A Salute to Two Generous Souls

Two retirements were announced in the past few weeks by two gifted SLPs whose reach extends far beyond their own caseload.  These women started blogging early on and shared countless ideas and resources, free to anyone who could use them.  I have always admired their generous spirit and creativity;  to me, they represent the best of our profession.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-3-33-49-pmCindy Meester’s Blog, “Speech Therapy with a Twist,” is a delightful compendium of ideas for making every aspect of school-based therapy fun, functional, and motivating.  Cindy knocks herself out with amazingly creative theme units.  The photos of her room decorations, the way she incorporates technology and literacy, and the many ways in which she builds multiple therapy lessons into a single theme are nothing short of inspiring!  Just look at her posts!  How could her students and teachers not love Cindy’s “twist” on therapy?  I’m not sure how long Cindy has been blogging, but it seems to me that she was one of the pioneers who has been around at least as long my site.  To maintain this high level of energy and enthusiasm for so many years — that should be the goal of all SLPs.  Cindy has set a wonderful example for all of us and, through her blog, has left a detailed roadmap of inspiration for SLPs to follow into the future.  Cindy will be retiring at the end of this school year, but will be maintaining some part-time involvement in private practice.  This seems a wise move for Cindy;  I can’t imagine this energetic SLP going cold turkey into retirement.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-4-21-25-pmRuth Morgan is another pioneer in blogging.  On her blog, “Chapel Hill Snippets,” Ruth describes herself as “a mentor, speech pathologist, mom, wife, and technology junkie.” But that hardly says it all.  Ruth has dedicated her energies to students who have significant disabilities.  In post after post, year after year, Ruth has created and generously shared visual materials to support even the most challenged students in communicating and engaging in literacy activities.  In addition, Ruth has shared lots of ideas on using the iPad in therapy, created easy-to-follow tech tutorials and data forms, and much more. While she has a great fondness for using books in therapy, she also sees potential lessons in everyday life, such as the social skills lesson she built around this funny political ad.  As Ruth prepared herself for retirement, which took place about 2 weeks ago, she wrote a post for her replacement, but the message is one that we all should heed:  Helpful Tips for Teaching a Language Group for Students with Severe Communication Challenges — outstanding advice to read and share.  Those tips give us a glimpse of the insight, compassion, and dedication that Ruth brought to school each day.  Like Cindy, Ruth is more “easing out” than cutting ties abruptly.  After a vacation in Florida, she’ll join the board of New Voices Foundation and promises to keep blogging and creating.

Cindy and Ruth, I am sure I speak for countless SLPs when I thank you sincerely for your outstanding contributions to our field!  You’ve certainly earned a very long and happy retirement.  Congratulations on your wonderful careers.  You are leaving a legacy of creativity and generosity that will continue into the future.

With best wishes,

Pat Mervine

 

 

The “Path” to Learning Core Words

As so often happens, a post on PrAACticalAAC.com on December 29 really caught my eye. “PrAACtically January: Resources for a Year of Core Words”  provides links to two years of core words, downloadable lists from 2013 and 2014 in Minspeak/Unity, PCS, Speak for Yourself, SymbolStix, and LessonPix symbol.  At the end of the post are a list of children’s books that can be used to practice the words for January.  One of my kindergarten students is a new user of Word Power on an Accent 1000. The monthly lists of core words struck me as the perfect way to acquaint him, his parents, and teacher with his device, to build his expressive language skills, and to incorporate literacy development.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.17.38 PMLooking over the 2013 list of January words, I was inspired to write a story that uses the core words in sentences that the student could read aloud on his device, and that he can use in real-life contexts.   Here’s the process I used to write “The Hungry Dog:”

  • First, I sketched out a simple story containing the core words and typed it into PowerPoint, my favorite platform for creating print books.
  • Next, I went to Google Images to search for photographs and clip art to illustrate the story, and added them to the PowerPoint.
  • Then, I tested out the story by using the Accent to read it.  This proved to be a critical step in the process, as I discovered that some words were not on the device. Others were inconveniently placed or coded, necessitating too many hits to locate the words or return to other screens.  As a result, I needed to do some programming to streamline his access to the words.  I also found that some sentences in my story needed rewording to facilitate smoother expression.
  • Because the device is also new to his parents and teacher, I added at the bottom of each page the “path” to finding any words that weren’t on the present screen. All words to be spoken on the device are underlined; navigation hits are not.
  • Finally, I printed the book as 2 unframed slides per page, cut the pages apart and stapled the book together. Copies were made for home, classroom, and s/l therapy use.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.19.52 PM“The Hungry Dog” January story of core words was met with great enthusiasm by the student, his teacher, and his parents.  In fact, it was so successful that I made a “Play Date” book using February core words!  Both of these books are posted on the new Core Words section of the Materials Exchange under AAC on Speaking of Speech.com.  (Note: I’ve left these as PowerPoints so you can edit for your AAC users. The path on my stories is specific to the modified Word Power 60 cell user on an Accent 1000).  I’ve also used this strategy of including the navigation path to personalized social stories.  Adults all agree that this makes modeling much easier and more fluent.

Keys to success:  simple sentences, repetitive vocabulary, careful story editing and device programming to refine message construction, and the inclusion of the path for navigating to vocabulary.  As vocabulary and competence grow, this path will not be needed, but at this stage, it is a great support to the adults who are learning right along with the student.

Speaking of Core Words….there was such a request for discussion about Core Words on the ASHA Sig 12/AAC board that I created a forum specifically for that purpose.  Sign up (free), then post your questions, add your suggestions, and share your materials!  Here’s the link:  http://corelanguage.boardhost.com/index.php.  This is brand new, just waiting for you to add some content.  With your participation, this new Core Words forum will grow in content and value, just like the other message boards in the SLP Message Center on Speaking of Speech.com!

 

“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!”

Photobooth and Audacity – Making Therapy Visible

I’ve been having lots of success with technology in artic therapy.  The MAC program PHOTOBOOTH has been a super way to videotape and play back a student’s productions, providing valuable visual feedback.  I have even emailed clips of therapy techniques to parents for rehearsal at home with very good success. Parent response has been great!  PHOTOBOOTH is now an app, too, for iPad2.

A different kind of visual feedback is provided by the free program, AUDACITY.  This shows your target production and the student’s production in spectrograph form — great for playback and auditory/visual comparison at the sound and word level.

Soon I will begin a trial with a palatometer, and can’t wait to see how this works for my students.  Will keep you posted!

Talking Tokens – an Unexpected Success

When teaching classroom lessons in a self-contained Learning Support class, my efforts to elicit equal participation in discussions were thwarted by two distinct personalities:  “Blurters” and “Shy Guys.”  You know these students!  The Blurters call out answers and continually interrupt with questions and comments. The Shy Guys, on the other hand, would rather blend into the woodwork than ask or answer a question.  Not only was this situation lopsided in terms of active student involvement, but it made it impossible to assess what each of the students knew.  One day, out of desperation for data for progress reports (how often that sparks inspiration!), I came up with a solution — Talking Tokens.  I printed a page of symbols of students raising hands (not-so-subtle visual cue) on card stock, cut them apart, and gave 4 of these “tokens” to each student.  I explained that every time a student spoke, he or she would have to surrender one token.  When all 4 tokens were gone, they couldn’t talk again until everyone had used up all of their talking tokens.  I expected that the Blurters would use them up pretty quickly, leaving plenty of time for the Shy Guys to participate without being drowned out by their more vocal classmates.  Makes sense, right?

Well, the Talking Tokens worked better than I expected, but not in the way that I had anticipated.  The Blurters, realizing that they could only talk four times, actually hoarded their tokens!  There they sat, on the edge of their seats and bursting to talk, but remaining silent.  Apparently, the fear of having something to say but not being able to say it caused them to learn self-control that months of my prompting hadn’t accomplished.  By contrast, the Shy Guys all wanted to get rid of the pressure of having to talk ASAP so they volunteered, one after the other, until their tokens were gone and they could go back to being passive observers in the lesson.  With Talking Tokens, they initiated as never before!

Don’t you just love it?  Blurters learned control, Shy Guys learned to speak up, I got my data, and — once again — the students taught me a valuable lesson in human nature!