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.

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?

Using stories to teach social concepts

21 Jun

If you have worked with students with autism or other disabilities,  it doesn’t take long before you find out the value of a good story to teach social situations.  “Social Stories” is actually a trademark of  Carol Gray who first developed the idea and gives conferences and trainings on how to write and use  them.  In her words,  “The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience.”     She has developed a site that has more information then what I can possibly put here and I wouldn’t want to violate her trademark.   So go to Carol’s site to find out more information  on how to actually write one.

I have used stories  to help students correct challenging behaviors or deal with  new situations.  They can be written for all levels of development.  They can be made as a picture book or in just written form.  You can even use technology with program like ‘Power Point”.  If you  add a switch  a child with physical limitations can turn pages independently. Sometimes real pictures are helpful.  We’ve taken pictures of staff and the building to prepare a student for transition to a new school.  They’ve been useful for getting children to line up and return from the playground,  and wait their turn.  An important thing to remember is to focus on the positive.   Let the child know what  behavior you want them to do  and what to expect.  Don’t emphasize the bad behavior.  A child that is hitting for attention may actually need a story on how to ask someone for a turn or to play with them rather than “We don’t hit”.

There are many sites with already made stories.  They can be a resource for downloading or writing your own stories.  I have found stories on “Speaking of Speech“,”Boardmaker share“,and One Place for Special Needs. I’ve added a comic strip maker to the tool section.  This would be a great tool for  older elementary or middle school students who might like writing their own stories.