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.

Concept Group 3

29 Sep

Today was lesson 3 of our Kindergarten Concept Groups.  The Kindergarten teacher requested an activity that reinforced the concepts long and short since these were part of her math lesson for this week.  We did the Question Chain Activity which is posted on the vocabulary page.  It turned out to be a good choice because the counselor was taken out for an emergency and the college student had to pinch hit.   That would’ve been a big problem with some of the other activities.   Fortunately it’s an easy activity to pick up on.  I find it amazing that some of the most simple props can be quite motivating.  The kindergarten students really enjoy putting the links together and get into the competition of having the longer chain.  We also pointed out the chains that were equal or the same amount.  For the final concept they  ‘separated” them.   That is a concept that is frequently missed when we do our first BOEHM testing in the Fall.

Concept Group 2

27 Sep

I’m a little late updating the blog  this week.  The activity we did in kindergarten was not one of the activities I had posted on the vocabulary page, so it held me up.   It is posted as Cars and Maps now.   A parent kindly donated a few boxes of match box cars.  These with the ones I had were enough for 32 kids.  We divided the children up into groups of 8 with one adult.  We had a volunteer college student, the teacher, the assistant, a counselor  and I.  I unfortunately didn’t have 5 maps because I didn’t know we would have the 5th adult.   Our classes weren’t as large last year so I have materials for groups of 4. So mental note;  I should have enough for 5 groups because volunteers tend to show up unexpectedly.  The office tends to send the college students to kindergarten.  It’s a great place to start for classroom observation don’t you think?   After all, all you need to know in life you learn in kindergarten.

I find playing a board game tells me who is familiar with game etiquette and how to work the spinner.  It’s important that each child remembers what their car looks like so you may want to do some comparison of details before you start.  We of course had two cars that looked very similar.

With a board game, you can start working on turn taking and not getting upset when the turn doesn’t meet your expectation.  These are important skills in kindergarten.  People tend to forget control and handling disappointment are skills.   The spinner I use  has ” missed a turn” on it.  Some people would probably avoid having that on a spinner, but I think that adds the ability to practice another skill.  I forwarn the children what that means so they aren’t surprised when they get it.  I also have a “spin again”.  The actual winning is deemphasized.  It’s more important to complete the track.  If time allows,  I will allow each child to make it to the finish line.

This is only our 2nd full week of school for kindergarten, so I was impressed with their ability to take turns.  They were convinced to leave the cars on the board until their turn and handled the disappointment of the  missed turn.   I found everyone was not familiar with all the concepts.  We have a few english learners and a few children on IEPs so that wasn’t a surprise.  My other adults thought it was a good experience so session 2 was declared a success.

car map

Concept Groups

15 Sep

        Sometimes setting up language groups in a classroom setting  can be a bit intimidating.  Many speech therapists aren’t given funds to buy commercial programs and therefore need to develop a program on their own.  This is a rather daunting task when there are so many tasks to complete at the beginning of a school year.   I began collecting and developing activities  using materials you typically find in a school environment, games I found at thrift stores, and games I made.   I’ve posted most of  the activities  in the vocabulary section.  I thought you might enjoy hearing how they are actually carried out during the school year.

             Today we started our first session  of  “Concept Groups”.  This is only day 6 for most of our Kindergarten students.  There were 3 adults available; the counselor, speech therapist, and classroom teacher.  That made a ratio of 1 adult to 10 children.  In the future we will need to get that down to a smaller rate, but for today it worked. 

        As most of you know it’s better to start simple with new Kindergarten students.   We decided to put the emphasis on  introduction.  This was as much for the adults as it was for the kids, because we were all still learning names.  We started with a story about the first day of school and making friends.  We talked about how everyone is nervous when they don’t know people and it’s nice to know their names.  We modeled how you can ask someone their name and they can become your friend. 

             The activity was a ball circle activity that I’ve used before as an icebreaker for groups of kids.  Each adult took 10 kids to form a circle.  The adult started  it out by looking at a  child in the circle and asking “What is your name?” .  When that child responded the ball was tossed to them.  They then continued  by asking another child “What is your name?”.  When all the children have had a chance the activity was changed to calling out another child’s name and then tossing the ball to them.  This is where you find out who remembers the names.  We then rotated half the kids from each circle so that the mix would change and we would get a chance to meet everyone.

           This activity can tell you a lot about the children in the groups.  It can tell you who may have trouble following the instructions or Continue reading

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.

Response to Intervention (RTI)

17 Aug

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.