Communication Board Maker and Pass the Pigs

19 Feb

I thought I was going to have a break for a while but I find myself working in an elementary school again. There is a high need for substitute  SLPs in the schools here and I couldn’t say no. On the bright side, it provides opportunities for blog post  topics.

So now you are wondering how Pass the Pigs has anything to do with communication board software.  Well this is a recent game I added to my collection and so I  did not have a communication board or access to software to make one.  Before thinking of making a purchase I started on a quest to see what was available on the web.  I found Picto-Selector.  I was surprised to  see the  possibilities with this free program.  A donation is encouraged. Best of all sharing was not prohibited as long as you  made sure you provided a link back to the site for recognition. The site is here: Picto-Selector.  You do need to download and install a program but it didn’t take long and I was happy it  passed the virus check on my computer. For a free product, I found the program to be quite flexible and user friendly.   A library of pictures is available within the program. You can use their grids but I chose to use my Power Point program  and make my own grid. I was able to drop pictures from the program and size them on that grid.  This also allowed me to insert my own pictures of the pigs.  I am happy with the results. You may want to give it a try.  The board at the top is an example.

As I have said before, I found that providing communication boards and game activities not only aids nonverbal students but add structure for building sentences and listening skills for some of our students with language processing difficulties.  Games can be used to reinforce turn taking and handling disappointment for those having difficulty with social skills.  Deep breaths and dot pressure anyone?

Here is your warning for  a topic change.   Recently I have I used Pass the Pigs as a game reinforcement. I was surprised to find my youngest students at the elementary school  found this game appealing.  A cup with 2 rubber pigs doesn’t seem that enticing to me. They were more then willing to give it a try though. As with most of my games, I adapted it for my purposes.  Most of the students worked  toward their goals as a prerequisite  for taking a turn. This game was ideal for short turns.   I simplified scoring for my youngest students.   The score sheet that was included with the game was difficult to follow and we spent too much time figuring out pig positions for a score.  I put the new scoring on a communication board for easy access.  I also have some students who had a hard time dealing with the “pig out” score which meant they lost all points. I switched it to zero points which is difficult enough for some students to handle.  I also switched the scoring to if they got 2 pigs with scores above 5 they could add them together for the score.  It was just easier to know that then trying to look up the variations.  Each student was allowed one roll instead of going until they decide to stop.  This was so turns remained short. No one knew the original rules so I didn’t have  complaints.
I joined the February blog link up for special education.  It will bring you to similar blog sites.


 

Traveling SLP, What is in your bag?

15 Jan

 

I  just finished a couple of weeks subbing as a middle school SLP.  I find  am still enjoying getting to know middle school students.  After so many years with elementary level students, it has been a nice change. It is one of the benefits of traveling.  It gives you the opportunity to change work environments.

As I started another subbing experience I got to thinking about which therapy items were most helpful on the first day when I don’t know the students and their goals.  The SLPs have been good at leaving plans for me but of course stuff happens.  For instance an app I needed required a password I didn’t know. Also I couldn’t find the assigned worksheet which was probably in front of my nose at the time. I found it the second day.  Between bell schedules, student schedules, and locating students it can be a lot to figure out that  first day.

I was left a folder of goals, data sheets,and worksheets which was very helpful. The goals were your typical ones about building various complex sentences and articulation mainly at the sentence level.  There were students building a dictionary using Tier II vocabulary.  There were also a few others with social communication goals and using AC to communicate.

There was  a note stating I could make changes and use what I wished. I appreciated that note because it gave me license to change things up a bit.  Student’s appreciate the newness a sub can bring and I usually am better with materials I know rather than reading directions a few minutes before students enter that 1st day. I find students are more cooperative if you are interactive with them.

I thought fellow SLPs would like to know what materials were in my bag that first day and how I used them. I try to travel light and make everything fit in a beach tote I own.  I also put my lunch in there because I often don’t know how much time is in the schedule to find any.  It is one less thing to worry about. So lets look in that bag.

Chelsea was making sure I packed my lunch. Can you tell that it is often a worry of hers?

In my bag I brought  my Go Fish Deck of descriptive snowmen.  Go Fish is one of those universal games good for all ages.  Adding a descriptive feature, increases the therapy value.  I am always surprised to find a few students who don’t know how to play.  This school has high poverty and a newcomer population so this may not be that surprising after all. The deck consists of a variety of snowmen that are all different but enough alike that students really need to work on describing them.

In the game of Go fish, they asked for snowmen producing complex descriptive sentences.  Some  also worked on articulation in phrases and sentence.  They particularly drilled r, s, and th in the word “with” as they said sentences such as, “Do you have the snowman with a blue hat, a striped scarf, and a carrot nose”.  They also drilled  sentences such as, “There is a snowman who has skates on his feet, and is skating.”  I provided a sentence frame for some students who needed an example to get started.  A few students were working on written sentences so I had them write it out as a separate exercise from the game.

You can print yourself out a deck of snowmen by finding them at Speaking of Speech.com  in the Materials Exchange section, under thematic units and snowman game.  Click on the snowman below for a direct link to that section.

Many years ago I purchased a Dover Coloring Book called “Whats Wrong with this Picture by Anna Pomaska.  This is one of my prized possessions for a therapy material that is easy to carry . It can be used as a regular coloring book.  However, I have slipped pages into plastic sleeve covers so students can use dry erase markers for marking on the page and then they can be wiped off for the next group.   Students enjoy finding the things wrong in the pictures and they are good prompts for verbal production as well as written sentences.  I found that Amazon.com still sells this book. You will not regret having this in your bag. click on the picture below and it  will provide a direct link to Amazon.   I do not have any affiliation with Amazon and do not get anything from the purchase.

I also  brought an assortment of my cards from this web site and TPT.  I am finding that a lot of these cards also work for middle school.  I used the Tier II vocabulary cards heavily because they happen to be some of the same words they were putting in their dictionaries.

I paired these up with an old game called “Pig Mania”.  It is a dice type game in which you toss pigs and get a score depending on how they land. I believe this is now  being sold as “Pass the Pigs.” in many toy sections of stores. It added a little bit of incentive after each task card.

The students working on social skills used various apps and problem solving using a 5 point scale to rate behaviors.  Commercial materials were provided so I didn’t go into my bag although I did have my “Size of the Problem” with me.

So that rounded out my day and I was able to cover everyone with the things in my bag.

This post has been added to a link party of similar blogs.  Click on the button to see what else is out there.

Free Association Task Cards to Celebrate the New Year

27 Dec

 

 

 

 

I have been working on more categories of association task cards of late.  I thought my blog readers might enjoy having something new to start the year.   These are similar to the previous sets I have made but cover plants, land elements, and transportation vocabulary.

This is a sample set for you to try.  It has 12 cards and the complete set at TPT has 32.

I find this vocabulary to be more difficult for elementary and have you used it with the middle school population.  When you add them to the previous free sets you should have about 36 cards.  If you haven’t downloaded the others you can do a search for task cards and find the others.

As many of you know, one way to build vocabulary is to develop word association skills.  These are  task cards to help develop that skill.  When given a set of four words students compare and contrast  words to find which word  does not belong in  the set of four (the odd one out).  They then give a reason for their choice. This involves a higher level of thought process and awareness of word meanings beyond memorizing definitions.

A QRC code is  provided to explain the answer given.  Students can use this feature for self checking.   It is possible to have more than one answer although only one answer is provided.  You can download an  APP  on most mobile devices to scan and read the code. The reader is from  http://www.qrstuff.com/

The cards also lend themselves to answering wh questions, and using negatives such as  does/doesn’t in sentences.  I also  use them for eliciting spontaneous speech when  practicing articulation.

 

I hope you enjoy the free download and have a Happy New Year.  Thank you to all who have purchased from my TPT store and helped cover the cost of the “In Spontaneous Speech Blog.”  I have gotten thanked from people in my travels and that always makes me feel like  it is worth while continuing.

You can find the TPT set here. 

 

What Animals Teach About Communication

18 Dec

I am an animal lover by nature. I have lived with animals most of my life.  I have had a variety over the years; lab rats, a rabbit, cats, dogs, and horses. They have all  taught me a lot about communication.

Animals  may not communicate  in words but they definitely get  their messages across.  As anyone knows who has an animal buddy, once they get to know you as someone who will listen they will teach you how to communicate with them. They have taught me to look for more than just words for communication.  They have taught me the power of observation.

It is important to acknowledge that behavior is communication.  When you realize this, it opens all kinds of ways to interact.  This knowledge can help you when working with nonverbal students. I am not trying to compare humans to animals here.  I realize there are big differences.  For the purposes of this post, I just want to open your mind to nonverbal communication and observation of behavior. My animals have made me a better clinician with students who do not always communicate verbally.   Below are some things I have learned from them.

1 .Foremost it is important to establish a relationship. You won’t know full potential until you develop a good relationship.  I have marveled how animals keep their true personality from you until they trust you. Why would a human not  feel any differently.  Don’t make judgments about abilities until you get to know your students.  Take some time to get to know them and establish a relationship before you make demands.

2.  Play is not wasted time if it helps to  develop a relationship.  I worked with a student who was blind and physically impaired. He could operate a switch with his head. He had major difficulty interacting with his peers and most peers didn’t think he could do anything.  He in turn would let everything happen around him.  I arranged voice output for him so that he could say a riddle and then give the answer.  His mother reported back that this was really successful in his apartment complex.  Children came up to him to interact with him for the first time.  He operated the switch correctly to tell a riddle and then would find the location for the answer by auditory feedback and scanning.  He loved it when they laughed at the answer. The children saw him as a playmate for the first time. We found out what motivated him and it opened up a new world to him.

3. Animals have taught me to look at communication from different perspectives.  They need to have a reason to communicate for their benefit. If they want something, they will make all kinds of requests. There are all kinds of ways to get attention and communicate. The dogs hit the pantry door for treats or the door to get out. I didn’t have to teach them that, they learned on their own. One dog is very vocal about the schedule.  He has dinner and treat time figured out and comes at the same time each day to tell me if I am late.  He is very vocal about it and I swear he can say words.  Even the rabbit would hop to the refrigerator when he saw the door open. He would put in a request for fresh parsley.  He surprised us one night by getting out of his cage.  He could have roamed the entire house but instead joined us in bed, right on top of my husband’s bare chest. I guess he got cold and was lonely.  Circumstance can be set up, but sometimes it happens naturally.  We need to be observant of those times and use them to our advantage.

4. Sometimes we get undesirable behaviors because needs are not met. Behavior can be communicating a want or need. It is important to look at the total picture and not just the behavior.  If you have had a rabbit you know it can bite through power cords in 2 secs.  He didn’t like us talking on the telephone if it took away from his petting time. He actually went under the bed and bit through the telephone cord while my husband was talking to my daughter.  One of my dogs doesn’t like it when I watch TV.  He makes a habit of grabbing fabric from my sewing supplies and running through the house, fabric flowing behind him.  It gets me off the couch every time.

Similar things happen with our students when they are bored or frustrated and need a change.  You may see biting, throwing, and hitting.  It is important to look at the total picture before working on the behavior.  What is the student really trying to communicate?  If they have an alternative way to communicate  will the behavior stop?  We should always look at this before punishment.

5. Horses have taught me about differences in perception and reactions to environment. Horses tend to be sensitive to environmental changes and if it is too different you flee and sort it out later.  I had an old guy that was pretty mellow under most circumstances.   I remember when I went for a first ride down the road in the Spring.  A neighbor had built a garden shed from  the previous Fall.  I really didn’t give it much thought because it had become a neighborhood fixture.  However the horse hadn’t seen it there before. It startled him and made him do a quick stop. He didn’t want to move forward.  It made him nervous because it shouldn’t be there. He gave it the evil eye, as I assured him it was OK.  Eventually I convinced him it wouldn’t jump out and he moved forward.   If I hadn’t been observant about the shed , I wouldn’t have known what the problem was.  It is important to look at problems from other perspectives.

 

When students are nervous about something and want to flee or need to stop to sort it out, give them time to adjust.  Sometimes we want things done fast when a little time is all that is needed. It doesn’t help to put the pressure on. Sometimes small steps are needed to move towards a goal.

6. You can teach good behaviors by repetition but you can also teach bad behaviors.  Sometimes you teach things without even realizing it.  If you stop at the same place while going in a circle more than two times with a  horse it  is likely to stop on his own on the third time. This happens with the lesson horses that get so use to the sequence and vocal commands of the instructor.  The students aren’t really controlling the horses and it can give the impression that the students are really good riders.

7. If you are teaching students, make sure you are not teaching one response for everything.  I often see this with yes and no responses which can be difficult to interpret because of the many forms questions take to get a Yes, and No answer.  Students may not be able to understand the question.  The yes may function more as an “I want.”  Yes and No responses may seem to be an easy and versatile response for a communication board but may actually be too vague for a student to use effectively.

I would love to hear from my readers about your experiences with animals. Have they taught you a lot about communication?

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Willie Go Boom Game Adaptation

2 Dec

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Are you ready for another game adaptation? I have used a game called Willie Go Boom a number of years as a speech therapy game to motivate communication. I did not blog about it sooner because it is a game that is no longer in production.  However you may come across it at garage sales or Goodwill. When I looked it up on the internet, I found it was originally produced in the 1990s   You can find it as a vintage game on Ebay or Amazon but it is a bit pricey of course.   Just like the game of Cariboo it has stood the test of time and is a treasure when found.  It is a game that is motivating across a variety of developmental levels from preschoolers through elementary age students.

The game  includes a red pump with a yellow handle. A yellow ball that is inserted on top and a spinner with numbers 0 through 4.  There are yellow chips to be divided between players.  My game came from a garage sale so I never had all the chips.  I used poker chips as a replacement and usually gave each child 3.

The directions for the game are simple.  Students spin the spinner and pump the handle the number of times indicated. When enough pressure is built up in the pump the ball will pop up from the top.  The person who pops it gives up a chip.  The game continues until only one person is left with a chip.  Depending on the level of the  students I sometimes do not use the chip feature and emphasize turn taking, the sequence and using a communication board to communicate.  It is also a great general reinforcement for those articulation students who just need a game with a quick turn.

The game is sturdy and has stood up to some pretty rough treatment.  I have used it with my life skills classrooms because it is good for sequencing, directions, and cause and effect.   After getting use to the pop noise they are enthused about doing it again. The ball often flys off to locations in the room if not caught.  This leads to a good use of prepositions.  I  used  the following communication board to encourage 2 to 3 word sentences and turn taking. If you happen to see this game I recommend  nabbing it.

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The Question Chain Group Activity

22 Nov

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Conducting speech therapy  in a classroom setting can be a bit of a challenge especially for a group of students with a wide variety of skills such as in a life skills program.   I often  have limited time and resources as well. I am thankful to have a number of activities in my toolbox that have worked in a number of settings.   The question chain happens to be one of them.

The question chain can be used to target a number of goals to include asking questions, answering yes and no questions, staying on topic, and concept vocabulary such as long short, and equal.

The only materials you need are plastic links or you can use strips of paper to make an old fashion paper chain.  If you use the strips of paper to make a paper chain, a stapler is best for connecting rather than glue.  It is faster and they stay together better. You need enough to make a chain of 10 or 15 links for each group you form.  I usually divide the class into 3 to 5 groups so there are 3 to 5 students in each group.  You can be flexible here.

The procedure is really very simple.  Yes and no questions are asked and students are polled in each group.  Each group puts a link together for each yes answer.  The chains get longer and are compared to see if they are equal or if some are longer or shorter.

Depending on your group you may need to have preformulated questions. You can vary the complexity of the questions by how you ask them.  It is really adaptable to the abilities of your group.  The following are possible example questions.

  1.  Do you have a brother or sister?
  2. Are you wearing blue?
  3. Do you have a pet (dog, cat, and fish)?
  4. Do you like pizza?
  5. Did you ride the bus today?
  6. Do you have short hair?
  7. Did you walk to school?
  8. Are you wearing red?
  9. Are your eyes brown?
  10. Do you like to eat carrots?

After giving some of the preformulated questions, the  students can  be given a chance to ask their own questions.

If you would like to follow some other blogs for special education, follow the link below.

 Just a reminder of the TPT sale. Dont forget to use the code for a discount.
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A Group Therapy Lesson for the Concepts of Half and Whole.

6 Nov

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At my recent assignment at the middle school, I did push-in  speech therapy sessions with the life-skills classroom.  Students had a variety of skill levels.  It can be a challenge to find activities everyone can do and enjoy. There was  not a curriculum or materials available to me so I ended up using my ingenuity to make lessons. That is when I was  thankful for the history I have posted here. I dug back to the beginning of my post archives. I did find some inspiration but it  was also an eye opener. My posts have come along way since then and the post really didn’t look to appealing.  I thought a revision would be helpful since it is unlikely many are finding it from six years back.

The original post was labeled Concept Group 12.  A real catchy title uh. That was before I realized the importance of a title for search engines or appeal.  It was a time when I was pushing into Kindergarten classes and teaching concepts using group activities.  Although each lesson focused on concept vocabulary, we also worked on taking turns, asking questions, and following directions.  The lesson I used this last week with my middle school life skill students  focused on the concepts of right, left,  top bottom, half, whole, and match.  The class still benefitted from working on social pragmatic skills, following directions, and concept vocabulary.

You need some old alphabet animal cards for this activity. Prepare the cards ahead for use in the classroom.alpaf1
          The ones I used came from an old reading program that was taken out of circulation. There are two free downloads available on the internet from Jason’s Online Classroom and  Jan Brett’s blog.

 

To prepare the cards, I cut them in half.

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Divide them into two piles.  One pile should have the upper halves and the other pile the bottom halves.  Count out the number of cards to the number of students. There is a possibility of 26 matched sets so you may not need all of them.  Do make sure you have the matches in the two piles.

In the classroom, pass out the top halves of the cards to students and talk about how it is only the top  half of the card or animal.  Show them that you have the other bottom half of their cards.

Mix up the 2nd pile of bottom half cards and place them in a box.  Let the students draw a random card and match it to the card they already have. This creates a somewhat  cooky animal which often elicits some laughter. You can take this opportunity to ask them if they have a match and how do they know it is not a match. You can also talk about bottom and top.

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The next part  works best if students are seated in a circle.  It involves following one and  two part directions as you direct them to pass the top or bottom to the student on the left or right. I vary the directions according to the ability level of the group. They may not be able to handle two part directions such as hand the top card to the person on the right. in that case I bring it down to one step such as pass the bottom card  and direct the direction.  After each pass they look to see if they have a match.  If they get a whole set they can keep it and discontinue the passing.  Keep going until everyone has found their whole card.

 

 

Sports and Occupation Association Task Cards: Free Trial

22 Oct

 

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A great way to build vocabulary is to develop word association skills. These cards are similar to the animal association cards but use sports and occupation vocabulary.   When given a set of four words students compare and contrast  words to determine which word  does not belong in  the set of four (the odd one out).  They then give their reason for their selection. This involves a higher level of thought process and awareness of word meanings beyond memorizing definitions.

The cards lend themselves to a variety of goals to include building vocabulary through word associations skills, answering wh questions, and using negatives such as  does/doesn’t in sentences.   They may also be used  for eliciting spontaneous speech when  practicing articulation at a conversation level. I am finding them appopriate for 5th through 8th grade.

I am posting a set of 12 cards for you to try out. Just click on the free trial button and it will bring you to the link for the free download.  If you find them useful, please consider purchasing the full set at Teachers Pay Teachers.  Your purchases help off set the cost of this blog.sports-thumbnail

free trial buttonThe full set at Teachers Pay Teachers consists of  a total of 48,  2 x 3 inch double sided cards; Included are 32 sports cards, and 16 occupation cards.   To make more durable cards print them on  card stock.  They are  double sided card with a front and back.  The front side provides the  word association task and the back side provides the answer.  Students may use the QRC code to get a confirmation of their reasoning. You can download an  APP  on most mobile devices to scan and read the code.

The apple button will bring you directly to the cards in TeacherPay Teachers.

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SLP: Reinvent Thyself

15 Oct

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It has been awhile since I have posted. I will try to explain what has happened since last school year.  You may remember I announced my retirement  last Spring.  You would think it would mean I have more time  to write on my blog. The truth is I wasn’t ready to take down the shingle quite yet. Getting retirement pay just meant I had a  safety net to go in another direction.  Being a  Speech and Language  Pathologist (SLP) is very much a part of my identity but I felt I wanted to enjoy life more and not have to worry about work everyday of the week.  I started to look for ways to make changes. Even us old timers need new experiences to revitalize.  I usually like to have my future planned out but this time I decided to see what would come my way.

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I thought of doing contract work with a travel agency but I didn’t want to travel or move far from my home base. I had enough of that being part of a military family for so many years.  We had managed to accumulate  a house, 3 dogs, and 2 horses which didn’t make moving easy.  That is what happens when you stay in one place for 16 years. Ironically, I didn’t have to go far.  A former colleague started her own business providing substitute SLP service for the schools in our area.  She was overwhelmed with so many requests at the beginning of the school year she asked  if I would join her and relieve some of the load.  She was also suppose to be retired.

One of the difficulties school districts face  is covering for SLPs who need medical or family leave.  SLPs are entitled to this benefit  but it often becomes difficult  if it is  actually taken. The part-time position is difficult to fill.  Not having someone for an extended time means the district is liable for makeup time.   Often this ends up as an additional duty on the SLP when they come back.  Regular substitute teachers don’t meet the requirements of a certified SLP.  Some school districts hire SLPs from travel agencies but they are expensive  and the contract SLPs are not always familiar with the procedures and paperwork of a school setting.

This type of position was exactly what I was looking for.   We divided up the assignments and I was back in operation as an independent contractor. This time I felt in control of my own schedule.  I could choose the contracts  I wanted to work and take breaks throughout the school year. This is important if you are a grandparent with grandchildren out of the local area and want to be able to plan a trip now and then.

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So I have been off to some new adventures this Fall, taking over as a substitute SLP.   It has been fun working with new staff and I have been getting to know  middle school students the last few weeks as I work a medical leave. It has some advantages.  So far schedules are already made and the paperwork is minimal compared to having my caseload.  I am finding that I am enjoying the older students who actually remain seated and have a more sophisticated sense of humor. I’ve also been able to get reaquainted with a few former students who moved to this school from past schools I worked at.

I do have some advice to SLPs who are retiring soon and considering this endeavor.  You need to be willing and flexible to work in a variety of settings and age ranges.  You need to be outgoing and learn your way around a building rather quickly.  It helps to have a few open ended materials of your own until you figure out what is available at the site.

My biggest mistake was leaving some of my materials at my former work site because I was certain I wouldn’t need them. I have been busy reprinting a lot of my materials on this site and TPT.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of them work for my middle school students also.

I would love to hear from other SLPs that have reinvented themselves. Have you been successful? Have you considered this as an option?

I have joined a blog link up for special education blogs. Just click on the button to find more special education blogs.

Are you a new SLP in the Public Schools?

23 Aug

Are you a new SLP working in the schools for the first time?  It can be quite overwhelming when you first walk through that school door. You are often the only SLP in the building so you are left to figure it out on your own. I first wrote on this topic in 2010 and I find that most of it is still  relevant today.  I thought it was worth a rewrite for our newest SLPs.Library-300px

When I first started working in the public schools, I was uncertain on how to start the school year. I did my school internship during the spring semester and therefore didn’t get the experience for the fall opening.  Everything was scheduled and running so I had no idea what I should expect.

My first school year was in a setting where I was the only SLP.  Since that first fateful day, I’ve started school years in about 25 different buildings in 10 different districts with every kind of mix of caseload you can imagine.   Some things have changed over those 30+ years, but much remains the same.  For your sanity, acknowledge that you will be overwhelmed for the next few weeks.  Even the most seasoned SLPs have that feeling the first week of school. `

The first week of school usually consists of meetings and trainings that may or may not be relevant to you.  This is where your ability to discriminate what is important comes in.  You will find much of the information you are given doesn’t pertain to you directly.   Try to stay tuned long enough so you get the information you need and don’t get overwhelmed by the stuff you can ignore. A lot of it is meant for general education teachers only.

You will need the following information. Try to obtain information on building schedules such as lunch, recess and any duties you may be assigned.  Staff meetings and child study meetings will be important for your schedule. You will need a list of teachers, grades they teach, and contact information such as phone numbers and emails.  Find out your technology person so you can get set up with a phone number and email.  Get important district numbers such as the Special Education Director and mentor SLPs if there are other SLPs in your district you can call when you need information.

Don’t forget to introduce yourself to the office secretary and custodian.  These can be important people to you during the school year so get off to a good impression.  The secretary may be able to give you class lists with teacher’s names.  This is very useful for scheduling and finding your students.  It is likely to change but at least it is a start. Gather all this information and post, file, or place it in a special notebook that will be easily available when you need it.

A floor plan of the building is helpful for finding your way around.  This may be posted as a fire alarm drill plan in your room. I am directionally challenged so maps are very important to me. One year I worked in a district that had two High Schools with flipped floor plans. I worked in both buildings.  I spent my year heading out in the opposite direction every time I stepped out of my room.  You would think I would have a 50% chance of being right but it didn’t work out that way.Sketch232133541

Try to get into your office/therapy room and see what furnishings and materials are available to you.  Sometimes you can switch out things like shelves, chairs and tables those first few days.  We use to have a room of unwanted furniture that went into district storage after that first week.  It was almost impossible to get furniture after that. It was also difficult to get rid of unwanted furniture.

One of the most important things to do is to get to know your teachers.  We may be tempted to do the more tangible things such as paperwork and bury ourselves in our office. Getting to know the people will be the most beneficial in the long-term.   The teachers you work with are your best resource and it’s good to have them working with you.   It’s important to introduce yourself so you are on speaking terms and they can recognize you. The teachers are most available on the non kid days so take advantage of that.

In my district case managers are required to make teachers aware of any special needs students in their classrooms.  Some my students have picture schedules and other items that need to be explained to their teachers. I give teachers IEP information or make sure they know how to access IEP information.  I request a copy of their class schedules with highlighted times when it would be best to see students from their rooms.  This comes in handy when I start scheduling.

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Many places now use computer programs for electronic IEPs and Medicaid Billing.  This may require some training, but it doesn’t take long once you start using a program. I recommend finding a mentor if at all possible to answer questions.   Computers have helped with keeping paperwork organized, but I don’t think it has decreased it any.  The paperwork load continues to increase as the powers above keep adding one more form to fill out.  The rules can be quite different on how IEPs and CUM files are stored and who has access to them.  If you are lucky there will be a procedural notebook you can use as a reference.

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Then it’s time to dig into those files.  I usually have files from new kids that have moved in.  These need to be looked at and updated fairly quickly.  Hopefully someone knows where the caseload files are and can direct you to them.    The first year is the roughest because you do not know kids from last year and the file represents all that you will know about a child.  I try not to get too hung up on what it says in the files.  Most of the time the worse cases in print are not really as complicated as they may seem at first reading.  Usually until you put a face to the file you will not remember much of it.  I usually read it over and put the goals and objectives on to my data sheets I use for recording information from therapy sessions.  This goal sheet is what I use when I do scheduling for therapy sessions because it is easier to manage a one page synopsis when scheduling and making groups.  I use a simple excel template for each child.   I update the sheet as new IEP goals are written annually.  The 1st year involved a lot of time to put them together.  After that I’ve saved them from year to year and it has saved me a lot of time and effort as I only need to do the new students.

There are a lot of apps out there to help with organization.  I typically run a to do list on my desk top  under headings such as permission to test,  testing due, report due, schedule parent meetings, IEP, and file paperwork.  As I go through files I started to place students under the headings.  I found that this relieved a lot of stress for me because I didn’t feel I had to keep it all in my memory bank. I try to look a month ahead which is not always easy to do.

I do not see students the first week of school.  The scheduling often changes after that first week and I found myself making too many changes.  A lot of kids need to become comfortable with their classmates and schedules.  I found that scheduling by grades and classroom worked best rather and then by goals. I found that I could differentiate within a small group rather than trying to get all articulation students together and all language together from several classrooms. I often took students on the off day of their specials schedule which meant it would be a special day in a classroom of the same grade. I avoided taking students from a special class because it was not fair or worth not having the motivation of the student.

I often spend the time the first day in the kindergarten room.  Teachers always benefit from a few extra hands to get kids settled and parents need reassurance that Johnny can do without them. I am often the case manager for one or more new  kindergarten students and need to get to know them. The rest of the week is spent organizing the schedule, getting meetings set for new move ins, and checking on kids I haven’t seen since last spring that may be able to test out.  I try to have everyone scheduled for services by the second week so I can do a test run.

Here is wishing you  a great beginning to your new school year. May your move ins have complete files. May your schedule have adequate breaks so you may actually have an adequate lunch break and your schedule have room for your ten 4th graders that can’t miss any core instruction.  Good Luck!