As a school-based speech-language pathologist, I'm constantly attempting to evaluate and re-evaluate how I'm doing as a clinician. Are my current therapy strategies helping my students meet their goals in a timely manner? Am I collaborating enough with teachers that also work together with my students? How am I doing with touching base to discuss student progress with parents and caregivers? These are just a few things that I make sure to consistently ponder to gauge if I'm being the best possible clinician that I can be. And ya know what? For the most part, I'm doing pretty alright.
But there's one thing I want to get better at.
God knows I ain't perfect, so I'm all about sharing with you something professionally I want to get better at. I want to get better at "setting the speech-language therapy stage" for all the new students that join my caseload. What I mean by that is, when I start to work with a new child, I want to make sure that the student and I are on the same page with WHY the student is coming to me and WHAT that student hopes to gain by coming to me.
Here's how I've started to "set the speech-language therapy stage."
I've gotten into the habit of asking any and all new students these two questions:
1. Can you tell me why you're coming to speech-language therapy?
With articulation students, a response to that question is pretty simple. They usually know they are starting to see me because they need to work on a certain sound. But your typical elementary or middle school-aged students who have language difficulties, they usually don't know why they are now seeing the "speech teacher." They might say, "I don't know why I'm here." Or they might say, "Um, like, I guess I need help with stuff." So the most important thing that we, as clinicians, can do is spell it out, word for word, WHY they are now on our caseload. Don't be afraid to share with the new student any evaluation results you might have. Did he/she score very low on an auditory comprehension or reasoning subtest? Share that. Did he/she score very low on an expressive or receptive language diagnostic? Share that. Sharing information like this helps everyone because it establishes a clear WHY. If the assessments reveal very low auditory comprehension or reasoning abilities, that's WHY you're here and that's what we will work to improve. If the assessments reveal very low expressive or receptive language abilities, that's WHY you're here and that's what we will work to improve. It's really that simple. That's the WHY.
2. What do you hope to gain from speech-language therapy?
This is the WHAT you're trying to uncover. Now sure, this question might be tricky for younger students to answer, especially if the students have obvious communication difficulties. But I bet you'd be surprised at the responses you'd get, every now and again, if you gave this WHAT question a shot. I've had a 2nd grader tell me, "I want to sound like everyone else" and I've had a 7th grader tell me, "I want to get better at organizing my thoughts." Statements like these are wonderful, personal confessions that can help you and your new students see eye-to-eye. Once you know WHAT your students want, you can do everything in your power to help them. You can share with them your current goals and objectives and easily show them that what you have planned will, absolutely, get him/her closer to what he/she wants. (Oh, and this WHAT question also helps with building the client/clinician rapport because it communicates to your student that you honestly value them and their wants/needs.)
In closing . . .
What do you think? Can all of the students on your caseload tell you WHY they come to speech and WHAT they hope to gain from therapy? Wouldn't everything be so much easier if you and your students were on the same page with the WHY and the WHAT? Give my two questions a test drive to see if they're able to better help you with "setting the speech-language therapy stage" for all the new students on your caseload. And as always, let me know how it goes!
I don't know about you, but I have a thing for cats. And it's not just me. The whole Internet seems to have a thing for cats, as evidenced by the never-ending collection of hilarious cat pictures that live online. I just can't get enough of those. In fact, whenever I'm feline (er, feeling) blue, silly cat pictures have a magical way of turning my frown upside-down.
If you adore cats and speech therapy, ya gotta check out this website!
I'm excited to tell you about a purr-fect (er, perfect) website that I recently started showing my students. It's called stuffonmycat.com and it's jam-packed with hundreds and hundreds of hilarious cat pictures. In short, this online destination is a digital community of cat owners who do one thing: put stuff on their cat. They then snap a photo of what they've done to their kitty and submit the snapshot to stuffonmycat.com. It's all very genius and entertaining.
Did you know that funny cat pictures can be awesome speech therapy materials?
If you have any students on your speech therapy caseload that are working towards increasing their ability to answer WH questions (specifically WHY questions), stuffonmycat.com is ideal. For example, look at this terrific picture of a sleeping cute cat with a bunch of socks all over it. That kitty sure looks comfortable, huh? Well, I showed that picture to a bunch of my 4th and 5th grade students and I encouraged them to describe WHY they thought the cat was comfortable. Most of my students couldn't verbally communicate WHY. Most said a single word. That word was because. Nothing after it. Because.
Details, please. More details about the picture!
In an effort to get my students more in the habit of noticing details in a picture and then using those details to trigger other insights, I pointed out to them the dryer that the cat was laying on top of and the socks that were on top of the cat. Then, with some prompts and cues, I asked them to make a connection between the socks and the dryer to help with the WHY. Like clockwork, my students started hypothesizing how the socks on the cat were probably super warm because they just came out of that dryer. Maybe that's the reason WHY the cat was so comfy?
Nice! Good start! Let's keep on hypothesizing to see what else we come up with!
Then, with some more prompts and cues, they mentioned how it was probably not the warm socks that have that cat so relaxed, it was probably the dryer itself. They started to describe how the dryer might be on and while it's on, it might be shaking or vibrating, thus, giving the cat a type of massage as it napped on top of it.
Great! I like the rationale! Let's keep going deeper!
A couple of other students commented on the pipes in the background of the picture and said that they believed the dryer was in the basement of a house, because exposed pipes like that are usually found in basements. They then went on to explain that basements are usually dim and quiet, thus, the dim and quiet environment was actually the thing that caused the cat to feel so relaxed. (I was in awe of all the conversation that was brewing; all because of a random picture of a random cat with some random socks on top of it. So marvelous!)
WHY questions are pretty tough.
Thinking about WHY questions requires children to think about details that relate to a given scenario. Students must offer conclusions and relate their answers to their own knowledge of the world. That might come naturally to you and I, but to those who have various communication difficulties, it takes practice. That's why I love the funny cat pictures that are all over stuffonmycat.com. Each picture is detailed and students get the chance to provide explanations for the shown situations. WHY does this cat have toys all over him? WHY does this cat have origami all over her? WHY does this cat have building blocks all over him? Let's look at the pictures to see if there are any details that could steer us in the right direction. Let's also think about any past knowledge we might be able to pull from that might relate to the picture in question. All of that, mixed with a bit of imagination and some prompts and cues, can get us where we want to be!
In closing . . .
WHY questions require higher order thinking skills. Students need to be exposed to stimuli that's both exciting and rich with details so that they can pick out certain clues that can help them towards drawing conclusions. That's the reason I love stuffonmycat.com. It's filled with exciting and detailed pictures that children seem to naturally gravitate towards. I'm telling you, the paw-ssibilities are endless with this paw-sitively cool website. Please do check out all of the website's funny cat pictures and let me know how you're using them within your speech therapy sessions!
As a speech-language pathologist, I would say that I was trained to be very much in tune with words and how words have a lot of strength to them. The average person usually just talks and uses words without really thinking too much about them, but not us SLPs. We analyze every word that we write and we always take a few extra moments to choose our words wisely during oral communication. Why? Because we truly know that words matter. We get it.
Words can build us up and words can break us down.
Not too long ago as I was strolling down the hallway, I saw one of my students walking to class. As he was walking, he passed one of his teachers and that teacher said to him, "Hey there trouble maker. Are you staying out of trouble?" The boy smiled and nodded, the teacher gave a thumbs up, and the two of them continued on their merry way. The communication exchange was simple, to the point, and it took all of about 10 seconds.
But I have been obsessing over those 10 seconds.
I can't help but replay that scene over and over again in my head. I try to look at the scene through the lens of an educator, then I look at it through the lens of an SLP, and finally, I look at it through the lens of a human being (a human being who genuinly cares about other human beings). I cringe. The scene and the whole exchange upsets me. The words that the teacher chose . . . bleh. Those words, they left such a yucky taste in my mouth.
Words can build us up and words can break us down.
Because here's the thing, at times, that boy that the teacher was talking to, he's a bit of a free spirit. On more than one occasion, the student's behaviors in school have gotten him into some hot water. But ya know what? He's working on it. He's a good kiddo with a good heart. With each new day, he's learning how to make better choices. Does he still have a ways to go? Sure. He's a work in progress, like all of us. But he has come a long way and I know he will continue to improve. So that's why I get all bend out of shape when I hear negative words thrown his way.
And I know the scenario was not meant to be a negative one.
Believe me, I know that calling him "trouble maker" and asking if he was staying out of trouble was not meant to be a jab at him. I know prosody well and how its features can alter the meaning in words that we say. That teacher communicated in a manner where the attached rhythm and tempo of the exchange was friendly and humorous. There's no way that the teacher was trying to be rude or mean. That was quite obvious. But for me, it all comes back to words and how words have the power to build us up or break us down.
Words are just that powerful.
Amanda Fuller spoke beautifully about the power of words in THIS POST from a couple of weeks ago. "[Words] can stir every kind of emotion inside us. They can take us on fantastical adventures or transport us to another place. They can build us up, or tear us down. They can mend a broken heart or they can be source of the damage in the first place. We all know the pleasure of a witty joke, or the rush of a sincere compliment offered by others. Likewise, we also know the sting and crushing blow of thoughtless or deliberately cruel words flung our way."
Words can build us up and words can break us down.
I've been thinking about words lately and I believe that we, as a society, need to be more aware and mindful of the words that we choose to use, especially when those words are being directed toward children. One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from a person I follow and admire named Josh Shipp. He often says, "Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story." How spot on, right? I think the same could be said if we tweaked it just a bit by saying that every child is one caring word away from feeling successful. Because feeling successful is a prerequisite to being successful. Truly successful. When the self-esteem and well-being of a child is high, he or she is much better able to perform both in and out of the classroom-setting. And with high performance comes high success rates. Love it!
We are what we eat.
Just like how the right kind of food can help us to grow strong and healthy, the right words can do the same. Consider THIS interesting experiment by Danielle Laporte. Long story short, her and her child had two apples. For about a month, they would say mean things to one apple and nice things to the other. After a month of doing this each day, they cut both apples open. The one that was "fed" mean words was rotten. The one that was "fed" nice words was well preserved. Whoa! Crazy, right?
In closing . . .
How about instead of saying, "Hey trouble maker," we could say, "Hey hard worker!" Or instead of asking, "Are you staying out of trouble," we could go with "Keep up the good work!" Because remember, words can build us up and words can break us down. So let's build children up. Let's "feed" them nice words. Ok? Ok! ;-)
Picture this, it's Monday morning and you're face-to-face with your first speech therapy group of the day. Like clockwork, I bet you automatically ask the following question: "So, how was your weekend?" And like clockwork, you probably hear them moan the word "good" as if they were lifeless zombies, right?
I'm pretty sure I'm right.
Let me dig a bit deeper into your Monday morning conversation routine to see if I can successfully guess something else. How about this? After your students throw you the cliche response of "good," I can most certainly assume that you follow that up with, "Well, what did you do over the weekend?" And then each and every kiddo in your speech therapy room probably responds with the word "nothing."
Nothing?! Really?! Like, you did absolutely nothing all weekend?!
I don't blame students for responding to these types of questions with such vanilla replies. You know why? Because in all honesty, the actual questions themselves are BEYOND vanilla. If you really want your students to participate in your presented back-and-forth inquiry about their weekend, you need to set up the questions in a way that doesn't sound robotic.
No more robotic questions!
I'm guilty of asking robotic questions to my students. So over the last few months, I've been experimenting with the idea that maybe, just maybe, if I asked questions that were less predictable, less stereotypical, I might receive responses that were not one word answers like "good" or "nothing." Below you will find the questions that I've been using and I have to admit, they seem to be working. As you will see, these questions are much more engaging than what I feel we all typically ask. And with these engaging questions, I pretty much always get some legitimate responses.
Less broad, more specific.
Questions like "How was your weekend?" or "What did you do this weekend?" are just too broad. I've found that when we sprinkle of bit of specifics into the mix, that does wonderers for the overall expressive output. That's why my examples are a bit more on the specific side, ya know? So let's make it a point to stay away from the broad and instead, embrace more specific questions.
In closing . . .
By no means am I trying to act like the questions I just shared with you are perfect. They aren't perfect. Far from it. They are merely meant to be used as a starting point. Use them as a template and feel free to remix and tweak each one to better fit your personality and/or the personalities of your students. It's my hope that by being a bit more conscious about the questions we ask during the beginning of the week, we're able to gain new insights into how our kiddos reflect about their weekends and how they choose to express those weekend experiences with us.