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

Grammar · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Summertime And The Livin’ Is Easy

As you amazing readers are viewing this post, I am enjoying my summer break. It was my first year juggling multiple schools, learning new age groups and programs, and learning to respect and be educated by new students and colleagues. It certainly wasn’t an easy year, but definitely one that was worthwhile.
My students are beyond ready and excited for summer, whether they have no plans or a packed summer schedule. Some are attending camps, both recreational and academic, others are enjoying time with their families. While I don’t send home structured homework or practice for my students over the summer, I always recommend a few things to my students and my families. I’ll be sharing those with you today.
  • Keep Reading!
There is a clear connection between language and literacy, language comprehension, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, etc. I encourage my students to complete whatever summer reading they may be required to do in addition to reading for pleasure. I still learn all sorts of new vocabulary and turns of phrase from the books I read year-round. I encourage them to ask questions about what they’re reading to enrich their understanding and encourage advocacy on their part.
  • Speak Up!
Talk to your family and friends. Engage in conversation on subjects you find interesting and subjects that are new to you. Educate others on what you know, and ask questions about what’s new to you. Learn and understand new perspectives, and share your own. Involve your families, friends, and folks in your lives across generations. The more you ask of people outside of your immediate perspective, the broader your worldview will become. Participating in these conversations increases length of utterance, encourages clarity in asking questions and increasing language comprehension, involves vocabulary building, and social skills interactions.
  • Go Play! 
Make your own games. Get creative. Learn your friends and family member’s favorite games. Pretend play is a great way to practice expressive language, turn-taking, social skills, perspective taking, language comprehension, and individual creativity.I loved making up my own dramatic play as a kid and have used such strategies in my own therapeutic sessions when appropriate. This also encourages the human connection and allows for so much interpersonal growth.
Those are some of my summer recommendations. I’m sure I’ll be expanding on these as the summer goes on. Let me know which you plan to try and what your summer plans are in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP
Backstage · Broadway · Inclusion · Performances · The Human Connection · Tony Awards

I Am What I Am: Tony Awards Musings

In my speech room, I ask all of my students to strive for their best. I do my best to teach them it’s not about winning, but about how you show up and put in the work. I believe that this is also the case for theatre. With the Tony Awards only a week away, I can’t help but think that it’s us, the audience members, who are the real winners.

Every individual involved in theatre, onstage, backstage, production, front of house is doing an amazing job every night to make sure the audience has the best experience possible. It’s easy to forget that those roles are in fact work and are by no means easy.

This is a world in which we escape into theatre to find ourselves. No award adequately expresses the magic found in a theatre. It can’t express the memories, emotions, or connections felt in that space. So as the Tony Awards air on television next Sunday, which I will certainly be watching, keep in mind there are more “losers” than “winners,” and it’s the theatre-goers who are the true winners. Theatre is designed to bring community together, and I challenge you all to keep that in mind as awards are handed out. How will you bring community together in your own way? Share in comments, I can’t wait to read them.

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

Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

If Only You Would Listen: Hearing Health

As a school-based speech pathologist, most of my job focuses on articulation, fluency, language expression and comprehension and pragmatic skills. There is a key component to Better Speech and Hearing Month, and it’s healthy hearing practices. Speech pathologists can be just as involved as audiologists in this area. I personally find audiology and hearing fascinating. Here are a few tips to protect your hearing that you can implement on a regular basis.

Plug In.

No, not your headphones–we’ll get to those shortly. Earplugs. Earplugs are your friend in loud spaces. This could be a sporting event, concert, or even your job. Most professional performers have custom-made earplugs to protect their hearing, as well as people who work in contruction, but any earplugs will do. Can’t stand the feeling of earplugs? Try noise-cancelling headphones to muffle the loud surroundings.

Turn it down!

Most people turn the volume up on all devices far louder than they need to be. Televisions, cell phones, earbuds–turn it down! Your neighbors will probably appreciate this too. If you’re using earbuds with the volume up, you can damage your inner ear fairly quickly. For television, turn the volume down. If you find you can’t understand what’s going on, try watching with subtitles. I do this regularly and pick up on more details in the show this way!

Say no to cotton swabs!

Cotton swabs are not meant for ears! Please do not use these to clean your ears. If used incorrectly, you can actually puncture your eardrum. Check the box and allow your ears to clean themselves. The wax inside them is designed to protect and keep the inner ear clean. Removing it can be harmful to your auditory health.

Face the music.

Having trouble understanding what’s being said? Face the music, or the person you’re speaking with! Watching your conversational partner’s face helps you to understand what’s being said. Really hear what’s being said, and your conversational skills could improve too. Take time to process what you’re hearing so you can really process everything being shared with you.

These are just a few tips I teach my students and have picked up through my ongoing education. Feel free to ask questions or share your own tips in comments. My challenge is for you to apply one of these tips to your daily activities and let me know how they impact your day-to-day life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

Do You Hear The People Sing: Better Speech and Hearing Month

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, a topic near and dear to my heart. As this is a blog related to education and theatre, I thought I’d share some singing and vocal hygiene tips. Every year I find creative ways to share these with my staff and students. I understand not all of these tips are feasible all of the time, but these are best practices in my field.

  • Stay Hydrated

This one is fairly simple. We all spend a good portion of our day talking, occasionally at louder volumes than are healthy. The best way to protect your voice and throat is to drink water. It keeps your vocal folds in better shape for continuous use. This also helps vocal sound while singing. Tea is great, and we all run on some sort of caffeine, but we all know water is best. And on that note, anything with caffeine or acid can be drying or irritating to the voice, creating less than healthy speaking and singing conditions.

  • Breathe

Every acting and vocal coach will express the importance of breathing and breath control. This is also extremely important in everyday speaking. In order to sustain longer amounts of speech (i.e. presentations, performing, teaching, speaking over music in a dance class) you have to breathe from your diaphragm. Your abdomen should expand, not your chest or shoulders. You also want to inhale before you begin and use your exhale to sing or speak.

  • Give It a Rest

Don’t have to talk? Take a break. Vocal rest is your friend. I spend most of my day speaking to staff, students, and parents. I am more than happy to come home to my apartment and text everyone the rest of the day to give my voice a break.

  • Sleep

Sleep recharges everything, including your vocal tract and respiratory system. A good night’s sleep is always a good idea when it comes to your voice.

Those are just a few of my tips to keep your voice healthy. Please add yours in comments. I challenge you to try a new vocal health technique this week.

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

Autism Awareness · Inclusion · The Human Connection

I Talk To Him and He Just Talks To Me: Conversation Techniques for Everyone

April is Autism Awareness Month. There are plenty of articles out there that will attempt to describe how people on the Autism Spectrum interact with others. I’ve been teaching my students how to have appropriate conversations with people across abilities, with a highlight on ASD.Today, I’m here to make some suggestions addressing how we interact with people with ASD.

  • Say hello.
    The person you are speaking to is exactly that, a person. This person should be treated with the same respect as any other individual you encounter. Say hello. This may be met with a verbal hello, a nonverbal greeting, sign of acknowledgment or no response at all. There is absolutely no reason for this person not to feel accepted during any interaction.
  • Listen.
Listen to the response you get. Listen to what is being said and how it is being said. Related to your topic of interest or not, listen and hear. All people have interests and different methods of communicating and all are valid. Keep in mind, nonverbal reactions are just as valid a form of communication as verbal reactions.
  • Talk to the person in front of you.
    I cannot stress this one enough. People should not be talked about in any situation. Just because someone isn’t neurotypical doesn’t mean they should be talked about, they should be spoken to. If you find yourself speaking about the person instead of to them, please know they’re taking in every word you say.
  • Have a conversation.
    You are an active participant. Ask questions. Learn about the other person’s perspective on the topic of discussion; you might learn something new yourself! Make sure you’re taking turns talking. Remember: a conversation ges back and forth and is not an interrogation of one individual from the other.
  • Ticks happen.
    Some people flap their hands. Some people don’t maintain eye contact. Some people, fidget with objects or the hems of their shirts. This is not an uninvested conversation. This is how the individual is coping with incoming sensory information. Do you ever doodle while you’re on the phone or in a meeting to keep your focus? This is the same logic–using another skill to help take in all of the sensory information around us.
  • Politely end the conversation.
    Conversation does not end because you’ve decided it should. You do not simply walk away from someone you’re having a conversation with. You conclude the conversation using a concluding statement. What are those? “I have to go now.” “It was nice talking to you.” “Thanks for helping me.” “See you soon!”
This week, and every day, I challenge you to talk to someone new and different.Open yourself up to what conversations with anyone have the potential to become. Share your interactions in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
— Stef the Stage SLP
Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

Astonishing: A Celebration of Women in the Creative Space

March is Women’s History Month, and we have plenty to celebrate. March 29th marks our second birthday here at Speech To Stage. My lessons this month have had to do with women from a variety of backgrounds and showcasing a myriad of accomplishments. My students and I have learned more than we expected, and I got asked why women only get a month. I don’t have that answer, but in my speech room and in my world, women get celebrated every day. Today, I’m taking the time to celebrate every woman who has been generous enough to share her words with me. In order of appearance, I would like to showcase the women I’ve interviewed.

  • Gillian Pensavalle
    When this blog was just an idea, Gillian was the first person I reached out to. Gillian had already jumped into the deep end of the pool with her podcast, The Hamilcast, and I am a HUGE fan. She is a true self-starter who learns on her feet and is open to whatever gets thrown at her. It has been so exciting to watch her podcasting evolve.
  • Laurie Berkner
    Laurie Berkner creates the BEST children’s music my speech room has ever heard. Any song can be turned into a lesson, and I enjoy them as much as my kids do. They inspire creative questions and conversations among my students. Thank you for your creativity!
  • Margo Seibert
    Margo was someone I knew I wanted to talk to right away. With her work with weracket.com, beautiful solo music, and Broadway career, I knew I had to know her journey from beginning to present. She has a beautiful presence about her, and insight I’m forever grateful she shared with me. Already looking forward to the next time I get to see her perform.
  • Karla Garcia
    As a dancer, I was so excited to speak with Karla. She has such a unique, sophisticated style to her work. Currently in the Broadway cast of Hamilton, she teaches at Broadway Dance Center and has her choreography in different projects. If you ever get the opportunity to learn from her, DO IT! Her energy is contagious and you will have the time of your life.
  • Susan Egan
    Broadway’s first Disney princess. I still can’t believe I had the pleasure of this conversation. I remember learning so much and being able to give my students so much to work with right after this conversation took place. If she is coming to a Broadway Princess Party near you, go. Susan is truly a delightful human.
  • Jessica Lee Goldyn
    Jessica caught my eye back in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. A few years later, and the same held true in Tuck Everlasting. Getting to hear about her dance journey and how she takes care of herself was a real treat for me and my kiddos.
  • Sarah Charles Lewis
    This young lady is a triple threat. Just a glance at her social media, and she is always dancing, singing, acting or all three. Sarah shone as Winnie Foster in Tuck Everlasting. An incredibly talented individual, I look forward to seeing her perform again someday.
  • Arielle Jacobs
    When I spoke to Arielle, she was starring in In The Heights at Virginia Repertory Theater, which Karla Garcia was choreographing. She is currently representing royalty as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway. She has such a sunny outlook on life and is such a lovely human to speak with. My students found her words and advice really grounding and inspiring.
  • Laura Heywood
    I have followed Laura through many of her Broadway-related endeavors. I’m certain all of you know her as BroadwayGirlNYC. She is always filling my timeline with uplifting and hopeful words and thoughts. She is now back on the radio with her own interview show. Be sure to check her out!
  • Nava Silton of Addy and Uno
    Nava may be my personal hero. She found a way to take the arts and the special education community and merge them into a child friendly teaching tool and off-Broadway show! I swear by her teaching tools and have recommended them to many other educators. I firmly believe everyone needs to see this show and learn more about her work in educating others.
  • Lynn Ahrens
    Lynn Ahrens has written so much that has made me feel every possible emotion. She helped shape my childhood with Anastasia and School House Rock, and is now working on a show I adore, Marie Dancing Still. Her advice for the writing process truly changed how some of my students approach their writing assignments and feel they understand it better having heard her perspective. My students and I are so grateful for her words and her work.
  • Andrea Koehler of Coloring Broadway
    If I could give an award for most supportive human, it would go to Andrea. She shows so much support for me and for everyone involved in the Broadway Makers Alliance. Mastermind behind Coloring Broadway and The Coloring Project, she found a way for Broadway fans to make Broadway lyrics their own with coloring pages. Each page has its own mindfulness activity to go along with it, and I am OBSESSED with this product. I think I own every coloring set.
  • Kimmie Mark
    Everyone needs a Kimmie in their lives. Gillian started this saying, and she was right. She is the dresser for both George Washington and Aaron Burr for the Broadway cast of Hamilton. She is a hero for all, including the animals! She does incredible raffles benefitting the New Jersey Freedom Farm on her Instagram account, @dunkinscout
  • Stephanie Klemons
    This amazing human is superwoman. While fulfilling her job as associate choreographer for all of the Hamilton casts, she has made her directorial debut, added her choreography to other productions and is running an amazing organization, Katie’s Art Project. Everyone should be supporting this. This was such an inspiring conversation, and my students and I really took her words on work ethic to heart.
  • Liz Schwarzwalder and Mindy Swidler of Petite Seat
    Liz and Mindy are doing amazing work. Not everyone can provide a family perspective on theatrical experiences! They think of everything a family might need to know from show content to stroller parking. They keep their followers in the know on so many shows. I know my parents certainly appreciate their work, and I appreciate the fact that they’re bringing family and the arts together.
  • Lesli Margherita
    All hail the Queen. Her message of being yourself is so powerful, and one I need to hear often. My students love her positivity and her comedy, but I love her perspective of being in control of who you are and owning it. She is truly a star that shines from the inside out, and encourages everyone else to do the same.
  • Heidi Blickenstaff
    My conversation with Heidi was so much fun. She has originated these amazingly strong and vulnerable characters through her work, as well as made roles her own. She sings one of my (and my students’) favorite songs on any OBCR, “Right Hand Man” from Something Rotten! Her push to explore your town has really helped change and shape the way my students approach the word, “adventure.”

Who are the women in your life that you celebrate? I challenge to make a list of all of the women in your life you celebrate, the impact they’ve had on you, and how you can share that celebration with others.

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