What does that mean??

Some years back, my son moved to Brazil to marry a lovely Brazil college professor.  During his time there, my son became fluent in Portuguese, and this became my grandson’s first language.  When little Miguel was 2 years old, my son started exposing him to English in preparation for their planned move to the US a year later.  When Miguel arrived here at age 3, he had some conversational English, but Portuguese was still his go-to language.  One of the first things I taught him was to ask, “what does that mean?” when encountering unfamiliar vocabulary.  Now he is nearly 6 years old and his language skills are off the charts, mainly because parents and grandparents speak to him in an adult-like manner and read to him constantly (his favorite activity).  He has a deep love for words and is always happy to learn new ones.  Here’s an example of a recent conversation as we walked home from the bus stop;  mind you, he does know what some of the words mean but enjoys playing this as a game.

  • Me: Miguel, I have a proposal for you.
  • Miguel:  What’s proposal mean?
  • Me: It means a suggestion.
  • Miguel: What’s a suggestion?
  • Me:  It’s an idea I want you to consider.
  • Miguel:  What’s consider mean?
  • Me:  It means to think about something to see if it is a good idea or not.
  • Miguel:  Oh, so you have an idea you want me to think about, like “I propose that we go to the Crayola Factory!”

Bingo!  By encouraging Miguel to ask for definitions, by using vocabulary and reading books that are above his age level, and by making word-play (puns, riddles, knock-knock jokes) fun games that we play, he has become a very competent speaker of English and has learned a very useful strategy for life-long learning:  if you don’t understand something, ASK!

product_wad_Storyteller_s-Word-a-Day-three-assembled-illustration-and-facts_900xI recently purchased a stand-up book for Miguel from MrsWordsmith.com called “Storyteller’s Word a Day.”  The book is kept on an end table in the living room and is the first thing Miguel goes to when he comes over.  A recent word was “incessant.”  After we reviewed the meaning, he told me that they had a fire drill that week and the alarm was incessant.  Then he flipped back a few pages to another word and said, “It was this, too — grating!  The noise was incessant and grating!”   Pretty good carryover for a kindergartener, don’t you think?

This book would be ideal for SLPs to use in school, as there are words for every day from September to May.  Each page has a cartoon drawing depicting the meaning, the word, the definition and part of speech, and an easy to understand example.  (That’s as far as I go with Miguel right now).  For those who are really into words, the back of the page provides etymology, word pairs, synonyms, frequency of use, and a story starter.  Wow!  Just think of how many IEP goals you can hit with this!  “Storyteller’s Word a Day” is designed for ages 6-13, making it ideal for your middle-grade language students. Also available through this website are a similar book for 3-6-year-olds and an illustrated dictionary.  All use colorful, humorous cartoons to bring the words to life.

While this book is new to me, the strategy of teaching students to ask goes way back in my career when I developed a game I call “Hit or Miss” for my language students.  I realized that reading comprehension issues are often related to vocabulary deficits AND the student’s tendency to read the word fluently but never stopping to figure out the meaning.  I liken this to the students as Swiss Cheese reading:  they are solid on a lot of the words but they do have some holes that can greatly affect their comprehension.  The “Hit or Miss” game goes like this:  As a student reads aloud from his textbook or grade-level library book, he is to stop and ask the definitions of any unfamiliar words and earns a point (a “hit”) each time he does that.  If he doesn’t stop at a word that I suspect might be unfamiliar, I will stop him and ask for the meaning.  If he does know the word, he gets another point.  If he doesn’t know the word, that’s a “miss” and I get the point.  After the first session or two, the student nearly always wins because he has learned to ask for help when he needs it.  I’ve shared this strategy with their classroom teachers, who have then used it in small group reading instruction — ideal carryover support!

 

Oldies but Goodies

I once saw a t-shirt that said “I get paid to play board games.”  Well, we all know that we do WAY more than that, but there is no question that games keep the kids engaged in therapy.  The challenge is always making sure that the game doesn’t take up valuable therapy time.  Because I need to get as many repetitions as possible in a session, I am always looking for games that are super quick but also engaging.  In previous posts, I have described the stick game (an all-time favorite that’s dirt cheap and easy to make), commercially-available Feed the Kitty and Cookie Crumble, and the sound-specific games I’ve made based on old childhood favorites, Jump! and Square Off!  Pop-Up Pirate is another game that appeals even to my 4th graders. Lots of SLPs have blogged about the creative ways to use Ned’s Head, Guess Who, and Jenga — google or check Pinterest for those ideas.  And, of course, we all know about Go Fish and Memory games with therapy cards. A fun twist on using those cards is described in my post about “Hide the Sticker.”

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that there is not much proof that tablet-based toys and games benefit brain development in toddlers, and concludes that hands-on toys like blocks and puzzles are far more beneficial for hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, creativity, and interactive play with adults and peers.  While there is certainly a place in therapy for some of the great speech/language apps, such as those by SmartyEars, I’ve come to realize that some of our students today, who are of the “digital generation,” don’t even know how to play with games and toys that we all grew up with.  And that got me to thinking about how to use other free or cheap toys and games to build brain power, concentration, social skills, and language.  Here are some suggestions, based on games and activities I’ve used in therapy.  Of course, you will want to modify the games to build language and social skills and meet IEP goals and work in AAC for those with low verbal skills.

  • Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Connect 4, Battleship — all require some strategy
  • Pick up Sticks (a lot quieter than Jenga!) — good for patience and hand-eye coordination
  • Games like Cootie, Don’t Break the Ice, and Operation — also good for hand-eye coordination
  • LEGOs, Duplos, magnetic shapes, plastic gears — all good for cooperative creating, requesting, describing
  • Yahtzee! — scorekeeping and math
  • Card games like Hearts, Crazy Eights, and Uno –lots of interaction with peers
  • Jigsaw puzzles — have a 100 piece puzzle out on a table for kids to work on — lots of language as they look for and describe pieces.
  • For kiddos who need to build auditory skills and following directions, favorite old games like Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, and Mother May I? will get them listening and moving, making these good warm-up or end-of-session reward activities.
  • Toss Across or a DYI beanbag toss game will also incorporate movement in therapy.

What oldies but goodies do you use in therapy??

 

 

 

Gobble, Gobble, Talk!

Thanksgiving!  A time when families come together to share a delicious meal, renew connections, and watch some football.  We’d like to think that our holiday will be Norman Rockwell perfect, but that requires navigating a bunch of hurdles, especially with kids at the table.  Following are some tips for getting kids engaged and communicating that will, hopefully, make your holiday gathering more peaceful and pleasant. (How to overcome adult differences in politics and current events is beyond me — good luck with that!)

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.23.13 AMWhile you are busy getting the dinner together, engage the kids in making treats.  Already on my list are ice cream cone teepees.  I’m skipping the cupcake baked inside the cone because (1) we’ll have enough dessert with pies and (2) I don’t have the time or oven space for baking cone-filled cupcakes.  Just the creating and decorating will be enough fun and should keep little ones busy for a while.  Here are a couple of examples that I will be combining:  Teepees 1Teepees 2

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.27.48 AMAnother treat we will make:  pilgrim hat cookies.  Simple, fun, and yummy!  (Caution:  Contains peanut butter).   Click HERE for directions.  Both the teepees and pilgrim hats would make fun and easy therapy activities, too, that hit on a number of speech and language goals:  following directions, problem-solving, making choices, describing, to name a few.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.04.39 AMAs long as you are in a creative mood, engage the kids in making decorations for the holiday.  Give them a supply of construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, markers & crayons, and let their imaginations run wild.  For those who need some guidance, you can print out samples of finished projects and coloring pages, especially good for very little kids. Simply google “kids Thanksgiving crafts” and you’ll have more than enough activities for all ages and ability levels.  The photo to the left is from https://iheartcraftythings.com/15-terrific-turkey-crafts-for-kids.html.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.53.05 AMInvolve the kids in setting the table.  When I worked with students in Life Skills classes, we made placemats from large construction paper, on which the students glued paper images of a plate, napkin, utensils, and a cup.  This served as a guide for them when they set their place with the real objects.  Stamps, stickers, and markers were used to decorate.  Again, think of the IEP goals (speech/language and OT) that go into a project like this!  Pictured is a premade placemat available from Amazon. It’s more elaborate than the ones we made, but it illustrates the idea.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.58.35 AMHave a picky eater?  These plates, which my grandson calls his “course,” are fabulous for getting kids to try a little of this, a little of that, as they work toward a reward.  Amazon has them in a number of variations.  I’ve also seen them in kitchen specialty shops.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.16.38 AMHave some shy guys who need some help in conversing with rarely-seen relatives?  There are a number of commercially-made conversation cards that introduce topics and questions, but you can make your own.  Be creative!  Print out the conversation starters from THIS SITE and glue them onto paper feathers or leaves.  An excellent post about this very topic for AAC users and children who need help with social skills can be found on PrAACticalAAC.org.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.22.36 AMI hope this provides some ideas for therapy lessons and holiday prep activities that will keep the kiddos actively engaged.  Here’s one more, a freebie from my TPT store:  Fall Vocabulary Cards!  Print 2 copies on cardstock, cut apart, and use for Memory and Go Fish games.  All of the words contain the /r/ sound and the symbols are great for thematic vocabulary activities, as well!  Happy Thanksgiving!!

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.

Summer Freebies!

travelGuidesI’m sure that, for the first few weeks of summer vacation at least, school will be the last thing on your mind. But did you ever consider that summer could provide a treasure-trove of free therapy materials that you can use throughout the school year?? Here are some ways to make therapy fun and functional, and relevant to the curriculum for all of your artic, language, fluency, and voice students:

 

  1. Tourist brochures – Hotels, rest stops, and tourist destinations always have racks upon racks of cards and brochures that promote all of the attractions in the area, and they are FREE. Help yourself! These provide interesting stimulus material for reading aloud, discussion, and writing activities.
    1. Our fourth grade studies Pennsylvania history, so brochures from historical sites in our state are very relevant to their classwork. And it’s always surprising (in a sad way) to learn how many students have never visited local historical sites. Maybe sparking their interest will lead to family day trips in the region.
    2. Brochures from outside the state offer the opportunity to talk about history, geography, distance, and observable differences in the photos compared to your immediate environment. What do you see? What do you think it’s like there? Does it remind you of any place you have already visited? How long would it take to get there? What would be the best way to travel there? What would you have to pack for that trip?
    3. Provide brochures from a variety of locations and have the students discuss the pros/cons of each from their point of view.
    4. Use brochures as a reference for writing activities, such as writing a letter or postcard to someone about an imaginary trip or writing an ad to promote a tourist destination. Video the students presenting their ad – lots of fun, great carryover for artic, and useful for self-monitoring via playback.
  2. Postcards – not free, but usually cheap. Use as above, and also as creative story starters about “my best” or “my worst” summer vacation. Sort by common features (location, type of attraction, etc.). Locate the places on a large wall map.
  3. Maps and regional travel books – free to members of AAA. Maps alone offer so many language opportunities! Older students will enjoy learning how to look up tourist destinations and then plot them on the map to create an interesting itinerary. Read the hotel and restaurant listings, comparing amenities and price. Create math word problems related to these materials for students who struggle with that language. And don’t forget the maps that are often provided in amusement parks, zoos, historic villages, etc. With just a little thought, I’m sure you can come up with all kinds of storytelling, describing, categorizing, auditory memory, and sequencing activities that the students would really enjoy.
  4. Menus – lots of restaurants have take-out menus so, again, help yourself! With your artic, language, social skills and life skills students, use menus for:
    1. artic practice with multisyllabic words
    2. discussion of likes/dislikes and healthy vs. not so healthy choices
    3. role play ordering and taking orders in a restaurant – good for social skills, auditory memory (can the waiter repeat and/or write down what the customers ordered?)
  5. Bus and train schedules – available at all stations and depots. These provide practice with functional life skills, in addition to artic and language. Can they locate the quickest route to their destination? How much will it cost? How long will it take?
  6. “This Week in (vacation location)” booklets — use for planning a daily or weekly itinerary, comparing/contrasting and expressing opinions about listed activities, writing and then verbally delivering “ads” to get folks interested in the various events. (My students love to do news, weather reports, and commercials on video — motivating speech and language practice that provides playback for self-monitoring).
  7. Photographs of your travels — use for labeling, describing, writing captions.

Students love using these unconventional materials in therapy. Beyond the activities I create to support their goals, these materials spur the students to share stories from their own travel experiences, giving me the opportunity to assess their conversational artic, vocabulary, grammar, and ability to tell a story in sequence and with sufficient detail.

So, while you are out and about this summer, be on the lookout for these materials and ask your friends and relatives to do the same. Then create a “travel agency” nook in your therapy room and enjoy using these materials throughout the year!