Social Thinking® conference

27 Oct

I went to the Social Thinking® conference  presented by Michelle Garcia Winner, Pamela Crooke & Stephanie Madrigal in Portland.  Now I am energized to try new strategies with some of my social pragmatic challenged  students.  I attended the first 2 days which focused on Lessons and Strategies to Help in the Classroom and Beyond.  We were the first conference in the tour and it had to be one of the largest conferences I’ve ever attended with about 500 people.  It was so good to see the mix has expanded to counselors, administrators, and general education teachers.  Because it was the first session, it was a trial to see how much material could actually be covered.  Parts had to be skipped because of time limits but we still covered a wealth of information.  I especially appreciated the video clips of sessions from Michelle’s clinic.  I also enjoyed seeing the progression of students who were on video clips 5 years back.   This conference mentions the Superflex series and a new book in that series but does not dwell on them.

I attended a presentation by Michelle about 5 years ago and it is amazing how her program has expanded since then. Her program has become even relevant for our caseloads today.  She presented how our goals and objectives can tie in with the state core standards. The handouts are especially helpful when talking to parents and teams. I found it gave me a whole new reference point when determining strategies and actually used it directly the next day when talking to students and teachers.

Upon my return, I found myself reshuffling my schedule to make groups for instruction in Social Thinking®.  Our school counselor started to use Superflex for whole class instruction but I realized I had a number of students that were not getting what they needed in our large class sizes.  I feel this type of instruction will have the most impact for students as they mature.  I recommend you go to the conference if you have the chance.

October Bulletin Board and Activities

20 Oct

It really has been a busy month .   I decided I better post before the month is over.  Just to give you a heads up, I added another page to record group activities.  I am finding my group activities tend to get buried in the blog when I try to refer back to them.

I have been using a theme of spiders this month.  In our part of the country the spiders really come out of hiding and webs are very noticeable.  Children are always fascinated by them.  I am working with a younger population and students with more severe disabilities that require a lot of repetition and motor activities to keep them interested.   I find if I can use the same theme vocabulary with a little variety in the activity they are more likely to keep interest and retain the vocabulary.   It helps to find a theme that has a lot of activities. I discovered there are really a lot of songs, rhymes, and crafts around the topic of spiders.

The first project I started was the bulletin board.  I got my idea from enchantedlearning.com.  They had a craft that used glue, black paper, and glitter to make a spider web.  You know how the students and I love glitter.  Besides, we have a new janitor and I had to condition her.   She was nice enough to take it in stride although she said it may take awhile to get rid of the last sparkles.  I really do try to keep the mess down, but my drying box turned out to have a hole in one corner.   In the past, my room has had  a trail of glitter coming from it down the hall.

The spider web craft project was meant for individual webs.  However, I decided we could make one large web if we joined them.  I like to promote group effort for social pragmatic reasons.  Before doing this project with the students, I tacked black paper up on my bulletin board.  I then used a white crayon and string to draw circles from the center.  I then added intersecting lines to make the web.  I then took the black rectangles down and cut them into squares for the students to use.  The students put glue (white glue or heavy glue stick) on the lines and shook the picture in my glitter can.  They always love seeing their creation when it comes out.  This gave the opportunity to talk about parts and the whole.  Warning!  If you have a lot of squares it would be good to number them before taking them off the board.   We then tacked the squares back up on the bulletin board to form the web.

I decided to extend this project even further for some of my older students.  They read Charlotte’s Web for their “Battle of the Books” last Spring.  If you remember the spider saved the pig by putting newspaper clippings in her web and spelling out words.  I encouraged them to add positive words from newspaper clippings to the web like Charlotte did.  It was emphasized that old newspapers and magazines are used and not books.   I added a spider made of yarn and pipe cleaners in the corner.   The older students also used one of my favorite app programs “Storykit” to sequence the directions and provide the oral commentary.  This was used as a visual direction for the younger students.

The counselor and I run social pragmatic groups in the two Life skills classrooms.  We brought spider activities into those classrooms as well.   You may notice I have added a new page, listed above, to keep record of classroom activities for this population.

The  1st  session with this group involved calling a name of an individual to get attention, using eye contact,  and then tossing a small rubber ball to them.  This encouraged a number of social pragmatic skills around how to get someone’s attention and make a communication exchange.  It also was good preparation for the yarn activity coming up in another session.  We had pictures of the kids which we placed under colored paper leaves.  We sang the song “ Where is Thumbkin?” and used the kids names.  It promoted using names, the colors of the leaves, and asking where questions.

In the next week, session 2,  we used a ball of yarn instead of a ball  for the tossing and kept hold of the yarn with a left hand.  The yarn stretched across the center and built a web of sorts.  This promoted group participation because everyone needed to remain connected for it to work.  We added concept words such as over and under when talking about the yarn.  For a 2nd activity we introduced spider songs, “There is a Spider on the Floor”  from http://kinderkorner.com/spiders.html.  I used a free app called SoundingBrd to build a 2×2 communication board.  The board was used by our non verbal students to direct what body part the spider should go when singing the song.  This introduced body parts and basic prepositions.

For  week 3  we used a sheer length of fabric ( I think it was a curtain in a previous life) and placed a beanie baby spider on top.   The students grabbed hold of the edges and followed directions of holding it up, down, low, high etc.  The spider could be slid down the fabric by holding it up and down on the ends.  This introduced some more prepositions; up, down, edge, and end.  We sang there is a spider on the floor again and reviewed prepositions again.  We put pictures of the students behind leaves.  They guessed where individuals were behind the leaves saying a color plus the leaf.

For  week 4  of this theme we used spider rings from the dollar store.  The previous songs were used again.  The spider rings were placed in the locations mentioned in the songs.  Students were introduced to prepositions such as behind and in front.  A new song  “Little Miss Muffet” was added.  We hid the spider rings behind our backs and then sang up the notes as we crept up from our toes to our head.  For the end, we put pictures of the students behind cut outs of pumpkins and they guessed where individuals were.

For the older group we discussed near and far.  The students tossed bean bags as they got further and further apart.  We then used a spider in a game of warmer/colder except we used nearer/further.  One child closed his eyes while the spider was hidden.  The other students then called out further or nearer to the student until he located the spider.

We have conferences coming up so that takes us through the month of October.

A Flexible Brain

17 Apr

Today we continued to work with the social pragmatic group using the Superflex program.  The lesson of the day required the use of a flexible brain to illustrate how the brain needs to be flexible to grow and handle changes in its environment.  There is a comparison of a rigid brain with a flexible  brain. For those who do not know the program, Superflex conquers Rock Brain  who is not flexible and doesn’t adapt to change well.  He keeps getting stuck doing the same old thing.

The lesson manual suggested using a brain mold to make a jello brain.   I was in luck because I knew someone who I could get the mold from.  The manual   did not give actual directions or a recipe.   I  put this lesson off for as long as I could because  I do not have a good history with jello molds.  I have a history of  jello that sticks to the mold and never turns out looking right.  The thought of trying to work with one in the time line of classes had me worried.  I figured the jello would melt and be over the table before the session was up.

I researched jello  brain recipes on the internet.  It turns out that there are a lot of these.   Some of them are a bit on the gross side of things.  I decided to stay away from the worm and bug infested brains although I’m sure they would be attention grabbing.  I wanted something that would be close to flesh tone and stay fairly solid.  So  I  settled for the following recipe.

You need 3 boxes of jello with orange to pink colors (watermelon, peach), Evaporate milk (12 0z), green food coloring, and 2  1/2 cups  boiling water

Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water, Spray the inside of the mold with vegetable o spray.  Add milk and cold water to the gelatin mixture and stir until smooth.  Add 2 drops green food coloring.  The mixture should look more flesh-colored.  Add a drop at a time until you get the right color.  Pour the mixture into the mold and put in the refrigerator.  This brain turned out to be quite solid and kept its form several hours.

For the lesson, slips of  paper with brain functions from the categories of  social awareness, motor,and factual/science  are inserted  into the jello brain.  The students take turns  pulling  these out and talking  about them.  I debated the best method of getting the papers in the jello.  I ended up laminating the papers and poking them in after the brain was taken out of the mold.  This way ends of the paper were left sticking out and easy to grab with tweezers.  Surprisingly, the brain is still in good shape after the papers are removed and I can use it again for another group. No one asked if they could eat it.  I took a picture of the brain so you could  have a visual.

Working with/against the Unthinkables

18 Mar

Many of you may be familiar with the Unthinkables.  It is a name coined by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner.  They are part of the Superflex Curriculum that uses comic books and characters to teach strategies to conquer problem behaviors and gain thinking power over them.   I was able to purchase the program through the generosity of our school parent group.  This is the site for those who are interested. http://www.socialthinking.com/home

I have begun using the program with several of my students in small groups. So far I am impressed.  I have a few students who are on the higher end of the Autism Spectrum and have difficulty with social pragmatics.  They are often sensitive to anything that points out imperfections they may have.  In the past,  I’ve had difficulty getting them to participate in role playing.  Their initial reaction is to declare an activity as boring and then not participate.  Yep, my Destroyers of Fun.  On cue, that is how we started out.   The comic nature of the program roped them in and as soon as the props came out they included themselves.

The characters are a great feature of this program.  They let the students step back and talk about problem behaviors in an unthreatening way.  They actually start to recognize what they have in common with the characters. I was amazed how much information they had retained  after three sessions and sending the parent letter home.  They explained the characters and strategies to a guest therapist on the 3rd session.    It appeared they had actually talked about the characters with their parents.  I guess we all want to be super heroes deep down, and we all have those unthinkable moments we need to conquer.

I have been busy gathering materials to make the characters and props.  You don’t necessarily need a lot of props.  However they are useful in grab bags or quick role playing in limited space.  Many children respond better to manipulatives and props then paper and pencil activities.  A model of a brain is helpful to simulate the brain sensor.   I’ve found it helpful to visit craft stores and  thrift stores that have small toys,  fast food characters, and pieces  of toys.  I’ve learned that even if your children have grown you should never throw those things out.  Here is what I have gathered so far.   Can you guess the characters?

Image

     Here is a quick way to make super hero capes. I found a large men’s short sleeve sport jersey in royal blue at the thrift store for fifty cents.  I cut off the sleeves and came up to the neck and kept the neck band. The front and back gave me two capes.   I cut off the lower cuff area on the sleeves.  I then cut this circle and sewed each end to the neck band ends still attached to the cape.  It was stretchy enough it could fit over a child’s head and I didn’t need to put on fastners.  I did some hemming up the sides of the cape.  This may not be necessary since it might be material that doesn’t fray.

Using stories to teach social concepts

21 Jun

If you have worked with students with autism or other disabilities,  it doesn’t take long before you find out the value of a good story to teach social situations.  “Social Stories” is actually a trademark of  Carol Gray who first developed the idea and gives conferences and trainings on how to write and use  them.  In her words,  “The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience.”     She has developed a site that has more information then what I can possibly put here and I wouldn’t want to violate her trademark.   So go to Carol’s site to find out more information  on how to actually write one.

I have used stories  to help students correct challenging behaviors or deal with  new situations.  They can be written for all levels of development.  They can be made as a picture book or in just written form.  You can even use technology with program like ‘Power Point”.  If you  add a switch  a child with physical limitations can turn pages independently. Sometimes real pictures are helpful.  We’ve taken pictures of staff and the building to prepare a student for transition to a new school.  They’ve been useful for getting children to line up and return from the playground,  and wait their turn.  An important thing to remember is to focus on the positive.   Let the child know what  behavior you want them to do  and what to expect.  Don’t emphasize the bad behavior.  A child that is hitting for attention may actually need a story on how to ask someone for a turn or to play with them rather than “We don’t hit”.

There are many sites with already made stories.  They can be a resource for downloading or writing your own stories.  I have found stories on “Speaking of Speech“,”Boardmaker share“,and One Place for Special Needs. I’ve added a comic strip maker to the tool section.  This would be a great tool for  older elementary or middle school students who might like writing their own stories.

Peer-Mediated Interventions

20 Feb

I thought I would add a post for those people looking for the 7th Circle of Friends Session and not finding it.  Friday was a training day in my school district so we were unable to meet.  We will resume next Friday and I will make some updates then.

I did go to an interesting training session given by Kathy Thiemann-Borque, PHD, CCC-SLP on Addressing Social Communication Challenges of Children with Autism, Peer-Mediated Interventions in Preschool and Elementary School.  It was based on her studies  with Juniper Gardens Children’s  Project, University of Kansas.  The study validated that training peers to interact with students who have communication delays,  and then arranging interactions during an activity  using the trained students with  disabled students who  also received training  resulted in the most progress.  Adults may initially need to be present to facilitate the interaction but could eventually step back.  This allowed for natural communication interactions with peers even if  PECs or voice output devices were used.   During the baseline, the students, some using PECS or Voice Output,  attempted to communicate mainly with adults in the room and minimally with peers.

The “Circle of Friends” is set up with this same premise.  However it is geared more to middle and high school students.  This study demonstrated how peers could be used in preschool and elementary environments  by training them to use specific prompts.   Peers were trained to stay, play , and talk.  Peers often had more influence than adults in directing behaviors.

Although this model is being validated it is often hard to implement.  As the academic demands increase for students and teachers  there is less time left to arrange social interactions.  General education peers are not as available for training if it  takes away from academic time.  Permission needs to be obtained from the parents of the peer group because they are usually joining what is considered a special education environment.

It often takes the experience of an initial group to make people realize that it can reflect positively to the whole elementary environment.  It allows students to  interact appropriately with disabled peers rather than taking on a caretaker role.  The disabled students are seen as communicators with increased expectations.  It tends to decrease bullying as students are more impowered to step up and help if a student is getting singled out.

I would recommend going to this training if Kathy Thiemann-Bourque, PhD, CCC-SLP comes to your part of the country.  I would be interested in hearing from any of you who have attempted to form a similar group.

Team Challenges

20 Jul

I’ve been looking for more team challenges.  I never seem to have enough when working with my social pragmatic groups.  I came across a site named “Great Solutions to Team Challenges”.  It has a variety of challenges posted and I think I will try some of these next school year.  I put the site on the blog roll so I would have an easy time finding it.  I’m also connecting it here in case you would like to try some of them.  Just click on the title.

The Importance of Props

18 May

I have realized recently how important props can be when conducting speech therapy in groups.  Groups provide a natural setting to practice such things as turn taking, using positive speech, and solving disagreements in a positive fashion.  The participants of the pragmatic  groups  generally have difficulty seeing another individuals perspective and do not even realize when they have given an insult.    The challenge is to provide feedback to individuals in a timely fashion without singling individuals out.  When pointing out mistakes in a group, an instructor runs the risk of provoking an argument and disrupting  the session for the rest of the group.  A few props and starting rules can make a lot of difference.  It often helps to have the group formulate rules that can then be posted on the wall and numbered.  Typical rules  are allowing everyone a chance to talk without interruption, speaking positively, taking turns etc.  They can be referred to by number as needed.  When expectations are set ahead by the group the instructor becomes less of an enforcer and more of a coach.  Other props I use are a plastic microphone from the dollar store and a spatula with a cardboard pancake taped to it.  The microphone is used to stress turn taking.  The child holding the microphone has the designated turn to talk. The spatula is handed to the student who made a cutting or discouraging remark to another student.  They are instructed to make a positive remark in replacement thereby flipping the pancake.

new social pragmatic activity

24 Feb

I’ve posted a new social pragmatic activity.  I’ve called it Crocodile Pass.  Please look in the social pragmatic section to download the directions.  This activity encourages students to learn from mistakes and to move on.  A lot of my students are afraid of making a mistake so won’t even make a guess.   They need to learn it is ok to make guesses and mistakes can be OK.  We can learn from them.  It also  requires them to use their short-term memory and make inferences to predict a pattern. It encourages using observation as a learning method.  So have fun with it.  I’m sure you will find your own variations.  We had a group that had some low functioning and high functioning students with autism.  One guy that would stay on the side lines finally joined the group and participated for the first time.  It made my day.