Scheduling and The Funky Bunch

No, not THAT Funky Bunch (although who doesn't love a little 90's pop in the morning?). I'm talking about that mishmash of kids that, despite all of your scheduling heroics, you just can't fit into the schedule anywhere else. You know the group I'm talking about. It's the one with a 5th grader with a stubborn /r/, a 3rd grader working on following multi-step instructions, and a kindergartner who stutters. This is the sort of group that can make even the most seasoned clinician shake her weary head and wonder what on earth she's going to do to give each of them the attention they need. 

First of all, I want to say that we've ALL been there. Scheduling is perhaps the most complex thing the school-based SLP does all year. So many moving parts - student's needs, teacher's needs, admin's needs, reading blocks and math blocks and specials and lunch and . . . oy. I start to sweat just thinking about it. You do your very best to get students into groups that maximize both student growth and your sanity, and I'm wagering that you do a pretty great job at it. Yet still, the Funky Bunch haunts you. 

It haunts you because you know you're not doing your best work, and you know that this set-up isn't in the best interest of your students. Sometimes, though, we just have to make the best of what we've got. Here's a few tips to help you and the Funky Bunch make that proverbial lemonade:

  • Consider Breaking Up the Band: Maybe you ended up with this crew because you were looking for a solid 20 minute block in which to see them all. Take (another) peek at your schedule. Could you see them each individually for 10 minutes 2xweek? Or 5 minutes daily? This sort of schedule is fantastic for the the artic kid especially. Pull 'em into the hall, drill drill drill, shoo them back into class.  
  • Use an Age Difference to Your Advantage: Mostly always, big kids really like feeling like they've got the inside track on school life, and they relish the opportunity to help out the little guys. This concept applies for kinders and 5th graders, 8th graders and 6th graders, 9th graders and 12th graders, and every grade in between.  Empower the older student to act as a clinician while you give focused attention to the other student(s). They can surely listen for overt artic errors, read 2-part directions to be followed (while working on their own smooth speech?!), and do other such things. 
  • Action Stations: Break your session into 1 or 2 or 3 mini-sessions, with students rotating through different stations every 7-10 minutes. Have an app station, a movement/art/game station, and a direct instruction station with you.
  • Work Smarter, Not Harder: A group like this is the perfect place to maximize self-management and -monitoring techniques. Set things up so that they can walk in the room and grab their own materials, take at least some of their own data, and chart their own progress. You can use bins or folders or whatever, just as long as it's not up to you to be managing all of that stuff in the short 20 minutes you have together. If they can get to your room independently, too, all the better. 
  • Get Some Fresh Eyes on Things: In my tenure as a contractor with Hello, I've have had the great fortune to have been called into short-term duty to help out many an SLP who was utterly swamped. (Sidebar: Yes, we do that! Yes, it's awesome!) One of the first things I do when I land in one of these placements is sit down with the resident SLP and look at the schedule. Sometimes we don't come up with any changes, but you'd be amazed at what a colleague might be able to see that you're not. It's that whole forest for the trees thing. Bring your scheduling woes to your next SLP meeting and see if you can't buddy up with someone for a schedule audit. If nothing else, you can commiserate with each other, right? 

Above all else, be kind and gentle with yourself. Do your best to help the kids in the Funky Bunch and make a commitment to yourself to continually re-evaluate whether you can do anything differently or better. And when you feel like giving up, come back to this blog post and watch this video. If the world survived this era in music, you'll survive your Funky Bunch.

Building Connections

Each Spring, the Hello Leadership Team decides on a theme for the upcoming school year. It's our hope that the theme will help to guide our decision making regarding the continuing education we offer to our clinicians, the topics we cover online and in our paper newsletter, and, of course, the company-wide fun events that we host during the year. We spent the 2013-14 school year focusing on Networking, and the natural extension of that became this year's theme: Building Connections. 

Building connections is really at the root of everything we do, isn't it? We're building neural connections in the brains of articulation kids, and we're helping another student connect text to life. We're working with a general education teacher to connect the curriculum to speech-language targets. We're sitting alone in our office, pouring over the CCSS, connecting those lofty goals to the humble IEP goals we're writing. We're connecting with other clinicians in real life at job-alikes and conferences, and virtually through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Connection is the name of our game, baby.

We have loads of super exciting stuff in the works for this year, and we hope all of it will help you make meaningful connections both at work and at play. So cheers to a new school year, and to building new connections!

Common Core: What is our role?

Common Core Standards - What is our role?

The Common Core Standards  (CCS) were created to provide “a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them (www.corestandards.org).”  As Special Educators, our role in helping students to meet these standards is important.   

We found some tips for Learning Specialists and Speech-Language Pathologists to keep in mind, as suggested by Perry Flynn (M.Ed. CCC/SLP North Carolina Department of Public Instruction) who presented at the American Speech & Hearing Association Schools Conference in July 2012:

  • DO integrate CCS into special education services.  Go to www.corestandards.org, print the CCS and bring to your IEP meetings.

  • DO develop IEP goals to help children achieve common core standards to align with general education expectations. Use previous grade level standards if appropriate.

  • DON’T copy standards verbatim into IEP goals, as they are expected for all children.  Our role as special educators is to provide specialized direct instruction to help students achieve them.

Looking for more information on the Common Core and students with special needs?  This article from Education Week is a good place to start.

Research Tuesday: Children's Auditory Working Memory in Noisy Conditions

Research Tuesday.jpg

Autumn, in my professional life as a school-based SLP, is a fresh slate, the start of a new cycle, and a time to start new habits. It is that, and it is also the chaos of trying to pick up where I left off, put together a schedule from pieces that don't seem to fit, all while making efforts to educate myself on the new developments in education and pedagogy.  

It was in that mindset that I came across this study looking at the impact of noise and chaos on students' cognitive skills, specifically working memory. Strong cognitive skills, including working memory, allow us to compensate for less than ideal circumstances. Auditory working memory in particular is a strong predictor of academic and communicative success. 

The Details: Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2014, Vol. 57, 1503-1511. doi:10.1044/2014_JSLHR-H-13-0286.

The Question: These researchers wanted to know if students would perform more poorly on a task of auditory working memory in a noisy environment than in a quiet one. Additionally, they wanted to know if the change in performance on the task might be related the difficulty of the task. In other words, they thought that a noisy environment might have only a slight impact on an easy task, but a more significant impact on a challenging task.

The Method: Researchers met with 20 typically developing students between 8 and 10 years old. They gave them a series of 3 memory tasks, in a quiet sound booth and in the presence of competing four-talker babble noise. The simpler task were Forward Digit Recall (repeat the numbers you heard) and Backward Digit Recall (repeat the numbers you heard in reverse order). The cognitively challenging task, also presented in quiet and in babble noise, was called Listening Recall, where students listened to an increasing number of sentences and then were asked to judge each sentence true or false, and recall the last word of each sentence. 

The Results: It is not surprising that students performed better on auditory memory tasks in quiet than in noisy environments. The more interesting piece is it didn't matter how challenging the task was. Each task was affected by noise in a similar manner. 

The Take-Away: Overall, for the 8-10 year olds participating in this study, auditory working memory performance on all kinds of tasks decreased as listening conditions worsened. The interesting post script, though, is that the effect of complexity of a working memory task in noise has been well documented in adults. This suggests that the skills required for working in background noise or managing additional simultaneous cognitive tasks continue to develop throughout adulthood. This is important for those of us in working with students - the cognitive load of a given task is impacted by the context. And classrooms can be full of babble noise!

Hello There! Distance Service Gets a New Name

Several years ago, we found ourselves on the verge of a new partnership with a district. We were hung up, though, with the itty bitty detail of not having a clinician available to be on-site every day. Being the creative, solutions-focused folks we are, we worked with the district to create a unique plan that integrated newly emerging video chat technology with old-school, boots on the ground service delivery. It wasn't teletherapy, and it wasn't traditional speech service. We called it Distance Service, and today that service model makes up 66% of our contracts. 

The name Distance Service has been good to us, but we had recently been feeling like it might be time for a little makeover. So, it is with great pleasure that we announce that Distance Service is now known as Hello There. As in, we're Hello, and wherever we are, we're There for you. Plus, because any makeover worth anything has a big reveal, we've created this neat graphic to do the explaining for us. Take a peek and you'll see that nothing has changed -- we're still offering the same outstanding quality service you've come to expect from us. We just have new lipstick on ;-)