I remember when I started my first year working in the schools and I was very nervous about starting. I had completed my student teaching in the spring so I knew how to end a year but was unsure about how to start it. Little did I know how every year turns out to be quite different with different challenges.
Our school district (like many) has started this year with less revenue. This has meant cut backs and transferring of staff. So teacher workday this year consisted of assessing the damage and seeing what changes I may need to make.
The result of the cuts started with some good news. I was able to move into a larger more sound proof room. We have larger classes with fewer teachers so there are actually more rooms available. I can fit a group of 10 kids in my room now. Then there was the bad news. Unfortunately the counselor who was previously my partner for my pragmatics group and an extra person for the Concept Groups was caught in the transfers. I will miss her help dearly. However, a new counselor has been assigned that sounded interested in working with me. It seems we may be able to continue the pragmatic groups together. Maybe she will bring new ideas with her. I have a group of 4th graders that really can benefit from it.
After the cuts, we have one Kindergarten teacher doing an am and pm class with both classes containing about 30 students (previously class size was about 25). Previous years we had 1 full day classroom and two half day classes. This means I will need more materials and possibly another adult in the room to make another table group.
The good news is I worked with this teacher last year and she is enthused about continuing the Concept Language Groups. Again, the new counselor said she would try to help. We posted a letter at our “Back to School Night” for parent volunteers. A few seemed interested. It is a good opportunity for parents to help and participate in their child’s class so I have hopes. We also posted a letter for more game materials, so hopefully that will come through.
A lot of people have questions about a new model that is being used in schools in the United States called the Response to Intervention Model (RTI). We have been implementing this model in my school for the last 3 years. I thought I would open a dialogue on this subject and tell how this has affected me as a speech therapist. I would love to hear from others on how it has affected them what they have done at their schools. Please comment if you will.
So for those who may not know what I am talking about, RTI attempts to help children academically before failure, rather than wait for failure and possible special education testing and placement. The RTI model requires that students be given a chance to show growth with interventions or a variety of teaching methods before special education services be considered. The reasoning behind this model is fewer students will be identified for special education when it may be other factors causing lack of progress such as lack of experience, teaching methods, and differences in culture or languages.
In my school district, the RTI model is in the process of being implemented for reading. We will be beginning year 4 at the elementary school I work at. Here all children are assessed the first few weeks of school to determine reading levels in areas such as word identification and reading fluency. All children attend a core reading group within their class. Children who are identified at risk for low achievement or lack of certain skills attend additional reading classes to boost deficit areas. Their skills continue to be monitored weekly and adjustments are made to their reading programs if progress is not being shown. Different methods are tried to see if the size in group or methods make a difference. If they still do not make progress, a learning disability may be indicated, and they are referred for a special education assessment.
As a speech therapist, I have felt a push to serve a wider variety of children in their academic settings rather than do a traditional pull-out model of therapy. This carries with it a number of problems that many of us are quite familiar with. One main problem is serving the most children possible and efficiently in the time frame we are given. We are usually spread quite thin with our caseloads without taking on more that isn’t recognized by the administration. Special education guidelines are very strict about seeing children without parent permission. This line can get to be quite fuzzy when we see kids in the classroom and are addressing needs with kids with Individual Education Programs (IEP) and those who do not in the same groups. The children with similar speech and language goals are not always present in the same classroom. This hinders serving more than one student at a time. It also prevents a therapist from being available in a classroom at the most appropriate time such as language arts period at one grade level. If team teaching is considered, there is additional preparation time needed to meet with the teacher. If we are working with an individual child in a classroom, is that child really getting the privacy and opportunities to practice what they need to work on?
As a speech therapist, I decided the RTI model may be most useful at the Kindergarten level. Kindergarten students arrive with diverse academic backgrounds and experiences. Some children come from preschool programs and families with rich language experiences. There are others who have 2nd languages or few experiences beyond their immediate household. I often found kindergarten children referred for speech and language assessments when they appeared to have lack of experience rather than a learning disability. I felt that my instruction here may benefit the most students and prevent unnecessary referrals later on.
Our school also found the reading assessments conducted the first few weeks of school at the kindergarten level were not as helpful in determining who needed extra help. Any low scores may just be an indicator of lack of experience with academics.
To solve some of these problems my school started a policy of assessing all Kindergarten students with the BOEHM to see their general knowledge of basic concepts. The overall class score was shared with the classroom teacher along with suggestions for curriculum enhancement. The score for each child was reviewed along with knowledge of letter names and sounds which is part of the reading program. The combination of scores gave us a better indication if a child had pre-academic and vocabulary skills needed for reading. Children with low scores were then followed for progress.
I then developed an intervention program that was presented to students in Kindergarten throughout the school year. Using the classroom teacher and volunteers, an activity that stressed concept development was given in one weekly session approximately 20 minutes in length. The concept development activities located in the vocabulary section of this site were used in that program.
The children with low BOEHM scores from fall testing were retested in the spring to see if classroom interventions were sufficient to raise scores. This identified students who did not pick up the vocabulary within the general classroom and would be candidates for speech and language testing in first grade.
I have found this program to be quite successful at the Kindergarten level. The kindergarten teachers who had reservations about me entering their classrooms are now eager to have me. I get to know all the children entering elementary so have a better understanding when children are discussed in team meetings. The teachers have increased their awareness of the importance of specific concept vocabulary and have reinforced it in other aspects of their curriculum. The parents have benefited from the additional assessment feedback and home activities presented at conferences. Parents have also enjoyed volunteering during that time frame.
This has turned out to be quite lengthy. I hope it was helpful to you. I would really love hearing your opionions.
I will be taking a break for a couple of weeks. I’m visiting in MT and enjoying a new granddaughter. I should be back mid August.