Sunday, January 29, 2017

Unraveling Confusion: Helping Students with Academic Success

At ASHA this November I attended a session in which the presenter reminded us, "you are not tutors." That comment made an impact on me because there are often times when students bring their classwork to speech therapy. I want to help them, yet sometimes can't. For instance, I don't understand how math is being taught. Truth be told, I struggled learning math 50 years ago! Sometimes the work they bring doesn't align with their speech-language goals and while I would love to help, I am not a tutor. That is important to remember. However, as SLPs, we do support curriculum areas like vocabulary, critical thinking and speech-language targets that are critical for academics and there are many instances where we can and should help students with their assignments. That is our job in the school.

No, we are not tutors. It seems though, our particular area of expertise is sometimes the exact thing our students need when they are struggling to understand a concept. This is most prevalent when students enter middle school. By the time these students enter sixth grade, often they have been on our caseloads for as many as seven years. While they have had seven classroom teachers, two or three special educators and a whole passel of para educators, we have been the constant. We understand their language difficulties and know how to tailor material so they can understand it. We get that they need constant cycling back to previously taught material. We understand that they need very explicit language. We understand that they need a highly linear approach. We know they may need this instruction in a one-on-one context. We are often the right ones to unravel the confusion and relieve academic frustration.

So when a student's paraprofessional recently came to me expressing the difficulty she was having explaining sonnet writing to a seventh grade student, I changed my therapy plans from inferencing to sonnets. My daughter had to write a love sonnet in eighth grade. She is a good student with no language difficulties and she struggled. It took her hours and I recall seeing the teacher who gave the assignment the next morning and saying, "Sonnet this!" We laughed, but it was a very challenging assignment, one I have never had to do myself. This year it is being done in seventh grade! For our students with language difficulties this assignment can be a doosie!

I am neither an English teacher nor a poet, so began my crash course in sonnets. This is how I broke the task down for my student:

  1. I provided the order and parts of a sonnet (fourteen lines, three quatrains of four lines each and a concluding couplet).
  2. We talked about sonnet vocabulary and the definitions of: quatrain, couplet, metaphor, stanza, iambic pentameter, rhythm, and syllable.
  3. I explained the requirements of a sonnet: number of lines, rhyming pattern, ten syllables per line
  4. I explained a sonnet must have meaning in terms of a theme, a conflict and a conclusion. 
  5. We practiced the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyming structure and the stress pattern of the lines with random words.
I whipped up some visuals and graphic organizers so my student could practice iambic pentameter and the syllable structure of each line before deciding on a theme. You can access these here.

At the end of one of our therapy sessions, this student said, "You explain things to me so I can understand. I like that." That is what we do. Our expertise in language and breaking information down into its component parts and knowledge of our students and their needs often make us the right people to unravel confusion. The next morning I popped into this student's English class. He already had three lines to his sonnet written! I could see his anxiety decreased with his understanding and I was very happy. Next week we'll work on inferences!

Monday, January 16, 2017

SLP Commitments-2017

Who am I? Not my name or my birthday. Not where I live or what I do, but who am I...on the inside?
Reflecting on where I want to commit my energies takes on a different bent when I view it through the lens of who I am, or rather who I want to be. Who I want to be as a woman is exactly who I want to be as a speech-language pathologist. I don't think I can separate my professional self from my personal self.

This post then, will be brief! My commitments:

  1. To serve my students and their families with respect.
  2. To reserve judgment and when I don't, to be accountable.
  3. To produce work of a caliber that represents both me and the profession well.
  4. To keep an open heart and mind and approach my students, their families, and colleagues with tolerance. (I will admit I am sometimes "grumpy." I am committing to repair this!) 
  5. To remember my needs and the needs of my family. 
I suppose this amounts to being the best version of myself as I can. Now, I know that perfection is not my reality. Lord knows I am as flawed as can be. I am no paragon of virtue, I am nevertheless, committed to continuing my journey to fulfillment and contentment. 

I think the lyrics to the song, Take the Word of God With You sum up my thoughts well: "Go in peace to serve the world, in peace to serve the world. Take the love of God, the love of God with you as you go."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Snow" Much Fun

It seems this week the snow was falling across the entire nation. Snow in Tennessee, Oregon, and Louisiana. Everywhere, except right here in New Hampshire. It has been bitter cold, though and we have a lovely base of white to play in. I just love the snow! I love how clean everything looks with a fresh coat of white. I especially, love a snow day (who doesn't?). After all the reds and greens of December, the visual and auditory overload, I relish the white, stillness of a snowfall.

I also relish the calm that is reestablished in my speech room. The hustle and bustle of November and December, while exciting, can also be overwhelming. January brings snowflakes and icicles and blues and whites. I look forward to bringing out my trusty winter activities.
Here are some of my favorites:

Last year after effectively emptying a box of Ferrero Rocher candies, I re-purposed the container for a fun and frosty game. I used Sharpie markers to transform a ping pong ball into a snowman and students take turns bouncing the ball into the candy box which has snowflakes with points adhered in each candy divot.

Don't Break the Ice is fun, fun fun! Last year I made mats to complement the game. This year I added eight new mats that including practicing word finding strategies and formulating compound sentences.  You can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, Doyle Speech Works.

What do you get when you mesh crafts with speech and language activities? Why, craftivities of course. I have always found crafts perfect for therapy and love coordinating articulation and language targets to them.  I Heart Crafty Things is an amazing site full of clever and simple crafts that are easily adaptable for therapy.

A few years ago I found Penguin Pile Up at a yard sale. This game puts the "berg" in "iceberg." I haven't done this before, but this year, I am going to use dry erase markers to write targets in the iceberg. 

My students love using pacing sticks and when theme-based they are even more motivating. 

Ink daubers and stampers are must haves for quick and easy reinforcement in speech-language therapy sessions. I bought sets for several seasons and holidays and pull them out on those days when simplicity is a must. I bought mine through Oriental Trading.

I feel as if I could add more and more photos of snow themed activities, but I really better stop here. I am certain I am not alone in having a bevy of materials at my disposal, but it's nice to get some crisp new ideas once in awhile! I hope these suggestions provide you with something new to try in your therapy. Please comment with what you'll be doing in your speech rooms this winter. I'd love some new ideas!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Meeting 2017 in a Word

I did it again! I got caught up in the Christmas season! YAY! As a result, my blog went dark for a month. I can say with certainty, that I missed it! This simple little blog has become for me an exercise in expression, a creative outlet and a source of professional outreach. I am happy to say I am still committed to putting "pen to paper" and forging onward in sharing speech-language therapy ideas and musings.

With the New Year many well meaning folks resolve to complete some sort of self improvement. Like many, I have resigned myself to the fact that resolutions just don't work for me. While I am always motivated at first, my zeal for diet, exercise, or organization peters out. Last year I read quite a bit about the "One Little Word Project." Ali Edwards, the originator of "One Little Word," sums it this way:

A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow.

In 2006 I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January – a word to focus on, meditate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life. My words have included play, peace, vitality, nurture, story, light, up, open, thrive, give, and whole. These words have each become a part of my life in one way or another. They've been embedded into who I am and into who I'm becoming. They've been what I've needed most (and didn't know I needed). They've helped me to breathe deeper, to see clearer, to navigate challenges, and to grow.

Last year I chose two words, one for my personal and one for my professional life (release and love; see last year's post here). The word I have chosen for this year is applicable to both; trust. 

My journey has been long and sometimes knotty. It occurred to me as I was contemplating my choice for 2017, that underlying every twist, every high is the notion of trust. Without trust in my family I would have been lost. Without trust in colleagues, I would never have achieved the level of professional joy I have now. Without trust in friends, I would never have felt I belonged. Without trust in myself, I could never have realized my value. Without trust in my God, I would not have realized my own fortitude. 

I am looking forward to unpacking the concept of trust, of rolling the word around and layering it over and over in my life. I suspect that as I allow trust to be the bedrock of my life I will grow deeper and wider. Have you found a word to take you into 2017? Please, let me know your choice. Maybe we can share thoughts.