A Whirlwind Tour of the New Speaking of Speech.com

NOTE:  This is the LAST post that will appear on this blog.  All past and future posts will now appear on the new Speaking of Speech.com.  This post is in reference to the changes on that updated website.

Welcome to the new and improved Speaking of Speech.com! I hope by now you have signed up for an account and have started exploring all of the exciting upgrades in the totally revamped site. Here’s a quick overview to help you get oriented.

If you have bookmarks to any interior pages on the old site, such as the Materials Exchange, or to any message boards, such as the Help Line, you need to clear them out and set a new bookmark to www.speakingofspeech.com. You can easily access all features from that home page.

If you haven’t done so already, set up an account so that you can access the site content AND make connections with other site users on the Social tab. This takes the place of the message boards, although the content from the message boards has been migrated over to the Social page AND is now searchable by category. Woo Woo! You easily post your message and categorize it with a single click, and you can upload pictures!! You can respond to someone else’s post via the LIKE button and you can leave comments in the message thread, just like on the old site, only better. Public Feed is the default, and allows you to see all posts. Timeline will show you posts that you have made. So, if you used the HELP LINE and other message boards on the old site, you will now use SOCIAL as the new message board!

The Materials Exchange was clearly the most popular feature of the old site, and I’m sure will be just as popular in the new format. At the top left, you’ll see “Mode.” This will allow you to change the way the materials are presented, either as cards with thumbnail previews or as a list. You can drill down to exactly what you want by using the category filter. Wow, isn’t that amazing?! When in card view, you can see a quick preview, rate the materials with stars, add a review, and mark your favorites by clicking the heart. You’ll also notice that the materials have been reworked with new graphics, adding a consistent appearance to all of the free downloads.   By using the icon menu on the left, you can see your downloads, favorites, and reviews.

Until now, I had to post all of the contributed materials, so you can imagine how excited I am about this improvement: YOU can now upload materials that you created. As before, materials must be your own original creation and the images that you use must be royalty-free; copyrighted images are not permitted. If you are unsure about this, please ask! To contribute, go the nine-box icon next to the bell at the top right of the page and click on Materials. From there, you’ll create a “store” even though all materials are free. You’ll then have a dashboard that lets you see how many times your materials have been viewed and downloaded and any reviews that have been posted. To upload materials, click on the Store Listings tab, then click the purple plus sign. An uploads window will pop up and walk you through the process. Easy peasy, right?

So, to review: you can interact with the site and site visitors through the Social section (formerly known as message boards) and through the Materials section (formerly known as the Materials Exchange). But here is something completely new! If you ever had the itch to write a blog post, here’s your chance! I’ll continue to write blog posts monthly, and hope you’ll join me in blogging whenever the spirit moves you! Just go to the Contributor Menu (nine-block icon next to the bell) and click on Blogs. You’ll be taken to a Dashboard, similar to the one for Materials, that will list your posts, monitor traffic, and show reviews of your posts. To add a post, click on Blogger Postings, then click on the purple plus sign. Then simply fill out the pop-up menu and – voila! – you are a blogger! We’d love to hear about your experiences, professional tips and tricks, and anything else related to the SLP world!

Lastly, in this quick overview of the new features, you’ll see that there is a tab for Jobs. This fabulous addition to the site will show you a long list of searchable jobs in our field AND you can start the application process for the jobs right there online! The Applied Jobs tab will keep track of those openings to which you responded.

Speaking of Speech.com has been a wildly popular and trusted SLP site for nearly 20 years, and now it has been brought up to contemporary standards with its new look and new features. I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour and hope you enjoy all that the new and improved site has to offer!

The Surprising Power of PowerPoint

Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 9.01.37 AMI’ve been giving workshops for over 20 years in how to use applications on your computer in ways they were never intended — all to benefit your students and to ease the burden of caseload management.  One of my favorite workshops is “PowerPoint for Special Educators.”  If you only use PPT for slideshow presentations or don’t use it at all, you are missing out on a versatile tool in your toolbox!  This post won’t be a detailed instruction manual for each use of PPT with your caseload (although I’d be happy to come to your school to do a workshop sometime!).  Instead, this overview should help those who are familiar with PPT to explore some of these uses on their own.  And if you have come up with a use that I haven’t described in this post, please share in the comments!  PPT is available for Windows and Mac, and one beauty of this program is that you can move seamlessly from one platform to another:  make it on Mac, show it on Windows, no problem.  Here are some of the ways I use PPT to make printed materials for my caseload and some tips to boost your creativity and efficiency:

  1.  Use PPT as a drawing pad.  Years ago, I had access to a wonderful application called AppleWorks.  Oh, how I loved this package of word processing and drawing!  The drawing tools were fantastic, as they allowed me to do all kinds of scenes and other graphics to help my students with language and concept development.  Then Apple — for reasons I will never understand — dropped AppleWorks, and we were stuck with Microsoft Office for Mac.  The word processing part of Office is fine, but I couldn’t find any workable way to do my scenes and other graphics….until I found the drawing tools in PowerPoint.  YAY!!!  That brings us to Tip #1:  you don’t have to use PPT exclusively for slideshows.  I will often use PPT for all kinds of illustrations to support my students’ needs:
    1. freehand drawing simple or complex scenes with the tools provided in PPT
    2. use the freehand tools and text labels combined with photos or other graphics from other sources — a great way to develop lessons that relate to the student’s curriculum for students who need simplified presentation and visual supports
    3. create multiple-choice quizzes with graphics, such as the 10-question quiz I present after reading a book to my developmental kindergarten and Life Skills classes
    4. create adapted worksheets and homework pages with text and graphics
    5. create board games for artic and language therapy
  2. Use PPT to create social stories and easy-reading books.  I love, love, love to use PPT to create printed books and social stories because it is so quick and easy!  Create your title page, then combine text and illustrations on each page of your story, just the way you would if you were making a slideshow presentation.  Tip #2 (and this applies to uses described above as well):  It is best to use a blank (white) background if you are bringing in graphics from other sources, as these sometimes come with a white background border that you can’t see until you paste it on a colored slide. Yes, there are ways to get around this but I’m all about working efficiently.  Why take another step or two if you can avoid it?  When your book is finished, it’s time to print!  Decide if you want each page of the story to be a full sheet of paper, or if you want your book to be half-size.  This decision will determine how you tell the slides to print.  If you want a half-size book, select 2 slides per page.  Tip #3:  I always deselect the optional border on these slides because it makes a much better appearance.  Tip #4:  use a personal paper trimmer or paper cutter to cut the pages in half in no time.

I will provide more ideas and tips in a future post, so stay tuned!

Wisdom of the Ages, Part 2

Coming to the end of a 29-year career certainly gives one reason to pause and reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how challenges became teachable moments for me.  Here, then, are more thoughts that come to mind:

3.  Be organized.  I realized early on that the amount of paperwork, widely varying tasks, and pressing deadlines that faced me every day would be crushing unless I developed strategies to keep everything straight.

The first day of school, I reviewed every student’s file, noting IEP and RR dates in a spreadsheet that I continually updated throughout the year. Using this as a basis for each subsequent school year made the task go more quickly.  I sorted the list first by IEP date, then RR date, and posted this on the wall over my desk.  Each month I highlighted those in need of new IEPs and/or reevaluation for the NEXT MONTH so I would have a visual heads-up on what deadlines were coming.  As each new IEP was written, I had the pleasure of crossing that off my list, then updated the info on the spreadsheet on my computer so the dates would be correct for the following year.  I know other SLPs who keep this info on an oversized calendar or who can print this info from their school’s internal recordkeeping system.  Whatever works for you, do it!  In 29 years, I was never out of compliance on deadlines (although, yes, I did cut it pretty close sometimes!).

415k-sQmYILMy inbox wasn’t working for me.  For one thing, it couldn’t possibly hold all of my upcoming work.  And having it all in a pile meant that I was constantly rifling through the pile to find what I needed — not efficient!  I tried putting things in piles by category across the top of my desk, but quickly found my desk wasn’t big enough. The solution:  I purchased a stepped file sorter (similar to the one pictured) and some fancy patterned file folders (because, you know, it’s fun to be fancy), then labeled them according to categories that worked for me, such as “To be tested,” “Waiting for signatures,” “To be written,” “To be copied,” etc.  Completed files that were ready to go for the IEP meeting were then put into the inbox according to the upcoming dates.

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 11.06.20 AMEven with all of this staring me in the face, I still needed more reminders to keep me on track.  Alerts on Google calendar made sure I was never late for a meeting.  I used a calendar with boxes at least 1″ x 2″ to create a “month-at-a-glance” schedule.  I kept this under a clear plastic desk blotter.  Instead of writing directly on the calendar, I wrote all appointments and other “to do” deadlines on small 1″ x 2″ sticky notes and stuck them on the calendar.  This enabled me to easily change appointments — and you know this will happen a lot! — and still keep the calendar readable.

What_Your_Messy_Desk_Says_About_You4.  Control the chaos.  I don’t know about you, but I find messiness demoralizing.  I make my bed every morning because it is much more inviting to come home to at night.  I wash my dishes and wipe up the kitchen every night so I am not faced with dirty dishes and counters in the morning.  It only takes about 10 minutes total to do this, but it makes my life much happier to have it done.  Given this proclivity toward organization and tidiness, you can imagine that I am much the same at school. During the day, of course, the hustle bustle of therapy, meetings, etc., can create a jumbled mess in the therapy room, and that’s okay. But being greeted by a jumbled mess the next morning will start not my next day off well.  Every afternoon before I leave work, I make sure that all therapy materials are put back on the shelves in their proper category, all files are in their place, and my desk is cleared of everything except my “to do” list for the next day.  This may take me 10-15 minutes at the end of the day, but I leave with a sense of closure and can start the next morning with a better attitude — definitely worth the effort, at least to me!  So many teachers, principals, and parents have come into my therapy room over the years and expressed how warm and welcoming my space is.  I’m sure that feeling comes from the sense of orderliness.



Wisdom of the Ages, Part 1

marilynvossavant1-2xIn just a few days I will be officially retired from my 29-year career as a speech/language pathologist.  One doesn’t last that long in our profession without picking up some wisdom along the way.  Here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned over the years through observation, reflection, and being open to all opportunities for growth.

  1.  When it’s sink or swim, grab onto a lifeline!  My first assignment out of grad school was just that kind of situation.  The caseload, split between 2 buildings, was made up of 103 students, K-21, in multiple disability support and life skills classes.  Of those 103 students, only 9 of them could speak.  As a graduate assistant in the special education department, I was responsible for the maintenance of and training with what little assistive technology was available at the time, so I at least had some working knowledge of switches, communication boards, and simple speech-generating devices.  But nothing in my coursework or practicum experiences prepared me for working with so many students who had so many significant and varied needs.  I immediately knew that I was in over my head.  The only way to survive this was to reach out to the special education teachers, OTs, and PTs in the schools to help me learn how to schedule, write and implement IEP goals, and work as part of an integrated therapy team.  Day by day, my learning increased (sometimes the hard way) and so did my confidence.  This first year was full of challenges, but the experience laid the groundwork for a career full of successful collaboration and supportive relationships with other team members.  I’m sure there was plenty of eye-rolling when the teams heard they were getting a first-year SLP.  After all, this would have been a tough caseload for an experienced SLP.  Had I tried to bluff my way through, that eye-rolling would have continued, I wouldn’t have learned much, and my students certainly would have been underserved.  But, by reaching out and admitting I needed guidance, the teams realized that I was eager to learn from their experience and they were willing to be my lifeline.  The takeaway for new SLPs:  Don’t feel you have to know everything and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or seek support.  Asking for help is not a weakness;  indeed, I view this as an attitude that will strengthen your skills over time.
  2. Avoid negativity.  I would never, ever deny that our jobs are demanding:  difficult students, difficult parents, difficult administration and staff, oversized caseloads, ridiculous amounts of paperwork, ongoing professional development, unending IEP meetings, and, just when you are at your breaking point, you have to push everything aside and go to a staff meeting. AARGGH!  But that is the nature of our job.  We knew that going in, and we should know that no amount of complaining will change that.  Yet, complain we do.  Misery loves company, but all it breeds is more misery.  I have found that to be effective and efficient in my job, I need to avoid negativity at all costs or else I, too, will get caught up in the energy-sucking spiral.  For that reason, in schools where the faculty room is the place for moaning and criticizing, I choose to eat at my desk.  Seriously, I worked in one building where morale was so low and complaints and back-biting were so high, I felt a palpable weight on my shoulders whenever I entered the faculty room;  the air was just so thick with negativity.  Sorry, I just don’t have time for that.  And, too bad if I sound like Pollyanna here:  there are lots of positives about our profession that we need to focus on!  The rewards of seeing our students make progress, the joy of sharing laughter with the kiddos, the interesting variety of our students’ needs, the daily opportunities for growth and creativity, the freedom to devise our own therapy plans, and, I’ll admit it, the fact that no difficult session lasts more than 30 minutes:  this is why we went into our profession in the first place, and this is what should keep our batteries charged throughout our career.  The takeaway for all SLPs:  pull yourself out of negative gripe sessions that have no hope of a productive outcome, and focus instead on positive moments in your day.  If you are like me, you’ll find you have more energy, more pride in your profession, and better relationships with your colleagues.

More “pearls of widsom” to follow.  Until then, have a wonderful summer!  You earned it!!!

5-Minute Therapy for /r/

If I was asked to list my top three challenges as a school-based SLP, correcting /r/ would top the list in terms of difficulty and high incidence.  (The other two challenges are laterals and dysfluency.  Fortunately, these have been very low incidence on my caseload).

If I was asked to list the top three benefits that have come out of my website, Speaking of Speech.com,  and this blog, the answer would be:

  1. Materials!  Through the vast Materials Exchange on my site, I’ve been able to build up my “bag of tricks,” by either using the free materials “as is” or by using them as a guide to create materials specific to student needs.
  2. New therapy techniques!  Through product reviews I’ve done on the site, I’ve increasingly expanded and refined my speech and language therapy.  I’ve also learned a lot from the generous SLPs who answer questions, give advice, and share tips on the various message boards in the SLP Message Center.
  3. The growth of the Speaking of Speech.com community!  So many SLPs have contributed to the growth of the site by sharing materials, participating on the message boards, and spreading the word about the site to colleagues, SLPs in training, teachers and parents.  I have personally developed close relationships with so many SLPs around the world through Speaking of Speech.com and related social media.  Even though I haven’t met all of these SLPs face-to-face, we recognize each other as kindred spirits in support of children with communication challenges.  And I’m not the only one who has forged close relationships because of the site!  Susan Sexton and Linda Seth met through my site and — wow! — what a productive relationship that has been!

Linda Seth has more than 30 years’ experience as a school-based SLP and 5 years as a classroom teacher.  Her varied experiences range from inner city schools in New Jersey to the last one-room schoolhouse in West Virginia.  She has achieved national recognition as an outstanding (and one of my very favorite!) presenter across the country.  Linda is the author of numerous volumes of therapy materials that seek to actively engage students (individually, in small groups, and in classrooms) in fun and meaningful learning. Great examples are the books in the G.R.O.W. series, which stands for Get Rid of Worksheets.  See what I mean?  Active learning is what Linda is all about, and she has an unlimited wealth of ideas toward that goal.  If Linda is ever presenting in your area, DO NOT miss the opportunity to attend!  To see and purchase all of Linda’s materials, visit Great Ideas for Teaching.

Susan Sexton is a retired school-based SLP from Michigan.  Susan broke away from traditional 30-minute small group therapy and pioneered the idea of short, frequent, intensive therapy sessions that became the basis of her very popular “5 Minute Kids” therapy plan and materials.  Research and anecdotal evidence shows that students make measurable progress and the length of time in therapy is reduced, using this approach.  Be sure to visit Susan’s website for details, samples, and purchase of her must-have materials.

5-minute-kids-logoIt was through Speaking of Speech.com that Linda and Susan connected — and, boy, did they ever!  Putting their two very creative heads together, they produced the fabulous series of books:  “5-Minute Kids Therapy,” “5-Minute Games,” and “5-Minute Verbs.”  As soon as I saw these books, I knew they were going to my all-time favorite “go to” materials.  And now — oh, joy! — a new volume has just been published!  While the other “5-Minute Kids Therapy” books address all of the consonant sounds that are frequently addressed in therapy, this new one is all about vocalic /r/!!  The book follows the same format as the predecessors:  repetition lists at the word/phrase/sentence levels, data charts, pages for independent practice, quick games to keep kids motivated, and homework and carryover activities.  Really, what more could you want??

Check out this new book (special new release price of $22!)from Susan Sexton and Linda Seth, and then check out all of their other gems.  In addition to using these books for short, frequent, intensive therapy, I’ve used them for group therapy, homework, and for establishing baseline and progress monitoring.  Every time I use them, I am so glad that Speaking of Speech.com brought these SLPs together!