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.

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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.

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

6 Nov

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

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

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

 

To prepare the cards, I cut them in half.

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

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

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

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

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

student

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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