do can be viewed as a reflection on our employers and our profession. How many of us have gained ideas to help our therapy through social media? I don't think I would know what new things are happening in the world of Speech-Language Pathology without it. With social media, we have to be aware of the law in order to protect ourselves and our students.

1. Defining the line between concern and involvement

This is not pertaining to social media per se, but our former attorney told us not to give out our personal numbers to parents or "friend" them on social media. Their number one interest is their child, and even though they may be your "best friends", there may come a point when mama bear protects her cubs and shows her claws, as well she should. You have to remember that you are working for their children, not to be their friend. I see teachers who are just starting out in education talking about texting/messaging their parents and I inwardly cringe. In all my years in this profession, I have only given out my number maybe 3 times. Even then, it was only in emergency situations (like having to reschedule a meeting due to inclement weather). I don't accept friend requests from parents or TAs. My undergraduate program trained us well in the art of separating our professional life from our personal life. We were told over and over not to get too personally involved in our students. There is a fine line between being concerned and involved; experience will help you out with defining and not crossing that line.

2. Be familiar but careful

Our attorney ("our" being my school system's special education dept.) indicated that 68% of adults have a Facebook account and the largest growing demographic of social media is women over 55. Our students are on it so it's imperative that we at least have a working knowledge of it. Did you know that when you close Facebook without logging out the site continues to "mine" what sites you're going to? That's how those ads you see are pertinent to you. I think Snapchat may be a thing of the past (at least with my demographics it is). I remember one of my sons telling me about it and mentioning that the picture "goes away" after so many seconds. WRONG. All posts are kept on a server for data or ad targeting. 
Almost everyone I know is on some form of social media. In my opinion, parents are the most vocal. On Facebook, my community has a "speak out" group, and believe me, they DO speak out. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't. As a school employee, I would think it would be very difficult to restrain from making comments. I haven't ever looked at that group but have heard about some of the postings. I feel very positive that some administrators have had to contact parents to request posts be removed or, at the very least, retracted. 

3. Know your school district's social media/cell phone policy

For your own protection, take a look at your school district's social media and cell phone policy. If you don't know where to find it, ask your administrator. If you don't understand it or need clarification, ask your administrator. 
The attorney presented 3 different scenarios concerning students and discussed whether there are infractions. In the first case, a student is using social media during class. Disciplining the student should be referred to the school's policy on cell phone usage during school hours. (The students should be aware and understand the school policies.) 
In the second case, the student insults the teacher on Facebook. This boils down to when it was posted.  According to the attorney, if it was posted during school hours or during a school event, it can be compared to the student verbalizing the insult to the teacher and the student may be disciplined accordingly. If it is posted after school hours, nothing can be done. In 2017, EducationDive posted an article on this subject. The court ruled that what the students do in their time away from school is not the school's business. You can read more here.
In scenario 3, a student threatens another student online. In this case, please look at your state's policies/laws. In my state, cyber threatening is a zero-tolerance offense. 
He also presented 3 situations specific to school employees. First bottom line: don't post anything during school hours. I know there are times when I will schedule something to be posted, but in order for these posts to go live, I have to actually get on Instagram for it to be posted. I can schedule Facebook and Twitter posts to automatically post and (if I had it) I could schedule Instagram posts to be automatically scheduled through a program. I am assuming that if investigated enough, there would be evidence that I scheduled a post during school hours and didn't actually access social media at school. The second scenario has an employee blasting teacher pay online. Apparently, this is okay, as long as a specific person or administrator is not named. I'm not sure why anyone would ever even think about doing this last scenario, but apparently, it's happened: an employee insults a student on Facebook. The attorney said there are 3 laws on confidentiality: State, FERPA, and IDEA.  Information that is protected under FERPA: birthdates, addresses, grades, scores, discipline, and health. Honestly, I would think it would be better just to hold your tongue (or fingers in this case) and just be quiet.

4. Parents and Social Media

About parents and social media use: The parent is allowed to discuss his child's grades online. He is also allowed to call the teacher various names on Facebook (freedom of speech). That being said, if the parent states untruths about the teacher or insults the teacher (such as saying the teacher can't teach & is having an affair with a colleague or administrator), the teacher can sue the individual but not through the school system. This (according to our attorney) would be a personal matter. 
We, as educators, need to know that if a parent abuses their child on social media it is our duty to report this. Find out your district's policy on reporting abuse and follow it. Our attorney said that if we file a criminal complaint with police it will not be anonymous; however, if DCS (or your state's children services department) is contacted, you can say the report is anonymous but make sure you ask for the intake number and write it down. When giving a report, keep emotions out of it and only state the facts. 

What about "Freedom of Speech"?

While reading different cases of teachers being terminated due to social media posts, I noticed that the 1st Amendment was referred to. In the article "Facebook Fired", Kimberly W. O'Connor, Gordon B. Schmidt, March 2015 (Sage Journals), Pickering v. Board of Education (1968) was cited. A teacher was fired because he wrote a letter to the editor criticizing "allocation of funds between academics and athletics". The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this subject is a matter of public concern; therefore, Pickering's 1st Amendment Rights were protected. 
The research article goes on to say that if the person is speaking as an employee (in our case, as our district's employee) we are not covered by the 1st Amendment. Further reading of the article convinces me that our best defense is to say nothing about students in our posting on social media. 
Not at school or at a school event? It doesn't matter. Cases have been heard that have supported the school district's disciplinary action against an employee. Personal blog? Doesn't matter. If you have a personal blog and post school-related remarks you could be held liable. 

It's just not fair!

You may be thinking to yourself: This just isn't fair. Why, as a school employee, am I held to a higher standard in my personal life than people in the corporate world? Think about it: throughout the history of education, teachers have been held to a higher standard. In the infancy of our country, teachers were fired for doing things that were considered "immoral" for that time. In the 1800's, the rules were pretty specific:
They were a little more specific in 1915:
List of rules for teachers from 1915
From Open Culture
As school employees, we shape little ones' lives. During the school week, the students are in school more than they are at home. They look up to each of us, no matter what our role in the school is. Maybe it's just me being Old School, but it just seems right to me. 

Don't be nervous by education law. Educate yourself, ask questions, and just follow the law. Keep your students and their parents off of social media and keep your comments (both good and bad) about them to yourself. I don't know this to be a fact, but if you post something about a child, I would definitely have the parent look at the post first and sign a waiver. That being said, the best thing to do is to steer clear of it.
pinterest pin with scrabble pieces on the top with the word "law" in the middle; the bottom has the words "Educaiton Law: How does it make you feel?" on a green chalkboard background.

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