Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Grand Knowing You: World Kindness Day 2019

If you’ve been following along for a while now, you know that kindness and inclusion are important in everything I do with my speech students. Wednesday was World Kindness Day, so naturally, my speech students have been celebrating throughout the week. This post will focus on the kindness lessons I employed with my speech groups this week.Let me share with you what I’ve learned from my students, and the activities we used.
  • Kindness conversations
My social skills groups participated in kindness conversations. We used questions such as “Why is it important to be kind?” and “What does social media teach us about talking to others?” as conversation starters. I let my students lead the discussion. I learned that it’s important to be polite because it shows your conversational partner that you appreciate them and signals that you really listened to what they had to say. I learned many ways we can be kind without involving money. We also talked about how to be kind across settings and with friends, family, teachers, and others with whom we interact.
  • Kindness vocabulary
After discussing what it means to be kind, we discussed synonyms and antonyms for the words. From there, we provided examples of how those vocabulary words may present. This also lead to a great discussion of what misunderstanding someone’s act of kindness could look like,and how to repair that communication breakdown. I am more and more impressed by my students’ compassion and empathy after every session.
  • Kindness Compliments
My students and I discussed compliments, both superficial and deep. We practiced giving each other superficial and meaningful compliments, and then spread them into the students’ respective classroom. It was amazing to watch kindness radiate out of my students, to their peers, and across classrooms and recess sessions alike.
These are only three of the activities I employed in my speech lessons this week. How did you celebrate World Kindness Day? What should I do to celebrate in my speech room? My challenge to you, dear reader, is to find a creative way to show kindness to others even when it is challenging. I can’t wait to hear how you showed others that anyone and everyone can be kind.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP
Awareness · Cognition · Inclusion · Strategies · The Human Connection

Think of Me Fondly: National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. We have the holidays approaching and I know that I and many others are looking to make new memories with friends, family, and friends who have become family. This is the time of year I force myself to truly stop and be more present with myself and those whom I love because I know time is not promised to any of us. Sadly, neither are memories, and very few of us consider this. Cognition and memory are a part of my field as a speech-language pathologist, and one of my favorite areas to work in. Usually, I am working with children who need help with executive functioning, but I’ve occasionally worked on memory recall, word retrieval, and providing compensatory strategies for those with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. I thought I’d share some of my strategies with my readers going into this holiday season, so we can help make memories and help others hold onto memories old and new.

ALZ 3

  • Use music.
    Have you ever heard a song and been immediately transported back in time, to a person or place or memory? Studies show that music is strongly correlated with memories and can help people remember specific events or people. I know for a fact that certain songs take me back to my childhood with my family singing, back to summer camp when the “song of the summer” was played on repeat in camp bunks. Hearing a song can evoke muscle memory as well–I still know choreography from 15 years ago the second I hear old recital tunes. Fill your days with music and attach moments to them. Those memories will surprise you at any and every turn.
  • Take pictures.
    We now live in an age of “pics or it didn’t happen.” While I know that’s not true, and some of my favorite memories have not been documented, pictures can improve recall, word retrieval, long and short term memory. Take pictures of family members and write their names on the bottom or back of the photo. Take pictures of objects for routines–real images or best, but digital images can be beneficial too. This can help someone know what is expected of them during a routine event (e.g. getting ready for the day, how to complete a daily task, etc.) or simply serve as a visual reminder of something on someone’s to-do list.
  • Write it down.
    If I don’t write down what needs to happen, it won’t get done. Digital reminders ust don’t work for me. When you write down what you need to do on paper, utilizing the motor function of writing, you’re also evoking muscle memory, forming a stronger cognitive connection more easily accessed than typing something into a notes app on a digital device. I personally color-code my to-do list by work, personal, and errands/chores. I did this in grad school with my notes and it helped me remember exactly what I needed to do. The power of visual reinfocement tied to motoric memory is strong!
  • Record conversations.
    Recording conversations is a great way to remind someone of what a conversation sounds like with their dear ones. There’s the recognition of their voice and the topic of conversation, which can bring someone right back to the scene of the event that was recorded. It also reinforces connection to the individuals in the recordings, and gives people something factual to tie to the people in the recordings, like that your best friend loves your dry sarcasm and ability to make them laugh, that your family member can’t stand golf but could watch baseball for hours on end. Remembering these little things can trigger other memories, like the time you took your friend’s sarcasm seriously and it resulted in a joke, or sharing sporting events with your family. It can also provide topics of conversation for the future.
  • Take advantage of technology.
    Technology is a tool. Use it to hold the pictures you’re trying to remember–create albums for topics or people you want to remember. Set alarms to remember to take medicine, run errands, or do things you enjoy. Use video chat to connect the voices from the recorded conversations to their owners. Type up stories or jokes you want other people to remember about you. Type up a list of things you like to do for fun or to de-stress so that you can remember strategies to bring joy back when you get stuck in frustration.

Alzheimer’s is something that hits close to home with me. If you are so inclined, please donate to the Alzheimer’s Association to help with research to find better treatment options.  There are walks you can be a part of, and other ways to support research for this disease. My challenge to my readers this week is to form new memories and be mindful of the ones you’ve already formed. Share your own memory strategies in comments.

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

Broadway · Inclusion · Interview · The Human Connection · Wise Words

Everybody’s Got A Dream: A Conversation With Matthew Scott Creative Education Director of Broadway Dreams

If you had asked me what my dream was when I was younger, my answer would have been to perform—a total no-brainer. I was hooked on performing for others and bringing smiles to their faces with something I could do. I found a way to channel that into the helping profession of speech pathology. For my students, the answer is very similar. Almost all of them want to perform in some capacity, they’re just not sure how to get there. While some are interested in doing school productions or youth theatre organizations local to us, others want more than that. Enter Broadway Dreams, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in holding masterclasses in singing, dancing, and acting. I got to talk to their Creative Education Director, Matthew Scott, to learn more about his love for performing and arts education, this organization, and how it all works. Scott has worked on Broadway and touring productions of An American In Paris, Jersey Boys, Sondheim on Sondheim, and First You Dream.

Stef: What got you interested in performing?

Matthew Scott: I grew up just outside of NYC and started seeing shows and concerts when I was a kid. My mom always played music in the house and I started taking voice lessons around the time I was 11.

S: What is Broadway Dreams?

M: We are a not-for-profit Arts Organization that provides training and mentorship. We are currently active in ten cities in the US and six partner countries. We specialize in weeklong intensives and performance opportunities. We bring Broadway professionals (directors, choreographers, musical directors, actors) to your city, teach master classes and at the end of the week, we write and perform a show.

S: How did it get started?

M: Fourteen years ago, Annette Tanner, the executive director and founder of Broadway Dreams started the organization with one weeklong program in Atlanta, GA. It grew from there.

S: What are the different programs within the organization?

M: Aside from our weeklong intensive programming which takes place predominantly in the summertime, we offer additional programming throughout the year in the form of Triple Threat Extremes, College Prep Classes, and Broadway Boosts. More info can be found on our website www.broadwaydreams.org

S: Are there age restrictions at Broadway Dreams?

M: The wonderful thing about Broadway Dreams is we do not have an age cap. You are never too old to dream!

S: How do students get involved?

M: They often find information online or by following our talented faculty on social media. But word of mouth is a big part of it too, and we have students who have been with us for over a decade now.

S: What sort of students get involved with the programs? Is it for students who are thinking of musical theatre as a profession, or can classes be taken for fun?

M: It is for anyone who has a dream. Many of our students go on to be professional performers, but many others pursue parallel careers in the arts, or become teachers, or stage managers. No matter what, they leave our program with a better sense of self. I will say this, our students are FIERCE, talented, and yes competitive. This is a serious program and a great opportunity for those who are serious about a career in the arts.

BDF_logo_outline-01 (1)

S: How does a school or organization connect with Broadway Dreams?

M: They can reach out on our website.

S: Why do you think the arts are an important component of education?

M: It’s all about teaching empathy, acceptance, tolerance, and music and theater do that. It is healing and all children should be able to express themselves through art.

S: Some of my students feel it’s easier to play a character than it is to be themself. Do you find this to be true for you?

M: There is much truth in that statement. And yet, what your students may not realize…just yet, is that they will always bring a part of themselves to any character they play. Even the characters who are not redeemable, and do not deserve the sympathy of the audience deserve the sympathy of the actors who play them. Therefore, you must always seek to find redemption in any character you play. And often times, that means looking inward and bringing your own personal experiences to the role.

S: How do you select the teachers for your classes?

M: Often times I just reach out to my exceptionally talented friends, people I’ve worked with or long admired. The criteria for our faculty are that they be a great teacher and successful in their field. Also, they have to be a good person.

S: During your career, is there advice you’ve received that has changed how you perform? Is there any advice you’d share with kids/teens who are currently performing in school?

M: Keep going. Keep singing, and dancing. See as much as you can. Read. Go to the theatre. Listen to cast albums. Be informed and start to figure out who you really are. It’s like a moving target that is constantly changing, so keep pursuing your goals and it will reveal itself to you.

S: Every week I challenge my students to do something outside of their comfort zone, what would you challenge them to do? 

M: If you are not a dancer, go to dance class. Not a singer, go do Karaoke, and take voice lessons. Write. Create. Dream.
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I can’t thank Matt enough for his time and insight into Broadway Dreams. I have been aware of them since I attended BroadwayCon 2017, and can’t believe it took me this long to dig deeper into their philosophies and programs. I strongly encourage all of my readers to go explore their website and see if they find anything that suits them, I know some of my students have already started exploring. You can find more information at BroadwayDreams.org, @Bway_dreams on Twitter, and @mybroadwaydreams on Instagram. You can follow Matthew Scott at @thematt_scott on Twitter and @fattymattyfresh on Instagram.

 

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

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

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