Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Favorites of Sean Sweeney's Favorite Social Skills Apps

Click here to see my handout.
It's not often you find two male speech language pathologists in one place.  The rare sighting happened at a conference I attended last week sponsored by Michigan Region IV Assistive Technology Consortium.  A fellow male speech language pathologist, Sean Sweeney, demonstrated a variety of assistive technology to help students who struggle with social skills and executive functioning.  If you get a chance to see Sean speak, definitely take advantage of your opportunity.  He's a walking technology Wikipedia Web 2.0 tool.  That's a compliment. Whenever I present, I call myself a middle management nerd who shares knowledge that others have created and found.  Sometimes I refer to people as Super Nerds and Sean Sweeney is one of them.  Again, that's a compliment.  He covered about a million great resources, but I thought I'd highlight the ones that I thought were pretty, pretty, pretty good. You can find all of Sean's documented knowledge at his website:

Here are 5 of my favorites from Sean's presentation:

    Fun Timer by all4mychild
  • Fun Timer--This app is very similar in concept as the Time Timer app.  It's a visual timer with a kick.  Instead of seeing a solid red analog clock, users see a picture of what lies ahead.  As the time goes on, the picture appears (e.g. when the playground picture appears, it's time to go).

  • My DPS--My Digital Problem Solving app comes from The Social Express product line.  This app allows users to view and identify various emotions and it gives users the opportunity to choose coping strategies.  As an added bonus, users can add their own photos for each emotion.

  • Between the Lines by Hamaguchi
    Between the Lines--Hamaguchi Apps developed three apps (elementary-adolescents and teens-young adults)  teaches emotions by having users match the voice with the message heard; body language, perspective, and inferencing; slang expressions & idioms.

    Social Quest  by Smarty Ears
  • Social Quest--Now this is an app!  This app teaches social language skills by traveling through realistic and functional situations (home, school, & community) using a tele-transporter machine.  As the user progress, he or she earns visual rewards for identifying correct responses.

    Big Nate: Comix by U By Night & Day Studios, Inc.
  • Big Nate Comix--I'm on a big social stories and video modeling kick lately.  I've been using Puppet Pals mostly and have used Toontastic too. Both are really good and you should check them out as well.  Big Nate Comix, however, lets users create their own comic strips using characters from the original comic. Users can create the stories using pre-made story starters, fill in the blanks with thought bubbles, and from scratch by creating an original comic.

The cool thing about all of these apps is that Sean has already reviewed them all on his blog Speech Techie.  If you're new to Twitter and you're trying to figure out who to follow, Sean is the kind of guy you should be following because he posts this kind of stuff daily.  You can follow him @SpeechTechie.  While you're at it, you can follow me @TheSpeechKnob and I'll continue to share interesting information.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Science of Making Friends

The following article is also posted as a guest post on  Be sure to visit their website for innovative ideas, resources, and employment opportunities. Follow them @PediaStaff on Twitter or on Facebook for more information.

Don't you wish they had a class that taught kids how to make friends?  We look at our kids and hope for the best that they will fit in, make friends, and not get bullied by others.  I look back at my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood and wonder how I made it through.  Now, think about students with special needs--kids with autism; students with developmental delays; and the socially awkward, rejected, or neglected. Imagine the struggles that these kids have making friends with a lack of social skills.  Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson decided to take her research from UCLA's PEER program and offer an evidence-based step-by-step guide for parents and educators to teach young people how exactly to make and keep friends.

I've tinkered with several workbooks such as Linguisystem's Spotlight on Social Skills Adolescent Nonverbal Language , Social Skills Activities for Special Children by Darlene Mannix, and 204 Fold & Say Social Skills from Super Duper, Inc.  I've used all three (and more) and I've found all to be useful with the students that I work with.  But here's what makes The Science of Making Friends different:  It is a proven evidenced-based program used with teens and young adults in UCLA's PEER program.   It actually focuses on the very specific skills needed to make friends.  Very cool.  I know.  I can think of about a hundred kids that could benefit from this program.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The book is divided into 14 chapters with mini lessons taught within each section covering areas such as: Finding and Choosing Good Friends, Good Conversations, Starting and Entering Conversations, Exiting Conversations, Managing Electronic Communication, Showing Good Sportsmanship, Dealing with Arguments, Handling Verbal Teasing, Addressing Cyber Bullying, Minimizing Rumors and Gossip, Avoiding Physical Bullying, Changing a Bad Reputation, and more.
 The Science of Making Friends from
  • The book is accompanied by a DVD that features video demonstrations of the rules and skills discussed in the book.  The book references the videos often, which allows students to watch video modeling of the skills.  The book comes with a physical DVD, but also gives you a website with a password so that you can watch it online. Additionally, the author developed a complementary app called FriendMaker ($1.99) that includes portions of the DVD as well as a step-by-step guide to making friends (as demonstrated in the book).
  • The book has a parent (teacher) section that discusses the skills in depth and then a student section (Chapter Summary for Teens and Young Adults) that explains the specific skill being taught in the lesson.  In my opinion, you would have to gauge the interest (and reading ability) of the student before you have him or her read it.  I would suggest to the author, if teaching this as a class, to have a workbook to complement the book itself.  That way, students would be able to keep their own physical copy of the lessons and make notes when needed.  The author also gives a social vignette at the end of each lesson for the parent (teacher) and student to role play.
  • Each section highlights certain skills with an easy to find, easy to see, easy to understand skill to remember.  For instance, when talking about using good body boundaries the author notes: A good rule of thumb in conversations is to stand about an arm's length away from the person you're talking to.  Or when teaching your teen to disengage from teasing, the author notes: Once your teen or young adult has provided a few teasing comebacks, he or she should then disengage from the interaction by walking away or looking away.  The book is filled with useful advice that is both practical, functional, and easily understood.
Overall, I really liked the book and the program it teaches to teens and young adults.  I personally work with special needs students that probably have a lower cognitive ability that the book focuses on (I don't think my kids would/could read the sections, but if presented in a different mode, they would understand it).  I can see using this book/program as a quarter or semester class with middle school, high school, and transition age students.  It would be a great addition to anyone who is trying to create a structured social skills class.  Of course, if you are focusing on just one student, this is the step-by-step guide that will get your student on the path of making friends.  

The Science of Making Friends: Helping Socially Challenged Teens and Young Adults (w/DVD) is published by Jossey-Bass and is available online at

*Disclaimer: As a result of writing this review, I received a copy of the book/DVD from the publisher.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fokes Sentence Builder-like iPad Apps for Writing

Do you remember the Fokes Sentence Builder?  Okay, I'm not THAT old, but we did have one buried in our clinic's closet in college.  The box didn't look fancy and when you opened it up it was equally unimpressive.  If you took the time, however, to actually read the book and figure out how the little boxes worked, it was a fantastic tool for sentence writing.  Fast forward 10 or so years (okay, I am starting to get older), as I was cleaning out another closet, low and behold, what did I find?  The Fokes Sentence Builder.  Its colorful boxes and sentence markers were all intact.  I hit the SLP jackpot!  Okay, so some of us get a little bit excited.  These things are hard to come by.  I digress.   So, what's the Fokes Sentence Builder?  The Fokes Sentence Builder is a big box with six smaller boxes inside with hundreds of picture (and some words) cards inside that.  Joann Foke's developed a systematic approach to teaching students how to construct sentences for readers and non-readers.  

So that brings us to present time (by the way, the Fokes Sentence Builder came out the same year I was born--1976).  Now we have all of these gadgets and advances that give us instant access to materials.  Many speech therapists continue to use the traditional method of using paper and pencil tasks or flashcards with students as manipulatives to teach sentence writing (structure).  Believe me, I still like to use these, but now that some of us are technology crazy (me), I like to venture out by using the SMART Board, computer, and iPad to teach the same concepts.  What would be great?  ...if there was a Fokes Sentence Builder app.  Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is not.  There are, however, lots of other similar apps and programs out there that can do the same thing.  So, I thought I'd share the 21st century versions of the Fokes Sentence Builder with you.

Sentence Builder $5.99

iPad Apps That Are Similar to the Fokes Sentence Builder

Sentence Builder
This app allows users to practice creating grammatically correct sentences by building them from word wheels.  The app features 100 pictures and also keeps statistics to show progress.

Rainbow Sentences
Rainbow Sentences $7.99
This app is pretty cool in that it color codes the who, what, where, and why parts of the sentence to help the learners understand how basic sentences are put together.  The app has over 150 pictures to use when building sentences.

Clicker Sentences
Crick Software developed this app after its success with its Clicker software developed pre-iPad.  This app is pretty extensive (it also costs quite a bit more) as it allows you to choose from a variety of levels of sentence structure.  One of the cool features is that it allows you to use your own pictures.
Clicker Sentences $26.99
Check out for an incredible resource for 
Apps for Children with Special Needs

Sentence Key: WHO is DOing WHAT
This app, from initial appearances, mimics the Fokes Sentence Builder in the way that it is structured.  Used with Mayer Johnson's Picture Communication Symbols (PCS), this app requires users to construct sentences using picture symbols paired with words.  If you know the Fokes Sentence Builder, you know that this is the second level after "Who + is doing."
Sentence Key: WHO is DOing WHAT $3.99
Now, I haven't had time to play with all of these apps.  I should probably disclose that.  I really wanted to see what was out there to supplement the Fokes Sentence Builder.  This would be great additional practice for students during independent time.  Let me know if you have used these.  What did you like and dislike?  What are your favorite apps that you use for students who are "building" sentences?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

5 Tips to Quicker Communication Device Programming

Here's a quick template I made for the Go Talk Now app.
I had one of those big duh moments the other day.  I'm in the tenth year of my career and for the last eight I've had a heavy emphasis on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with my students.  With the invention of the iPad and other tablets, AAC has been exposed to the rest of the world, which means more and more students have iPads (oftentimes purchased from parents themselves).  Whether it is an iPad or some other communication device, the most time consuming part is planning and programming the pages.  In all honesty, it takes a lot of my brain power to do this.  I enjoy it, but trying to create and re-create communication pages takes a ton of time.  So here's my big duh. Why don't I hand out paper templates to the classroom teacher and staff to complete?  This will save me lots of time and brain power!  Why haven't I ever done this?  So, what did I do?  I created simple grids (or I printed off pre-made ones from Boardmaker) and added a couple of lines so the teacher could give me extra details.

Here's a home page template that I created with Tobii Communicator.
One of the hardest parts of using a communication device is incorporating it into day to day activities and classroom lessons.  This can be difficult for even the most skilled speech language pathologist.  By having the teacher or the staff complete the template, then they'll know exactly what the student has to say in response to discussion questions.  For example, the other day I had a student who was beginning a lesson on astronauts.  He and I worked together with his Chat PC and programmed key words and potential comments.  The student bought into the idea of using his communication device even more because he was the one who picked out the words and picture symbols.  When we went back to class, his teacher was amazed by what he had done (me too).

Here are 5 tips for quicker AAC Device Programming:

  • Print off templates and have the classroom staff complete ahead of time (preferably a week or so if possible).  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  Just have them sketch their ideas onto paper.
  • Have the AAC user sit down with you and help pick the vocabulary and picture symbols.
  • Teach the classroom staff and peer helpers (even better) how to program buttons on the fly.
  • Have the AAC user take photos to insert into the device.  I have one student who finds this highly motivating.
  • Send blank templates home for the AAC user's family to complete for everyday communication and special events
What do you think?  What are your biggest challenges when trying to incorporate AAC and communication devices with students in the classroom?

Here's a sample template for you:  Free GoTalk Now Template (9 cells)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

5 Tips to Start Using Dragon Dictation in the Classroom

I can probably make the assumption that anyone who has an Apple device (or Android) has heard of Dragon Dictation.  If you are into assistive technology, then you probably have heard of Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Well, if I haven't mentioned your name, then I'll let you in on something really cool for people of all sorts.  Hands down, the Dragon Dictation app is the best speech to text program out there.

Back in 2003, I sat in on a half day in-service learning the Dragon Naturally Speaking software to use with high school students in special education, specifically those with learning disabilities (typically 3rd grade reading level and probably worse in writing).  I think I started with version 3 and now, in 2013, they are up to version 12.  So what does that say?  It's getting better and better.  Okay, in a nutshell, to use the computer software you had to install it onto your computer and hook up headphones and a microphone.  Then, you had to complete the training and you were all set.  Coming from me, that sounds easy.  Well, it wasn't with special needs students.  You see, the software was developed for all sorts of people from doctors, business people, students, and ordinary people.  The training required a lot of patience from the user and lots of practice.  The key to the whole program was learning the commands and also speaking clearly and naturally so that the software could decode your speech.  Honestly, my student's success was much lower than I had hoped.   I mean, the potential of having students who couldn't read or write very well to be able to speak their compositions was a great idea.  The problem was that their frustration tolerance was short as the program made many mistakes.  Don't get me wrong, the program worked well for me.  In fact, I became such a pro that I would lean back in my chair with my headphones on and speak my therapy notes into my computer.  Big time bonus for my fingers.

So, that brings us to 2013.  I've trained several students and teachers on how to use the Dragon Naturally Speaking software in their classrooms.  Same type of results.  It takes a lot of practice to get it right.  Plus, the students have to be in an area of privacy so that they can talk out loud.  Then along came  the ol' iPad....and iPhones....and iPod Touches.  Most of my classrooms have at least one iPad and several students have their own iPhones or iPod Touches.  And lo and behold, Dragon has a FREE app called Dragon Dictation.  So now we have multiple opportunities and we have carryover into the real world.  Let me tell you, from my experience, Dragon Dictation works much better than the much more expensive, full computer software!  Who would've guessed?

Here are some tips to get your students (and you) started with dictating to Dragon Dictation:
  • Start slow and easy.  Have your students practice by reciting rote memory verses (Pledge of Allegiance, days of the week, nursery rhymes, poems, song lyrics, jokes, and etc.).  Pull a student up to your desk, read questions from a worksheet, and have him answer the questions using Dragon Dictation.
  • Practice while texting.  Well, we know kids like to text.  Guess what kids who can't read or write do well?  Text.  They can dictate and then copy/paste into a text message.  It's great, practical practice.
  • Speak punctuation marks.  This not only helps with the dictation, it helps students practice using correct punctuation.  "I like pepperoni comma mushroom comma and sausage pizza period."  You can find Dragon Commands Cheat Sheets HERE.
  • Have fun with the mistakes.  You might have seen some of the auto-correct fails on the internet.  If you have, you'll see how sometimes computers don't always output what we input.  This is a great opportunity to check for C.O.P.S. (capitalization, organization, punctuation, and spelling).  I'll bet that this fits into your curricular standards, right?  At this point, don't worry about mistakes.  Get some substance and then fix the errors.
  • Keep your frustration level low.  If it is difficult, then take a break.  Figure out why it isn't working well.  Are you speaking naturally (not like a robot)?  The program works better when it hears groups of words rather than one at a time.  Are you speaking too fast?  Not loud or clear enough?  Think of a newscaster.  Enunciate.  If you feel like throwing the iPad, then step away for awhile.  Seriously, though, I don't have many problems with the app as I did with the full computer software.  Keep at it!  You'll get it with practice.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Conversation TherAppy App for Expressive Language Skills

I've sifted through hundreds of apps since iPads have come out.  Sometimes it's my son figuring out his way through the labyrinth of the the App Store or me procrastinating something that I'm supposed to be doing by surfing through an app finder.  Then, every once in awhile, I get lucky and come across something that is pretty cool.  Tactus Therapy Solutions has created one of the most thorough therapy apps yet--Conversation Therappy.

One of my biggest focuses as a therapist and educator is to keep activities age appropriate and current.  Whether you work with young people or elderly, it's important to keep it real and genuine.  Tactus Therapy has completely done their homework in creating this app.

Here's the rundown:
  • You can pick from 1 to 12 categories with topics covering just about all bases (Activities, Arts & Culture, Environment, Family, Food, Health, Money & Politics, Safety & Problems, Sexuality, Social Problems, Society, and Violence) *Note: Some material is for mature audiences only
  • Each scenario is presented with 10 different types of topic starters (question types include "Describe, Define, Remember, Decide, Feel, Infer, Predict, Narrate, Evaluate, & Brainstorm").
  • The app targets higher level expressive language, which is perfect for adults (including nursing home patients) and teenagers.
  • You can use this one-on-one or in a group (up to 6).
Here's what I really like:

  • The pictures are awesome.  HD quality and very current.  Not the old toaster ovens or the old Bat Phone pictures found in your old speech supplies, but real, current photographs!
  • The topics are relevant.  There are no softballs here.  I mean, if you really want someone to talk, this app will provide you with detailed scenarios with lots of questions.
  • You can set the age level to the person and customize questions.  You can choose questions appropriate for kids, teens, and adults.  And, you can even edit the questions to make them specific to your client.
  • You can track progress and email the results.  For those of you that have trouble keeping data in groups (me), you can immediately record responses and then email the results to yourself (or parents).
The bottom line is that Conversation TherAppy completely takes the cake with this app.  This is the app that is going to pave the way for converting speech therapists to the digital age.  Out with the old, outdated pictures and in with the new, relevant, and interactive app!  The app itself costs $24.99 in iTunes.  Tactus Therapy also has the "lite" version for free if you want to give it a try before you buy it.   
Click here for more information.

Check out the demonstration video:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

PECS Tricks of the Trade

The following article is also posted as a guest post on  Be sure to visit their website for innovative ideas, resources, and employment opportunities.  Follow them @PediaStaff on Twitter for more information.

Whether you're a PECS veteran or you're just getting started, an important part of using PECS is having a good supply kit.  Usually this consists of velcro (lots of velcro), binders, and picture cards (likely made using special software like Boardmaker).  Over the past eight years, my creation of PECS cards and books has evolved.  Luckily, I work in a school that either provides the materials or funds (your classroom/speech funds) to purchase the essentials.  So, I thought I'd share with you my current trend with creating PECS cards and books.


Communication, the work way by Dave Matos
on Flickr (Creative Commons)
Okay, you're probably like me in that you like to be frugal whenever possible when it comes to school supplies.  Obviously, you can find deals at the beginning of the school year, but what I do is recycle old conference binders.  I know.  I'm horrible.  I don't go back and read all of the papers that someone spent hours compiling and putting into binders for every single in-service that I've ever attended.  Most of the time, nowadays, the notes from conferences are available electronically (if not, ask the presenter).  So, for me, conferences equal free binders.  I guess I paid for them anyway. 


photo by Feiner Supply
Here's my biggest secret.  Stop gumming up your scissors by cutting little pieces of velcro for each picture card.  The solution?  Buy 1/2" dots instead.  They are most definitely the biggest time saver.  I think the last bunch I bought was about 1400 dots (coins) for about $16 at Feiner Supply.  You can buy them elsewhere, but this place definitely had the best deal.  I'm not kidding in that my roll is going on its third or fourth year.

Picture Cards

What's the biggest problem with PECS picture cards?  For me, it's durability.  I have kids that rip, chew, and slobber on my pictures (their pictures now) and I need something that puts up a first line of defense.  Most of the people I know laminate their PECS pictures.  You'll find out quickly with some kids that the lamination becomes tedious and annoying after you've cut out a set of pictures only to find them torn up after one session.  My first solution was to protect them with a more durable, yet interchangeable product: baseball card sleeves.  As a kid, I collected baseball cards.  As you may know, the first thing you wanted to do was to protect the cards to keep their value.  There are a few products out there, but if you buy the "top loaders", they'll do the trick.  The best part is that you can take the pictures out at will and replace them quickly.  I've even set up a "baseball card" template (3x4" rectangles) on Boardmaker so that I can print out an entire set.  You can get these on eBay or look for them near the trading cards at Target or Walmart.  I saw them on eBay 100 for $12. 

Now, if you're looking for the million dollar cards and you have some money to spend (in your school or your own budget), our school uses the Pebble 4 Plastic Card Printer.  These printers are the ones that you can print ID cards with.  You know, they look like credit cards.  These are most definitely a teacher favorite at our school.  They are nearly indestructible (I have a couple of kids that have found a way to chew/tear them) and slobber proof (disinfect them afterward).  Once you get past the initial purchase, the ink is about $65 (200 cards, full color) and the blank cards themselves are sold separately.


Since I work with a wide variety of students, I like to venture out a bit with my older students (high school age and above) to keep everything age-appropriate.  I was able to adapt a business organizer into a PECS book that ended up looking like a small purse.  The student happened to love purses, so the buy-in from her was immediate.  I was able to get a purse strap by putting up a sign by the teachers' mailboxes asking if anyone had any old purses that they wanted to donate.  I even went over to Goodwill and found one for $1.  My men's version looked like a little briefcase.
Day-Timer from Office Depot

Day-Timer from Office Depot

Software/Sharing Pictures

The two most popular software programs to create picture symbols, in my opinion, are Boardmaker ($399) and SymbolStix (online version $49/year).  Both are similar and worth the purchase in order to be able to create limitless picture cards.  If you're unable to afford either software, you can always search the world wide web.  There are plenty of entrepreneurs out there that produce the pictures for you.  Search eBay, Pinterest, and a regular Google search for pre-made cards.  Boardmaker does offer a free-trial so that you can give it a go. Boardmaker Share is also available for others to share and collaborate ideas and projects.   I really do like both programs.  If your school has a News-2-You license ($149/year), then you get free access to the entire SymbolStix library.  If you haven't checked out News-2-You, then you definitely should!
PCS Classic symbols by Boardmaker

SymbolStix symbols from SymbolStix Online

What's in your PECS kit?  Any creative ideas?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monsters University Create-a-Monster PECS Activity

If you're a PECS user like me, then you're always looking for fun ways to incorporate PECS into everyday (fun) activities.  My wife and kids just showed me (they're a great resource) how to create your own Monsters University monster on the computer.  After they created their own monsters, we printed off ID cards so that they could take them to the theater.  The idea is pretty simple.  Print off PECS cards and use them to make requests while creating the monster on the computer or the SMART Board.
Create your own PECS book using SMART Notebook and/or Boardmaker

If you follow the PECS principles, then you'd use the pictures to make requests.  For instance, you might have an adult at the computer/SMART Board as your communication partner.  The student would have to select a picture (strip) and take it to the partner.  Then, depending on the level of the student, the adult or the student could manipulate that turn of the program.  The website itself has at least 5 levels to go through before you finish the activity.  The students get to choose the type of monster, the color, the features (horns, wings, hats, etc.), and the type of finished product (ID card, full body picture, or portrait).

The finished picture is pretty cool.  The kids are motivated and love having their very own personalized souvenir to go home with them!
* All images and ideas from Monsters University, PECS USA, and SMART Software are copyrighted and
are solely being used in this blog under the fair use guidelines for teaching and educational purposes only.  
1.5" PECS pictures or Boardmaker file

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Communication Basics for Newly Hired Staff

Carte blanche.  The principal asked me to give a one and a half hour in-service to the newly hired staff about "communication" in our school.  That's a very broad topic when it comes to the variety of kids (and teachers) that we have at our school.  Being in a center-based school, however, narrows the types of students that we work with, but also reminds us how humans communicate with each other.  I presented a couple of years ago about how we communicate with others verbally, non-verbally, and visually using a few interesting resources:  The Dog Whisperer, SuperNanny, and Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk book. 

Non-Verbal Communication

When we're talking about communication in the schools (and everywhere), we're talking about verbal, non-verbal, and visual communication.  If you get a chance, the three books I mentioned above address these areas.  If you've ever watched The Dog Whisperer, you'll notice right away that non-verbal communication (and energy) is the most primitive way to communicate.  Our energy (preferably calm and assertive), body language/positioning, and facial expressions/eye contact can determine how an interaction will go with a communication partner.  Regardless of a student's expressive and receptive language skills (what they are able to say and what they understand), kids pick up on your mood, tone, and attitude.  Think about it. What do your facial expressions say to the student?  How about your posture?  How about your personal space?  Kids are constantly observing you and reading your energy.  They are also reading your body language.  What does your energy say about you?  So, what does Cesar Milan say about your energy?  Be calm and assertive.  Think of Oprah and her presence around other people.  Think about someone you know who has it together, yet they are able to be assertive.  How do you react when a student is having a behavior problem or when they are unable to communicate?

Verbal Communication

Faber and Mazlish explain the how to verbalize with kids.  It's a pretty good book for parents, educators, and anybody else who works with kids (and other human beings).  Their practical approach gives tools to better communication and to promote cooperation.  Some of the book might sound touchy, feely, but it is a nice structured approach to communicating with kids at a level that isn't threatening, sarcastic, and demanding.  To engage cooperation with children, the authors explained five skills that help with verbal communication:

  1. Describe.  Describe what you see, or describe the problem.  "There's a wet towel on the bed."
  2. Give information.  "The towel is getting my blanket wet."
  3. Say it with a word. "The towel."
  4. Talk about your feelings.  "I don't like sleeping on a wet bed!"
  5. Write a note.  (Use visuals.)
This all coincides with the K.I.S.S. Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  Rather than over explaining, blaming, threatening, name calling, commanding, lecturing or moralizing--by communicating at a child's level, more cooperation will occur.  I don't know about you, but for me it is really easy to fall back on old habits, which is why I like the authors' prescribed method of simple communication and encouragement of autonomy.  When you read the book, you get to practice these methods in various role playing activities.  Here's the best advice I can give you from what I read:

  • Let children makes choices. Give kids the power to control their own destiny.
  • Show respect for a child's struggle. Allow kids the ability to solve problems, but be there to support their journey for the solution.
  • Don't ask too many questions. Facilitate and guide, but don't over do it.
  • Don't rush to answer questions. Let kids figure out a solution. Give them time to process. My rule of thumb is to allow children 5 seconds to process and respond before giving any sort of prompt. This is difficult because we tend to expect an answer immediately. Pause. Wait. Pause. Wait some more.
  • Give kids personal space. Don't get in their faces, but make sure you get to their level.
  • Use pictures, picture schedules, social stories, objects, sign language (all of the above) to augment your communication. Talking to kids doesn't always work. Get creative and use your resources.

Visual Supports

I love the Supernanny!  If you haven't seen the show, look it up on YouTube or Hulu.  After watching a few episodes, you'll see that she immediately structures families with written rules and visual aids throughout their homes.  Not only do visual supports remind children of expectations, it also gives adults reminders of what they should be doing.  By having these in place, the rules and structure remain consistent.  Now I know Jo Frost (aka Supernanny) works with families at their homes, but much of what she teaches can be done in the classroom.  These should be done as universal supports in all types of classrooms--not just students with special needs.  

Visual supports reinforce the classroom in the following ways:

  • Provide structure and predictability
  • Help communicate with readers and non-readers
  • Simple solutions
  • Used to improve classroom behavior
  • Students have better behavior and performance when expectations are clearly stated (with visual supports)

In whatever venue you are in, visual supports assist almost everyone.  In schools, students rely on supports for rules, schedules, expectations, and following directions.  In rehab/nursing facilities and hospitals, written schedules (white boards) help keep patients oriented and give them the comfort of knowing what is expected in terms of appointments, therapy schedules, and medication times.  If there is one thing that we preach at our school, it is that visual supports are an expectation in all environments.  Use first/then cards, visual timers, daily schedules, social stories, or anything else you can personally create to make communication better!  By making conscious efforts and keeping in mind the various communication methods discussed, communication can make life easier for all!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ryan's Speech Therapy Gadgets and Games 2013

One of my favorite times of the year is when I get to use my budget to purchase items to use in speech therapy.  The school district that I work for is very supportive, in my opinion, with giving their teachers and professional staff money to purchase materials each year.  I don't know how other school districts work, but I feel fortunate to have this available to me every year.  I imagine that most school-based speech therapists purchase books, workbooks, flashcards, games, and testing supplies.  I did some of that when I started my career, but I've definitely moved towards the electronics as time has passed.  I am proud of myself this year, though, for purchasing a couple of vocabulary games.  So, I thought I'd share with you the goodies that I ordered.

Making vocabulary fun is an essential for me in speech therapy.  I would guess that this game is pretty common in a speech therapist's closet, but I have never gotten around to getting one.  You can tweak the game to fit your students' needs.  Since most of my kids struggle with vocabulary, we might play it in reverse as suggested by The Doc is In.  To take it a step further, I'll probably have the kids make up their own cards and maybe even adapt it to their science, language arts, or social studies vocabulary.

Don't Say It
Well, in speech therapy we really should, "Say it!"  I always like to modify the rules for games so that they fit my students skills (or lack of skills). This one fits the bill.  Basically, you get a card with a vocabulary word along with four words typically used to describe the vocab word.  Just like Taboo (actually JUST like Taboo), you aren't supposed to say any of the words listed to describe.  For instance, the word might be "sheep".  You have to get your team to say it without using the words "baa", "lamb", "wool", and "flock".  I'll play this game, but I'll probably do the opposite by giving the words listed and having the kids guess.

VuPoint Solutions Magic Wand Scanner
This little gadget is pretty neat.  I first learned about it while working with a young man who was looking to scan worksheets so that he could type his answers using his computer.  My mind got going and I started to think of the other possibilities to use a hand held scanner.  First, it fits into my manly speech therapist's tote bag (briefcase), which makes it a nice portable option being a travelling SLP.  Then I thought that I could use it to scan completed worksheets/assignments to store digitally for the students' portfolios/folders.  It would save me paper and give me a way to "keep" those worksheets while the students take them home for their files (as I usually jokingly call it "the trash can").  Finally, I mentioned scanning a worksheet and then completing it on the iPad.  I use a free app called neu.Annotate.  It allows you to write directly onto the pdf file or you can create text boxes and type in your text.  Then you can save it, email it, or print it.  Pretty cool stuff.

Favi Wireless Entertainment Keyboard
Since I'm a big SMART Board and Tap It user, I thought that this would be a fun and quick way to interact when you don't necessarily need to get up out of your seat to type.  The cool part is that many students (and teachers) already know how to use this type of keyboard because of cell phones (okay, okay...this type of cell phone is sooooo 2008).  You get the idea.  Believe it or not, I still have a dumbphone because I'm too cheap to pay for the data package.  Anyway, this device is also a remote for presentations (it even has a laser pointer).  That little black box on the right is the mouse pad.

There you have it.  That's partly what I spent my budget on this year.  I also sprinkle some of my budget on online subscriptions and other supplies.

How about you?  What were some of your fun purchases for your "speech closet" this year?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Statistically Speaking (of course)

"teaching with emotion: a halloween story"
by woodleywonderworks / flickr (CC)
Creativity comes easy to me.  Having fun comes really easy to me.  Thinking quick on my feet is pretty easy too.  Keeping really good track of data....well, I stink at that.  To be honest, I'm pretty darn good at keeping up with my numbers at the beginning of the school year.  Usually, when I work during summer school, I have some open time to tweak or develop a new system to taking and recording data from each of my kids.  You see, part of my problem is that I see the majority of my kids in a group setting.  This becomes tricky when you have a group of kids with a variety of needs.  Those who aren't ready to make the jump to a whole-class approach usually list this as one of the biggest obstacles to transition to this type of service delivery model.  In my case, they're pretty much correct.  It is tricky.  I've been able to switch it up a bit this year because instead of servicing five schools, I'm down to three.  That means I can spend two full days at one and three at the other.  This helps because I still get to do the whole class and I also get to see the kids in a "traditional" speech therapy setting--in small groups or one-on-one.

Taking data in small groups is much easier than for an entire class.  In fact, one of my classes has about 12 speech therapy kids and it is nearly impossible to take accurate data on each kid every time.  I think I've asked just about every speech therapist what their fool proof way of keeping data is and they all have similar, but quite different ways of doing it.  So where does that bring me today?  Well, it's late in the school year and I'm writing a blog on my lack of data keeping skills.  So guess what? My co-worker walked into my office the other day and showed me how to list all of my students, create an activity, list each student's goals, rearrange group order, indicate my type of response, and then email it to myself as a document!  Geez, that was easy.  Um...that sounds exactly like what I need.  Of course, it's an app.  There's always "an app for that" out there, right?  So Super Duper does it again.  It's called Super Duper Data Tracker.  I know...I've been using it for years.  How in the wide, wide world of sports haven't I heard of this before?  I'm the guy on Twitter.  That makes me some sort of genius (I'll say it.  People on Twitter think (know) that they are super smart.).  Well, my non-Twitter using co-worker came over and showed me.  I'm hooked.  I'm sold.  And, it's only $2.  

(That's not me in the video.  That's Mr. Super Duper.)

The easiest way to learn about the app is to watch the video above.  If not, here's what you can do with the app in a nutshell:
  • Create multiple goals for each student
  • Choose your own type of response (correct/incorrect, approximation, cued)
  • Store data for unlimited number of sessions
  • Manipulate your groups (to accommodate absences or additions)
  • Write individual notes
  • Graph progress
  • Email results for individuals or all members within a group
I use an iPad, but lucky for you, they also offer it through Google Play, (Kindle?), and Nook.  By the way, I am not affiliated with Super Duper Inc. or any of its products.  I guess my disclaimer is that I liked the product and thought I'd share it with others.  Does that count?  Anyway, let me know what you think?  Do you have a fool proof method?  I love collaboration.  Let's hear it!