An EASY Back to School Vocabulary Craft Activity

This week I started seeing all of my students again. It was fun to catch up with them and hear about their summers and we had a few “house keeping” items to take care of, like making schedule reminders for my older students so they can come on their own and creating punch cards for our behavioral reward system, but we also had time for a quick, easy craft activity – Adjective Fun Suns!image

Students wrote their names in the center and adjectives to describe themselves on the sun’s rays. This was a great way to get to know my new students and start the year off on a positive note with my returning students. It also was a great following directions and vocabulary activity! The students had fun coming up with creative adjectives to describe themselves.

And, I kept track of their ideas and created an awesome anchor chart for adjectives we can use in their writing all year!

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The best part of this activity was how easy it was to prep. It didn’t take me long to cut the strips of card stock for the suns or use our die cuts to make the center circles. Other than yellow card stock, all you need are glue sticks and markers!

I had the idea for this activity while I was creating a Tier 2 Vocabulary and Context Clues activity to use with my 3rd through 5th graders. I plan on having them create “power flowers” and “fun suns” to strengthen their vocabulary and semantic networking skills.

Power Flower

I’ve been reading “Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher’s Manual” by Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering. I highly recommend this resource if you are looking for evidence-based strategies to improve your systematic vocabulary instruction. I’m hoping to collaborate with teachers this year and support academic content when I work with students as well as provide them with strategies they can implement in the classroom for all of their students.

Marzano

My school year is off to a great start ! For those of you going back to school, too, welcome back!

Welcome to Mrs. Penrod’s Room!

It has been a great week back at work so far! I really enjoyed the training we received on our new writing curriculum, “The Write Tools,” and I have had lots of time to get ready for the upcoming school year. We’ve had several student volunteers so I’ve had lots of help with my projects – mostly printing, laminating, and cutting out TpT materials! The two I am the most excited about are Understanding Auditory Direction Picture Plates:

and a freebie, goal cards:

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The blank blue cards have student names on the back. At the beginning of each session, I will have them find their goals behind their names (written in their own words or kid-friendly language) and figure out which one we are working on that day. I’m hoping to increase my students’ awareness of their goals and improve their “buy-in” and motivation during activities. I’ll also have them tracking their own data a ton this year so they can see how much they’re learning and improving. I’ll have to find a spot in my room for a “brag wall.” By the way, the orange, green, and yellow cards in the bottom rows are skills and standards my district uses instead of the Common Core.

I’ve also had lots of time to set up my room. Check it out!

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I’m super excited about the curtains I put up to cover my bookshelves. I think it will make a huge difference for my distractible kids who are always eyeing Candyland and the bubbles when they’re supposed to be listening. I also plan to use the “jellyfish chairs” more this year. We’ve had them in our learning lab, where our mild-moderate learning specialists work with students, and I only occasionally brought them into my room last year. Some students can’t handle them, but for others, it provides just enough movement and sensory input to keep them focused and engaged. Now all that’s missing is the kids! I can’t wait to see how everyone has grown over the summer and hear about their fun adventures.

I hope you enjoyed your “tour” of my room. Thanks for reading!

Back to School!

I can’t believe today is the last day of summer!

Teachers at my school go back to work tomorrow for 4 days of professional development and work time to get ready for the upcoming school year before the students start on August 10th. We’re adopting two new curriculums this year – “The Write Tools” and “Math in Focus.” I’m eager to learn about the writing curriculum and hopefully do more push-in support this year to target communication skills during writing time in the classroom. I think I’ll skip the math PD and spend some time printing and laminating the TpT freebies I’ve downloaded over the summer! Speaking of TpT…

In honor of Back To School, EVERYTHING in my shop is only $1 now until midnight tomorrow!

It’s the perfect time to stock up on some articulation, following directions, and reading comprehension resources. Enjoy!

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Happy back to school!

Following Directions Activities and Resources – Links to Freebies!

I recently wrote about the diagnosis of (C) APD as well as treatments that are available for this diagnosis and other learning difficulties – treatments that are supported by research and those that are not (According to Macquarie University Special Education Center (MUSEC)). Students who are diagnosed (or misdiagnosed, depending on who you ask) with (C) APD often present with difficulties following directions. One of the techniques that is recommended and supported by the available data is explicit instruction.  I’d like to talk more about explicit instruction and what that looks like as an SLP, specifically in regards to following directions – how we can facilitate improvements in these skills and how we can support our students in the classroom.

But first, a few thoughts on explicit instruction. According to MUSEC:

Explicit instruction involves making clear to students what they are to learn and how they will demonstrate their learning, direct teaching of basic skills or strategies in small steps, clear presentation of new concepts, guided and independent practice, active engagement of students, constant monitoring of student performance and intensive feedback.

I think the best way to illustrate explicit teaching of receptive language activities is with an example. Let’s say you want to work on following directions, specifically, with prepositional concepts next to, under, and above. I will describe how you can explicitly teach these concepts while doing an activity I call “The Shape Game.” Materials required for this very simple game and instructions are available for free on my TpT store. Using paper or cardstock colored shapes (laminate for durability), you and your students take turns listening to instructions to place shapes next to, under, or above other shapes and giving instructions. I use the tokens and spinner from Grammar Gumballs to award tokens for each turn, but you could use any die, spinner, or points system you’d like.

Explicit Instruction of Receptive Language Example – The Shape Game

  1. Step One: Making clear to students what they are to learn and how they will demonstrate their learning: “Today we are going to work on listening and following directions. We are going to play the shape game. We are going to practice understanding and using words like next to, under, and on top. You will show me that you understand these words by following directions and giving directions using those words.”
  2. Direct Teaching of Basic Skills or Strategies in Small Steps: “Let me show you. If I said put the square UNDER the circle, I would put it here. If I said put the square NEXT TO the circle, I would put it here. If I said put the square ON TOP of the circle, I would put it here.” Demonstrate one more time. Provide verbal and visual cues as needed to ensure active engagement of student throughout teaching (What should I do next? Under or on top? Eyes over here. Show me that you’re listening, etc)
  3. Clear Presentation of New Concepts: The shape game has the potential to practice increasingly complex directions. For example, you might use differently colored shapes, shapes of different sizes, or shapes with different designs on them, or you might provide 2-step directions each turn. Here are a few examples of instructions you might use in the game:
    • Put the square next to the circle.
    • Put the red square next to the blue circle.
    • Put the small, red square next to the big, blue circle.
    • Put the small, red, striped square next to the big, blue, spotted circle.
    • First put the (small) (red) (striped) square next to the (big) (blue) (spotted) circle, then put the (small) (green) (spotted) triangle under the (big) (yellow) (striped) rectangle.
    • When teaching a new concept, it is important to provide the most basic examples first. Otherwise, your student may become distracted or overwhelmed by other auditory and linguistic information and miss the key terms or concepts you are targeting. If you want to teach the word “next to,” use instruction #1. After the student has mastered information at this level, you can gradually increase the complexity.
  4. Guided and Independent Practice: “Now it’s your turn to try. Put the square under the circle. Great job! Now, put the square next to the circle. That’s right. Now, put the square on top of the circle. Very good. Now we’re ready to play the shape game!” Guide the student through as many trials as necessary until they are successful. Take turns giving and following instructions (collecting tokens each turn if you’d like). For additional practice, send a copy of the game and instructions home with the student and provide a copy for the classroom teacher to incorporate into centers, choice time, etc.
  5. Active Engagement of Students: Some days, this is much harder than others. There are many ways to keep students engaged – fun activities and game play, changing up activities frequently, frequent movement breaks, incorporating movement into activities, sensory friendly atmosphere with limited distractions, rapport between student and teacher, teaching intrinsic motivation, and good old-fashioned external motivation.
  6. Constant Monitoring of Student Performance and Intensive Feedback: It is so important to correct student errors and model the accurate behavior while providing positive, but accurate feedback. I’ve seen educators ignore student mistakes before because they fear they will discourage the student or damage their self-esteem. There are absolutely times when ignoring an error is appropriate, but when you are trying to explicitly teach a concept, it is critical that you provide corrective feedback. You might say “Nice try, but thats not the right spot. NEXT TO the circle is right here. Here, you try. Put the square NEXT to the circle” (while pointing to the correct spot). If your students struggle with making mistakes, provide lots of verbal encouragement. You can make mistakes and see if your students can catch it. Not only is this a great way for them to broaden their mastery of the skills you are practicing, but it gives you the opportunity to model how to handle making a mistake.
  7. I’d like to add one more step to explicit teaching not mentioned in the description provided by MUSEC – Facilitate generalization and carryover: The shape game is one example of drill practice masqueraded as game-play, and we all know that far too often, a student demonstrates a skill beautifully in our little speech rooms and seems to completely forget what they’ve learned as soon as they walk out the door. Communication with parents and teachers is one huge way we can facilitate generalization and carryover. I like to create reminders of what students are working on with examples of ways parents and teachers can support learning. For receptive language skills, I’ll usually provide materials to play games and practice skills and encourage parents and teachers to model terms frequently. Even just mentioning the skill in the classroom or at home can help (Johnny, Mrs. Penrod told me you’ve been learning about the words next to, under, and on top! Listen to these directions and show me what you’ve learned…) Another important way we can support generalization is to practice skills in authentic contexts. For prepositions, you could join your student in class during clean up and ask them to put things away using their targeted prepositions – put the pencil next to your notebook, put the scissors on top of your book, put your pencil box under your chair, etc. Providing authentic practice of skills is so important for students to master new concepts – they can’t be expected to learn entirely from drills and game play.

Accommodations and Modifications for Students in the Classroom

If a student on your caseload has difficulty following directions, here are some accommodations and modifications you can recommend:

  • Provide directions visually – in writing for students with literacy skills or with pictures for non-readers
  • Break projects and assignments into smaller steps
  • Modify the length of projects and assignments
  • Ask student to repeat directions back to you to insure understanding
  • Simplify language in instructions
  • Frequently check for understanding
  • Allow group/partner work
  • Alternative seating (close to teacher and/or quiet work space to limit distractions)

And now, without further adieu, here are my favorite resources and activities for receptive language skills:

FREE Resources and Materials

Search for “following directions” on TpT for many, many more great resources!

Games

  • Roll & Play – I like the directions cards in this game because they have pictures. I incorporate these cards into lots of activities and don’t necessarily play the game according to the rules.
  • Ring Bling by Super Duper

Activities

  • Obstacle courses
  • Clean up
  • Pretend play – doll house, play kitchen, cars, zoo, etc. Lots of opportunities to follow directions! Put the baby doll next to the puppy, put the elephant under the tree, put the pizza on top of the stove, etc.
  • Simon Says
  • I Spy – I spy with my little eye something under the table, next to the window, on top of the bookshelf, etc

Additional Resources and Materials

What are your favorite following directions games, resources, and activities?

Thanks for reading!

 

If It’s Too Good to be True, it Probably Is – Treating (C) APD

Controversy is a good thing. I take that back – controversy with an open mind is a GREAT thing. It spawns evaluation of current information, a motivation for additional research, and a sharing of ideas. It forces us to evaluate our beliefs and come to understand new information. With this new information, we either solidify what we already believe or broaden our perspectives to new possibilities.

When I was in graduate school (2011-2013), there were 3 major areas of controversy in our field that we discussed in our classes. Apraxia of speech (I had 1 professor who believed apraxia of speech was a bunk diagnosis), Non-speech oral motor exercises as a treatment for speech disorders, and auditory processing disorder and treatment. Today, I’m going to focus on the latter – the controversy surrounding (C) APD.

(C) APD stands for (Central) Auditory Processing disorder and broadly refers to the central nervous system’s ability to process auditory information.(C) APD can only be diagnosed by an audiologist. Audiologists measure performance on a variety of tasks (including sound localization and lateralization; auditory discrimination; auditory performance with degraded acoustic signals, among others. See ASHA’s technical report for a full list of APD diagnostic tasks). A person is diagnosed with (C) APD if they perform less effectively or efficiently than a typically functioning person on these tasks. A child is often referred for evaluation with symptoms such as difficulty following directions, difficulty answering questions, difficulty understanding information presented out loud, etc. Here is the first part of the controversy – these symptoms could be indicative of a wide variety of difficulties, including learning disabilities, language disorders, ADHD, behavioral and/or social/emotional issues, and more. Differential diagnosis is further complicated by the fact that (C) APD can co-exist with one or more of the previously mentioned disorders. With so much overlap, some people argue (C) APD is not a unique diagnosis, but rather a set of symptoms that result from other causes.

There are many experts in the fields of speech-language pathology and audiology who feel strongly about this topic, and there are basically two schools of thought:

  1. (C) APD is a legitimate disorder
  2. (C) APD is not a valid disorder; any presenting difficulties are actually caused by something else

I’m not writing this post to take a stance on whether or not (C) APD exists. I’m writing this post with an open-mind, hoping to fuel discussion and learning, and I’m much more interested in effectively improving communication skills. More on that later. While I do believe accurate diagnosis is important, I also know that SLP’s are trained to be critical thinkers. We learn how to treat the symptoms of a disorder to facilitate the most functional outcomes.Whether or not someone has a diagnosis from a doctor, audiologist, or other professional, SLP’s should always do their own testing, observation, and analysis and create a treatment plan based on their own expertise. That is not to say that multi-disciplinary collaboration is not an important piece of the puzzle. If a student comes to me with a diagnosis from another professional, it is important to read their evaluations and recommendations and discuss their findings with them, but ultimately, it is best practice to use my own expertise in creating a treatment plan. While I may not choose to take a stance on the legitimacy of (C) APD as a diagnosis today, I do feel strongly about treatment choices.

There are many, many treatment options available for struggling learners. There are many products that claim to be a magical cure. There are many products and treatment choices available that are extremely costly and not extremely effective. In general, I believe if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I’m not discrediting the anecdotes from parents and professionals who claim a particular approach resulted in huge improvements. That is fantastic for that particular person. I think they should keep doing what they are doing, and if they want to recommend it to their family and friends, I have no problem with that. But, I do have a problem with companies taking anecdotes and making broad claims, preying on the vulnerability of parents who are willing to try anything to help their child. SLP’s with backgrounds in research design know that doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing something intensively will probably result in improvements, even if the actual treatment itself is no better than the other available options. Any seeming improvements may be simply because of the intensity of the treatment compared to no treatment at all. We have the background and education to evaluate the research, or lack of research, and make a educated appraisal before choosing a treatment option. Companies out to make profits can make claims about their products making them seem better than they actually are. I’m not saying some of the popular treatments are not worth trying. I’m just  advocating that parents and professionals do their research and carefully consider their options before investing lots of time and money in “miracle-cures” that have poor research support.

And for the elephant in the room, what magical treatments am I talking about? In keeping with my own advice, I suggest you consult the research to determine whether or not some of these programs and approaches are effective for treating (C) APD and/or language impairment and/or learning disabilities. I’ve provided links from the Macquarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC) Briefings and their appraisal of the treatment.

I’d love to see briefings on some of the other treatment centers and techniques that have become popular – like Brain Balance and Brain Highways.

For more reading on the controversy surrounding (C) APD, check out these bloggers:

Thanks for reading!

Disability Awareness Essay Contest

During the first 20 minutes of each school day, every classroom in my school does Pride morning meetings. Pride is a school-wide initiative to promote student success by addressing social and emotional needs while building a sense of community within our school. This year, I have gotten more involved in planning the topics and curriculum for Pride. One of the topics we are going to cover is differences and disability awareness.

I’m currently working on the lesson plans, which I will share in a future post, but while I was researching these topics, I found an essay contest hosted by Social Security Disability Help of New England in 2012. You can read more about the contest here. I was so inspired by these essays that I just had to share them. I tend to write about more of the challenges and research aspects of our field, but today I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on why we do what we do – to help individuals communicate, build relationships, and fulfill their potential as healthy, happy, productive members of society. The students who wrote these essays clearly have had excellent role models – parents, teachers, SLP’s, etc – to teach them how to be empathetic, caring friends to those to are different than themselves. Or perhaps children are born with these skills innately and we adults could learn a few things from them. Either way, enjoy these beautifully written essays.

New England Disability Awareness Essay Contest Winners- Grade 2

First Place Essay

By: Dillon N. from Massachusetts

About My Brother

My twin brother, Mason, has a disability. It is his cleft lip and palate. He also has a prosthetic eye. His old eye had to be removed because it had no pupil and didn’t work. He is also deaf in his left ear. He is great because he sometimes helps me spell words. He is also great because he is a wrestler. We are on a wrestling team together called the Black Flies and I sometimes wrestle him at practice. He is one of the smallest kids on the team. One time during a “King of the Hill” competition, he beat five boys in a row, including me. At the end of the match, all the big kids lifted Mason up off the ground and onto their shoulders. They carried him around the gym while everybody cheered. I felt good that he beat five kids. I think he was really happy, too. He surprises a lot of people that he can wrestle with one eye and ear. I love him a lot.

Dillon donated his winning prize money to the Smile Train.

New England Disability Awareness Essay Contest Winners- Grade 3

First Place Essay

By: Kyle W. from Massachusetts

New England Disability Awareness Essay

My friend Matt has Autism. These are some things that are hard for him: making friends, science, art, and physical activity. It’s hard sometimes to be his friend because he interrupts people. Physical activity is hard for Matt because he doesn’t always behave or follow directions.

When you get to know Matt he can be really nice and kind to you. Matt is just like a normal kid and always goofy and funny. He really likes me because I’m goofy too. Matt is a good friend of mine.

Matt is good at so many things too. Matt is great at the piano and math. Matt is really smart and talented. He is the best at math in the class. When I’ve heard Matt play the piano, he concentrates a lot and makes beautiful music. I could never do that.

Matt has to go with special teachers and work even harder than I do. Matt has to get taken out of classes to go to other classes and learn additional subjects. This year he even had to move schools for his special work. That must have been really hard for him because he misses his friends.

Matt inspires me because his life can be unfair sometimes, but he keeps trying and never gives up. He teaches me to always try and never say I can’t do it. Matt is my friend and I’m proud of him that he keeps going forward. I miss him a lot.

Kyle donated his winning prize money to Autism Speaks

 

Did anyone else need to reach for a box of tissues? I can’t wait to do an essay contest with my school this year. I’ll be sure to share the winning submissions!

Thanks for reading!

Data Collection Tips and Tricks for SLP’s

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No matter where you work as an SLP, data collection is a critically important part of our jobs. First of all, for all of us, from the very first moment we meet a patient, student, or client, we begin taking data. The data from our initial assessments drives our treatment plans and the data we take during sessions helps us adjust, modify, or change our treatment approaches to provide individualized, patient-or-student-centered services. If you bill insurance, data is not only critical for driving your treatment plan, but it’s also the key to getting paid. In fact, this is now true in the schools too, to some extent, as more and more schools adapt value-added teacher evaluation tools which determine pay raises based, at least in part, on student growth measures (I have much  more to say on THAT for a future post, but for now, you canread what Nicole Allison over at SLP Peeps has to say here.)

The point is, no matter where you work or who you work with, a good SLP takes good, quality data. When I was first starting out, the idea of data completely overwhelmed me. In my school placement, I had 43 students on my caseload, each with 4-5 goals. How in the world could I keep track of that many goals?! My SLP supervisor at the time had some great tips and tricks to help me get started, and I’ve honed those data collection skills over the past 3 years. I plan to share those tips with you today!

In general, these tips will be more appropriate for pediatric SLP’s. In my experience, I’ve found data collection will adults tends to be much easier for a variety of reasons… (they don’t move as fast, when you politely ask them to wait a moment while you jot that down, they do – could you imagine asking a 3 year old to do that?!)

Data Collection Tips and Tricks for SLP’s

  1. When you are getting started with a new caseload or a new client, focus on building rapport first. Your data will be much more meaningful in the future if the person taking the data actually knows the client.
  2. You don’t have to have 10 data points on every single goal every single session. Chose a manageable starting point. For me, that was 1 goal per session for individual clients, and 1 goal per student for group sessions. Don’t stress about all the other goals – I promise you, you will remember them all eventually! That doesn’t mean you won’t work on the other goals, it just means you aren’t requiring yourself to record data on each goal. This will free you up to focus on observing the student more closely, building rapport, and being spontaneous within activities to see what that reveals about the student and their skills.
  3. Cycle through your goals. If you chose to take data on a students “wh” question goal last session, take data on a different goal the next session, like using vocabulary words in  novel sentences. You might do the same activity for both goals, again, targeting multiple skills each session, but only focus on data for 1 goal at a time. This will give the student multiple opportunities for practice and your data will show their growth!
  4. Write goals that are easily measurable. Take a look at 2 versions of the same goal for articulation:
    1. Susie will produce /k, g/ in the initial and final position of single words during semi-structured play activities with 80% accuracy given up to 2 verbal models and 1 visual cue.
    2. Susie will produce /k, g/ in the initial and final position of single words during semi-structured play activities with 100% accuracy given cues and models as needed.
      Which one is going to be easier to document? There are absolutely different opinions when it comes to writing goals, but for me personally, it is much too difficult to keep track of specific amounts and types of cueing when I’m working with a student. If I say the word twice, and the student watches me say it both times, now wait – is that a verbal or visual cue? Do they no longer meet the criteria because they’ve had 2 visual cues? But they said the word correctly – how do I document that?! Goal version #2 is going to be much easier to track. Once a student is stimulable for a sound, you’re going to provide as much support as needed for them to produce the sound successfully, so 100% accuracy is a reasonable goal at the level they are stimulable for (sound in isolation, single word, phrase, sentence, conversation, etc). The days they are able to correct 100% of their errors given cues and models at that level, you will remember it. And then they have met their goal! Move up to the next level of complexity. Every other day, you can simply record “progress made” and 1 data point example (/k/ initial produced given 2 verbal prompts).
  5. It is important to write measurable goals for language targets as well, and goals that only measure 1 skill. Otherwise, a student might master a skill  but not meet their goal because they haven’t mastered the second skill yet. The same is true for articulation targets. It might make sense to group cognates together, like /k, g/, because most children will make progress on both sounds around the same time. However, it would not make sense to group earlier developing sounds and later developing sounds, again because a student might master /p, b,m/ long before they are able to produce “ch” and r-blends. Insurance companies, and possibly school administrators, want to see goals met as an indicator of progress before they will reimburse or reward you for your services, so as soon as a skill is mastered, you want to show that by the student meeting their goal. Again, let’s look at some examples:
    1. Jack will answer “who” questions with 80% accuracy after listening to a grade-level paragraph length text using appropriate pronouns given up to 2 verbal cues.
    2. Jack will answer “who” questions with 80% accuracy after listening to a grade-level paragraph length text given up to 2 verbal cues.
    3. Jack will use appropriate pronouns during structured activities with 80% accuracy given an initial teacher model.
      Now, what if Jack answers all of his “who” questions correctly, but uses a character name instead of a pronoun? He hasn’t met goal #1, but he has met goal #2, and in this case, you might need to choose a different activity to target goal #3.
  6. Target goals with a variety of activities, but keep data collection simple by collecting data during only 1 activity at a time. For example, if you are working on “where” questions, you might target this skill in many, many different ways (during book reading, using picture prompts, walking around outside and asking questions, video modeling, play, etc) You should target the skill in a variety of contexts to facilitate generalization, but to make data collection easier, you might only take data during  1 activity until the student meets the goal in that context. For example, you might ask 5 “where” questions during book reading, and once the student answers 4/5 correctly consistently,  then switch collecting data on 5 “where” questions while taking a walk outside. You will still do a variety of activities to target the skill, but only collect data on 1 activity.
  7. Group students together who are working on similar skills. With high caseload sizes and classroom schedule conflicts, creating appropriate groups can be quite the challenge. While it is also important to group students who are similar in age and developmental level, I think it is more important to create groups who are working on the same skills but might be in different grades. That being said, I wouldn’t group a 3rd grader with a 6th grader, even if that 6th grader is reading at a 2nd grade level, because socially and emotionally, that is not what is best for the student. However, I would much rather group 3rd and 4th graders who are all working on reading comprehension than create a group of all 3rd graders with articulation, social, and language goals. In these situations, there is always 1 or 2 students who are truly getting student-centered intervention, while the others might still benefit from the activity, but it isn’t the best use of their time. If you are doing a pull-out group and the student would be benefiting more from instruction in the classroom than what you are doing in your group, then the group they’re in isn’t appropriate. Students working on language and reading comprehension shouldn’t miss class time to watch you model and practice an /r/ sound. I know ideal grouping is not always possible in the schools, but usually when you take the time to discuss your concerns and issues with teachers, they are willing to be flexible and work with you. Maybe that 20 minute “brain break” could move to after reading or perhaps read aloud doesn’t have to be right after lunch. When your students are grouped appropriately, not only will they benefit focused and specific intervention, but planning activities and taking data will be much easier for you as well.
  8. Get students involved in tracking their own data! This is probably the biggest shift I have made in moving from the clinic to the school setting, and it has made a huge difference both in the motivation of my students to make progress and in making my life easier! I use rubrics with my students track their progress. The students fill them out as we practice their skills and then the students chart their growth on graph paper. They know what their goals are and know exactly how much growth they need to make to meet their goals. The best part is, I can have a group of 4 or 5 students taking their own data so I can focus on providing high quality cues and prompts, informal observations, and having FUN with my students! The rubrics I use most right now are for articulation and story retelling, but I’m working on more language skills rubrics to use this school year. The rubrics and chart paper I have created for articulation goals are available on my TpT store. Download the sample for a freebie here!

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I hope these tips make good sense to you and help those of you just starting our or making a career transition feel more comfortable taking high quality data. I promise, it gets easier with practice. If you have more data collection tips and tricks or if you’ve tried any of the ideas I’ve listed here, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Let Them Play! The Argument for More Play in School

Last week I summarized and commented on an research study about the how Kindergarten classrooms have changed since the 90’s, specifically, that academic demands have increased and opportunities for play have decreased. You can read that blog post here. But it’s not just in school that children’s daily activities have changed. A study published in 2004 found that children spend half as much time outside as they did 20 years ago and, on average, children ages 6-16 have 6 and a half hours of screen time a day.

ID-100366588Image courtesy of kdshutterman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is extremely concerning. All types of play – gross motor play, pretend play, constructive play, etc – are critical vehicles for cognitive, social, emotional, fine and gross motor, sensory, and communicative development.

Children learn how to interact through play. When building a fort with their friends, or playing with a pretend kitchen, children learn how to collaborate, negotiate, think critically, compromise, and relate to others.

Play is an excellent opportunity for language development. Children learn faster and retain information better when they are engaged and motivated by an activity. A child is going to learn colors and shapes faster if their teacher or parent is talking to them while playing with blocks than if they practiced with flashcards.

ID-100361555Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pretend play requires children to use symbolic thinking – the same underlying process as language. Game play encourages social skills such as collaboration and turn-taking and helps develop sportsmanship. Unstructured, spontaneous play allows children to develop the strength and coordination they need to be successful with daily gross motor tasks. Each of these types of play fosters important skills which build the foundation for success, both inside the classroom and in our daily lives.

Our children need ample time to engage in play – both at home and at school. Who’s with me? Let’s bring back playtime in Kindergarten!

If you’d like to advocate for more playtime in your school, there are many excellent resources on the importance of play. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The Inspired Treehouse: a great website and blog created by Occupational Therapists covering topics like fine and gross motor skills, sensory exploration, and play.
  • The Hanen Centre: A non-profit with excellent resources on language development, social skills, and play.
  • The National Wildlife Federation: The NWF is dedicated to getting youth outside. They have  an excellent handout on the health benefits of playing outside.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

All Work and No Play in Kindergarten?

Speech-language pathologists are very familiar with the social, emotional, cognitive, and communicative importance of play for young children.

Those of us who work in schools also know that opportunities for play are decreasing in our kindergarten classrooms.

ID-10062109Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A study published in January, 2016 by researchers at the University of Virginia analyzed results from a survey of 2,500 kindergarten and first grade teachers nation-wide. Survey responses were part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Researchers compared teacher responses from 1998 and 2010 to evaluate how kindergarten and first grade classrooms have changed over that period of time. 1998 was chosen as the starting year because it was before No Child Left Behind was implemented. Researchers analyzed changes in teachers’ beliefs about school readiness, curricular focus and time use, classroom materials, pedagogical approach, and assessment practices. These are some of their most interesting findings:

School Readiness

  • In 1998, 31% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that kindergarteners should learn to read by the end of the school year compared to 80% of teachers in 2010.
  • 33% more teachers believed students should know the alphabet before starting kindergarten in 2010 than in 1998
  • Overall, researchers found increases in teacher expectations regarding every single measure of school readiness

Curricular Focus and Time Use

  • While time spent teaching literacy, science, and social studies does not significantly change between 1998 and 2010, time spent teaching music and art significantly decreases. In 1998, 34% of teachers taught music daily and 27% of teachers taught art daily, compared to 16% and 11% respectively in 2010.
  • In general, researchers found increases in the time spent covering topics that were considered “difficult” or “advanced” in 1998 in math and literacy and decreases in topics covered in science and social studies.

Classroom Materials

  • The percentage of teachers who reported having an art area, dramatic play area, a science or nature area, or a water or sand table in their classrooms dropped by  21-29%.

Pedagogical Approach

  • The percentage of teachers who reported children spending 1 hour per day or more on child-directed activities decreased by 14% from 54% in 1998 to 40% in 2010.
  • The percentage of teachers who reported 3 hours or more of teacher-directed, whole group instruction per day more than doubled from 15% in 1998 to 32% in 2010.
  • Both in half day and full day programs, the use of worksheets and textbooks significantly increased.
  • The percentage of teachers who reported student participation in P.E. did not significantly change, and the percentage of teachers who reported daily recess increased by 9%.

Assessment Practices

  • Researchers found 20% and 22% increases in the percentage of teachers who found student achievement relative to classmates and student achievement relative to local, state, and professional standards “very important” or “essential.”

The authors of this study caution readers to consider the date of survey results when drawing conclusions about this study. Survey results are now 6 years old and therefore cannot be expected to accurately depict what is happening in our kindergarten classrooms in 2016. Additionally, like most major research studies, this survey is only a sample.

However, in considering this research, we cannot deny that a major shift occurred in the focus of kindergarten – a shift toward an emphasis on literacy and math and away from play-based learning and exploration. Our kindergarteners are spending less time playing and more time in teacher-directed instruction. Opportunities for art and music have decreased. Academic expectations have significantly risen and the importance of achievement testing has increased.

What is the impact of this change in focus? What happens when kindergarten becomes the new first grade?  In favor of play-based learning, The Alliance for Childhood published a lengthy report (72 pages!) called Crisis in Kindergarten: Why Children Need Play in School. I plan to explore these questions and examine the power and importance of play in learning in my next blog post, but I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

You can read NPR’s summary of the study here: More Testing, Less Play: Study Finds Higher Expectations For Kindergartners

Thanks for reading!

Must-Haves for the Elementary SLP Starting Out

I was incredibly fortunate that my first job out of grad school was a clinic with a wealth of materials and amazing clinicians for me to learn from. I got to use many high quality, evidence-based treatment and assessment tools as well as learn from the creativity and ingenuity of my co-workers. The two years I spent in that setting really helped me when I transitioned to an elementary school. My school had some resources, but like many other speech rooms across the country, it was pretty empty at first. However, because of my experience in the clinic, I knew how to get the most out of the resources I had and which “must-haves” I needed to add to my collection. My school didn’t have any money in their budget for special education, but I requested funds from our amazing PTO and received some funds through Medicaid that I was able to use on speech-language resources.

However, many new grads are left scrambling when they are placed in settings without a lot of resources. Just like teachers, SLP’s often end up spending their own money on treatment activities and materials. It’s hard to come up with money for materials, especially when you’re a new grad and have licensing, accreditation, and professional development to pay for, unless you’re lucky enough to work for an organization that helps with some of those costs. $150 is about the maximum amount that I was able to spare when just starting out. With that budget in mind, here are my recommendations for the must-have resources for the brand-new elementary SLP:

  • 1-2 board games (check Goodwill and summer garage sales for board games in good condition. For the preschool crowd, Caribou is my favorite, and for the elementary age-group, I like Trouble.)
  • Bubbles (I’d recommend a no-spill container!)
  • Play doh
  • A set of articulation pictures (Webber cards are nice for game play, but a little more expensive – $15 per target sound deck. I’d recommend buying a book with all the target sounds to start out. You can always cut out pictures and make your own deck of cards for go fish, memory, etc. You can also laminate a page from the book and play BINGO. I like No Glamour Articulation, $43.95.)
  • A laminator and a good pair of scissors – If the school and/or clinic where you work doesn’t have a laminator, I’d recommend investing in one. All of the free resources you find online (see below for my recommendations!) will last much longer if they’re laminated! You can buy a laminator for anywhere between $15-$100.
  • Sequencing pictures – sequencing pictures are so versatile for language skills – you can target “wh” questions, a variety of grammatical structures, increasing MLU, adjectives, and more. There are many sets available. I like this set for $10.

FREE resources – After investing a solid $100-150 on the materials listed above, the savvy and budget-conscious SLP would be wise to take advantage of these free resources:

  • The library – literacy-based language intervention is a huge part of treatment for the school-age population. Take advantage of your school, district, or community library!
  • Teachers Pay Teachers – Each teacher-seller has at least 1 free resource in their Tpt Store. In my store, I have 2 right now (a KWLS chart and writing checklists.Speechy Musings put together a list of favorite Tpt freebies for SLP’s in 2013. I’m sure many, many more free resources have been added since then, but this list would be a good place to start! I’d like to put together my own list of favorite freebies in a future post. This is where that laminator will come in handy!
  • Pinterest – Pinterest is a great place to find ideas as well as materials. Some will be free and some won’t be. You can follow my speech path board (link here) for therapy ideas!
  • Author websites – Jan Brett has tons of free printables on her website that I use all the time (The Mitten is one of my all-time favorite books to use in therapy!). If you’re using a certain text with your students, just google the author’s name. They might have great extension activities on their website!
  • Scholastic has tons of printable reading comprehension passages and questions.
  • Mommy Speech Therapy has great articulation worksheets – all for free!

What are your must-have resources? Have you spent your own money on materials? If money wasn’t an object, what would you invest in for your speech room? What are your favorite free resources? I’d love to know – leave me a comment!