Tax Time — Maximizing Your Tx $$

Ah, it’s Spring!  That means daffodils and robins and income taxes.  I don’t know about you, but it’s often been a shock to add up the money I’ve spent on therapy materials each year.  Here are some ways I’ve found to ease the pain:

  1.  For the past several years, the IRS has allowed educators to take a $250 deduction for unreinmbursed teaching expenses.  Here are the details:  Educator Expense Deduction.
  2. I have been using Ebates as my starting point every time I shop online for goods, services, and travel. Then, when my Big Fat Check arrives, I put that $$ toward therapy supplies.  This is so easy to do, and it is amazing to see how many stores and other companies participate in this.
  3. I just learned of a new program that gives rebates for online shopping:  Giving Assistant.  Like Ebates, you earn cash back on your online purchases.  A bonus with Giving Assistant is this program’s social mission.  For every qualifying purchase you make, Giving Assistant will donate a meal to Feed America.  In addition, if you don’t need the rebate $$ for therapy supplies, you can designate all or a percentage of your rebate to be donated to the charity of your choice — a very easy way to provide ongoing support to worthy causes that are important to you.  Check out the “Thoughts” page of the site to read about lots of ways college students can earn cash back — I had no idea! giving_assistant_hero
  4. Once I have my rebate money in hand, I shop Zulily for therapy materials.  This can be hit or miss, as the participating businesses and their offers change frequently. A search of “education” or “toys” will usually turn up something useful and interesting but you’ll really hit the jackpot when “Super Duper Publications” is offering their materials at 45% off.
  5. Obviously, TeachersPayTeachers is a great source of inexpensive materials.
  6. And a creative SLP will never walk out of the dollar store empty-handed.
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Wow, it worked! — Scheduling

Scheduling!  I’ve been meeting this challenge every September of my career with varying degrees of success.  By success, I mean that the schedule I set actually stays in place for more than 2 weeks because, yes, we all know that one kid signing up for trombone lessons or one parent stating “you can’t take my child out of math” can start a cascade of changes.  To me, that means a workable scheduling system not only works well the first time, but also allows for easier and inevitable modifications.  As indispensable as stickie notes are, I’ve never found them to work well for this purpose.  For one thing, even using the smallest of stickie notes still makes for a rather large array, and I do better when I can view the week at an 8.5″ x 11″ glance.

ScheduleThis year I tried something new.  With my nifty wipe-off pocket and a letter-coding system, I was able to organize and schedule with a minimum of fuss, and was very pleased with the results.  Here’s how I did it:

  1. On my trusty yellow legal pad, I made list (and checked it at least twice!) of all of the students on my caseload, arranged by grade, and noted their need (artic, grammar, etc.) and number of sessions.
  2. Then, on another page, I grouped these kiddos as individuals, pairs, or trios.
  3. Once I double-checked that I had all of the students and their sessions accounted for in my groupings, I labeled the groups “A, B, C….”
  4. With a blank schedule slipped in the wipe-off pocket and the school-wide lunch and specials schedule in hand, I started plugging the groups into the schedule with a wipe-off marker.  As changes needed to be made, it was easy to wipe off and move the group labels around — so much easier than crossing out or erasing names on a paper schedule.  And it was easy to check to make sure that I didn’t miss anyone in the process;  all I had to do was go through the ABC’s!
  5. When the schedule was completed, I notified the teachers of the assigned times for their students, made a few tweaks per their request, and it was done.  I then typed the students into the schedule I use on a daily basis.
  6. I noted the tweaks on the wipe-off schedule and put it aside, along with the grouping page I made in step #2.  When changes come up that require multiple groups to be moved, I can pull these out and work from there.

The photo was taken the first week of school.  Those blanks you see — well, they are all filled in now with new referrals.

What scheduling system works for you??

 

“No Useful Moves Detected”

SolitaireTo 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!”

WARNING: DATES ON YOUR CALENDAR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR!

2stress_jokes_600x450Hats off to SLPs everywhere who manage to wear many hats and juggle many responsibilities with professionalism, grace, and good humor!

With less than 6 weeks left in my school year, I spent Friday afternoon hyperventilating at all that needed to be accomplished in May and the first two weeks of June:  28 IEPs (11 written, 17 to go), do 4 speech/language evals and that they entail (love late referrals!), facilitate 2 SETT meetings and write up report summaries and action plans, prepare 45 progress reports….oh, and still see the students on my caseload.

During two fitful nights this weekend, my tossing and turning led to the creation of the following poster and limerick.

SOS.com poster3

ODE TO SCHOOL-BASED SLPs by Pat Mervine

There once was a crazed SLP.
“I can’t wait for summer,” said she.
“With 28 IEPs
Due in 6 weeks…oh, please!
Wonder Woman has nothing on me!”

So, to all of you SLPs who are struggling mightily to meet end-of-the-year deadlines, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone.  You’ll get there, and summer will be all the sweeter for it.

 

Therapy Tools for iPad

I love my iPad.  Of course, if you have an iPad, you know that goes without saying!  And there’s no question that my students love it, too.  The challenge is using it effectively in therapy, so that it is a useful tool and not a distraction or time vacuum. With that in mind, I am always on the hunt for apps that make my professional life easier and provide the students with appropriate, goal-oriented therapy.   It is impossible to keep up with the explosion of apps, but I hope to keep you informed as to my new favorite apps in this blog.  There are many blogs and websites that list apps for special education, to the point of being overwhelming.  That’s why I thought listing a few new apps with each entry, and explaining how I use them, would be much more manageable.  A great place to make suggestions and ask questions about apps for therapy is on my Apps and Technology message board.

Here are just a few of my gazillion favorite apps.  All can be found at the App Store.  Most are free or really cheap.

Age Calculator from Super Duper — love it.  Just plug in the child’s birthdate and you immediately get the chronological age.

QuickVoice Recorder — a super simple way to record, play back, and store a student’s speech.

Board Game Tools — this great app has up to six dice, a countdown timer, a loud buzzer for wrong answers or “time’s up!”, and pad for recording scores, and indicator for whose turn it is.

Make Dice — create large customized dice that look and sound realistic!  I’ve created dice with “wh” question words, pronouns, verb tense phrases, regular and irregular verbs, regular and irregular plurals, specific speech sounds, etc.  You can roll more than 2 dice at a time, then have the student generate sentences using those words/phrases. Quick, easy, and no dice to chase on the floor!

Bugs and Buttons — fantastic graphics and sound effects in this app that, while developed for teaching concepts (counting, patterns, sorting, etc.), is very useful in assessing a student’s ability to point, touch, scan, and move.  I use this when I consult for students who are being considered for dynamic display AAC devices.

Cat Fishing  — OK, this one isn’t for therapy, but if you have visited my site and clicked on Meet the Staff, you’ll understand that Ms. Parks pressured me into including it.  Not only can she open the cover to my iPad and start the program (after I bring up the app — she’s not THAT good!), she can score 10 points in a flash.