Strategies for Working with Students with Speech and Language Impairments

Structure, structure, structure!

This point cannot be emphasized enough. Have a schedule and stick to it. There are so many unexpected moments and aspects to our day. Social interaction, emotions, and other moments cannot be planned or necessarily expected. To relieve some of these anxieties, it is so critical to provide an environment that is organized, predictable, and dependable. Seating arrangements (with visuals!), visual schedules, consistent routines that become ingrained for each child, and clear expectations help to provide this type of environment. Once these routines become completely innate for the group, you will have the space and time to push them even farther. It creates an opportunity to raise the bar and hold your group to these expectations, once you have built that structured foundation for them.

Follow through

This ties in with the last point.  It is critical to always follow through with anything you say whether it is a consequence or a promise. Building a trusting relationship with the children is one of the most important things a teacher can do. When a child sees you follow through, whether it is with a positive reinforcer or a less than desired consequence, that shows the child that you mean what you say and they can trust that. Establish this early and do your best to remember how important it is to give children many opportunities to trust in your words and actions. It also means that you have to carefully choose what you say and know that you will follow through with it.

Make a visual

Visuals can be so helpful for communicating expectations. There are many different kinds of visuals you can make.

Visual schedule – A visual schedule is grounding for children. Knowing the plan for the lesson or day can help lessen anxiety and increase awareness of his/her world.

Visual routine – This visual is important for complex tasks with multiple steps. For example, a morning routine may include unpacking multiple items, washing hands, and beginning morning work. Remembering the steps can sometimes be a challenge.

Visual routine with a storyline – Sometimes the visual routine isn’t enough. In this case, you can create a visual that follows a storyline.

Incentive visual – An incentive visual is similar to a star chart for reinforcing positive behavior. The difference is that the incentive chart is personalized with the child’s interest. There is no big prize at the end; children just want to know that you notice positive behaviors.

All visuals should be goal oriented and the goal needs to be as concrete as possible. Avoid vague goals like paying attention or doing your best. Define what that means and the child will be able to rise to the occasion. For example, instead of saying pay attention, you can write: X is working on having his/her eyes on the teacher and keeping his/her brain in the group (this is language from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking Program).

Write it out

Spoken language is fleeting and often goes in one ear and out the other. If the child can decode, write or type what you’re trying to communicate. Reading the message will help regulate the child. It also makes the message more concrete. Even if the child cannot read, you can write it and speak it as you write it. Then, you can read it back to them.

Drawing a simple picture to convey a situation that just occurred can also be helpful in both regulating the child, as well as aiding the child’s understanding of that situation. Drawing the people involved in the situation and using thought bubbles, or speech bubbles, can help clarify the reasons why a person might have done or said something resulting in an undesired situation.

Validate feelings

All feelings are important and valid– how they are expressed should be your teaching point. We all experience a range of emotions. As adults,  most of us have learned socially acceptable ways of expressing those feelings. New teachers often react to the action rather than the emotion behind it. Start by validating the child’s feeling: I would feel mad if someone knocked down my building, too. Most of the time,  the child will relax a little because he or she will feel understood. The next step is to talk about how it’s OK to feel the emotion, but there are options for how we can show the emotion. At this point, you can create a list of ways to choose from. Be sure to choose a variety of desired and undesired reactions, and ask the child what they think is the best way to express their emotions.

Settle arguments with new ways of expressing

As a teacher, you’re bound to have kids in your class who have different language rules at home. Create your own that will unite the group. This can happen with strategies for the calendar.  For example, countdowns to important dates,  some people count today and some people count the day of the event. In my class, we counted by how many more wake-ups there would be. The common, concrete language unified the group and made the strategy for counting number of days consistent.

Give sentence starters instead of only asking a question

Children are often trying to formulate their language. If you provide an open ended question,  and you see the child is unsure how to formulate a response, you can give a lead in. “I am mad because…”

If something isn’t working, rethink it!

If there is repetition, something is not sticking with the child. Think of another way to help them concretize the support or message you’re delivering to them. A visual, validation, written language – whatever works best for the child. Not only will they be able to fully process the language, they will be able to accept and utilize the support you are offering.

Be Transparent

Always have a reason for what you do and invite children to question the reasons. Be ready to explain why you’re giving them a specific direction, completing an activity, or doing a lesson with them. Never just respond, “Because!” If you don’t have a reason, ask yourself why you are doing it. The “why” questions help keep us on our toes and remember how important each lesson is; make it meaningful, deep, and and worth their time.

Maintain calm

Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back from an emotionally charged situation, but teachers, it’s part of our job to remain calm in even the most tumultuous situations. There are times when I find myself on the verge of responding to a situation based on my emotions alone, and I need to remind myself to take a deep breath (or several!) before rationally reacting. It’s also important to model the types of strategies we use to calm ourselves down in a frustrating situation. In fact, sometimes I will explicitly tell my students, “That makes me feel frustrated, and when I’m frustrated I might say something I don’t mean. I’m going to take a few deep breaths to help me calm down.”

This blog post was collaboratively written by Jess, Caitlin, and Katherine

 

 

Anthony Lisi

AnthonyLisiMy name is Anthony Lisi and I am so excited to be writing for this blog!  Since I was little, I knew that I wanted to work with children. When adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply by saying that I wanted to be a “kid doctor”. I guess that is where I ended up in a sense because the end result is that I am helping children.

My path to teaching began by working with children at summer basketball camps in high school. I loved being able to instill my knowledge and love of the game into children that had just picked up a ball. As a junior in high school, I began to assist my friend’s father in coaching a 7th grade boys basketball team. At that point, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to be a coach, and ultimately, a teacher.

While finishing up my undergraduate degree, I began work as a counselor at a morning and after school program in the area I grew up. The appeal to this program was that it was curriculum based; I was not just a “glorified babysitter” for three hours a day as is the case with most morning and after school programs. I was able to lead groups in math, science, technology, and cooking, amongst other subjects. While working at this program, I was also able to coach 8th grade and 7th grade basketball teams in two separate years. These two experiences fueled my passion for educating children and I knew that I wanted to devote my life to teaching.

Upon moving down to New York City last summer, I began work at The Parkside School as a shadow teacher. I worked in two classes last year to help manage behaviors and support both the teachers and the students within the classrooms. I had no idea what to expect, as this was my first true experience in special education. Once again however, I was absolutely hooked. I loved working with these students because of all the little “victories” that can be celebrated every single day.

Currently, I teach in a first grade self-contained classroom and I am loving the experience. I wake up excited and enthusiastic to come to work every day. In addition, I am enrolled in the Childhood Special Education program at Hunter College with a focus in behavior disorders.On Saturdays, I teach basketball to 3 and 4 year olds at the DRIBBL basketball program. Even though some days feel longer than others, I know that I have made the right career choice. I look forward to sharing any insights, stories, and opinions with all of you and I look forward to contributing to this blog!

Quotable Moments

“Wait, she’s a girl. Why does she have mister in her name?”

One of the great things about working with kids is that they will openly ask about what might confuse them or pique their curiosity. As adults, we tend to tuck that puzzlement away. As teachers, we are in awe of the children and how they  speak their minds honestly and ask questions without hesitation. We put together some of our favorites; we hope you enjoy.

Jess:

At school, I go by Ms. Durrett. I’ve been called Ms. D and Mr. E. When you say my name quickly, it comes out sounding more like Mr. Ett. Furrowed brows and tilted heads are common responses when children first hear my name. Countless times, I have taught the lesson about my name. I write out Mr. Ett and Ms. Durrett. We read each of them separately and then together. I explain my name is Ms. (pause) Durrett. Sometimes I think it might just be easier to go by Jess.

Caitlin:

My students consistently shock and amaze me with their honesty. Their naive and curious minds generate some interesting observations. “Ms. Mandy… are you sure you want to wear that shirt? It makes your belly fat,” was one of the first times a child made an unexpected comment about my physical appearance. How do you respond? You laugh and appreciate their ability to express themselves so honestly.

Not only do they share these hilarious thoughts, they pick up on any slight difference they may notice. A haircut, new bag, or shoes could take all of three seconds for a child to notice. I recently purchased a new set of eyeglasses. They’re a bit bigger than my last pair, but my students have seen me wear glasses throughout the year. The first day I wore them to work, one of my students entered the classroom to make sure all of his teachers were accounted for. As he scanned the room checking each of us off in his mind, his eyes met mine, and he exclaimed “WOAH! WEIRD, BIG GLASSES MS. MANDY!” This turned into a conversation in which he advised me to return these glasses, and continue wearing my “first pair.” Following this chat, he made sure to have every other child in our class “check out the weird glasses Ms. Mandy has on her face.”

 

Some favorite quote worthy moments:

During a lesson on parts of a book:

Teacher: It’s the spine of the book.

Student: Ahh… it’s a spider!

Questions you don’t know how to answer:

“What is your favorite tent?”

And then they can say some of the sweetest things:

“My teachers are my friends.”

A growing sense of the world:

“I eat pickles. It’s the only indian food I eat.”

“We lit that thing with the 8 candles. I think it’s called a Miranda.”

Body awareness:

“I can’t even stop farting.”

“How many times did you burp in your pants when you were a kid?”

“Uranus is disgusting.”

“No! Uranus is soooooo beautiful!”

“Look how floppy my legs are! … It’s like a raw yolk!”

Random moments:

“Your chapstick smells like a toucan. Wait, no… it smells like a venus fly trap.”

“I like saying Lesbian. Lesbian.”

“One time I was a bully back in Brooklyn…”

“If you could have one wish what would it be?” “To be a ball.”

“Are you doing that already? Are you smelling your armpits already?”


These moments make us smile and laugh and admire the wonderment and awe of a child’s world. They remind us why we teach and how valuable each moment is. There are a million quotes we haven’t recorded, but at least we have these few to remind us of the joy we get from the kids we spend our days educating. For all the teachers who are not yet writing quotes, do it now!

Oops! …a Teachable Moment…

I, in my haste, planned a quick lesson on explorers for one of my classes. A link had been sent to me by a colleague to a site that was designed to teach about reliable resources. I quickly looked for the assignment on the site, read it, and determined that the assignment was appropriate for the group I was teaching. I scanned the links in the site without really reading through them. The result was that I had to think on my feet.
As the children began reading, the teachers and I started to notice some strange and false facts about the explorers. Then it dawned on us that the site purposely had false information on it to teach kids about finding reliable resources. Close to the end of the period, I asked the students if they read anything that didn’t sound quite right. Only a few had noticed. I had a conversation with them about content on the Internet and how anyone can write anything, even if it’s not true.
They were shocked. I explained that even I was tricked. They loved hearing that! In a way, the lesson worked out fine. Ideally, I would preface lessons like this with an introduction to what I want them to think about as they’re reading. Next time, this group will be comparing the text on the site with more reliable resources and finding the mistakes in the writing. After that, they will be writing blog posts about it. Can’t wait!

Teacher turned DJ?

One topic that continues to be one of the bigger questions that I have as a teacher is “how to motivate those most difficult to motivate?” I’m not one to jump to providing stickers and other seemingly meaningless “rewards,” so I have been trying some different, more internally motivating practices with my class this year. As with most things in my classroom, what works for some students doesn’t work for others. (Keep in mind the “others” fall under the more challenging to motivate group).

I’ve been looking for hints, starting more conversations, and looking out for any clue of what I could use as an additional behavior / motivation system for my kids.

One Friday afternoon, I had a light bulb moment. As I watched my students jump, dance, and belly laugh while enjoying a dance party accompanied by Kidz Bop radio, I realized I have a class of pop music loving children. They bond and converse about their favorite artists, top iTunes songs, and hum these, sometimes unfortunately, catchy pop songs.
Ding ding ding! Why not use this as a motivator? After some research and logistics, I have purchased an iPod shuffle for my class.

My next problem was developing a concrete, organized behavior system to go along with it. Here’s what I came up with:

goals for blog

Each child has an individual goal that they were a part in creating. Every day all of my students have the opportunity to earn one check towards that goal. The goals are completely differentiated and match exactly what that one child is working especially hard on right now.
At the end of the day I have a “check in” with each child. I let them know whether or not they earned a check for the day and then provide a specific and clear example of why they did or did not receive their check. This 30 second meeting has been meaningful, eye opening, and a safe place where that child and I can talk honestly about what they are working at becoming stronger with.
4 checks equate to the ability to request a song. In order to support their writing and reasoning skills, they must write their song request down. They include the song and artist as well as the reason why they want this song on the class iPod. Once teachers okay the lyrics and content, it will then be added to our iPod.
Now once they get 5 checks (one more than the requirement for a song request) they can earn iPod time in which they can listen to our class playlist.

ipod request for blog

So far this has been a great system. It feels great to completely differentiate their goals and have them work hard towards a fun reward.

Best of all the students who I typically am racking my brain over how to motivate are soaking this up. They are visibly working at their goal, seeking out teachers to help them achieve their goal, and eagerly engage in those end of the day check in conversations to see if they received a check.

And if it couldn’t get any better, my kids now help me stay on top of the coolest and most fun pop songs. Just another teacher perk. :)

Asking for Support

Dear followers, A fellow writer and educator is going to be running a 5k to raise money for her school. I agreed to be a team member to help reach as many people as possible to support the school and cause. 

Here’s a note from her:

Many of you have supported me in the past and some of you are new invitees to my circle of supporters. I will be running in two races in the near future for my cause. The first one, which will take place in less than two weeks, is the 13.1 mile race that many of you sponsored last year, but I became injured and sadly was not able to run. As promised, I am running in a half marathon on Sunday, March 16.

The second race will  be on May 10th and is a special run/walk dedicated entirely to the Lucy Daniels Center in honor of National Children’s Mental Health Month. It is for this special event that I am asking for your support.

Show your support here:

http://www.crowdrise.com/insideout5k/fundraiser/jenniferreid

I strongly believe that the combined efforts of many are what make the biggest difference in our world.

I guarantee that your help today will make a difference in a young child’s life.

Why do I ask for money for this cause every year?

Every year, I witness the pain a child feels when he is scared and doesn’t feel understood. I see what happens when children are overwhelmed with emotions that affect their capacities to make friends, learn, play, and do things that many of us have taken for granted… things as simple as venturing off for a day in kindergarten. This is what I do. This is my cause. Please help ensure that children receive the care they deserve.

Please make a donation today:

http://www.crowdrise.com/insideout5k/fundraiser/jenniferreid

More info from Lucy Daniels Center:

The Lucy Daniels Center has been working on the forefront of children’s mental health awareness, bringing positive emotional change to thousands of children and their families from the inside out. We are proud to be the largest and most comprehensive children’s mental health agency in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Join us on May 10, 2014 in celebration of National Children’s Mental Health Month as we walk to help ensure that help and hope are available for those in need. Please join us as we improve young lives and our communities one step at a time. Every journey begins with that first step!

Thank you for your time and your generosity.

 

 Please remember:

·         All donations are 100% tax deductible.

·         1 in 5 children in the US have a diagnosable mental health challenge. Most do not receive help and are alone with their troubles.

·         All levels of support and the generosity of donors help ensure that children receive help and services early in life. No donation is too small. It all adds up.

Thank you so much for all of your support! 

To Email or Not to Email?

Parents have been reaching out to me to ask about allowing their children to have their own email accounts. While email can be a valuable tool for children learning written communication skills, there are, of course, questions that need to be considered.

Checking in with parents about their concerns about their child’s use of email helps to figure out what may be the right approach. Is a concern that they can sign up for things (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)? Is it about who might send them messages? Is the concern about the child’s ability to filter information? Is it about what the child may put in writing? Is it about knowing what children are writing?

Based on each child’s situation, there are options for email accounts. Parents can create an account that is monitored by having the incoming emails forwarded to them. This can be just to be ready to have conversations about links you shouldn’t click, what to do if a stranger writes, how much information to give online, etc.

Children are learning in an increasingly digital world and what they need are the skills to navigate it. If filters are so strong that children aren’t exposed to any questionable material, then they won’t learn how to problem-solve or react once they are on their own in the digital world.

There are a number of companies that provide services for children’s email accounts. These services are a great start for teaching email basics. Once children begin to understand the ground rules, it’s always easier to move them to a less restrictive platform.

While it’s necessary to know what your child is doing online, it’s even more important to talk to them about situations they may encounter. It’s also important to consider how much privacy your child deserves in terms of communicating with friends and relatives. Think about how important it was to write private notes to friends and family when you were young.

As nice as it would be to be able to give a blanket response to this question, there are so many considerations that come into play. I hope that some of the questions raised in this post will help parents make the decision that is right for each child.