A Start to the New School Year for Speech Students

26 Aug

We often start the new school year trying to get acquainted with our students. There are the new incoming students you know nothing about except for a check mark indicating special education services on the registration records. If there is more than that, often the record hasn’t been updated for a year and isn’t that accurate. If you hit the jackpot, you might actually get the last progress report.

Then there are the parents who want to give their child a fresh start in a new school and see if anyone will notice prior difficulties if nothing is said. This is usually the child with behavior challenges among other things. Don’t worry! The teacher will seek you out within the first couple of days.

I love those parents that have kept all the paperwork in a file folder and can give you up to date and missing copies. In some cases, technology has improved things by linking records across schools but sometimes it still takes awhile before everything comes together. Meanwhile, you need to figure out student needs so you can get that schedule written.

Then there are your former students. There are your 1st graders working on sibilants who are sporting missing front teeth or new braces. That stubborn /r/ difficulty may have clicked in but you need to find that out because of course that child’s paperwork is due to be renewed the first couple of weeks of school. The best are those who were unintelligible a year or so ago and now speak clearly. The new teacher questions why they have speech on their records.

To start out the new year, I usually haul out one of my conversation ice breakers. It gets students talking and I get an idea of where to start. One of my favorites is a suction cup ball you can often find at Target, The Dollar Store or any party favors section. It would also be possible to use a dice or spinner with numbers. The questions can be written on a sheet of paper and numbered. I really like the suction ball. Everyone likes to throw a ball at a target and it is quite engaging even for reluctant students.

To prepare for this, I draw a target on a white board with an erasable marker making a few rings and target areas. I label the rings with numbers 1-6. I make a corresponding list of numbers and have the students brainstorm conversation starters.

For example at the beginning of the school year they may come up with questions such as:

1. Did you take a road trip during the summer? 2. Did you learn anything fun? 3. Did you get anything new? 4. Did you eat any fun foods? 5. Did you see any movies? 6. Did you read any books?

The students take turns throwing the ball at the target and then answering the questions according to the number area hit. The other students are then required to ask a follow up question according to the answer and topic.

I like this activity because students of any age and ability can do it. I have plenty of opportunities to observe their speech and language skills. I can observe students in a mixed group and see how they interact. I can use this activity to see how a student answers questions, stays on topic, and contributes to a topic that has already been started. It goes fairly quickly because turns do not take long.

I hope you find this post useful and have a good beginning to your school year.

It is time to get ready to go back to school.

5 Aug

I have worked hard on updating my TPT products this summer. For those of you who have purchased in the past, make sure you come back to freshen up your products for the next school year. You will be able to download the updated products without paying again.

You will mainly see differences in the covers and clipart. I tried to be more diverse and improved the quality. I made minor adjustments to the content and added a little extra. When I was reading some of the material, I had some of those “What were you thinking moments.”

Bundles provide a good value. You might want to consider them if you are a first time buyer and can take advantage of a 25% off sale.

In a few cases I added more to a product. I added another page of cards to “The Size of the Problem. People have asked for more scenarios so I thought I would add a little more value to it. It is included in the Social Skills Bundle. By buying the Bundle you are getting one product free.

I finished updating the complex sentence sets and they are also in a bundle.

If you are a new educator, take advantage of the free trials under the index heading at the top of the BLOG . I have been busy updating those as well. They are a good way to try out the cards on your students to see if they will work for you.

I know everyone is likely to be on a tight budget for materials. This site is meant to be a place where new and seasoned educators could get materials free or with minimal funds. It also needs to be self sustaining. There seems to be no way to do this without some advertising. Although TPT is probably annoying to some, I think it is better to have a self hosted BLOG site then have unrelated pop up ads that restricts the amount of access and downloads.

This brings me to my next topic. TPT has added a fee in addition to the commission if products are sold for less then $3. That is why you may have noticed products in the $2.00 range have raised in price throughout TPT. When a sale price is included, there is not much left going to the seller. I have adjusted some prices on products and tried to make them more worthwhile to buyer and seller by adding more pages. I am trying to keep the costs down by making my own clipart. They may not be as professional looking as some of the products, however the content is time tested. I appreciate those of you who have bought products and given me good reviews despite my odd clip art.

Click on any of the pictures and you will be linked to the product page on TPT. I hope you have a good start with your new school year.

Social Skills Updates

28 Jul

The In Spontaneous Speech blog is in the process of much needed reconstruction and updating. The adventure started when I recently updated the Social Skills products on my Teachers Pay Teachers Site. This resulted in the free sample products not matching here on the site and needing updating. Of course it then became a cascading effect of changes, some external and some internal. However, I think you will like the changes. I will move on to the other headings later on, and I will keep you updated. Please read on to discover the changes.

First I updated the free product samples on the Social Skills Page, and they are ready for downloading. I started with the Social Skills Page since many of those cards were the oldest and seemed the most outdated. I used new clip art and added additional cards to some of these products.

When you have a chance, download the new free samples and replace your older ones. You can check out the new free samples by clicking on Social Skills on the index strip at the top and following the page down. You will notice the new buttons.

I switched the down load storage site so it should be easier to do downloads. In the past you may have encountered a two step process to get to the down load and sometimes may have received a message that the site had reached its maximum downloads. This was another complicating factor of the old infrastructure. When I started many years ago, I used Keep & Share, Photobucket, and a few other places as data storage sites. I had links going to 3 or more places and some of those places have since added restrictions. It made it difficult to figure out where problems were occurring if something stopped working. It became quite an undertaking to keep the links going.

Thank you for your product support because you have kept this site going and helped with the improvements since it’s conception. Very little is free in life so I am sure you aware that this site costs a bit to operate. The product sales have allowed me to get to a self hosted site with download capability within the site. This alleviated the need for multiple storage sites and all those links. I have been switching the links as I get to them.

This adventure also started because I started to cringe at some of the cards from those older sets. My clip art was less than stellar. Originally, I made them for my use and didn’t have time for frill. Now I have more time to explore digital art which was another interest of mine.

When I first started making task cards, I didn’t have experience with digital art or drawing tools you use on computers. I began drawing my own clipart because I couldn’t always find the clip art I was looking for. I wanted figures that were relevant to the content of the card and not the same figures everyone else was using. I didn’t want the clip art to depict very young children, because I know some of the students using my cards might be older than average for a grade. I knew older children may get put off by clip art that appears to depict young children. I also needed some very specific actions and objects.

Within the last year, I have acquired a notepad and stylet. I have been making digital art using the free app, Auto Desk Sketchbook. After trying other programs, this one seems to make the most sense to me. I love drawing without buying all those supplies that go with it. I discovered how to use layers, which allows you to revise drawings multiple times without having to start over, which is a real plus for me.

Before I close, a reminder to those who have purchased the full card sets on Teachers Pay Teachers, you will be able to download the updated versions free by just getting another download on the TPT site. They are all listed under the original titles. The card sets in the Social Skills Communication Bundle are all included in the update and can also be purchased separately. To get to the TPT site, click on the picture below.

I am ending this post using the thought process of Bad Thing and Good Thing. Bad Thing: Updating is a real headache and overwhelming after 7 years of building a foundation on trial and error. Good thing: Hosting a Blog has been a great hobby and learning experience. There was something cathartic about writing it all down. It gave me a boost and support at work when I forgot materials going between multiple work sites. I could bring up what I needed on a lap top or iPad. It was a great creative outlet. Finally, it forced me to look at my data files and create a better filing system.

With any such endeavors, there are a lot of chances for errors. Please let me know if there are errors on products so I can make corrections. It seems like a few always slip through. Constructive suggestions are always welcome.

The Royal Game of UR

1 Apr

Recently, I discovered the Royal Game of UR. It is an ancient game that gives us a look into the common lives of past civilizations. It would be a good lead in for students studying Ancient History and researching how we have discovered information about past lives. It is generally good for students that are middle school age and above. They will likely be intrigued by it’s history and the game looks age appropriate.
The game has a bonus of originating in the Middle East. We have many students who have Middle Eastern ancestry. We often lack materials representing this ethnic group so it is nice to include things when we can. We can validate this culture and show the positive contributions rather than the negative that seems to be in our mainstream.

Just to give you a little background, the first recognizable game boards were excavated at the Royal Cemetery of UR between 1922 and 1934 in an archaeologist dig by an English archeologist, Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. Most people base their replications on one found at this excavation and housed in the British Museum. They are dated to the First Dynasty of UR around 2600 BC. Other versions have been found throughout the Middle East but were generally not in very good condition.

Game of UR board kept at the British Museum.

I know some of you are wondering how this ended up on a speech blog so here is my reasoning. I like to discover new games and discover how they can be used to teach social communication and general language skills. This one could be used for encouraging participating in an activity with a partner for a length of time, focusing on a topic, handling disappointment, (there are frequent set backs), anticipating consequences for actions, following directions and developing strategy. The rules are fairly simple so students can grasp them in 5 to 10 minutes.

It is generally a race game with conflict. It is a two player game in which each player is required to get 7 tokens across the board before the other player. Set backs occur when a player lands on the opponents token sending it off the board to start over. Luck and strategy both play a part in success so one student may not necessarily over power another student because of cognitive ability. The games last an average of 20 to 30 minutes depending on how much you think it through.

It is not entirely clear what the original game rules were and several sets of rules have been published. A tablet was discovered in Iraq in 1880 outlining rules for a game using pawns, dice, and throws prior to Wooley’s excavation of his game. This tablet was later linked to being the possible rules for the UR game board. The original game used triangular rocks with painted tips for dice and variations on safe places and getting another turn in specific places.

You can see how it is played by watching this youtube video. Irving Finkel is a curator at the British Museum and has produced a number of youtube videos on artifacts that are housed there. He is a unique individual who really plays the part. His videos are entertaining as well as informative.

If you are interested in locating the game that is pictured on my heading, they are being sold on Etsy by True Laser Cutting. I like this particular version because it comes in a wooden box with room to store all the pieces. I can carry it to various schools and not lose any. There is also a 10% off coupon for teachers at checkout so don’t forget to use that. Type in 10FORTEACHERS near the final checkout button.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/TrueLaserCutting?ref=l2-shopheader-name


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.

 

.

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.

Sustainable Web Hosting by Canvas Host

 

 

 

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?

Continue reading