Grammar · Improv · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Vocabulary

Time to Play: How I Use Tatro

Hey there, readers! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this post. It’s been in the making for some time now. I’ve spoken to Will Barrios of Tatro previously on this blog (you can read more here), and I couldn’t wait to get his playset into my speech sessions. The featured image is one of my students’ creations from a recent session. This might be one of the most versatile speech therapy tools I have in my arsenal, and I am so excited to share how I use it with you. In addition, I’ll be sharing what my students thought of the activities and the playset. Spoiler alert: it was a hit and my students did not want to do anything else in speech.

Activity one: Playset building means team building!
Tatro is a playset with a pretty straightforward design. I can say that as someone who has seen the product finished. This playset was new to all of my students, so I decided to try it with a fourth grade group working on pragmatic skills. I laid out all the pieces on the table with a visual of the final product. I asked them how they thought it should be built, and had them work as a team to build the playset. They had to give each other directions–bonus following directions task!–and problem solve their way out of disagreements. The students got to work together until arriving at the correct assembly of the playset. As one can imagine, this took quite a bit of time, so the remainder of the speech session was spent with free play and exploration of the playset.

Activity two: Prepositions Practice!
For those who aren’t familiar, the playset is mostly magnetic. My students were fascinated with this because ” Nothing rolls onto the floor! It’s so easy to play with!” There are a variety of themes to choose from with this playset. At the moment, I own the Matinee Time, Fairytale Village and Castles, and Spellbound Forest Magnet Packs. My students chose to use the latter two packs together to first design a scene, with many magnetic pieces left over. Using the target concepts “on,” “next to,” “above,” “below,” “over,” and “under,” I gave my students directions for how to continue to decorate their scene. This allowed them to demonstrate their knowledge of these concepts through play. Later on in the session, they got to give their peers directions and feedback.

Tatro2

Photo: tatrotoy.com

Activity Three: Playing through Problem and Solution!
Using the Matinee Time magnets and the two characters and movers, I tried a different pragmatic language task. I paired my students up, interchanging partners each turn, and read them a scenario in which they would have to solve a problem. For example, I would say “Pretend it’s recess. You want to play tag, but your friend wants to play kickball. Ready, set, solve!” The students would then create their own mini play and act out possible solutions to the problems I generated. There are plenty of such problem solving activities available on TeachersPayTeachers.com. After this, my students and I talked through how this could be used in their classrooms without the toy. Next steps will be to work on generalizing this into situations they’re already encountering throughout their day.

Activity Four: Recreate and Retell!
Many of my students are working on summarizing and retelling, and this is a great tool for that! I read my students a story–choose whatever is appropriate for your student, and had them use the playset and all of its accessories to retell the story. After this, the students get to create their own story, demonstrating their knowledge of beginning, middle and end. They also have to tell me the main idea of both the story they retell and the story they create through play.

This is only what I’ve used Tatro for so far, and the possibilities are endless. I’m hoping to bring some new magnet packs to speech soon. My students were obsessed with the fact that the toy is magnetic. “We can’t lose toys this way!” “I didn’t know magnets could be so much fun!” “Where can I get one of these for home?” The answer to that last question is Tatrotoy.com. I know I’ll be heading there soon to look at some other magnet packs for my students. Will, my students and I can’t thank you enough for creating this new speech room staple! My challenge to my readers is to create the thing you’re thinking about. Draw, paint, write, choreograph, build—it’s up to you! Make something new and see how many ways you can enjoy it!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

—Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection

Together Wherever We Go: Social Skills and Friendships

One of the things I love most about a new school year is watching students reconnect with friends. Sure, it may have only been a day or two since they last saw each other, but it could’ve been months. Even sweeter than watching these reunions is witnessing the forming of new friendships.

While this seems like a simple skill, it isn’t easy for everyone. Some kids can bond over the design on their backpacks, but others have a harder time making connections with their peers. Maybe they’re shy, anxious, or maybe this is a new experience for them. Collaborative work and interactive classroom activities certainly help, as do social periods in the day, like lunch and recess. I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment that promotes inclusivity and making new friends. Of course, there’s always the inevitable (typically short-lived) drama that results in friends distancing themselves. Frequently, I am called upon to help resolve these issues among my students, and like any other speech activity, we talk through it. So far, my students’ friendships have not been a concern, and we spent a session talking about what keeps a friendship strong. Here’s what they had to say.

  • Listen to your friends.
    My students have shared they feel closest with their friends when they feel like they’re being heard. A conversation involves two people, but you can’t both talk at the same time. Make sure you’re listening to and really hearing your friends during conversations.
  • Understand the other person’s interests.
    You don’t have to like everything your friend does, but showing an interest goes a long way. If your friends like football but you don’t know anything about it, ask about the rules of the game. This way, when it comes up in conversation, you don’t feel left out and can follow the conversation going on between your group of friends.
  • You don’t have to do everything together.
    As mentioned above, separate interests are not a problem. These interests allow for personal growth as well as growth and cultivation of new friendships. They also allow for time to recharge and family connections. I am constantly explaining to my students that you can be friends and give each other space at the time.
  • Make time to be together outside of school.
    School is definitely a social environment, but it’s an academic setting first. There is a time and place to be social, but it shouldn’t take away from school work. Spending time together with less structure, such as a play date or family get together not only form lasting memories and inside jokes but teach kids how to navigate social situations with other people involved and in alternative settings.
  • Your friends will annoy you, just let it go.
    No one is perfect, and even your best friend will annoy you. Maybe they did something that didn’t sit well with you. If you find it really uncomfortable, you can tell an adult or tell the friend how their actions made you feel. If it was something small, my students think it’s best to let the little things go and move on.

My challenge to you this week is to implement one of these strategies within your friendships, old or new. Please share your own friendship advice in comments, this is an area in which we can all learn from each other. I hope you found my students’ tips helpful, I know I’m looking forward to seeing yours!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

The Human Connection

Gotta Find My Purpose: Find Your Why

Another school year has begun. I’m meeting new staff and students and seeing familiar faces. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions. There have been times over the years when I’ve questioned why I do what I do. I have my why at the ready at all times. My students are my why.

It’s been said that if you know your why, you will be able to figure out the how. How will I schedule everyone? How will I meet all students’ needs? How will each student feel valued and accepted and safe? Lucky for me, I get to see and hear my why as I question myself. I can see and hear progress from students, teachers, and families. I can hear their how in their own strategy implementation. Helping my students become successful is the most rewarding experience I’ll ever have in my career. Once, one of my student’s parents found a list of personal heroes in my student’s jacket pocket. A list of people he admired and why. My name was at the bottom of the list next to a hyphen with one four-letter word beside it: “hero.”

This rocked my world and made me so unbelievably grateful. I now have a copy of the note on my personal bulletin board as a visual reminder of my why. I know I made a difference in that student, and others have expressed the same. Some students don’t share their feelings about me, but their success is all I need to see my why in them. Their efforts are a sight to behold.

It is one of my greatest joys to help my students discover their why. Why are they working in speech? Why is it important to them? Once we answer these questions together, they realize how much they are capable of and all that they can achieve through their own efforts.  We go over our answers at the beginning of the school year so each student knows what they’re working towards. It sets the tone and expectation for the year and leaves room for the discussion of how to achieve our goals. We celebrate victories of all sizes on a daily basis and adjust our goals and strategies as needed.

My challenge to my readers this week is to find your why. It can be in regards to school, speech, the arts, sports, anything at all that is important to you. Dig deep and find the root of your why. Write it down and put it somewhere you can see it. Set your goals and make your strategies and figure out your how. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish once you have your why. I can’t wait to read everyone’s responses in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Performances · The Human Connection

Spectacular, Spectacular! My Review of Moulin Rouge! The Musical

The opulence is overwhelming. The beauty is bedazzling. The freedom feels like fireworks. The truth is terrific. The love is lavish. Moulin Rouge! is a must-see event.

From the second you walk into the theatre, you are completely enveloped in the ambiance of the Moulin Rouge. If you think you know this show because you saw the 2001 movie, think again. Nothing can prepare you for what you, dear audience member, are about to experience.

From beginning to end, the set dazzles, the choreography intrigues,  the acting amazes, and the singing captivates. There are crowd favorites and new surprises across all creative choices that could only be done in such a stage production. This is a magical world you’ve entered, full of extravagance encapsulated by Karen Olivo, the ensemble, and Danny Burstein, with desire personified in Aaron Tveit’s and Tam Mutu’s performances respectively. Sonya Tayeh has truly outdone herself with the choreography, which soars and inspires to the point where you want to get up and dance (I must admit, I danced in my seat the whole show). I smiled ear to ear from the second I entered the theatre and I’m fairly certain I fell asleep with that same smile on my face when I fell asleep that  night.  I can’t encourage everyone to go see this production enough! It’s timely and touching, entertaining and endearing, heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Tickets are available here.

As we all know from the film, the beautiful, idealistic Bohemians of the revolution believe in the foundational truths of freedom, beauty, truth and love. This week, I challenge you to determine what your own fundamental beliefs are. They can be words, phrases, or anything you like. Share them in comments and see how you can practice these beliefs in your day to day life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

The Human Connection · Vocal Health

Do Re Mi: Vocal Health and Hygiene

An eight show week is no easy feat. Anyone I’ve interviewed for this blog, no matter their role in a production will tell you so. As audience members, we see one performance of a production, usually not an entire eight show week. Reader, you’re probably asking about why I’m going on about a performance schedule, and I’ll tell you. Even with training, lessons, and appropriate care, acting and singing for 2-3 hours a day with such intensity and passion can cause damage to even the healthiest of vocalists. This is often overlooked by us audience members, but rarely if ever by the performers.

Caissie Levy recently tweeted about having a vocal fold cyst removed ten years ago.

caissie

Her colleagues, Eva Noblezada, Josh Lamon, Lesli Margherita, Nikki M James, and George Salazar among others, all shared their own stories of vocal injuries they’ve incurred during their careers.  In professions like performing, where using your voice beyond typical speaking is your livelihood, vocal injuries are prevalent. I find it surprising that it’s not more commonly discussed between the following communities: actors, singers, athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, teachers, and doctors. When you use your voice for a living in degrees that exceed conversational use or do not get enough breaks to rest during the day, a variety of vocal issues can occur. These are professionals who know and care for their voices daily, know how to modify when and where they can, and know how to support their singing and speaking with their breath. I would be happy to speak with any of these people at any time about their vocal healthcare and the role it plays in their job. For now, I’m going to leave you with some of my own vocal health tips.

  • Find YOUR voice.
    Everyone’s voice is unique to them. The anatomical structure of your larynx and vocal folds is different from everyone else’s. We all love our favorite singers, but if I tried to belt like Idina Menzel or sing as high as Laura Benanti, I would seriously damage my voice. Sing and speak where it is best suited for you–where you feel comfortable and it is as easy as possible. Which leads me to my next tip….
  • Just breathe.
    It’s not just a song from In The Heights. Breath support. I cannot stress the importance of proper breath technique enough. Breathing low, so that your abdomen extends, supports how you speak and sing, ensuring adequate amounts of air so you can do so healthily. If you find you’re chest or shoulders are moving when you inhale instead of your abdomen, you’re not inhaling enough air.
  • Stay hydrated.
    Water is your friend. Your vocal folds have to be hydrated in order to stay functional and healthy. As much as we all love our caffeine, coffee, tea, and soda can dry out our voices, adn plenty of juices have acids that can cause the edges of the volds to become dry. This can lead to hoarseness and laryngitis. Water is your friend and will keep your chords happy.
  • Vocal rest.
    This doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot use your voice. This means you should really rest your voice periodically throughout the day. These breaks allow your vocal folds to rest, since they expand, stretch, and contract when we use them to sing or speak. Just like an athlete needs to rest between games and practice, we need to rest our voices.
  • Warming up and cooling down.
    These are key elements to making sure your voice is ready to do whatever you’re about to ask of it. Your voice is dependent on a muscle group that has to be warmed up sufficiently before it can perform. You should also take some time to bring it down after an extended period of speaking or singing. Going straight to silence isn’t always the answer, but coming back to your normal speaking voice in shorter sentences or phrases can help your vocal hygiene.
  • Do not whisper.
    Whispering is not good for your voice. When you whisper, since you’re not producing sound, you’re simply allowing your vocal folds to slam together as air passes through your larynx. This is how cysts, polyps, nodules, and calluses can form. If you can’t speak, don’t. Allow your muscles to rest.

These are tips anyone can use, and I encourage you to do so. If you have any tips, please share them in comments. If you suspect you may have vocal damage or injury of any kind, I would suggest seeing your physician, an ENT, or Speech-Language Pathologist about evaluation and treatment options that are right for you. I challenge you to take quiet time for yourself this week and give yourself some vocal rest.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Improv · Inclusion · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection

Comedy Tonight: Freestyle Love Supreme

Hi readers! If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I had the opportunity to see the unbelievable improv musical comedy crew Freestyle Love Supreme in DC. If you’re not familiar with Freestyle Love Supreme, here’s how their website describes them:

FLS is a freestyle (hence the name), improvisational, hip-hop comedy show. Every night the performers take suggestions from the audience and spin them into instantaneous riffs and full-length musical numbers. Every night is different: no two shows are the same. We don’t know what we’re rapping about until YOU tell us!”

The crew has a rotating cast of characters, but I was fortunate enough to see Anthony Veneziale aka Two-Touch, Chris Sullivan aka Shockwave (whom I have interviewed about beatboxing here), Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut, Ian Weinberger aka Burger Time, and Chris Jackson aka C-Jack.

FLS
Photo Credit: FreestyleLoveSupreme.com

You might be wondering why a blog with a focus on speech pathology and Broadway is writing about her night at an improv comedy show. This group of talented performers put together an experience that is founded on trust, the power of yes, and open communication. If I could take my students working on social pragmatics to see anything, it would be this. The performers were entertaining each other as much as they were making the audience laugh. The audience was as much a part of the show as the people on stage.

If you’re familiar with this group you know that the entire evening is built on the relationship between the performers and the audience members. How is that different from any other performance I’ve seen? Great question reader–this show only works if the audience and performers can work together. It was the coolest experience I’ve had of an audience being fully present and actively engaging with the folks onstage. There was no fourth wall, everyone was there to have a good time, especially the performers, and it was such a relaxed atmosphere, you felt like you were in a room full of people you already knew. Unlike a scripted show, each performance in completely unique to its audience.

This got me thinking about conversational speech and pragmatics, and how they are unique to the people participating in them. Sure, you can tell someone about a conversation you had with a friends, but it’s never the same as being there. That was exemplified by the friendship between the performers and by how inclusive they were with the audience and between one another. The exchanges are quick but meaningful, funny without picking on anyone, and easy to follow but entertaining. This is what I want all of my students to know about interpersonal skills and conversing with one another. There is no room for ego in this group, and all topics and ideas get treated equally, the same way they should in any conversation. The transitions were logical and smooth, which many of my students are also working towards. I couldn’t help but notice all of these parallels and had to share them with my readers.

The best news I can share with you? Freestyle Love Supreme is going to broadway for 16 weeks beginning September 13, 2019, and you can get tickets at FreestyleLoveSupreme.com. I cannot encourage you to see this enough if you’re able. If not, there are some episodes of this crew doing what they do best on Amazon Prime, but be in that room and feel a part of the community of the audience if you can–there’s nothing like it. This week, I challenge you to engage in a conversation and stay in it–no distractions, no tech, no interruptions. Stay as in tune and present with your conversational partner as possible, and just have fun.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · The Human Connection

Fundamental Truths: My Basics For Speech

Hi all! I’m spending my summer teaching summer school and taking continuing education courses. As I’ve been going through both of these activities, I’ve been able to reflect on my practices and beliefs that I hold in all of my speech groups. As different as each individual student is, I have the same foundational beliefs and expectations for them all. I thought I would share them with you readers here.

You are capable.

Every single one of my students is capable of achieving his or her goals. Each one learns in his or her own way, but each student, through whatever method of learning, is capable of achieving not only their IEP goals, but also those of personal interest, or goals they’ve created within their classroom.

You belong here.

I strive to make my space a safe space for all of my students. They know that I am there to help and support them. They also know that I create my groups in a manner in which the students feel accepted and equal to their peers. I am sure to always point out successes and valiant efforts in my speech room, be they for stamina, risk-taking, or progress towards a goal, personal or academic. All of this helps my students to feel that they belong.

You and your best are enough.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which my students are made to feel “other,” or as though they are “that kid” in the class. My students are themselves, and they are enough as they are. I only ask of them to try their best, and that their personal best will always be exactly enough for me. I stress that they are not in competition with each other or even themselves, and that we all (myself included) working on something in this space.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

I purposefully point out when I make mistakes around my students. The pressure to be perfect and high achieving is overwhelming to my students and many others. I encourage making mistakes. It means my students are learning. When I show them that I make multiple mistakes a day, they learn to understand that mistakes are a part of not only life, but lifelong learning.

Practice with me, practice with everyone. 

One of my favorite things to tell students and families is that the wonderful thing about speech is that it can be practiced anywhere and with anyone. Are you playing with your friends? You’re working on expressive and receptive language. Playing video games? That’s executive functioning and following multi-step directions. Having a conversation at the dinner table? That’s social skills and turn-taking. Speech is not restricted to the speech room by any means.

I hope you’ve found something useful or interesting in my fundamental truths. Do you share any of them with me? Have any you’d like me to adopt? Share them in comments below–I look forward to learning from you. My challenge to you this week is to identify your fundamental truths in any aspect of your life, and examine why those truths are foundational in that area of your life.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP