To keep my mind sharp in those rare moments of down time (never at school, I assure you!), I like to play Solitaire on my iPad. Maybe it’s the need to organize things that attracts me to the game, or maybe it is the quickness of the outcome; win or lose, a game never takes more than 3 minutes, often much less than that, and that’s often all the down time I have!
As I play, I pay attention to the cards. If I hit a wall, I may “undo” my moves until I get to a place where I can make a different choice. I may simply replay the game, remembering where I went wrong and seeing if playing a different card yields a different outcome. If nothing works and I get the dreaded “No useful moves detected” message, I try to figure out which cards remain hidden, as they are the key to the game’s solution. And oh, what momentary and silly delight, when I beat my best time or number of moves!
In many ways, I view therapy in the same way. Students come into my room with the cards they were dealt, some more disorganized than others. As we go through therapy, be it artic or language, I proceed in a methodical manner, always watching for the outcome of each move. It is truly joyful when a student’s system becomes organized, especially when this happens in the fewest sessions possible. It is truly frustrating when we hit a wall in therapy. That’s when I need to step back an analyze the situation to determine what “cards” need to be uncovered for the student to become successful.
- Did I give enough background knowledge and training in the desired skill, or did I jump to therapy techniques and materials without a solid foundation of understanding? This occurred with several students in Learning Support who were having difficulty with auditory comprehension and couldn’t reliably answer “wh” questions about story details after hearing a story of 3-5 sentences. Practicing this each week wasn’t having much positive effect, so I backed up, designed a graphic organizer, and asked them to note the “wh” info from a single sentence. Holy smokes! That was the problem! They weren’t able to organize and relate the information to the “who, what, when, where, why” at the sentence level. Once we practiced this in therapy (and I shared this strategy with their special education teacher), the students gained proficiency at the sentence level, and THEN we could move on to one, then two, paragraphs with more complex graphic organizers. The same goes for parts of speech, grammar forms, and various aspects of vocabulary: sometimes we need to start back at the beginning in order to move the students ahead. “Never assume!” is my mantra.
- Have I provided sufficient auditory, verbal, visual, and tactile instruction? Maybe I skipped over critical steps. Do we need to revisit the “speech helpers” lesson and manner/place/voicing for target sounds? Is more time needed on auditory discrimination? Would going back to the sound/syllable level help them move on to more successful productions at the word and phrase levels? Should we bring back the mirror and flashlight, VowelViz or other visual apps, the “speech gizmo” or other tactile cues, or search for other strategies to build on? Standing up and/or squeezing a stress ball to increase muscle tension; lying over the bed in the nurse’s office to let gravity pull that tongue back; using PVC “speech phones” to increase auditory feedback; recording and playing back video to improve self-awareness; using mouth puppets, posters, drawings, and gestures to cue desired targets and movements; making Silly Putty tongues: all of these ideas came from Internet and therapy book resources or were born from an “aha” moment when what we were doing simply wasn’t working.
- Am I giving sufficient descriptive feedback? It’s not enough to tell students they made the sound or answered the question correctly. We need to tell them what they did to get to that correct production or response; this will ensure the student’s foundation is solid and the chances of repeated and more advanced successes are high.
- Have I given the student ownership of his or her therapy process and outcomes? Do the students have clear understanding of their goals? Do they know what successfully meeting the goals will look like? Do they know where they presently stand on that path to success? Do they understand the importance of practicing and applying their skills? I start each year with a review of each student’s IEP goals and write them in their speech folder in terms they can understand. I review each quarter’s progress on a graph to show growth, which is very motivating to the students. I actively engage the students in data collection and other self-monitoring strategies, and encourage them to make connections between therapy goals, their activities and interests, and their curriculum.
Just like in a game of Solitaire, if the present game plan isn’t leading anywhere, and you sense that “no useful moves are detected,” it’s time to reshuffle the deck and start again. Only in that way will the student’s system become organized and then you’ll know “You’ve Won!”