Lesson Pix

If you have followed this blog or the Speaking of Speech.com website for any length of time, you’ll know that I am a strong proponent of visual supports for all students.  I’ve presented on this topic at local, state, and national conferences, and have built up such a huge collection of materials created with Boardmaker that I’m running out of space to store it all.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.25.16 PMRecently, though, I’ve been exploring the features of another symbol system, Lesson Pix.  Lesson Pix is a subscription-based, web-based tool for creating a wide variety of visual supports.  A single subscription is just $36 per year, and lower prices are available for multiple subscriptions.  Included in the subscription:  35,000 symbols accessed by an easy to use search engine, the ability to upload images from the Internet or your camera, tools to modify symbols, and a gazillion preprogrammed templates for all kinds of games and materials. In addition, you get tech support in the form of a large number of instructional videos on all features of Lesson Pix.  Looking for ways to use visual supports?  Check out the resources under “Articles.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.25.37 PMSymbols in Lesson Pix are available in color, outline (black/white), and stencil (no outline).  SLPs will love the SoundFinder feature, which lets you search for any speech sound in any position of words.  Making worksheets and cards for medial and final target sounds just got a whole lot easier!!  But that’s not all,  You can also search for patterns (CV, VC, CVCV, etc.), minimal pairs, and rhyming words!!  Wowzers!

If you are making theme-based materials, you’ll want to use the ClipArt library, which is arranged by category.  Click on the category to open the folder, drag all desired images to the “tray,” then use these symbols to populate your chosen template.  Edit to change text and alter the appearance of symbols.  You can also import clip art and photos to augment the 35,000 symbols built into the program.  A unique feature of Lesson Pix is that you can request a symbol;  just fill out the form with a description of what you need and they will draw it for you.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.59.15 PM

Although an MS-Word Integration plug-in allows for creating your own unique materials, Lesson Pix is primarily a template-based tool.  Here is just a sample of the long list of available templates:

  • Picture cards
  • Picture schedules
  • First, then boards
  • Books and social stories
  • Certificates
  • Door hangers
  • Flashcards
  • Coloring, lacing, and cutting materials for fine motor practice
  • Loads of games, including Bingo, Dominoes, treasure hunt, fortune tellers, I have/Who has cards, and much more!
  • Menus
  • Voting ballots
  • Multiple Choice worksheets
  • Semantic maps
  • Writing pages
  • Stick puppets
  • Overlays for AAC books and devices

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 11.01.57 PM

If that isn’t enough, your $36 annual fee also provides you with access to the Sharing Center.  Upload your creations for others to use, and download loads of free materials that others have posted.  All materials created with Lesson Pix are saved as PDF.

Lesson Pix provides a free 30-day trial in which all features of the program are operational, but a watermark appears on materials when you print them.  For just $3/month, Lesson Pix is certainly worth exploring!









A Plethora of Resources from One Dynamic SLP

The most memorable moment of graduate school, way back when at Trenton State College, was when the 8 or so students from our program exited the hall after taking the ASHA exam.  We gathered in the parking lot to seek assurance from one another that we hadn’t bombed the test. “What did you put for this question?  What did you put for that one?”  Buoyed by the knowledge that we had pretty much all selected the same answers on the trickiest questions, we were about to part with a sense of cautious optimism about our future careers.  Then, one of my classmates asked, “So, how DO you correct an /r/?” There was stunned silence, then a ripple of laughter that built into full-blown hysterics.  Yes, leaning across cars for support, we laughed until we cried, because not one of us could answer that question.

The first fifteen years of my career were spent with students who had moderate to severe disabilities, so fixing an /r/ was the least of my concern. Therapy was all about functional communication and assistive technology, and I was good at that.  Then I transferred to a new school with caseload of kiddos in regular education for whom improved articulation was their goal.  Oh, dear! I was suddenly confronted with errors on “k, g, th, and l” which I felt I could handle, but predominant on the caseload were frontal lisps, lateral lisps, and the dreaded /r/ distortion.  I had to do some very serious professional development very quickly.  That’s when I had the great good fortune of attending my first of several trainings with Char Boshart, creator of Speech Dynamics, and my entire approach to artic therapy changed.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 12.06.09 PMIf I could only choose one word to describe Char, “dynamic” would be it! (“Delightful, insightful, funny, creative, generous, and awesome” also spring to mind, as you’ll see as you read on).  Here’s just a bit from her bio:

Char Boshart, M.A., CCC-SLP is a therapist, seminar presenter, writer, interviewer on The Speech Link podcast, and is president of Speech Dynamics, Inc.

She graduated with her MA from Western Michigan University (she took a class from the esteemed Dr. Charles Van Riper) and began her career in the public schools with over a hundred on her caseload. Since that time, she’s worked several years in the public schools in southern California, Maryland, and Georgia, in the clinical setting, private practice, and as an Assistant Professor and Department Chair at Loma Linda University.

Since the ‘90s, she has presented numerous well-received articulation and language seminars through Speech Dynamics, as well as through the Bureau of Education and Research (BER). She has also created several practical CEU videos through SpeechTherapypd.com, and now hosts a podcast, The Speech Link. She is a consummate speaker with an organized, infectious and exhilarating presentation-style.

Her interest in creating effective therapy techniques and efficient caseload management has evolved into the development of many practical resources. Her most current books are The Easy R, The Key to Carryover, 22 of My Favorite Tools and How to Use Them, Demystify the Tongue Tie, and others.

In addition, Char writes, and thousands of SLPs read, her weekly blog, Therapy Matters. She is dedicated to sharing practical information and ideas to therapists that work with children.

That’s the formal Char Boshart. Then, there’s the day-to-day reality of being a school SLP, to which I’m sure we can all relate.

“I’ve been in schools with no phones and had to hunt down every single kid, every time, every day. I’ve been up-chucked on (I’ll never forget it; Waterloo Elementary….). I’ve double booked parent meetings. I’ve judged the Spelling Bee (I have no recollection of that on my Job Description; oh wait, I didn’t have one). I participated in the talent show (as a performer—talk about a train wreck). I’ve had 10 minutes to get a report done, and did, somehow. I’ve sat down at the therapy table with four kids and panicked because I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with them. I’ve forgotten kid’s names. A drop of a child’s saliva actually landed on my lip (eeek!). I’ve worked (or tried to) with toddlers and pre-schoolers who wouldn’t engage no matter what, and I felt guilty cause I wasn’t helping them. I’ve had over 110 on my caseload with four schools and no life.

Crazy? Yes. Fast-paced? Wouldn’t have it any other way. Helpful to kids? Boy, I sure hope so. It’s been great, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

If you EVER have the opportunity to attend one of Char’s presentations, DO IT!  I have attended multiple presentations and have learned so much each time.  And while you are waiting for that opportunity to see Char live and in-person, you MUST check out the plethora of resources mentioned in this post.  Books, videos, podcasts, her quick-read but chock-full blog posts, and all of the freebies she generously posts on her site:  WOW!!  If you are looking for the perfect way to spend a professional development day, this would be it.  Gather your SLP colleagues and dig into all that Char has to offer.  Your head will be spinning, but I guarantee, if one of your colleagues asks, “So, how do you correct an /r/?,” you will be able to answer that question with many new and effective tools and techniques to supplement what you are already doing.

You can hear Char interview me on how to increase communication opportunities for students with complex needs on The Speech Link podcast, hosted by SpeechTherapyPD.com, on October 4, 7 PM Eastern.  This will include a live Q&A period following the broadcast.  You can read about the resources I recommend in my September 19, 2018 post.

Creating Communication Opportunities for Students with Complex Needs

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 12.34.35 PMIn August, I had the distinct (and more than slightly scary) opportunity to participate in my first podcast.  The topic was “Creating Communication Opportunities for Students with Complex Needs,” and the interviewer was Char Boshart, SLP extraordinaire and creator of Speech Dynamics , where Char shares her endless wealth of knowledge on all aspects of articulation and school-based therapy (more on her later).  The podcast was made for SpeechTherapyPD.com and will be aired at 7 PM on October 4, after which I will be live to answer your questions.  My jitters were understandable, given it was the first time I was interviewed and recorded, but I was quickly put at ease by Char, who, among many other talents, is an excellent interviewer.  I am also fortunate to call her my friend and mentor, having established a connection through workshops and the web over the years.

So, how did it go?  Well, I guess, given this was my first time, it went rather well. For one thing, all of the technology worked, so that was a huge relief!  It was weird, I must say, sitting at my dining room table with a laptop, headset, and elaborate microphone on a stand (thanks to my son, a professional musician). But we eased through all that to get to the discussion at hand:  how to get students who have significant communication impairments to communicate more.  I have done 3-day team trainings on this very topic, so you can imagine that I had to jettison a lot of information to fit into the 50-minute format.  There is so much excellent information out there regarding presuming competence, aided language input (modeling), considerations for AAC system and vocabulary selection, expanding messages using core and fringe vocabulary, and ways to measure the efficacy of an AAC system, that I figured the podcast listeners didn’t need to hear me spout more of the same.

Instead, my focus was on how to change adult behavior and intervention strategies to increase a student’s participation in and communication during daily routines.  I chose this focus because I find that adult behavior can be the #1 barrier to communication for our students with complex learning needs.  This barrier manifests itself in a number of ways:  low expectations of the student’s abilities;  a focus on what a student can’t do, rather than finding ways to enable him so he CAN do;  a lack of training with instructional assistants;  instruction that follows the traditional teacher-led agenda, rather than taking the lead from and building on the students’ interests;  a lack of routines that have a clear beginning, familiar steps, and a clear ending;  a mismatch between the adult’s spoken message and body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, and a lack of awareness of how important these nonverbal cues are to a student; characteristics of adult behavior that have the unintended consequence of creating passivity and learned helplessness (or, at times, aggression); failure to recognize behavior as communication;   and — one of the most important, in my view — inconsistent or absent use of pausing with a prompt hierarchy.  Pausing is a challenge for most adults, even well-trained SLPs, and we often do not give the students time to process, formulate a response, and then deliver that response in a way that is understood by others.  The use of a prompt hierarchy with pausing keeps adults aware of how much assistance they are providing by moving from a least-to-most progression of prompting, which, in turn, promotes an increase in student independence. As mentioned in the podcast, videotaping and then viewing the interactions of adults and students can be extremely powerful in raising awareness in adults of their interactional style.

For those adults who are resistant, for one reason or another, to a student’s use of an AAC system (yes, there are adults like that; I see them all the time, and that is a BIG barrier), I recommend an assignment I gave my graduate students when I taught in the special education departments of two colleges:  be absolutely silent for 24 hours.  You can tell people ahead of time that you will be doing this.  You can wear a tag that says “I can’t talk today.”  You can use any other means to communicate (text, paper/pencil, sign/gesture), but you cannot talk.  It’s important that the 24 hours include typical activities of daily living — work, social activities, errands in the community.  Without exception, my grad students were profoundly shocked by their own experiences and the behaviors of family, friends, colleagues, and community members during this experiment.  And, without exception, I’m sure that each of these grad students changed their perceptions as to the importance of AAC and the need to break down barriers to its use, largely through making changes in adult behavior and expectations.

Throughout the podcast, which seemed to pass by so quickly, I tried to provide real-life examples and suggested two books with a powerful message for anyone who interacts with children or adults who have severely limited expressive communication:  “My Stroke of Insight” and “Ghost Boy,” both previously mentioned in previous posts and in my post, “The Therapy Voice.”  I also touched on the importance of scripting routines to be sure that (1) communication opportunities are built into each daily routine, including transitions, and (2) that routines are done consistently, no matter which team member is involved.  Other important points I hope got through, albeit briefly:  how to move beyond choice-making to include all functions of communication and the importance of visual supports for receptive and expressive communication.

What I didn’t have time to share are some amazing resources for ways to build and expand communication in routines and how to help all team members to become more effective facilitators of expressive communication.  Below are some of the resources that I encourage you to explore and share with your team (hint: a great way to spend your next PD day!).   You’ll notice that PrAACticalAAC is referenced often — an incredible wealth of information that I’m barely touching on here!

Autism Classroom Resources:  Functions of Communication and How to Expand

Autism Teaching Strategies:  Free social skills materials

Autism Teaching Strategies:  Visual supports to build appropriate non-verbal behaviors

PrAACticalAAC:  Using Video to Teach Vocabulary

PrAACticalAAC:  Scaffolding language

PrAACticalAAC:  S’MORES and Partner-Assisted Input

PrAACticalAAC:  Be the FUN in FUNctional Communication (goals and spreadsheets)

PrAACticalAAC:  Selecting and teaching new words

PrAACticalAAC:  Creating communication opportunities for the older learner

PrAACticalAAC:  Autism and AAC:  5 Things I Wish I Had Known

PrAACticalAAC:  Supporting Reluctant Communicators

PrAACticalAAC:  Using Aided Language Input to Build Communication Opportunities (scripting)

PRC AAC Language Lab:  yearly subscription, plus free resources, Language Stages and goals for teachers and SLPs, activities for parents

Kidz Learn Language Blogspot:  games with core words, summer activities and much more

AAC Intervention Tips of the Month from Caroline Musselwhite

Saltillo’s Chat Corner:  ideas for Saltillo speech-generating devices, but that also can be used by any AAC system

Keep Talking by Call Scotland:  a 70+ page book that you can download -free! – full of ideas on how to increase communication throughout the day

News-2-You and Unique Learning System:  lots of ways to build communication around these subscription-based materials

Using Video to increase communication:


Increasing communication with peers:

Thank you for all you do to support the communication needs of our complex students!  I hope you enjoy the podcast on Oct 4 and will look forward to talking with you at its conclusion.  Please visit SpeechTherapyPD.com for more information.  Stay tuned to this blog for upcoming posts on the amazing resources offered by Char Boshart and the use of LessonPix for visual supports.

Creating a Happy Place for Therapy

Well, friends, it’s happened again.  Summer (very short this year due to snow days and the requirement that we attend a full week of professional development before the kids come back) is officially over.  Last year was my first year in a new building, so setting up and organizing the room to be a functional workspace was my #1 priority.  I was so lucky to have a large room (half classroom, divided by a partition and shared with the reading specialist) with bright sunny windows, built-in bookcases, and plenty of space for my desk, computer and printer, therapy and office supplies, holiday decorations, a phone, and air conditioning (first time in my 25 year career).  Given that space to work with, it didn’t take long to get the room in tiptop shape — my organized, cheerful, welcoming, happy place.  That task quickly completed, I was able to move on to the business of being the new SLP in the school:  meeting teachers, figuring out the crazy layout of the school, reviewing student files, meeting the students, and setting up a schedule (the first of about 18 versions through the school year).

This summer I was informed by my principal (a wonderfully supportive man with whom I worked for 9 years in my previous school) that my room would be needed for a new kindergarten class (the 6th!) due to exploding enrollment.  There were three options for a new therapy room:  a 5′ x 8′ closet off the nurse’s office, presently used as a food pantry for underprivileged families;  a long, wide hallway with an exterior door on one end and double door on the other to seal it off from the main hallway (guaranteed to be cold and drafty and distracting, as many of the teachers use this door to run errands during the 4 lunch/recess times);  and a very small office off the library with the advantage of having lots of built-in storage.  While this is the best option, it is upstairs from the K-1 classrooms and moving in means displacing the librarian from her private space.  Ugh.  I’ve already spent at least 8 hours this summer, packing materials and moving boxes upstairs, but still have much more moving and unpacking to do, once the library materials are moved. (To say I have a lot of materials is an understatement.  My colleagues and student teachers refer to my room as the “candy store” of therapy).

videoblocks-smiling-business-woman-working-inside-cardboard-box-as-a-very-small-office-female-worker-talking-on-the-phone-isolated-on-white-background_rulnymktg_thumbnail-full01This is not the way I expected to start the year—-but I’m sure I’m not the only one facing therapy in less than ideal conditions. Certainly, I’ve worked in my share of closets, alcoves, and dusty spaces behind the curtain on the stage in the past, and have many colleagues who can claim the same.  A good friend of mine is an architect specializing in school design.  Frustrated by inadequate and even inappropriate SLP rooms in our county which were clearly an afterthought, I asked him about this seemingly universal situation.  He reacted with complete surprise and said that in his 30-year career, he had never once been asked to include and design a room in a school for speech/language therapy!  Geez, Louise!  How we get that to change should be a mission of ASHA.  But, for each of us in the field, it is our mission to make the most of whatever space we are given.  Fortunately, SLPs are creative and flexible, so I will be putting those attributes to work big-time in the next two weeks.

My “to do” list:

  1.  Downsize furniture to make the room feel more spacious.  Gone is the large semi-circular table, replaced by a small trapezoid one, surrounded by kid-sized chairs.  Gone will be the metal shelving unit, replaced by a computer cart to hold my computer, printer, and desk items. Gone are two file cabinets filled with cheerful decorations for every holiday and season.  There’s simply no room to hang or place decorations.
  2. Unpack boxes of books, games, and materials and shelve them in an organized fashion so whatever I need can be easily accessed.  Weed out any excess materials and pass them on to newbies on our staff.
  3. Do all of the above as quickly as possible with the help of my loving husband so I can get on with the real business of setting up the new caseload.
  4. Smile!  And remember that the students are the most important thing to have in the therapy room!  Everything else is window-dressing.

Strengthening Parent Connections

School will be starting in just a few weeks.  One of the first things I do each year is write a “welcome” letter to parents.  Actually, I may write several different versions — one for artic, one for language, one for life skills, one for AAC users — depending on my caseload.  One purpose of the letter is to provide the parents with my contact information, including the days that I am in the building and best way to reach me (email works best for me).  The other purpose, and the reason for the various versions, is to give parents a description of what to expect in school-based therapy and, most importantly, to remind them of the importance of parent involvement in therapy.  Of course, I always stress this at all IEP meetings, but find that even families who are diligent about speech/language support at home during the school year tend to fall off the wagon over the summer, so an early reminder helps them get back into the routine of supporting speech/language skills.  For students learning new skills, I use the analogy of piano lessons:  no one can become an accomplished musician if they only practice 30 minutes a week during their lesson.  For students in the carryover stage who don’t feel they need to work on their communication skills, I remind them that even professional baseball players take batting practice.

In the past, my contact with parents was often limited to the welcome letter, the annual IEP conference, and a hastily scribbled note on a page of artic homework or on the “what I did in speech/language therapy” sheet I staple in each student’s folder.  Now there are so many other options to keep parents informed and involved!

VIDEO:  Along with the welcome letter, I send home a media release form for each student.  Once signed and returned, I am able to use PhotoBooth or other video apps to capture snippets of therapy that illustrate what the student needs to do and how I elicit that.  These clips are then emailed to the parents with a brief explanation.  Parents love having this visual model, and it helps their students when the parents are able to use the same cues and have the same expectations.  You can read more about this in a previous post about PhotoBooth.

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 9.03.31 AME-NEWSLETTERS:  A periodic newsletter allows you to expound on what’s currently going on in the therapy room (especially useful if you are doing theme-based instruction) and to share lots of links to useful articles and materials.  Newsletters don’t need to be lengthy. They just need to be issued on a regular basis, be it monthly or quarterly.  S’more is a subscription-based site that offers a special rate for educators.  Check to see if anyone else in your district is using S’more for newsletters;  if so, you may be able to get a subscription at a further discount (and have your district pay for it!).  This is very useful for sharing general information to all parents in an attractive, professional format.

ACTIVE STUDENT AND PARENT ENGAGEMENT:  Another amazing resource — a limited version is free for educators — is Seesaw.  This app, which works across multiple platforms, not only allows you to communicate with parents via a general newsletter, but also allows you to create your own activities and post to each student’s online portfolio, which their parents can access and review.  Students can also use this for active learning — think of the therapy goals you can address while engaging the students in this digital format!  Check out the videos on the Seesaw site for lots of inspiration!

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 9.01.45 AMUse ClassDojo, a free web-based app for computer, tablet, and phone, to monitor specific student goals, including behavior, with positive reinforcement, and share student progress with parents via photos and videos, and through the student’s self-created portfolio.  Notes to parents can be instantly translated into 30 languages.  ClassDojo has added many new features since I first blogged about this.

How will you engage with parents this year?  Please share other resources that work for you!