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

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