Tag Archives: mentoring

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



Image Libraries for Digital Citizenship Lessons

Working to integrate technology into classrooms has been so incredible. With the fifth grade group, I’m working on building general computer fluency skills as well as a deeper understanding of the integrity of their work. Through mini-lessons and research assignments, I’ve taught them how to legally find pictures that can be used for their projects.

Here are the image libraries I used:

Wikimedia Commons is great for finding photos to accompany written work.

Find Icons is a fun site with great icons for free.

Edupics is great for coloring pages for younger grades and images for lessons. I have also used this site as a visual dictionary.

Pics4learning is also great as an image dictionary and great for finding pictures for presentations.

Next time this group is in the computer lab, they’re going to find images related to the curriculum and related to their interests. They have demonstrated that they can easily find pictures on their own online, but they had no idea that there were laws surrounding pictures. This is such an important skill for them to have; I’m looking forward to seeing how they do with this project and how well they are able to generalize the idea.

What It Takes to Be A Teacher

When I tell people what I do and who I teach, they say, “Wow, you must have a lot of patience.” I nod and smile and say, “It’s understanding I have.” There’s an article I read in graduate school that has had an incredible influence on who I am as a teacher– I even remember the professor who assigned it. “Food for Thought. Patience or Understanding?” was written by Nancy Weber-Schwartz in 1987 with the conviction that good teachers aren’t patient, they understand the whole child.

I follow this, as is evident in a few of my previous posts– it’s my mantra as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have felt frustrated working with children. When I do, I step back and reflect, sometimes catching eye contact with another adult in the room to indicate I need a minute away. In these times of frustration, finding different ways to approach the situation is imperative- I make a visual for the next time, chat with the student when he or she is not upset, or make an incentive plan based on the child’s goals. Knowing exactly what impacts a child’s ability to complete a task or follow a direction is key to providing the necessary support for the child to be successful. Providing the support is what makes a good teacher.

Good teachers who work with toddlers understand that they touch everything because they are curious and discovering their world, so they give them the tactile input they need. Good teachers who work with teenagers understand that their rebellion is something to be embraced, so they ignore the fact that they were late and instead give them a reason to be on time. Good teachers who work with children with special needs discover patterns of behavior, so they can preempt behaviors with necessary support. All of these good teachers have something in common; their work is centered around understanding the child.

Stemming from what can sometimes be crippling compassion and understanding, there’s a high level of dedication and follow-through that good teachers have. Sometimes this follow-through means dreaming about the classroom, not being able to sleep at night, working late and early hours, needing multiple venting sessions in a day, and needing someone else to tell them it’s time to take a break from school. If school schedules didn’t dictate vacations, teachers would rarely take the time for themselves. Most of the teachers I know drag themselves to work when they’re sick because they are overridden with guilt if they miss a day.

I think about the perspective required to understand teachers, and there are few outside the profession who have it. Unfortunately, the ones who really don’t understand are the ones making decisions in schools. Successful teachers aren’t measured the way they should be. Schools get graded based on text scores and test score improvements, not on actual growth of the children. What will it take for our system to recognize what we’re doing to both teachers and students?

Keeping Organized

I’m the kind of organized person that has labeled boxes in my apartment for everything from dog supplies to checkbooks to stamps to matches. Everything has a place… and usually a color, too. My classroom was always well organized as well.

I’ve been exploring with the best ways to keep my digital life organized for myself and for the people I provide resources for. So far, I love Dropmark. It’s visual, easy to organize, quick to load, and there are different levels of privacy for each category. I’ve found it so helpful for the lessons I teach. All I need to do is send the link or link it to a QR code in order to share it with my groups.

I’ve also been collecting resources for teachers to begin to use in their classrooms and to start the flipped classroom model. The idea of the flipped classroom is to provide learning opportunities at home, too. Providing families with meaningful and safe resources for their children to explore at home will help children to see that screens can be used for more than games. It also means that the instruction in the classroom will be more rich with more knowledge about topics than a teacher could provide in a 30 minute lesson.

Here’s the beginning of my Dropmark. Check it out!

The Power of Relationships

As humans, most of us understand the importance of building relationships with each other. Reflect a minute on how much harder you work for the people close to you who understand and care about you– the people who appreciate and admire your strengths and recognize your weaknesses as areas to grow. As teachers, we spend time building relationships with coworkers and children in order to make the more challenging times in the day run a little smoother. Beyond the in-school relationships, there are the relationships with the families, which can sometimes feel like the last thing on your mind when you’re first teaching (until conferences, that is). Creating a relationship with what’s best for the child in mind is critical, especially in the field of special education; it opens you up to be a team with families to problem-solve what will work best for the child.

I can remember in graduate school when a professor explained that sending home positive notes about children is an important strategy for communication with families– to always start out on a positive note. I took this and made it a to-do for myself as a teacher. Reflecting about it in terms of the whole picture has led me to what I think is a better way of framing this strategy and advice:

As a teacher, you are a professional who works with the child and the family to help the child be more successful in the world. In order to make the most powerful impact, there needs to be a relationship with the family– not just a tally of triumphs and challenges communicated to the family. Both the positive and more challenging notes should be about who the child is– not just what the child did. Highlighting your understanding of the child is what will build your relationship with the family; it needs to be thoughtful and sincere.

The moments you live for when you teach– the triumphs– when feelings are expressed with words, concepts are understood, or a splash of independence comes out, those are the moments that families live for too. Being realistic and compassionate will give those moments the celebration they deserve.


On a connected note: Click here