Inclusion, Lesson Plans, The Human Connection

How Do You Measure A Year: One Year Active, and One Active Year!

1B7CF3B5-FFAB-4CAE-8769-CFBB90464A0ETwo years ago today, I saw a show called Hamilton: An American Musical, and left the theatre wondering what I would create as a legacy to leave behind. I knew I was reaching my students and their families, but I wanted to do more. I felt incredibly limited. I spent a lot of my time wondering what else I could do? Who else could I reach? And how would I do it?

In January of 2017, I attended the second annual BroadwayCon in New York City and got to see what so many artists were creating. I heard so many messages of encouragement, almost as if it was the mantra of the convention. Create what’s in your head, and you’ll figure it out. I had been sitting on the idea of this blog for a year at that point, and needed something new to focus my creative energy on. After seeking the advice of a few key people immediately following that weekend, I knew I had to create this space.

On March 29th, 2017, I acted. I took to my computer and decided to expand my speech community the only way I knew how: through theatre. Theatre has always been my home, my family, no matter where I’ve been in life. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t care, either. I knew I was going to share my ideas and lessons, and if I did it right, I’d reach families beyond the four walls of my speech room. I’d reach educators and families and other children and give them the community I had always loved. Initially, it would be my take on everything within my practice as an SLP, with spotlights on lesson plans and my therapeutic approach. I was even ambitious enough to post twice weekly, though I quickly learned with my caseload that just wasn’t manageable, and went back to my weekly posts.

This year on the blog has been a rollercoaster for me. I’d go from great feelings of accomplishment, to many moments of doubt, reminding my students along the way that adults don’t always have it all figured out. Most of those moments included wondering why anyone I was reaching out to would want to talk with me. Never EVER doubt the theatre community–they will ALWAYS surprise you. I have gotten to talk to heroes of mine, many people I admire, and have had some of the most kind and honest conversations I’ve ever been fortunate enough to participate in. I adore this community and every time I edit an interview, I’m reminded even more of why that holds true. Thank you to all of you who have been so generous with your time. My gratitude is truly beyond words.

My students and I have gained so much from all of your knowledge, and I hope, dear readers, that this is also true for you. It is my wish that you’ve learned something, challenged yourself, or just become more open to hearing someone’s story. If you’re anything like me, you;ve learned to throw your mental script out the window and just listen. Thank you for joining me, sticking with me, and supporting me.

Cheers to an amazing first year, and my challenge to you is to create that idea that’s in your head. You never know where it’ll take you.

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

Grammar, Language Comprehension, Lesson Plans, Pragmatics and Social Skills, Vocabulary

I Wish I Could Rewrite This Story: Intersections in Spoken and Written Language

If it isn’t obvious by now, I am fascinated with storytelling. Many of my upcoming guests and I will be discussing this particular topic. Once upon a time, I thought I’d write–most likely become an author. At the tender age of seventeen I believed I wouldn’t be creative enough, despite teachers encouraging me in the opposite direction. Little did I know I’d enter into a profession that requires more writing than I can handle some days!

That is not the reason I write this post. I chose to write this post to discuss the translation of spoken language into written language. This is a complicated subject for many of my students, since most people write the way they speak. Their formal writing pieces may be less formal because they’re children, with vocabularies to match. This is not at all a negative, it’s wonderful. Have you ever read a child’s writing? It is straight to the point and you feel exactly what that child was thinking in that moment. Their writing is magical. Through speech therapy, it’s my job to stretch it. Below, I’ve bulleted what my students and I work on to enhance their writing without ever picking up a pencil–thank you, Occupational Therapists!

  • Vocabulary
    It really amazes me how influential vocabulary can be. it takes “good” to “excellent” and “mad” to “furious.” Through teaching with shades of meaning, and emoji images, I’ve taught vocabulary beyond the basics. My students know I have an expectation for their individual vocabulary skills. Usually, I’ll say, “We all know that word, can you give us a new ____th grade word for us to learn?” This gives them the opportunity to expand, practice, and show off their vocabulary. It makes the student feel like a vocabulary rock star.
  • Grammar and syntax
    This is how I teach perspective and pronouns. Are you telling me something that happened to you or your friends? When did it happen? Did you cook breakfast or did your dad? How do you think he liked waking up early to do so? The students know this is where pronouns come into play as well. We explore verb tense and the use of complete, compound, and complex sentences. There is an entire world to explore here that could be another post entirely.
  • Main idea/key details
    I usually get into this when we talk about our weekends in our first session of the week. Each student tells me about one event that occurred during their weekend. I ask them what the most important part of the story was. If they tell me instead their favorite part of the story, I ask if that’s what the whole story was about. Frequently, I’m met with “Oh! No, the story was about how I won my soccer game by scoring the final goal. The goal was just my favorite part.” The trickiest part is differentiation between the two “I”s: Important and Interesting. Important refers to the main idea and Interesting to the details. Once they get this concept, it’s wondrous what the students can unlock in their minds and the stories that come pouring out!
  • Sequencing/Thought Organization
    Every story has a beginning, middle and end. It’s very difficult to teach this skill. I should know, my own stories as a child used to be all over the place with muddled transitions, so this is my favorite area to work on. This is where the students decide how they want their characters to feel and act. We do this with the “Somebody Wanted But So Finally” model of sequencing. There are so many wonderful graphic organizers for this model, and I can always find one accessible to my students. We also get to delve into their intentions, how they want the piece to make its reader feel, how the characters feel, and how we ride that emotion from one wave to the next, and why their emotions change. This is a great opportunity to work in a social skills lesson.
  • Retelling
    I love hearing my students share their final drafts–or any drafts–with me. I get to hear how they want their story presented, including its tone and the structure they’ve assigned it. This lets me peek into my students’ brains and see where their creativity leads them, which is always a magical moment for me. It also gives me a moment to evaluate their strengths and areas of difficulty in the above mentioned areas, which is great for goal-building later on.

I love it when areas of what I love overlap,like in this instance. I hope you enjoy the posts coming your way from some truly amazing and kind guests. My challenge to you this week is to target your biggest challenge currently–in writing, in work, in life–and find a strategy that works for you to help you with it. Mine will be keeping my house clean, just keeping it real.

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

Broadway, Inclusion, Lesson Plans, The Human Connection, Wise Words

We’re Right Behind Each Other #Fearless: A Lesson Inspired by Mandy Gonzalez

Mandy Gonzalez, of Hamilton, In The Heights, and Wicked fame, released her debut album in October, Fearless. She is known as the “Fearless Squad Mother,” and encourages all of us members of her #FearlessSquad to come together and be fearless. The interesting part about this is that she doesn’t mean to never experience the emotion of fear. Her intention is that it’s completely acceptable to feel fear, but to find the way to face fear and quite literally fear less.

The first time I heard this song, I knew I had to make a lesson plan from it. I wanted to use this opportunity to educate my students on self-esteem in the speech room. I began my lesson by asking my students if they could tell me what fearless means. Some of them gave me a definition. Some of them told me they didn’t know. I explained to them that to me, being fearless means being unafraid to try something new. I asked them first how they were fearless in their daily lives; at home, with their families, in the classroom. I then narrowed it down to a specific question: How are you fearless in the speech room?

The students met me with always feeling safe in the speech room, and that they didn’t have to be brave in here. So I asked them, what makes you feel brave in the speech room? I was met with so many fantastic answers, that my students and I turned it into a poster. And because I’d never have my students do something I wouldn’t do, I added to the poster myself. Below is the outcome of my lesson, which is now hanging on the wall in the speech room.

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Thank you, Mandy Gonzalez, for inspiring my students and myself.  If you haven’t picked her album up yet, what are you waiting for? My challenge for the week is for you to write down the ways that you are fearless. I can’t wait to see what makes you fearless in comments!

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

Lesson Plans, The Human Connection

Cheer Up Charlie: Emotional Regulation Strategies

Let’s start with the basics: we’re all human, and we’re all entitled to rough days every now and then. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that kids can have tough days too. Think about the last time you reminisced about your childhood. Did you remember something positive? Chances are you did, and you didn’t remember the time you got frustrated with a word you were struggling to read or an equation you didn’t solve correctly on the first try. In my own experience, I’ve seen how much pressure is being put on students not only by adults, but by the kids themselves. That pressure is pretty heavy, and sometimes, it’s overwhelming. Most of the time, I can spot frustration before it has been reached, and I am armed with strategies for them to employ. I thought this would be a great space to share them.

  • Provide a framework
    Most of my students reach frustration without always knowing why. Was it really that I asked them to complete a task or was it something else that happened before they even walked into speech? I give them the frame “I feel ____ because ______.” This requires them to think about what is causing the emotion. Sometimes it’s something simple, like, “I need a fidget to focus.” Sometimes it’s “I need to go to the office and call home because I left my library book in my room, and it’s due today.”
  • Provide the student with choices.
    If the student is frustrated, I give them choices for navigating the moment. Do you want to work, or do you want to take a two minute break? If the student says they need a break, then by all means, please take it. If they’re ready to work, I ask them if there is something that will help them complete the task, and provide it as appropriate.
  • Ask them what they need.
    Sometimes, my students will point-blank tell me they’re frustrated or that something just isn’t working. My response is “Okay. What do you need?” This response varies from situation to situation, as well as by student. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s taking deep breaths, sometimes it’s a fidget toy. It can be just about anything, but by identifying the need, they can identify a potential solution which leads me to my next strategy….
  • Problem solving diagrams
    These are simple and easy to make. I usually use a dry-erase board and ask the student to tell me the problem. I then give them the time and space to dictate to me potential solutions to the problem. This gives us the opportunity to walk through all of our options and arrive at what the student will do to solve the problem. We can discuss how to react in the future, and the varying “sizes” of the problem. We can give it a scale and brainstorm when it’s appropriate to take which action. This allows the student to feel empowered and truly own their actions and reactions.
  • Change the activity.
    I will usually move back to a task the student feels confident completing as we work through the moment of frustration, or take a break. This break can be silent or it can be to discuss the issue at hand. The alternative to this is ask the student what they’d like to do for the last 5-10 minutes of the session and have them work towards that reward. Mad Libs and Bingo are always a hit with my students.
  • Follow their lead.
    If the student doesn’t want to talk to you about the issue, don’t force it. Do they want to talk to the counselor? A teacher? Let them. Do they just need a break? Allow them to take it. Adults don’t like to work while frustrated either, and allegedly, we’re better at emotional regulation. Does the student want to throw the lesson out the window and talk to you? Listen. Listening makes a world of difference. If you can get back to your lesson, great. If not, there’s always next time.

Working well under pressure isn’t for everyone, and my students are still learning how to regulate their emotions. If they’re visual learners, I will break out the “How Is Your Engine Running?” or Zones of Regulation tools I have at my disposal. These frameworks allow their feelings to become more concrete to them so they can better express themselves. As adults, we forget how much is expected of a student throughout the day–transitions, multiple subjects, homework, independent work, social interaction, assessments–add any pull-out service to that, and of course it’s stressful. My challenge this week is that we observe and listen to the feelings of others and see if we can come up with additional strategies, or identify what strategies work for you and your students.

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

Inclusion, Lesson Plans, The Human Connection, Wise Words

Ruling Your Kingdom and Owning Your Title: A Lesson Inspired by Queen Lesli

Ever since I was introduced to her work, I have been very much inspired by Lesli Margherita, or as she’s known on Twitter Queen Lesli. Let me start by saying 1) All Hail the Queen and, 2) Queen Lesli Margherita, you have an open invitation to come on this blog whenever you’d like—you’re such an inspiration to my students and myself. Now that that’s out of the way….

I once heard her explain the concept behind her title of Queen as giving herself the title no one else would give her. In an interview in 2014 on The Theater People Podcast with Patrick Hinds, she encouraged the listeners to give themselves their own title, “Whether it’s King, whether it’s Queen, whether it’s Supreme Ruler Of My Room. What’s going on in other people’s kingdoms doesn’t matter; be you, and you rule your own kingdom. Recently, she was on The Hamilcast with Gillian Pensavalle and stated how important it was for people to take control of their happiness and their lives. Take these statements and Ms. Margherita’s positive and hilarious social media presence, and I came up with this lesson plan.

We were learning about character traits, self-esteem, and kindness, and I declared myself the Supreme Ruler of The Speech Room. As my students laughed at me, I asked what they’d call themselves. The students wrote their titles on name tags, ranging from royalty to most hard-working to best at practicing their sounds. As they completed this portion of the exercise, I drew a castle on my large whiteboard, not a great castle, but it had a moat and a drawbridge. This was the Supreme Speech Castle. I told them that whenever we were in the speech room, they were in the speech castle, and they would have to represent their titles. I asked how they would want their titles described, and words they would not want to be called. The breakdown looked like this:

Positive Character Traits Negative Character Traits
Kind Mean
Responsible Rude
Hard-working Selfish
A good listener Annoying
Friendly A Quitter
Fun Boring
Funny Unfair

 

The next thing I did was ask my students how they demonstrated each positive quality towards other students at school. Each student shared their anecdotes about how they were kind and fun and hard-working, and some even explained why they were those things. I then asked about how they acted when they were confronted with a negative character trait, and how it made them feel. I was met with frustrated, annoyed, upset, and unheard. I explained that it was for these reasons, we wanted to work hard not to demonstrate those characteristics, and that we did want to show off how kind we were. I shared that someone (Queen Lesli Margherita) once shared with me (via something she said on The Hamilcast), that when confronted with these negative experiences, we could just pull up our draw bridges and ignore what was going on in other kingdoms. Not our kingdoms, not our castles, as one student said.

My challenge to them is to continuously show off their positive attributes and to draw up their “moats” when faced with negativity. My challenge to you this week is threefold: 1) Come up with your title and leave it in comments if you’re feeling proud of it, 2) Decide on character traits you’d like to be known for and show them off, and 3) When faced with negativity, instead of feeding into it, draw up your moat and make your kingdom the happiest place on Earth. Straighten your crown and rule your kingdom. You can learn more about Lesli Margherita at http://www.leslimargherita.com/ and on Twitter at @QueenLesli, and I strongly suggest you do. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you’ll learn how royal we all are.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Autism Awareness, Lesson Plans

I Won’t Grow Up!

Tomorrow is the last day of school before we go on Spring Break, and both my students and I are ready. Weeks going into and coming out of break are always the hardest on all of us–trying to get things done before everyone enjoys some much needed time off. So, how do I engage my students who just want to play? Play with them of course! Yes, that’s right; for all the paperwork, assessing, and teaching I do, sometimes I just want to play. Getting older is inevitable, but no one said I had to grow up!

Act It Out–a perspective taking and language activity.

I love this and came up with it in graduate school. My students on the spectrum love it even more. It’s how we identify feelings and understand the perspectives of others. This week, I’ll be using the Pigeon books by Mo Willhems and Laurie Berkner’s song. “We Are the Dinosaurs.” First, we read or listen to the material and talk about the character traits and actions we heard or saw and I write them down on a white board. I also use pictures to help solidify concepts. We all talk about our respective favorite parts, causing us to engage in a conversation also adhere to the rules of conversation, or in some cases, just learn about the rules of conversation. Once everyone has had their say, it’s time to play! Each child gets a turn to act out their favorite part of the book or song, adn the other students get to guess which part it is Once it’s guessed correctly everyone gets to act out said part together, then a student is chosen (either by the first student to act out or myself) to act out their favorite part. This continues until everyone has had a turn. That’s right–I fit turn taking in there too! The last round of Act It Out allows for the students to act something out  from ANYTHING they like–movies, TV shows, books. This is their reward. It really helps my students understand the emotions of a character in a book, and for my more advanced students, helps generalization of understanding the feelings of others while building their knowledge of story elements and vocabulary.

Articulation friends, I didn’t forget about you either. We’re working on joke books!

Each student gets a file folder, where they get to write down their favorite jokes containing their speech sounds. These can be jokes they know or jokes they make up. As they write them, each student has to practice their jokes with the other students in speech. I intervene to provide specific instruction on how to correctly produce targets. This allows for many trials and practice opportunities for the kids. Meanwhile, the kids think it’s just a “play day” in speech. And we all get to be creative. We all win.

Between now and my next post, I will be in New York City taking in  more theatre and will post about that next Wednesday. Can’t wait to share with you! Have a great week!

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