Carryover Activities for Speech Therapy

5 Nov

No matter what goals you are working on with a student, there comes a time to move those newly developed skills outside your therapy setting. This is referred to as carry over.  For some students we know it can be a real struggle.  We all have experience with the student who does a perfect /s/ during therapy and then you see them  in the hallway and they turn to you to ask “Is it my peech day?”  All of  that work does little good if it does not  transfer to the real world.  Therefore carryover skills are important to address. It is important to have this in mind from the very beginning.   

There are things to keep in mind when planning tasks for carry over.  It is important that the student is able to do the required task correctly in a controlled setting and hear the difference between his correct and incorrect productions before doing homework assignments on his own.  If he doesn’t self correct errors he is likely to practice homework wrong which only reinforces errors.  Homework  should be given at the level where student is successful.

It is important to reinforce the correct behavior to get it established but after that don’t give immediate feedback every time.  Instead, teach self monitoring by asking the student what they think about their production and then give feedback.  This makes them responsible for their behavior and not as dependent on your approval.  Children often work for approval and do not see the big picture.  We want them to be self-disciplined and responsible for their actions.  I often tell them they need to become their own therapist because they certainly don’t want me following them around all day correcting them.

As soon as students are at a spontaneous sentence level I encourage them to self monitor by using  a  hand counter  or tally counter. They self monitor by  making a click each time they observe themselves doing an assigned task correctly during therapy.  This could be monitoring a correct speech sound, using correct grammatical structures, or using fluency techniques. All those things we tend to work on. 

Hand counter

It is easiest to do this in an hierarchy.  Train the student how to use the clicker when reading a word list or reading sentences that have the words they are working on. Then bring it up to the next level by working on  more spontaneous productions.   The Silly Sentences in the  “Expressive”  section are great for a reading task.  It goes to the next level of spontaneous speech when student explain what is wrong with the sentence that was read.  The Association cards in the “Vocabulary” section are also a way of getting more spontaneous output as the student explains how words are similar  in meaning. I often have students working on vocabulary skills as well as sound production in the same group.  With the clicker almost any task that requires a spontaneous response can work and meet a variety of needs. 

There are a few bonuses for having the student use the tally counters.   You can keep track with a second counter or paper and pencil, and compare accuracy of the self monitoring as well number of attempts with the student’s tally.  The students finds it motivating to hit a target number of correct productions and you have data for your records.

The clicker can add natural controls at the  level of conversational speech.
 Often students get carried away with a conversation, and forget to monitor or allow others to talk.  The flow is stopped if you need to remind them.  The tally counter in their hand is a good reminder there is a goal in mind. When working with multiple students you can give an assigned number to tally before passing it to another student.   The group can earn a chosen activity when they reach a certain number.  For some reason the clicker by itself can be motivating to some students.

The “Social”  section at the top has quite a few activities to encourage spontaneous speech in social situations.  There are ideas for role playing in this section.  Role playing is a good activity for practicing   real life situations.  Ideally you will be providing tasks that reflect real life speaking  situations so students practice what they will actually be saying and then carry it over.

The Forms and Letters section has a “Home Work Rating Scale” I have used to get feedback from parents, teachers, and caregivers. The student becomes aware he is being listened to by others and parents know what can be expected from the student.  I often use this sheet as an exit requirement.   When parents have been part of the process, they are more likely to know and agree when it is time for the student to discontinue speech services.

I hope you find something you can use in this blog post.  I enjoy hearing what works for you or any other feedback.  You are always welcome to leave comments.   In addition, let me know if you run into links that do not work.  I found some recently and deleted or fixed them.  It is a hard thing to keep track of some of these things.  

For those of you interested in buying Teachers Pay Teachers products there is a sale you might want to  take advantage of.








 

 

Crocodile Dentist Adapted for Communication

7 Feb

I updated Crocodile Dentist with a new communication board.   It was a popular game with my early language learners and I managed to wear out two crocodiles since the original posting in 2013. This was a great game for speech therapy reinforcement and to encourage communication. Apparently some of you are still using it.

Readers  have requested the communication  board I made to go along with the game but unfortunately I don’t have it any longer.  It was left behind with the game when I moved on to other schools.  I no longer have access to the program Boardmaker to print the digital copy. However, there is a free program called Picto-Selector that I have been using to make communication boards.  This program may be a good option for some of you.  Click on the colored print to find the site to download it. I made the board below using it. If you want to download this board click on the board below.

Meanwhile, here are the game adaptations I posted about in 2013.

Crocodile Dentist is a plastic crocodile that has a spring loaded mouth.  The mouth closes when a certain tooth is pushed down. Kids enjoy the suspense of seeing who is going to get bit. I give the  kids an option of using using a tongue depressor because some take this quite seriously. The trigger tooth changes location each time the mouth is opened.

Some of you may already use this game for reinforcement.  I thought you might like to know how you can expand its use a little further.  I use it to expand a student’s verbal output to 2 to 3 word phrases using a communication board and to follow directions using prepositions.

I colored the teeth alternating colors using permanent markers.  I used pink, green, and orange because I already had a die that had those colors.  If you don’t have a die you can make a spinner or use colors for a die you have.

For my students with limited verbal abilities, I use the communication board along with the die in a plastic jar.  I have the students shake the die to get the color of tooth they need to push down.  I then model phrases using the communication board while playing the game.  The game creates a lot of opportunities for repetition of phrases such as “I have ….” or “push down green tooth”.  I also reinforce saying “your turn” and “my turn.”   After repetition the students start to say the appropriate phrase when you point to the correct icons as a prompt.  Finally, they may prompt themselves by pointing to the icons and verbalizing.  This is a good way to break up an imitative pattern that often happens when training non-verbal children and uses a natural context for turn taking.

The colors are used in the direction cards also.  Click on the free download icon for the cards.  Cards were made using the concept vocabulary:  next to, beside, between, right, left, colors, not, side, front, either/or.  Children take turns drawing the cards and following the directions for the tooth to be pushed down.  We play a variation by giving each child three poker chips.  They feed the crocodile a chip if he bites.  The person who feeds all three chips is the winner.             

 I provided a word program down load because I thought people may need to adjust the color words for their needs. If you have any difficulties with this, leave me a comment.  Print out the cards and have the students pull them out of a bag and then follow the directions while playing the game.

A reminder that Teachers Pay Teachers is having a February sale.  If you have been putting off purchasing, now is a chance to get a discount. Don’t forget to use the code.

 

 

The Virtues of a Grab Bag and Grab Bag Hack

1 Nov

Have you ever wished for extra arms while conducting speech therapy?  Who can forget those early days of  SLP training and starting of clinical hours.   At the time, it seemed impossible to manage everything. I wished for more hands to manage materials, data taking tools, and especially the young clients.   If you turned  your back, your clients had control of the materials and you became an octopus trying to get them back.  This was not a good start to the session.

I got  to thinking about the hacks I discovered along the way that made a difference.  A grab bag was one of my real life savers. If you haven’t discovered the virtues of a grab bag  you have really missed out.

There are lots of advantages to using a grab bag.  A bag allows for control of the materials and prevents students from helping themselves to  items before you are ready to use them.  It allows for controlled  turn taking.  Only the person with the bag has access to the items. They  take items one by one before handing it on to the next person.

It creates  intrigue for some  students who would not otherwise be interested. Who doesn’t like discovering what is hidden in the mystery bag?   And finally, when you find yourself switching locations and working from room to room, you can keep better tabs of those small pieces if they are contained in a  bag that is portable.

I used grab bags frequently with my  early language learners, especially in small groups.  It creates a natural context for communication boards when training core vocabulary such as “I have, I see, I want,” and that mportant question for vocabulary development,  “What is it?”.   I have used grab bags with a activities such as potato head, the car races, and windup toys.  You can use a clear freezer for students who need  to see the parts and request them.

Here is an example of a communication board I used with  mechanical toys and a grab bag. The board is made from Picto-Selector graph which is a free download.  It can be found at https://www.pictoselector.eu/  

A bag can also be used with older students seated around a large table.  The bag can be passed so items can always be reached.  You have one less thing in your hands which really helps when taking data.  You can even have different  bags and different cards in each so students can work on different objectives by pulling from their bag. I have a lot less trouble with a stack of cards being scattered across the table and floor.

I imagine you are saying, “I want one of those. Give me the directions for that grab bag already.”   Well here they are:

Find an old sweater or sweatshirt that has long sleeves and cuffs.  Simply cut the sleeve off, turn it inside out and sew across the flat bottom.  You can glue the bottom opening closed with a glue gun if you can’t sew or don’t have a sewing machine.  Turn it back to the right side and you should have a bag with a cuff opening for the top. Now tell me that isn’t simple.

 

 

Halloween Trial and Error Activity for Social Skill Building

5 Oct

 


It has been a while since I posted but I am back. I had a great summer visiting family and am refreshed.  Recently, I was looking at old posts.  Back in  April 2013, I posted about an activity called Trial and Error Pass.  I have always felt this activity had a lot of value. I was surprised to find the post is now 4 years old.  Some of you may not even remember seeing it the first time.  Sometimes when an activity is packaged a little differently It allows for multiple presentations without students disengaging because they have seen it before.  I decided to rework it  with a Halloween theme.

Halloween is often a time when students are allowed a group celebration.  Students may think it is time off from work but little do they know.  It is an opportunity to build social skills.   Trial and Error Pass is a good activity to use with small groups or a class.  For those  who are working on social skills, it provides an opportunity for students to generalize skills into a classroom setting.

You can make this activity easily enough on your own with  clip art.  If you want to save some time and effort you can down load it from my TPT store for a  minimal cost. Just click on the button for a direct link.

The activity requires students to use a trial and error method of problem solving.  It reinforces the idea that mistakes are not necessarily bad and can be used for learning.  It also teaches students to work together toward a common goal.  The solution is found by observing the mistakes of everyone and it would be very difficult to succeed individually.  It also requires students to use their short term memory and make inferences to predict the pattern.

This activity can be used with small groups of students, two competing teams, or with one or two students.  The object of the game is to cross a grid in 6 moves stepping on the correct sequence of objects.  They determine the path by trial and error.

 

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Cards are laid out on a carpet in a grid pattern.  If you do not have room to lay them out you can print off a grid to make a game board and use a game marker to represent the person crossing  the grid.  I think using large motor movements makes it more interesting for some students.

A judge, who could be a student or teacher, is selected.  The judge takes one of the  pattern cards that will be the solution to the stepping pattern.

A student begins the challenge by stepping on one of the objects in the first row and moves one row ahead for each step.    As the move is made the judge indicates if it is the correct one by saying right or wrong move.   There are  buzzer sounds available on apps for electronic devices that make it even more engaging for some students.

The  student continues to move forward as long as he steps on the right object.   If  it is the wrong step the person returns to the start or the end of the line and watches the attempts of others until they get to the front of the line again.  The students may notice that a pattern is developing as students discover the correct moves.  This will speed up the progress until someone finally makes it across.  The students should be reinforced for working as a team and not make it an individual competition to make it to the finish.

If you prefer not to have a Halloween them to the activity there is the generic version. Just click on the button and it will take you there.

This fall I am enjoying my retirement status and doing things I didn’t have time for the last few years. It was nice not to have the stress that comes with the beginning of the year.  I have been thinking about all of you SLPs in the trenches.

I hope your year is going well.

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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.

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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The Question Chain Group Activity

22 Nov

chain-links

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.

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A Group Therapy Lesson for the Concepts of Half and Whole.

6 Nov

alpa-4
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.

alpha4

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.

alpsf2

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.

 

 

SLP: Reinvent Thyself

15 Oct

retirement-humor-03

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?

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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!