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!

Make Social Learning Stick!

When I was getting my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Speech/Language Pathology, social skills were not mentioned in the context of young children, only in terms of functional life skills for adults with aphasia.  Of course, that predates the rise of autism spectrum disorders.

Early in my career, students with social skills issues were referred to the guidance counselor or school psychologist.  Gradually, students with these needs were moved to the SLP, which left some of us scrambling for materials and strategies to use in therapy.  Enter Michelle Garcia Winner with her books and presentations on “Social Thinking” and Carol Gray’s introduction of “Social Stories.”  Whew!  Now we had published materials to guide us into this new phase of therapy.

Since then, a great deal of research has been done in the areas of social skills, executive functioning, and behavior.  In common use in schools today are “the Incredible 5-Point Scale” (Kari Dunn Buron), “Zones of Regulation” (Leah Kuypers), the “SCERTS Model” (Emily Rubin), and “Integrated Play Groups” (Pamela Wolfberg), to name a handful of research- and evidence-based resources available to SLPs, teachers, and parents.  Still, we recognize that our students have very complex and diverse needs.  We can’t count on a “one size fits all” approach;  therefore, we often find ourselves cobbling together elements of various strategies and that, in itself, can be daunting.  After all, social skills don’t only happen in the therapy room.  Students need to be able to apply learned skills in a wide variety of settings, with a wide variety of social communication partners.  This generalization requires educators and caregivers to work closely together in support of the student.  And while SLPs and teachers now receive training in social skills, parents do not.

Screen Shot 2019-02-24 at 11.45.07 AMTo answer this need, Elizabeth A. Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP, pulled together the best practices outlined by the above-mentioned authors to create an amazing resource for educators and caregivers to support social and emotional competence and participation by simplifying targeted needs of “following directions, thinking about others, being flexible, reading nonverbal social cues, working in small groups, participating in conversation, advocating for themselves, seeing the ‘big picture,’ and making friends.”  Her book, “Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence through Everyday Routines and Activities,” is a must-have for anyone supporting young children with these needs.  This well-organized and illustrated book is divided into three sections:  At Home, In the Community, and Holidays and Special Events.  Each of the nearly 200 daily routines is distilled onto a single page to help the adult guide the child through observation, critical thinking and decision-making, recognizing social cues, understanding expected behavior, and active participation and interaction with adults and peers.

IMG_1187Each page presents “Hidden Rules”:  those unstated social contracts and expectations that are often missed by students on the spectrum. Scattered throughout are examples of “job talk,” modifications in how adults speak to children that result in more active participation.  Additionally, social learning vocabulary is italicized;  this helps all adults to be consistent in the words they use with the student.  The book ends with an extensive resource list, visual supports, sample narratives, and a great list of recommended games and social activities for after school and weekend play dates and family interactions.  At $21.95, this comprehensive book from AAPC Publishing is an affordable resource for all team members, and that is the key to carryover.

Be sure to visit Elizabeth A. Sautter’s website.  There you will find two children’s books about Whole Body Listening Larry, her blog, her events/presentations schedule, and additional resources.  Sign up for her free e-newsletter to keep abreast of useful information in the field of social learning.

 

Selective Mutism

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 3.09.18 PMYears ago I was assigned as a short-term sub for a colleague who had been injured in a fall.  When I entered a 4th grade learning support classroom, the teacher introduced me to each student.  When she came to a girl I’ll call Tara, she said, “This one doesn’t talk at school.  Come on, Tara! Say something for the new speech teacher!”  Then the teacher shook her head with a scowl and said, “She’ll never talk.”   Tara looked at the floor in silence as the other students giggled.  As for me, my jaw hit the floor.  Horrified, I returned to the speech room to look up Tara’s records.  The narrative on her IEP stated that Tara talked a lot at home with family and friends, and her articulation was good, according to her mother.  However, since entering kindergarten, Tara increasingly refused to speak on the bus or in school.  Clearly, she fit the definition of a selective mute.

Through conversation with her teacher and observation of Tara in various locations in the school, it became apparent that nearly everyone in the school badgered Tara to talk:  the teaching assistants, the art/music/gym teachers, the librarian, the cafeteria lady, even the bus driver and principal.  Perhaps they thought they were giving her encouragement.  What they were really doing is bullying her, making her stand out in front of her peers, and setting up a situation in which, if she WOULD ever say a word, one might expect fireworks, a brass band, and a ticker-tape parade to break out.  Talk about pressure!

I had a phone conference with Tara’s mother to verify that mom didn’t detect any problems with Tara’s speech or language.  Indeed, her mom reported that Tara talked up a storm at home. She wasn’t able to shed any light on why Tara refused to speak in school, but did say it had been a growing problem since kindergarten.  I shared some information about selective mutism during our conversation and followed up by sending an article home for her mother to read.

The next step was to take the pressure off the student by educating the staff.  I gave a brief inservice at the next staff meeting, and provided everyone with the same article I had shared with Tara’s mom. I provided Tara with communication boards with core language and fringe words/phrases she would likely use in the classroom.  In her individual speech therapy sessions, we played board and card games, again using communication boards with game-related vocabulary so Tara could name, request, refuse, comment, and direct actions. I provided verbal models as I used the boards during the games, and considered it a very positive step when Tara started using the boards appropriately during her turn.  However, I reacted calmly as though this was commonplace, expected behavior, and didn’t put any pressure on her to also use her voice.  I also spent several sessions in her classroom, helping to facilitate communication there and modeling for the teacher the kinds of interactions that would be engaging but non-threatening.  Because SM is more of a psychological issue, I tried to engage the school psychologist in her case.  Unfortunately, the district only used the psychologists for testing and attending meetings, not for counseling the students, so this went nowhere.  Ugh.

I’d like to report that Tara eventually began speaking, but after a month of subbing, the regular SLP returned and I went back to my assignment on the assistive technology team.  Before I left, I shared all of this information with the SLP and hoped that it would be followed through.  Unfortunately, the student later moved out of the area so I have no idea whatever happened to her.

As I said, this all happened years ago before the Internet (yes, I’ve been an SLP for that long!), so information was much more limited.  Today, there are many resources on the topic of selective mutism that SLPs can share with parents and school staff.  Here are some you should know about:

The SMart Center:  loads of information in their newsletters (definitely sign up!), professional development trainings and webinars, CommuniCamp for group treatment, and lots of downloads of research and intervention strategies.

What Teachers Need to Know About Selective Mutism:  informative article by We Are Teachers that would be great to share with school staff.

Selective Mutism Association:  books, articles, newsletter, and other supports for parents and professionals

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!!

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.

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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

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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!