Literacy Tools and Speech Therapy

11 Nov

It is not a surprise that many of our speech students are poor readers and do not like to read.  They may  lack many of the skills that it takes to enjoy a good story.  Their reading ability often  keeps them in stories that have immature topics compared to their interests.  It doesn’t take long before they find themselves way behind their peers.  They are stumbling through basal readers when their peers have moved on to chapter books.  Yet books are such a great tool to learn new vocabulary, learn story sequence, and develop the ability to make inferences.

The 5th grade classes  at one of my schools compete in the Spring in a competition called the “Battle of the Books”.  They are assigned books through the year, questions are derived from the stories, and then the questions are used for a type of knowledge bowl competition.
The winning team is acknowledged by the school  library.  A few of the 5th graders I work with are unable to read the books and grasp the material.  They have a hard time including themselves in this competition.

This school year I’ve become aware of new tools to bring literacy to my students with  poor reading ability.  They can enjoy appropriate reading and writing content when their reading skills are low.  Two such internet programs are  “Bookshare.org” and StoryBird.  I have added them to the blogroll.  Both programs are  free to classroom teachers or mentors who enroll students and are responsible for over seeing the material and content. The material is password protected but available to a core group.

Bookshare is available to students with print disabilities. As stated on the  Bookshare site, ” Through an award from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), Bookshare offers free memberships to U.S. schools and qualifying U.S. students.”   In this program, the mentor/teacher verifies that a  student  has a disability that prevents them from accessing literature without  accommodations. The books would typically be copywrite protected but are available to be downloaded through this program to assigned students.  The student has access to an assigned book on any computer by using an assigned  password.  Text is highlighted and read to them by the computer. All levels of reading ability are represented and a lot of the books are books being used in classrooms today as assigned reading.

The Storybird site is particularly helpful for students who need visual material to get the creative juices flowing.  Artists have contributed beautiful art work that can be dragged and pulled to pages.  The students then add text to make their own stories.  The students can complete their own classroom libraries.  Students can make individual books/stories or collaborate.  It can maintain an interest level from low readers to the Talented and Gifted (TAG).  What a great classroom project to include everyone on the same playing field.

Grade Level Goals

30 Oct

In our college speech programs we are taught what can be expected for  normal speech and language development.  As Speech Language Pathologist we spend a lot of time trying to write appropriate measurable goals for our students who fall below the standards of development.  We have the responsibility of translating our student’s weaknesses into goals and objectives.  In an educational setting,  we are also asked that  speech  services  address the common  core state standards for academics.  We need to be aware of these standards to know what is expected at each grade level and write goals accordingly.

Most states have  published their common core standards on the internet.  The standards are very common from state to state. I guess that was the purpose after all.  To have the states line up with common expectations.   However some state standards are a lot easier to read and use than others. You may want to look up your information from the state board of education in your state.  Oregon state has laid theirs out rather nicely with each grade level having their own section.  I added links for the state of Oregon’s Language Arts section  to the TX and Forms section.  Even if your state isn’t Oregon, it is probably pretty similar.  We  can use this information when writing our goals to see if we can help a student meet those expectations to grade level.  I tried to follow these when writing my goals in my goal bank.  Here is a short cut link to the TX and Forms page where you can access the goal bank and core standards.

You may notice that K-2nd have similar objectives but expect higher level vocabulary and expertise with grammatical structures as students reach 3rd grade.    3rd and 5th grades are expected to have better language comprehension and interpretations of what they read and hear.  In some cases it is the descriptive words we use rather than much change in the actual objectives such as referring to using antonyms rather giving opposites of a word.  I like to have my  goals reflect the language being used for instruction.  I’ve found the classroom teachers respond favorably to this as they realize I am supporting their instruction and relate it to what is happening in the classroom.

Fall Bulletin Board

20 Oct

I’m a little late getting my bulletin board up for the Fall season.  However, I found something that can probably carry me until  winter.   I searched for something that I could use for therapy and looked appealing for Fall.  I found a pattern for owls that was simple to make, used shape and size vocabulary, would require sequencing of directions and I could add  preposition symbols to it to reinforce those concepts.  I used a die press to cut out most of the pieces for the owls.  I used Boardmaker to make  preposition signs to put on the owls belly. You could also print them from here.   http://www.speakingofspeech.com/Language_Materials.html#Prepositions

The Owl pattern is found on this page http://www.dltk-kids.com/animals/mshapesowl.htm

I started  by making a tree on the bulletin board.   I twisted  brown paper to make limbs and had them come together for the trunk.   I then added a half moon behind  and a rock below the tree.  This gave the children the ability to place the owls according to a preposition sign  they were given  for their owl.  They could place them in front, behind, beside, below, between, and next to an object or the tree.

I gave it a title  of “Who is Here?”   Here is a picture to give you an idea.

Fall bulletin board

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.

http://filefolderfun.com/        file folder games ready for printing

http://www.tinsnips.org/Pages/makeandtake.html      schedules and examples on how to make them work

http://www.boardmakershare.com      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 https://www.dropbox.com/ 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.