Challenges for a New School Year

15 Oct

Every school year brings new challenges and this year is no different. This year I am striving to answer the questions, “What do you do when children are participating in the general education classrooms and are more than 2 or 3 years behind their classmates?”    I have several children in kindergarten and 1st grade who fit this description.  They have disabilities such as autism or Down Syndrome.  Because they are closer to a developmental age level of 3 yrs., they have difficulty focusing on tasks longer than 5 minutes and may not understand directions and materials presented verbally to the class.  With kindergarten class sizes of 30 or more the teachers have a real challenge keeping everyone focused and attending to a given task.  Play and social skills have taken a backseat to academics. The Kindergarten curriculum has become more demanding teaching reading, writing, and math skills in more formalized instruction. It is difficult for children to relate and stay focused to paper pencil tasks when they relate better to objects and manipulating them.  The result is children wandering on the fringes and not engaging in the instruction. They easily become frustrated and interrupt instruction when they can’t get their needs met.

In my location, the SLP is often the case manager for the students in lower grade levels because they have an eligibility of Communication Disability out of early childhood programs.  They start in the least restrictive environment which is regular kindergarten.  Schools do not automatically assign educational assistants (EA) to an individual child.  Research studies indicate this creates dependency and hinders their development academically and socially.  Even if there is an adult assigned to the room, the goal is to train the child to complete tasks independently and reduce the EA time.  The SLP is responsible for training the EA, and making sure a program is set up to meet IEP goals.  Districts are often feeling the pinch economically when hiring EAs and require data to be taken to prove the EA is needed.  This results in an increased workload as data plans, and functional behavior plans are formulated in the first few weeks of school.  In some cases, there is help given from the autism specialist and occupational therapist.

So what can be done to make a child more independent, on task, and productive in learning skills to their level?  Setting up visual schedules and workstations can be very helpful toward keeping them engaged and productive.  The child begins to learn what is expected of him in class and it decreases the power struggles. When a child learns how to work off a schedule they become less dependent on an adult to tell them what to do.  The workstations allow the child to complete tasks more appropriate to their level, in shorter time segments so there is less frustration.

Children often respond well to visual schedules.  They may relate better to one specific to their needs rather than the one posted on a wall for the class.  An individualized schedule can allow for breaks and activities in 5 to 10 minute intervals rather than the usual 20 minute class routine.   This allows the child to start with classmates and then move to more appropriate task that they can successfully complete. They can earn points by completing tasks and work toward a chosen activity.  This allows for more frequent breaks and immediate reinforcement.  Some children can adapt to a schedule rather quickly, however most will need the help of an adult at least initially.

A work system can be set up in bins, drawers, or folders.  The child is assigned a number of tasks that are labeled in some fashion.  This could be drawers 1, 2, and 3 for example. .  The tasks are placed in the drawers, bins, or folders. The child is given an if/ then card.  He chooses his reinforcement and places it in the then spot.   He then knows what he is working for.  The assigned tasks (1,2,3) are placed in the squares before the then that represent what needs to be completed.  Tasks can be puzzles, matching games, worksheets, and file folder games.   As he completes each task it is placed in a done box.  He is then allowed to have the reinforcement he chooses.  Reinforcement does not always have to be food.  It may be earning minutes to play legos, computer time or using a vacuum.

Making these materials can be very time intensive. Fortunately there are some sites that have downloadable materials available.  I’ve been setting up materials so parent volunteers can help with the cutting and pasting. At the end are the sites I have been using to make file folders and schedules.  Of course Boardmaker is a really handy program to have as a ready source of pictures.        file folder games ready for printing      schedules and examples on how to make them work      A site that has Now and Then boards ready for printing and file folder games

If you have any  suggestions, or ideas, that have worked for you ,please respond by making a comment.  I always enjoy hearing what others are doing in similar circumstances.

Anyone ready for lemonade?

2 Oct

I thought after 28 years of working in the schools I’ve seen every trend there is in public education. However, I’m finding I am once again trying to adapt to changes in special education. Here in the Pacific Northwest, because there is a shortage of SLPs in the education setting, and for financial reasons, school districts are using SLPAs to fill the gap. Unfortunately, most of the SLPs have received little training on how to provide supervision or deal with the logistics of higher caseloads in multiple buildings. So I thought this post may be helpful for those who are trying to cover large caseloads. These are some of the things I’ve found helpful so far.
It has been 20 years since I’ve supervised a speech assistant (SLPA). At that time the SLPA shared a classroom with me and it was easy to do the monitoring. At that time the team concept was not established and collaboration with teachers and special education staff wasn’t as prevalent. Since then, the paperwork and case management duties have increased and overtaken the therapy aspect of the job. It has become more difficult to gain control of the workload versus the caseload since it isn’t as defined and people tend to reach for a number rather than relate to the behind the scenes responsibilities. We are seeing the same number of students on a caseload but the workload is vastly different. I am finding that I need to be more efficient to make this work.
On the plus side, technology has entered into the picture and become more therapy friendly. Previously we were lucky to have a computer to complete reports. The computers were not often portable. There was often not room for students to view a single computer screen. Most computers were not internet connected and needed the purchase of expensive applications for student use. They were not practicable for very many therapy activities. Now I Pads and computers connect to the internet and make a wealth of materials available for therapy and managing the workload.
The district I am working for with the help of a grant purchased IPads for all the SLPs. This is probably one of the best therapy tools I have ever received. I have been busy exploring the many possibilities for using it in therapy and cutting down on my workload. There are many apps made specifically for speech therapy and many others that can be adapted for use. The IPad can provide quick and motivating therapy activities and that cuts down on therapy preparation time.
Today I discovered another feature that brings a wealth of therapy materials to my fingertips. I’ve found I can bookmark sites such as Bogglesworld, Carol Bowen’s start page, and even this site. I can click on the articulation, and reading worksheet downloads which open up for ready viewing. I can see where Carol Bowen’s screening tool for articulation could be really useful in this format. These sites are all on the blog roll to the right side of this post if you are looking for them.
I have also searched for ways to help with the additional paperwork and monitoring required with the addition of the SLPA. The SLPA and I are finding that is helping us to stay connected. It is a site that stores data in a central location that can be made accessible to selected people who have internet access and given permissions. I uploaded our excel schedule and therapy data sheets (the goal sheets in therapy tools) to the drop box. The therapy plans are written directly on the schedule which expands to accommodate the extra writing. I find making plans is quicker because I can cut and paste an activity and then and make adjustments for the objectives of the group. The SLPA is writing the progress therapy notes directly on to the data sheet for each child. I can open up the notes later to find out how the last session went and actually continue the notes if I see the child next.
Scheduling meetings has become a major obstacle. The team members are not the same in each building. Everyone appears to be rotating schools on a separate schedule. It’s very easy to run into conflicts or have meetings scheduled on top of each other. We have reduced conflict by having a calendar that is on a server and available to multiple people. Our district mail server is able to to form a workspace. This allows a group to have access to a common calendar and folders where documents can be kept. The Keep and share site on the blog roll also has a calendar and file folder options associated with it. A group may be able to form a similar calendar group.
I am curious if people are finding other ways to conquer their workloads. Please share any ideas or comments you may have. Also if anyone is looking for employment as an SLP, I know a district near Portland that would love to hear from you. It may make our load here a little lighter since there is a position that hasn’t been filled.

Now Where did that Cheese go?

18 Sep

This may seem like a strange title to some of you. It makes sense when you know I am referring to a book by Spencer Johnson called “Who Moved my Cheese?”. It is a rather short story based on the processes people go through to cope with change. A friend recommended it years back when a work location of mine was making a lot of employment cuts. I found this book helped me to get the right perspective so I could move forward and make the needed changes. This seems to be happening a lot in the education setting. I recommend it to anyone going through a lot of changes. I see there is a children’s version now too.
I’m sure there are many more of you out there dealing with the same changes that I am. Employment cuts not only hurt the people who leave locations, but also those left behind to pick up the pieces. I think this especially holds true in the education setting where staff is required to do more with less and still be reassuring and good-humored with students who feel the impact of missed programs and staff. Some change is good as it allows us to develop in different directions and meet new people.
This brings me to why I’ve been somewhat absent from writing. When I ended the school year last Spring, my assignment was in one building with a rather large caseload/workload. Two classrooms for children receiving lifeskills training and the general education students made a significant caseload for one SLP in that building. I was told I would be staying in that building. On my return this Fall, I was surprised to find I no longer served the life skills program but was assigned to two elementary buildings with the use of a SLPA or speech assistant in one of the buildings. That has left me scrambling to adapt to a new building and personnel. Meanwhile the members of my special education team in the old building also changed. This means I do not have the same support personnel as in the past. I had developed friendships with them, so that hurt on an emotional level.
Working in two buildings brings its own challenges. This is not new to me but over the years things have changed to make it more difficult. New mandates have occurred that require special education team members to participate in meetings and collaborate with classroom teachers. It makes it more difficult when people are scattered across several schools operating on schedules that do not match. Also SLPs have taken on a major role of case management duties, particularly with children who have the eligibility of autism. This means many more meetings for behavior plans and consultation with staff. An SLP is not available for this same level of support when they are divided between two buildings. Yet teachers are asking for more support as the classroom sizes increase and children feel more overwhelmed. The scheduling is turning out to be a major hurdle.
On a brighter note, all SLP staff here have received I pads. I am having fun seeing how many different ways I can use it. It has to be one of the most versatile tools I have ever received to make therapy easier. It has an app called face time that I have already used to make contact with the SLPA at the other building. I envision having meetings with an I pad used as personnel reported in at a parent meeting. I may also use it as an observing tool as my SLPA conducts therapy.
So even though I have been an SLP for many years I am finding this year already filled with many challenges and a bit mind numbing. I am afraid that many of our new people are being overwhelmed as they begin their CFY year. Would anyone like to report in and say how they are managing?

2 year anniversary

3 Jul

It’s hard to believe this site is now 2 years old.  I’m amazed at how much information is collected  here.  It gives me  evidence of the things that I have accomplished over the last 2 yrs.  After many years of  working with students there are always new things to try to learn.  I’m also amazed at how many people have stopped by.   I appreciate the feedback from those who have made comments and I’m glad people are finding materials useful.

I decided after 2 years of growth  the place really needed some housekeeping.  You may notice a few rewrites and changes.   I tend to just post things as they come up and in some cases there is not much organization.  I found it difficult to track items in the posts  through the archives, so I figure you must have the same problem.   I added the categories button to the right.  If you are looking for posts specific to a topic like “Concept Groups” it will be easier to find than going through the archives.
I use this site as a sort of toolbox for myself, so I add links occasionally that I know I will need in the future.  Medicaid Billing is a hot topic lately for the educational setting and I’ve been trying to become more informed about the legal aspects.  I’ve also added a link to WATI which is a good site for assistive technology information.  They were responsible for  getting procedures in a written form  so schools across the United States would be more uniform in their implementation.  Many years ago, I helped with this during a summer institute and met some great people in the process.   You may notice the new  links in the blog roll.

I’ve added some things that I will need for next year. In the Therapy Forms section I added a list of goals and objectives I use as a basis for most of my IEPs.  They are probably not much different from the ones you write  however you will find a lot of  the  activities were designed or used to work on them specifically.

As the site gets bigger its harder to know if links have changed and are no longer working as intended.  Please drop me a note if you notice anything off or not working right.  I hope everyone is having a good summer break.

Singapore Math and Speech

9 Oct

You may ask, ‘What does Singapore Math have to do with Speech Therapy?”  That was my thought as I went to a teacher training session this last week.  My  district is working on adopting this curriculum this school year.  I’ve found districts often have trouble figuring out what to do with specialist, so we are required to go to trainings for certified staff even though it doesn’t seem very relevant to what we do.  We’re left trying to figure out how to make it worthwhile.

I chose the Kindergarten break out group.  I figured that math would be taught more at a concept vocabulary level.  It turned out that I did find some connections to the concept group activities we have already been doing.  I figured out a few ways to expand the activities.  We can change the question chain activity so each question gets a different color of chain.  The students can compare lengths and see how different numbers can combine to equal a sum.   The Musical Chair activity could also be adapted to children picking up lengths of snap cubes and figuring out how they should line up according to length.  The other concept activities for equal,more, most, and least will be good supplemental activites.

Merry Christmas to all

25 Dec

I hope everyone is enjoying time with their family.  My school is on winter break for two weeks so there isn’t a  “Concept Group” to report.  I did add cards for “Complex Sentence Comprehension”.  I use these to  emphasize the connecting words that usually get students in trouble when they are trying to do word problems and generally when they are trying to follow instruction.  They are under the sentence section.  As the list grows, I wonder if people are having trouble finding what they want or noticing when something new is added.  Is it helpful to list new items here?

Game Shopping

17 Oct

I made a trip to Goodwill today.  It’s my favorite place to shop for games and game pieces.  I’m probably one of the few people who doesn’t care if  some games are missing  pieces.  I supplement a lot of the games I already own so more children can play at the same time or I can replace lost parts.   I found I can often find directions to a game on the internet, if they are missing.  Part of a game can also be a source of inspiration for another game.

 What’s interesting to see is how games have changed over the years.  A few  of my games started out wood and are now made of plastic.  The kids marvel that some of my games are over 20 years old and I still have the parts to play.  It makes for a good discussion of taking care of what you own and having respect for another person’s property.  

   Parents will often ask me what they can do at home to help their children who have language delays.  The main complaint is they get one word responses like  “fine” when they try to talk to them.  We are in the golden age of technology and communication but it doesn’t seem to be at a family level.  There seems to be less opportunities for family members to actual talk to one another.  The trick is to create an opportunity for communication other than just asking questions.  Provide opportunities to talk about  impersonal topics and the personal ones will come along also.    I think a family game night can go far in creating a language rich experience and communication opportunity.   It’s one thing that has fallen off the grid with technology taking its place.  Children enjoy the interaction and it isn’t just another homework assignment.

There are quite a few commercial games that lend to vocabulary development and creative thinking.   For older students working on word associations and more global thinking, I have found  Apples to Apples, In a Pickle, and Scattergories to be good.  For younger students games such as  Kerplunk,  Don’t Spill the Beans, and Hi Ho Cherry O Game review concepts such as least, most, and more.  There are some good ones that aren’t  published anymore but keep you eyes open for them at garage sales etc.  Often the games don’t even look like they have been used.

Tools of the Trade

30 Sep

          I find it interesting to see what tools speech therapist find to be most helpful or  essential for the job.  I’ve moved and changed jobs frequently while following a military spouse.  There are some items that I try to get fairly quickly when I start a new job.  I thought you might like to hear what I find most useful beyond the usual articulation decks of cards and therapy materials.  

    tally counter  I’ve found a tally counter very useful for students working on articulation in conversational speech.  With this counter I can include them in groups that may be focusing on language activities.  They get the task of counting the sound they are working on as they speak.  It has the benefit of slowing the fast speakers down and making them think before they talk.  The students find operating the tally very motivating. I take my own count and we compare the count.  If we are doing an activity that requires a turn, I will give them a quota such as 20 words with a specific sound before stopping.

 timer A timer is used in some of the word games such as password.  It is used to measure conversational speech for a speech sample.  Some of my objectives use 3 minutes of conversational speech as part of the measurement.   It can be used to break up how much time I spend with each child in a group.  I will work with one child in a group for 1 to 2 minutes while 2 others in the group monitor themselves with a game of “Monkeys”.  The task becomes how many monkeys can be linked in 2 minutes. I find I can focus on the one student and not get distracted by the other two debating if a monkey was actually dropped. It allows students of a group to do an activity as a motivator while you work with another student.  This is necessary sometimes when one child needs to work on something different from the other members of the group.

                      white board    A small hand held white board can be used for many purposes.  Several of these can allow everyone in a group to be active.  Students can work on comprehension questions or main idea.  I can read a short paragraph and ask a question and give multiple choice questions.   Students can respond by putting a. b. or c. for multiple choice answers or write short answers. They can display their answers and defend them with members of the group.  I find I get more responses per student and less distraction from students waiting for a turn.  The students find writing and erasing a white board motivating.  I don’t have to copy papers for them to fill out and it’s much more interactive.  I like to stay away from the paper pencil type activities because so many of my students have difficulties attending to such task.

             Objects from a junk box have been a cheap source for therapy activities. They  are used in a number of ways.  It started out as a bunch of items to elicit specific sounds.  Over the years it’s also become objects that children find interesting and are good for vocabulary development.  A thimble, sea shells, and an old compass are favorites.  I use the objects in the grab bag for descriptive language practice and articulation practice.  The objects can also be used in a game of “Secret Box” where an item is hidden and the students ask questions to determine the identity of the object.  I use a present box that has a removable cover.

             A sock bag is a handy item because it forces use of the tactile senses. It  can be made from an old pair of jeans with a little bit of sewing.  I cut a leg off of an old pair of jeans to a length of 20 inches or so.  I sew across the bottom of one end.  I gather the other end.  I take the top of a sweat sock and cut the top off so I have a 10 inch length or so. I want the cuff portion and not the heel and foot section.  I then sew the cuff to the top of the jean section.  It can now be used as a grab bag.  I put objects from the junk box in it to to elicit descriptive vocabulary.  

.              A buzzer or bell is a good tool for group game type activities such as “College Bowl”.  Older students are motivated when using this.   They enjoy the competition to answer quickly and it provides a TV Game show  type atmosphere. It’s important to monitor its use however because quick responses do not work in every child’s favor.  It is also a natural motivator because kids just love to ring bells.

 So those are my top choices.  Does anyone else have anything they just can’t do without?  Just hit the comment button and add to the discussion.

Three and One Scheduling

9 Sep

        It’s that time of year  to set up the speech therapy schedule.  Unfortunately my schedule takes a back seat to almost every other schedule in the building so I don’t even attempt to schedule the first week of school.  When scheduling, I try to avoid core subjects like reading and math and classes like music and art.  The higher the grade the more difficult it is to find time to get Johnny.  I’m usually left with the social sciences, free reading, and handwriting.  If  many children come from a particular grade, I may have a group that is available only at a certain time.  I feel fortunate if they have similar needs as well.  Getting a variety of needs met with one activity is it’s own art form.  Over the years I’ve found I can adapt to working with language kids and articulation in the same group.  I worry less about if their goals are similar and more about the time they are available.  If a group of kids all come from the same classroom they tend to remind each other to come, feel less like they are the only odd child out, and I spend less time rounding them up.  I also find that Mondays and Fridays get hit hard with holidays so I try avoid scheduling a child so he would miss two sessions in one week.   With traditional scheduling the speech therapist would make a weekly schedule.  It would typically look  like speech therapy two times a week for 30 minutes each.  In my attempt to get everyone scheduled, I would have  every moment accounted for  leaving very little flexibility to see what was actually happening in the classrooms.

         The last few years a new model of scheduling has come out called the three-one schedule.  With this schedule,  the therapist conducts 3 weeks of regular therapy sessions and the fourth week becomes more flexible.  The therapist may use the 4th week to work in the classrooms, consult with teachers and parents, do observations in the classroom or see some kids individually.  On the Individual Education Program (IEP), the therapist doesn’t write up a weekly scheduled time but rather writes a lump some for the month.  It may look like 180 minutes per month instead of 30 minutes 2 times a week. 

         I’ve been using the Three and One Model for the last three years and have really liked it.  The initial year involves changing the IEPs to monthly minutes, but after that you are set.  This model has worked well with the RTI model because it has allowed me to go into the classroom to work with groups of kids that may not have IEPs but could benefit from some of the same support other children were getting.  It has also helped me to address some needs that weren’t apparent in my small group settings.

A Series of Fortunate and Unfortunate Events

5 Sep

     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.