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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Tackling /r/ with Technology

A /t/ is a /t/ and a /k/ is a /k/. But, oh, that vocalic /r/ – the most complicated phoneme in the English language! Volumes have been written about how to fix an /r/ distortion. My go-to bag of tricks includes Char Boshart’s “The Easy R Therapy Program” and “The Entire World of R” books and cards. I’ve learned so much from Char’s books and presentations about how to facilitate tongue movement and tension; her website is a treasure-trove of great information, including free materials, videos, books, and blog posts.  Char Boshart’s “The Easy R Therapy Program” comes in hardcopy and digital versions, and there is even a condensed version for quick reference.   From “The Entire World of R” I learned that there are more than 20 allophones of /r/, each depending on the vowel context and position in the word, and that students can have some of these /r/ sounds perfected, while others remain stubbornly distorted.   Indeed, as part of my own /r/ remediation packet, I developed “Hit the Mark with /r/,” a quick screener to help me determine the vowels and positions in which the student can produce a good vocalic /r/ and those in which production breaks down.   “Hit the Mark with /r/” presents three words for each of the vocalic /r/ sounds (initial, medial, final) and a rating scale that breaks down production into 3 categories: “vowel and /r/ are distorted,” “vowel is OK but the /r/ is distorted,” and “acceptable vowel and /r/.” I follow this up with more in-depth probes, using Artic-U-Checks, which uses a similar rating scale of “incorrect,” “close,” and “acceptable.” A pattern I see over and over in my students: most initial and medial vocalic /r/ sounds are acceptable, but /er/ in all contexts is distorted, and so are all final /r/ sounds.

So, once I have assessed the type, place, and severity of a student’s /r/ distortion, therapy begins. In my experience, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to /r/ that will work for every student. Therefore, I am constantly expanding my bag of tricks, searching for that one cue, one technique that will flip the switch for each student. Multimodality instruction is key.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 12.43.09 PMBecause vowel context is so critical to producing acceptable /r/ sounds, my favorite app is Vowel Viz Pro by Complete Speech. This awesome app analyzes vowel production in real time. As the student produces words with vocalic /r/, the spaceship zooms to and hovers over high, middle, or low planets, representing the various vowels. The visual feedback is very reinforcing to the students and is definitely a motivator. The effort I’ve seen students expend in achieving the goal with this app is amazing – far more than I could ever get with flashcards or word lists. You can read more about Vowel Viz Pro in my blog post, “Apps for Vocalic /r/.” If you use an iPad in therapy, you definitely want this app.  Another app from Complete Speech that you might find useful is “Speech Racer.”

smartpalate_system-1Another very useful piece of technology, also by Complete Speech, is a palatometer, called the SmartPalate System. A custom-built mouthpiece shows students exactly where their tongue is touching the palate (or not). I wrote about my experience with the palatometer in my post, “Watch that Tongue: A Trial with a Palatometer.” This tool is not only very useful for /r/, but was also great for lateral and frontal distortions of /s, z, sh, ch, j/. The downsides for school use: (1) the software is expensive, and (2) each student has to have a mouth mold made by a dentist, then a custom-built palate with sensors – also expensive. The best approach is to see the students every day for short periods of time. Research done by Complete Speech indicates that 20 sessions is the average for fixing a speech sound error. Imagine cycling students through 4 weeks of intense therapy with the palatometer, and it could actually mean a cost-savings or break-even, compared to traditional weekly therapy that could go on for months or years. Still, it could be a tough sell to most school districts.  A new product by CompleteSpeech is the TargetPalate:  a custom-made plastic palate that has bumps where the tongue should be touching for sounds that the student is making in error.  I haven’t yet tried this with my students, but imagine the tactile feedback could be very helpful.  Please leave a comment if you have already had experience with the TargetPalate.

Students can get good information from seeing and hearing themselves on video, using a free program like PhotoBooth on my Mac. I just had a fourth grade boy who was convinced his /er/ was pretty good, until he heard the playback on PhotoBooth. The look on his face when he heard the distortion reflected an important “aha” moment for him. Another student with a wicked /r/ distortion heard the app, “Talking Tom,” repeating the /r/ words spoken by him and other, more advanced, students. I’ll never forget the puzzled look on his face when he asked, “Why is Tom saying their words correctly and my words wrong?” (Note: Talking Tom apps are available for iOS and Android, but I caution their use as they have gotten to be a bit raunchy for school use).

In my next post, I’ll share my no-tech tricks for working on /r/. By combining these “tried and true” old school techniques with new technology, students remain motivated and make measurable progress.

Preventing Screen Addiction

A recent article in The Telegraph describes a very scary trend: “Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment.”  Popular and professional literature are full of such warnings, yet parents continue to use digital devices to keep their babies, toddlers, and young children occupied.  One in seven parents polled in a study admitted their children used digital gadgets for four or more hours a day!  Although 81% of the parents surveyed expressed a concern that their children were spending too much time with digital devices, this hasn’t stopped them from allowing their children to have this access.  Indeed, the article states that according to psychiatrists, “digital dependency” in  adults and children has grown 30% in recent years. This addiction in young children is evident by obsession with devices and uncontrollable tantrums when the devices are removed, and leads to difficulties with social interaction as the children get older.

With so many warnings about the potential detriments of excessive screen time, why do parents still allow their infants, toddlers, and even older children have so much access to digital devices?  One reason might be that parents are discounting these warnings as an overblown extension of warnings in the past about letting children watch too much TV.  After all, generations of kids dating back to the 1950s watched hours of TV each day and they didn’t grow up to be TV addicts, right?  While it’s a fact that when people are home, the TV is more likely to be on than off, most people don’t go through withdrawal when the electricity goes out or the TV is on the fritz and they are unable to watch TV for any length of time.  But have digital devices go dark and there is very clearly a visceral reaction. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’m guessing that the major difference is the way we engage with digital gadgets vs. TV screens.  Unless we are binge-watching the latest Netflix series, engagement with the TV is much less intense.  We move around, get something to eat, page through a magazine, cook dinner, fold laundry, knit, and engage with others while the TV is on;  the TV does not capture and hold our undivided attention.  In many cases, it is simply background noise to other activities in the home.  Engagement with handheld devices is much more intense;  it is the primary focus of attention, often to the exclusion of all other activities and interactions. This releases endorphins that excite the pleasure centers in our brains, which feeds the addiction.

Another reason for parents to rely on digital devices to occupy their children — and this one horrifies me — is that parents themselves are hooked into devices, so keeping the kids quiet with device use allows the parents uninterrupted time on their own handheld screens.  As an article in Huffington Post states, over 70% of children surveyed feel their parents spend too much time on mobile devices.  Remember, parents of infants and young children are themselves “digital natives,” meaning they grew up with technology and don’t know life without it.

As SLPs, we see the effects on language and pragmatic skill development caused by  overexposure to screens, be it smartphones, tablets, or video games — not to mention the effects on attention, executive functioning, fine and gross motors skills, imagination, and higher level thinking.  The question is: how can we help parents understand the critical importance of hands-on experiences and interpersonal engagement and how to incorporate these experiences and engagement in everyday life?  Ironically enough, there’s an app for that!

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 5.11.48 AMJoinvroom.org is a website, app, and e-newsletter that encourages parents to be “brain builders” through simple activities already occurring in the home:  mealtime, bath time, daily errands and chores, etc.  Downloadable activity cards and daily videos teach parents how to engage their infants and children using eye contact, chatting, taking the child’s lead, expanding on the child’s language, and turn-taking, all in the context of daily living.  No special equipment or skills are needed.  Joinvroom.org is really all about being a fully present, hands-on parent.  I heartily recommend this resource to all parents of infants and young children. Although geared toward children ages 5 and younger, parents of older children who have special needs will be able to use many of these ideas to stimulate growth and engagement in their children, too.

The kind of parenting encouraged by Joinvroom.org will seem intuitive to most SLPs and reflects the kind of parenting that was common before the digital age.  I encourage every SLP working in early intervention and preschool to share this with parents on their caseload. And, for the rest of us, consider recommending this site to all new parents and others who would benefit from these back-to-basics parenting tips.  Share this post on your social media for May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.   Keeping parents and children engaged in these hands-on and interactive activities just might prevent the need for “digital detox” in their future.

My Brain’s on Fire!

logo_dog_fkaDon’t you just love when you find something while browsing the Internet that just lights up your whole brain??  I stumbled across a post from SmartMouthSLP.com that did just that!  It’s all about a website, PlayPosit, that lets you create lessons – free! — using video from YouTube and other sources.   I started exploring and my head just about exploded!

There are premade lessons for every subject imaginable that you can use, and you can make your own.  In addition to social skills, as described in the SmartMouthSLP.com post, you can use this for predicting, inferencing, comprehension, narrative, answering questions — the possibilities for speech/language therapy are endless.  There is built-in data collection, a bypass for school filters that block YouTube, and the ability to share your “bulbs” (video lessons) with others.

But then I got thinking….could this be used with AAC users to help them learn their systems, engage in conversation, comment and offer opinions, build core and fringe vocabulary, AND work on predicting, inferencing, comprehension, narrative, and answering questions?  Oh, yes, it can!  In just a short time, I was able to create a little video activity that works on all of those skills:  Click HERE to view.  How engaging is that??! Guess what my AAC users will be doing tomorrow?

Thank you, SmartMouthSLP, for alerting me to this amazing, stupendous, totally awesome resource!