Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Itinerant SLPS

I have several SLP friends who have shared their classroom decor with me as the beginning of the school year is approaching us.  The rooms are always colorful and inviting.  Therapy materials are all organized neatly in cabinets with children's book lined up according to author on bookshelves.  Jerks.  Just kidding, but in all seriousness, I can't help by feel a little envious. 

For those who are more like me, who has traveled between two to five buildings over the course of my three year career, you quickly learn how to make a traveling position work for you.  This, of course, was done through trial and error and what I have found to work for me.  Without further explanation, here is how I survive being between multiple buildings while not necessarily having my own space.

Mock schedule on google calendar

Mock print out of schedule using google calendar
 1.  Plan ahead.  In my first year, I literally would plan therapy sessions minutes before grabbing the kids from class.  I now plan therapy sessions ahead of time.  What I found worked for me is scheduling my kids using Google calendar.  I printed out my calendar by day (Monday had it's own page, Tuesday had it's own page, etc) and would write the child's next target goal (ex: /g-/ unmodeled words, stage 3 mindwing program, etc) next to their name on the schedule immediately following their current session.  This was a great easy way to plan therapy, took less than a minute, and I was able to make sure we were progressing in therapy as usual.  Although I progress monitor in one form or another during each session to help guide my therapy, my agency also requires that we formally plug in progress monitoring data points once a month, so I always felt that sessions were planned according to the child's progress and needs.  I also liked using Google calendars because I could easily change the schedule if students were dropped or added and I only printed out the calendar weekly, so it was always up to date.  One more quick bonus for using Google calendars is you can color code your schedule, so for each school I was serving, I color coded students to help keep myself organized.

2.  Organize your materials in a way that works for you.  This will be different for everyone.  Ideally, I would love to have one school and one classroom and have all my materials in one convenient spot.  However, this is not the case.  I am between multiple buildings and I have personally found that keeping most of my therapy materials at home is what works best for me in this scenario.  We have a home office in my house and I keep my materials in a bookcase and organized in the closet.  I keep binders/workbooks at the school I am at the most since when I use them, I usually photocopy pages and I don't have a photocopier at home.  I rarely use workbook activities, so this ends up working well and I will photocopy homework sheets in bulk as I need them.  I also keep general office supplies at each of my schools (staplers, paperclips, tongue depressors, etc), as well as students files.  The main reason I keep my therapy materials at home is to avoid making extra trips to my schools if I forget materials.  I also got approved to home office this year, which has made life easier since I can go home and scope out my materials while planning therapy sessions between multiple buildings.

3.  Go as digital as possible.  When I started working between four different schools, Google became my best friend.  I kept my calendar and email on Google, as well as utilized Google docs.  Google docs prevented me from having to use a flash drive and also allowed me to work on documents between buildings (as well as share documents with school teams/parents).  I kept all student session notes on Google forms, which was wonderful.  I could open up a students' session notes without carrying files between buildings, which was great.  The one downside is you need consistent internet access for this system to work.  However, if you do have consistent internet connection, I highly recommend Google forms for session logs.  If you are interested in the google form I use for data collection and logs, let me know and I can do a separate post to share my system or do a tutorial on how you can make your own google form.

4.  Reach out to faculty and staff at each school.  This has been the most challenging for me, personally.  I'm not naturally outgoing and despite what I may advise, I always eat lunch in my office so I can keep up on my paperwork (although I'd advise trying to connect with teachers by eating lunch in the lounge).  Not being present in the same building everyday can definitely make one feel less a part of the school community, but sometimes you need to be the one to extend the olive branch.  Ask the special education teachers out to lunch.  Give the faculty an in-service about the SLP role in the school (I have many teacher friends from college that consistently tell me they have no idea what the SLP does in their school), bring homemade goodies during the holidays, sign up to be part of the social committee, and be present at the student support meetings just to name a few ways to stay connected..  You can even email monthly newsletters about the exciting world of speech-language pathology to promote your services and to have a presence in the building when you can't physically be there.

5.  Group students for therapy when appropriate and adapt 5 minute kids for those who are appropriate.  Even with a small caseload (which I don't have), scheduling students between multiple buildings can be extremely stressful.  When I first started, I saw all students individually (I also had 45 kids).  Although seeing students individually does have it's benefits, I found that my students made the same type of progress in language groups and during 5 minute kids (actually, my students made faster progress with 5 minute kids!).  Seeing students individually left very little gaps in my day for paperwork, observations, and referrals.  It was also difficult to fit the new kids who qualified for services during the school year.  Remember, it is completely okay to have time during the school day that is not occupied by therapy.  In fact, if you look at the workload activity cluster on the ASHA website, direct service occupies the smallest cluster.  We have a lot of responsibilities outside of direct contact with students and we shouldn't be expected to complete that in the one hour we have before and after school.  Some days I don't have those hours before and after due to student support meetings and IEP meetings, so it's almost necessary that I do create space in my day for indirect services.  Grouping students together and adapting five minute kids, at least for me, has freed up time I can be spending on my other responsibilities and ways to indirectly serve students  

6.  If you have the opportunity to utilize a speech language therapy assistant, do so!  My caseload is hovering around the 60 mark, which between multiple buildings, can be challenging.  Luckily, our agency does give us the opportunity to apply for assistance from a para.  It has been extremely helpful to have someone to take groups for therapy since I have had to double book some of my kids this year due to scheduling issues (we can't pull out of specials, math, reading, and not to mention when they go down for academic support).  Last year was my first year with a SLPA and I was a bit nervous having someone else work with my students, but as long as you offer ongoing trainings and students are making progress, SLPAs can be life savers! 

7.  Last, but not least, invest in some good luggage! I use a very sturdy Vera Bradley bag for my laptop, traveling binder, and student files as needed.  I then use my free SuperDuper bag to carry the day's therapy materials (although I heard ThirtyOne sells this bag that is wonderful for carrying therapy materials).  If you live in an area where it does not snow and your schools have access to ramps and elevators, rolling luggage is wonderful.  I had one last fall, but unfortunately it was more cumbersome for me since it was impossible to drag through the snow and I ended up having to carry it up and down stairs at school.

How do you keep sane and organized if you are at multiple schools?

Happy Speeching!



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game


This past school year, a SLP friend of mine had posted about the Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game on facebook and it looked intriguing.  I ended up picking one up at Target.

I usually don't buy these types of games if they only work on one particular sound, but it looked too cute and I am a sucker for cute.  It just so happens that it is an excellent game for multiple targets and is super motivating for students!  Here is how I used it this past school year:

Speech sounds:  Of course the /sn/ cluster.  I would have kids say our "magic word(s)," sneaky, snaky, squirrel, before each turn.  If they were not as advanced, we worked on just the word "snack" or "sneaky."  We also worked on /st/ blends and worked on the word "steal" when the squirrel would steal the acorns.  You could also target medial /k/ and use carrier phrases, such as: "I have a ______ acorn."

Social Skills/Functional Language:  With most games, basic social skills is an easy skill to target.  We targeted requesting turns, taking turns, and being a good sport (using self talk and/or power cards for kids who have difficulty loosing).  Using sabotage, such as keeping game parts out of reach, is a great way to promote requesting as well.  We also worked on executive functioning skills, like guessing how long it would take to set up and tear down the game for time management skills.

Syntax/Morphology:  Depending on the child's target, we worked on pronouns (she has a red acorn, I have a blue acorn, you have a green acorn, etc), while also targeting have/has.  We also targeted regular plural /s/ (acorn vs. acorns).

Although not necessarily our direct goals, we also reinforced matching skills and colors for my preschool kiddos.

I love targeting goals in a game format on occasion since it can be so motivating and promote real life application of learned skills.  What are some of your favorite games?

Happy Speeching!


Friday, June 20, 2014

The Truth about School Based Speech Pathology

School Kids at School

Well hello, strangers!  I have been taking a rather long hiatus and wanted to jump back into the swing of things.  For those who don't know, I have a little guy, almost 1 1/2 years old, who is occupying many of my hours now.  For the sake of putting family first, I will not be blogging or posting nearly as often, but do still plan on keeping this blog up and running and will post when I can.

Onto the post!

Let me just start with a disclaimer that I am not intending to represent everyone's experience with these truths about being a school-based SLP.  I am by no means the voice of school SLPs.  Not by a long shot!  I did however want to share my own experience with starting out in the speech pathology world.  Some of you reading may by be students trying to find their niche in the realm of speech pathology, others may be thinking of switching the settings they work in, and most of you probably are already working in the school setting.
Let's start with a little background on my part, shall we?  If you don't want the frills and details of my history, feel free to skip down to the list!

 Once upon a time, when I was a graduate student, my aspiration was absolutely not to be working in the schools.  My goal was to work in the hospital setting, specifically in acute care.   All my elective classes were geared towards adults and neurogenics.  I was dreading my school based internship and could not wait to start my hospital one.   Then, along came time to start my school internship and I found I actually did not mind it.  In fact, I very much enjoyed it.  However, truth be told, once I completed both internships I was still geared up for the hospital setting.  So, then came time to search for a job.  My husband already had a secure job, so I was limited in job selection in terms of location.  I applied to a couple rehab companies, as no hospitals were hiring at the time, and I had also applied to the local education agency, which contracts out to the schools.

Well, as luck would have it, I was offered a job with a rehab company that would contract me out to a very small hospital in a very small town.   I gladly accepted and had a start date all ready to go.  While all this was happening, the education agency had contacted me to let me know I did not get the job.  Ouch!  Burned from a job I did not even want in the first place.  Fast forward a couple weeks, the Friday before my Monday start date at the hospital to be exact.  The education agency contacted me and had a few more openings pop up and offered me a position.  So, all the sudden I was given an option for the schools and I was seriously considering it.  I literally had a matter of hours to make a decision about what path my career would go...medical or educational?  Of course, the fist person I called was my mom to go over the pros and cons, and long story short (is it too late in the story to say that?), I decided that the school setting was a better fit for me, so I nervously called the rehab company and politely told them that I had accepted another offer and they were actually very nice about it.  Looking back, I think I liked the idea of the hospital setting more than the actual work I would be conducting, if that makes sense.  I can absolutely not imagine going to work now and NOT seeing my kiddos smiling faces everyday.

So, onto the purpose of this piece.  Before working in the schools, I had some serious  misconceptions about what working in the schools was really like.  So, the good and the bad, here are the truths of my experiences in the schools:

Misconception #1I am going to be working with articulation ALL day.  This was a huge misconception.  I don't even know where I got this idea, maybe from my practicum experiences were I would go to the schools for 1-2 hours once a week and they were all articulation kids.  This was probably because I was a student and the smart SLP did not give me the more challenging kiddos.   I do see articulation kiddos, but the bulk of my caseload is language, complex communication needs, and social skills.  To be honest, there are some days I wish I could see artic kids all day because that is much more straight forward and this lady's brain in hurting by the end of the week.

Misconception #2:  Working in the schools is easy.  Nope.  No. No.  No.  Not at all true.  When I was in grad school, I thought school SLPs had more of a "fluff" job than the hospital setting.  Now, granted we are working on some different goals and the only comparison I have from school to medical is during my internship, so I am by no means saying schools are harder/easier than medical setting.  But, yes, working in the schools can be challenging.  You have a lot of people to please, a huge caseload to monitor and serve, usually lots of meetings to attend, referrals, evaluations, paperwork (which is mentioned in misconception 3), the list goes on.  You are still implementing evidence based practice while having to make sure 60 some kids are all making progress.  You are constantly consulting with teachers and parents on how to support their kids.  You are making materials for students.  You are providing in-services and trainings to school personnel.  You are writing IEPs, progress reports, and updating data constantly.  So, challenging, yes.  Rewarding, even more so.

Misconceptions #3:  Yippee!  Less paperwork in the schools!  Not.  (Did I just use a 90's joke in this?  Yup).  Again, no idea why I thought this.  The paperwork is ridiculous.  I wouldn't have initially thought so, but the schools can be pretty political, meaning almost everything you do must be documented.  Not to mention the IEPs, evaluation reports, and progress reports.  So, yes, there is quite a bit of paperwork in our field.

Misconception #4:  If I work in the schools, I'll be poor.  Again, no, I promise if you work in the schools, you won't go hungry.  Will you be making just as much as your SLP friend in SNF?  Probably not, but you are also working appoximately3/4 of the year.   However, if the salary is what is getting you down, there are always ways to make extra money: PRN (there are also some pediatric clinics that needs PRN SLPs as well), TeachersPayTeachers, doing private therapy on the side, and extended school year services (if your district or agency does not already require that as part of your salary). 

Misconception #5:  School SLPs only see kids for 15 minutes a week and that won't make any difference.  If present Courtney could go back in time, she would slap the living daylight out of student Courtney.  I would like to say I don't know where I got this idea, but sadly I do.  When I was in my internship, I had a parent refer to the clinical SLP her child was seeing as her "real speech pathologist."  Ouch.  When I first accepted my school based job and told a SLP friend, she went on to say how she would never do therapy in a school because that doesn't make any difference.  Double ouch.  Well, let me just clarify this misconception.  WE DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  Also, I rarely see kids for only 15 minutes a week (unless they are generalizing or in 5 minute kids, in which case I do and, hold on to your seat for this one, they still make progress!).  And let me tell you how I know that.  We are required to progress monitor.  And by required, I mean we are bound to a legal document stating that we will progress monitor.  Not only that, but in my state, I have to change instruction if I am not showing growth.  So you better believe that we are making progress in the schools!  Not to mention, we have the benefit of working with those who are with the children most of the week...their lovely teachers!

Now, off to enjoy the start of my summer (a great perk of working in the schools)!


(clipart credit to:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

March Articulation FREEBIES!

While looking in my March speech and language bin, I realized I only had about two activities in there for the month.  Yikes!  I quickly whipped up two general articulation games with a St. Patrick's day theme.

In this freebie, there is the classic "roll and cover" game that can work with any target sound.  You can work on targets sounds in isolation, words, phrases, or sentences.  For maximum production, I have my students say their target the amount they rolled on the dice.  They can then cover their number with a chip/eraser/etc.  Whoever covers their board first, wins!

The next game targets sounds at the conversational, generalization, and carry over phase.  Patrick the Leprechaun will be listening for how you use your target sounds while you answer these questions.  Students roll the dice to see which questions they will answer.  

Grab these FREEBIES here.

Happy Speeching!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

What's in my Speech Bin: February 2014

1.  The Day it Rained Hearts:  This book is my favorite book to read around Valentine's day.  It is great for sequencing and inferencing.  I have my students guess who she is making the valentine's for while we read and then we discuss how we know it is meant for that character.  I also have a board maker activity that I use for categorizing and descriptive words where there are descriptions for each character and the students have to decide what characters the descriptions go to (long ears for rabbit, green for turtle, etc).  Find this book here.

2.  Foam Hearts:  I could not find the actual foam hearts I got online, but I found mine at Target (I'm sure Walmart, Michael's, Hobby Lobby will have them!).  The bag I got had a variety of colors, textures, and sizes.  I use these for many goals, such as categorizing (by color, texture, size), prepositions (put the little heart in the middle, between the big hearts, etc), concepts (pick a hear from the pair/several/many pile), and descriptions/directions (give me the glitterly medium purple heart).  It is also great for a reinforcer for articulation activities.  The kind I got had sticker backing, so after they said the designated number of target words/sentences, they would get a heart to put on their sheet.  We also make homework sheets by writing target words on several hearts that I put in a baggie to send home and they can stick them on a sheet of paper once they practice the words at home.

3.  Arthur's Valentine:  Most of my younger kiddos love Arthur books.  It's also a great book to discuss teasing/social issues since Arthur gets teased in the story by his friends for getting Valentine's cards.  We put "thought bubbles" above the character's head to guess what they are thinking in this story by using post-it notes.  Find this book here.

4.  Mail Boxes:  I don't know where to find these online, but I found mine in the dollar bin at Target.  I use these a lot to make categorizing and sorting activities more motivating.  For my "speedy speech" or 5-Minute Kids, I make drill more interesting by having them place artic cards in the mailbox after they practice the target word.  I have also used them with my Secret Articulation Sort, which you can learn more about here.

5.  Froggy's First Kiss:  What kid doesn't like a Froggy book!?  Seriously, name one, I dare you.  I use this as a general retell book, inferencing (who is Froggy making the Valentine for!), and emotional vocabulary (love, embarassed, etc).

What kinds of materials are you using in Frebruary?

Happy Speeching!


Sunday, February 2, 2014

123TokenMe App for Speech Therapy

I am a speech-language pathologist who does use behavior systems and stickers charts with most of my kiddos.  I tailor each system to the child's specific need.  If a child has trouble remembering their speech folder, I reward them for remembering.   If I have a "runner" I reward them for participating in speech.  If I have a kiddo who does not like doing speech homework, I reward them when they do complete homework tasks.  Given, some of my kids are self motivated and the idea of "graduating" from speech is enough for them, so there is no need for a system to be put into place.  I am by no means a behavior expert, but I do believe in the power of positive reinforcement.

In the past, I have done positive reinforcement with penny boards for more of an immediate reward, as well as sticker charts for more long term goals.  Now that I am between four buildings, I am really trying to simplify as much as a can, which I am finding involves going as "paperless" as possible.

I had been searching and searching for an "sticker chart" app, but most the ones I had found can only manage four or less sticker charts at a time.  With a rather large caseload, this was not an option.  I finally bit the bullet and paid the $9.99 for the 123TokenMe because it was the only one I could find that could hold a whole caseload's worth of charts.  The good reviews also sold me on it.

I am SO happy I spent the money on this app.  I will never go back to paper sticker charts!  Basically, this app allows me to create an individual chart for each student on my caseload (at least the ones that need it).  You can pick from a variety of backgrounds and "tokens" to reward the behaviors.  If you are reinforcing a behavior in intervals (such as rewarding if they are in their seat or paying attention every 3 minutes), the app comes with a timer that will remind you to reward.  Since every student is different, you can control the number of token the student receives to get their reward.  There is also a place to document the behavior you are reinforcing, as well as a place for a visual for what they are working for.

Here are just a couple screen shots for some mock students:

I am loving this tool so far! I have used it for rewarding behaviors such as remembering their speech folder, completing homework, and being an active participant in speech.  I have also used it for speech production practice (for each correct production, the get a token and once all token are full they get a turn in a game).  I have also used for carryover for articualtion.  For example, while taking a conversational sample I have my timer set for every 2-3 minutes and if they are using their target sound correctly when the timer reminds me, they will get a token.

Check out more details about this app here!

Happy Speeching!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Secret Valentine Articulation Sort

Wow!  It's been a long time since I've posted a product.  However, Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday, so I had to do it!

Actual mailboxes not included, but can be found cheap in the Target dollar bins!

This is a game that targets both articulation and phonemic awareness.  Students draw articulation card, or in this case a valentine, and have to determine if it should be delivered to Izzy Initial, Mikey Medial, or Frannie Final by figuring out if their target sound is in the initial, medial, or final position of the word.  You can practice at any level by saying the target word or having the student create a sentence about it.  This game is made extra motivating by having "secret valentine" cards mixed in with the articulation cards.  If they come across a secret valentine, the get to keep it for themselves.  Whoever has the most secret valentines at the end of the game, wins!

It targets some common phonemes in error, including: /k/, /g/, /f/, /j/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /v/, /z/, /ch/, /sh/, and /th/.  


Check it out at my TeacherspayTeachers store here!

Happy Speeching!