How Speech & Language IEP Goals Should Align with Common Core Standards

Huge thanks to administrators that shared our checklist “Common Core and Speech Therapy: How to Guide Your SLP”.  

In today’s post I hope to answer one of the most common questions we receive from administrators:

How Should Speech & Language IEP Goals Be Aligned with Common Core Standards?

This is a great question. To answer it, I recommend that administrators read Catherine Crowley’s Leaders Project post (Jan 2014).

I have a great deal of personal respect for Dr. Crowley.  In this post, she not only outlines Common Core in relation to speech and language IEP goals, but even provides case studies of students with various challenges for specialists to reference.

So there you have it – how to integrate speech language goals with Common Core standards.

But is this the right question?

Imagine all SLPs in the country master this knowledge, reference common core appropriately (as determined by their district program), and write down the correct information in the boxes provided on the IEP.

Is anything really going to change for the student?

I have the privilege of partnering with some of the best administrators in the country, helping to fill SLP vacancies with high quality talent. After years of conversations about moving students forward, I feel that I’ve honed in on the real question they’re interested in.

How do we make these macro changes relevant to special education and the kids we serve? How do we effect real change within our program to see student growth in general education?


Common Core and general education.

Forty years have passed since the adoption of IDEA. In our relentless passion, commitment and fortitude to help students – we have often forgotten that the mission is really about promoting success in general education.

IEPs are generated to determine what general education should look like for the individual child, given the realities of growth for a year of school.  Everyone’s plan will look different depending on their unique needs.

Which is why I can understand administrators being so desperate to align the IEP process with Common Core standards. After all, this is where we want to see students be successful.

Where paperwork falls short…

The fact is, a student’s IEP may align perfectly with common core – but if not translated into practice for the surrounding team, all of our best efforts will be lost.

If we really want to see student growth in general education, SLPs need to be given permission and responsibility to translate speech and language goals for general education teachers. It simply isn’t reasonable to expect students to make growth in an environment in which the specialist never sets foot.

And so finally, to the question administrators really are asking: 

What is high quality speech & language service in relation to the Common Core?

  • SLPs need to be asking questions of teachers regarding the depth of any curriculum topic being used to address Common Core standards.
  • SLPs need to be able to explain and model how speech and language goals fit into lesson plans and expectations.
  • SLPs need to have time to observe different teaching styles with which their students are working.
  • SLPs need allies in their buildings – paraprofessionals and/or teachers interested in learning how speech & language development relate to student progress.
  • SLPs need to be able to collaborate with families, to establish support outside of the classroom and move toward success in the classroom.
  • SLPs need administrators who understand that this takes time and effort, which can’t always be neatly captured in the number of direct minutes per month of service. 

Just remember, isolation doesn’t work.

You may not realize it, but there are two distinct enemies of high quality service. They are:

  • SLPs working in isolation. Sure, they might be in the building most days (so that administrators can “check the box” that speech and language needs are being addressed) – but how is service really being delivered?
  • SLPs too busy to be aligned with general education.

So the next time you find yourself asking how to align speech & language IEP goals with Common Core standards – consider whether the real question is how to continue to put kids first – by providing high quality service to students.

Have a question about Common Core standards, or how to ensure high quality service in your district? We’re here to help. Give us a call at (503) 228–2942.

The Best SLPs are Thieves

I know. A bold claim, right? You're thinking that I'm wrong, that the best SLPs, the ones we all idolize, they're original thinkers. They're innovators. They have ideas that no one has ever thought of before and they change the game when they come forth with a new theory, a new approach, a new technique, a new product. 

Go read this post by the great Seth Godin. It's about stealing other people's ideas. It's about encouraging you to steal ideas. Go ahead. I'll wait. 

Great! Welcome back. Now, did that shift your thinking a little bit? Because I'm here to tell you, it rocked mine. 

As SLPs, we rely on the ideas of others to build our practice. Who among us spent the summer tooling around on Pinterest, grabbing ideas of how to set-up a room for the Fall, or the units we’ll tackle this year? Has thumbed through a pile of catalogs and then thought, "Y'know, I have an idea for Kai . . . "? Has been to a conference, had that moment when the speaker says, "Well, when I have a client like that, I . . . " and had their mind sent racing with all of the possibilities for their own practice? See what I'm saying here? You are a THIEF. We all are. And it's what makes us, and our profession, so vibrant and alive. 

I think (and talk) a lot about the art of what SLPs do. Yes, evidence based practice. Yes, data driven decision making. But also . . . yes, finesse. Yes, creativity. Yes, magic. Because SLPs get to use and touch and feel and MAKE magic. It doesn’t come from looking at a page full of numbers and marching formulaically down the path to dismissal. It is born of that little flutter in your belly when you look at those numbers, do 32 google searches, read 5 abstracts, marvel at the ideas on 17 SLP blogs, think about a client/student/patient you had 8 years ago, have a vague memory of something you learned in grad school, and the semblance of a “new" idea that just might be the breakthrough for this kid begins to take shape. The magic, and art, is facilitated, no, RELIANT, on the stealing that Seth Godin extols.  So as we all stare down the barrel of a new school year, I say unto you . . . Go forth! Steal! Give credit where it is due, and then pay it forward by sharing your own ideas. Together, we make more magic than the entire Disney compendium ever could. 

App Review: ChatAble 1.3

The newly updated ChatAble 1.3 is now available from Therapy Box! I received a review copy of this AAC app, which offers communication through symbol-based grids as well as visual scene displays. Initially, I was quite taken with the combination of features provided (especially the Write Pad — more on that later!) and my mind ran away with the possibilities for using scenes and grids together. The timing of this review (end of school year) made it difficult for me to find many opportunities to use the app with kids or in classrooms, but afforded me ample time to explore, create, and play in the app. After using the app for a bit, I have dialed back my expectations for incorporating hotspots into my own photos and scenes, and created a bit of a wish list for future updates! 


A hotspot-embedded scene from ChatAble 1.3

THE WHAT: The features of ChatAble 1.3 are stellar, catering to several modes of nonverbal input, and showing creativity and innovation on the part of the developers. AAC apps for the iPad should be intuitive, easy to use and customize, and allow users to take full advantage of the internet and of their own photo and media libraries, and ChatAble 1.3 makes serious efforts towards all of these ends. ChatAble 1.3 allows communication using symbol-based grids, visual scene displays with embedded hotspots (think photos or drawings with embedded ‘buttons’), and pages with combined visual scenes and grid components (e.g. a hotspot-embedded scene with additional vocabulary or links to other pages below). Hotspots in the scenes can be associated with speech output or link to another page or to audio/visual media. Some really neat extras include the ability to set an alarm so that a message comes up taking you to a specific page at a set time, and being able to set a GPS location for a scene, so that the page is brought up automatically when the user is in the right location. 

The Keyboard function is pretty straightforward, allowing users to type a message which is spoken when the message window is tapped. I read in the downloadable User Guide about the ability to customize the placement of individual keys, but I crashed the app once while trying to figure out how to do it, and even when I followed the directions exactly, I never got it to work.

The WritePad feature from ChatAble 1.3

As I mentioned above, I love the WritePad feature! In this mode, you have a yellow pad on which you can write with your finger or stylus. The app interprets your writing, giving you additional options if it does not guess accurately, and eventually speaking your words. Great for short messages or closing a feedback loop for written language - “I can hear what I wrote!”

The quirky corner menu for editing and settings that ties the rest of the pages together doesn’t seem to fit as well on these alternate screens, in fact it is not even there for WritePad. Instead the user has a Back button in the upper left. The inconsistency makes it feel like this feature doesn’t quite belong with the rest of the app. 

Editing buttons in the bottom right of the screen

The feature that I most missed when exploring this app is the ability to lock the app down and limit editing by the user. There are lots of instances where it is great for the user to have easy access to editing. However, in working with young people with ASD in an educational environment, it is often desirable to be able to password protect or otherwise restrict access to settings and editing. When this is not built in to an app, I have sometimes been successful using the Guided Access option to restrict access to certain areas of the screen (i.e. where the Edit button is!), but I think that even if I left the navigation button accessible and created a guided access region that covered only the Edit and Settings buttons in the lower right corner, functionality of some pages might be impacted. 

The HOW: I’ve separated my thoughts on features and design from those on functionality because, although I love some of the features, they just don’t work as smoothly as I’d like them to. The real test of the functionality of an app like this is in creating your own grids, scenes, and pictures. As I was most excited about creating hotspots in my own pictures and visual scenes, I was most disappointed that this feature just doesn't seem ready for prime time. I'll describe my experience below, but the slow reaction times and the lag between actions make this an unsatisfying way to express yourself and inappropriate for true conversation. 

Having used other similar communication apps, I felt confident creating a variety of pages, and even customizing appearances and linking different forms of media. Though it may not have been necessary, I did read through the basic, but readable User's Guide, finding additional information on the Search function (It's in the Toggle menu!) and the GPS/alarm functions. I had the options and actions I expected to have in creating the pages I had in mind. Using my own pictures for grids and visual scenes was very straightforward, as was adding hotspots to a scene, and using images from the internet (you just have to save them to My Photos from outside the app… Would be cool to be able to do that from within the app, but the app’s Symbol Library is pretty thorough).

The frustrations I had were largely related to response times within the app. I should preface this all by saying that I installed the app on my old-school 64 GB iPad 2, running iOS 7.1.2, with 15 GB of available space. Not the newest hardware, but also still widely used in education. So, I’m used to things running slowly, but when I started the app, it took 10 seconds of a blank white screen before the logo began to appear, and then an additional 15 seconds before the home grid came up. If I had a student who used his iPad for other things, but wanted to be able to bring up the communication app when he needed it, this would not work. 25 seconds is interminable when you are waiting to say something. Once it was running, it usually came up as quickly as any other app, but even this was not consistently reliable. Sometimes (maybe after some period of not being used? maybe it crashed while I was doing other things?) it started back with the 25 second white screen process, even though I thought it would be already running. Because this was a review copy, I didn’t have the option to install it on a newer iPad, so I can't speak to how it might perform on a newer machine.

This wait time was also evident as I was working within the app. The hotspots were simple to create in my photos or visuals I found online, and I easily added text for the app to read or recorded my own audio. But there is an uncomfortable lag (1-3 seconds?) between touching a hotspot in a visual scene and hearing the message, whether the message uses the app’s voice or is a recorded message. I created a hybrid page (visual scene with grid buttons below) where one of the grid buttons was a link to another grid page. Though the audio label plays right away when I use that button, it takes a full 9 seconds for the linked page to open. The response time for hearing the message is much quicker when working within the grids, but even then if you touch a second cell too quickly after the first, the audio for the second does not play at all, though it will show up in the message window, so it could be played all together by tapping the window.

The BROAD VIEW: Overall, I love the ideas in this app. It’s probably most appropriate at this time for communicators working at the level of single words or just beginning to combine words. When using AAC apps like ChatAble on the iPad, my own clinical focus is school-age students with communication disorders including autism, with a range of verbal abilities. I love the collection of features because there are so many options that appeal to my students. Accessibility features like switch access and ‘touch anywhere’ scanning are easy to use. Visual scenes with hotspots provide context to abstract vocabulary and give structure for practice and more consistent use. Options for alarms and GPS triggers provide opportunities to fade cues and increase independence for users. The keyboard and WritePad provide for exploration, creativity, and play turning letters and words into voice. 

The delays in response times within the app make it hard for me to imagine using this with communicators who are combining ideas or who might need multiple layers of pages beyond the Home Page grid to provide them with adequate vocabulary. It’s also probably not a good option for the creative clinician or care provider who wants to create and link lots of pages. It isn't yet an option that allows for a lot of growth, and I’ll have to stick to other AAC systems for my students with higher needs. 

Right now, there’s enough potential that I plan to explore ChatAble with some of my emerging communicators. It will be fun to use the visual scenes and options like WritePad. I will definitely keep my eye out for updates, as I would love to use photographs of students’ own environments as visual scenes for communication. (Think: a photo of the front office with hotspots for appropriate greetings and interactions with office staff, a photo of the Play-Doh table with hotspots for all the different action words you can use, a photo of a student’s transition work site with hotspots allowing him to ask for help with different issues)

A funny post-script: In my experimentation with setting alarms and start time for pages, I typically set them for a time in the immediate future when I I knew I would be using the app. I guess I must have left one on because late last night a shocking train bell sound erupted from my iPad that I had never heard before! I opened it up in a panic only to discover a message that “Your scheduled ‘My Town’ scene is about to start now”! So, I guess I would add that iIt would be great to be able to see a list of set alarms/start times and GPS triggers!

¡Ecuador 2015! ¡Esperanza para Todos!

Give. It's one of our company Core Values, and something we try to weave into everything we do. There are the little bits of giving, like the chocolate left on the desk of a colleague after a yucky IEP meeting. There are the medium bits of giving, like our visits to Northwest Children's Outreach. And then there the are the BIG bits of giving that come in the form of our international service trips. First it was Costa Rica, then Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now, as announced last month, we will be going to Baños, Ecuador. Yes, that's right. We're going to "The Gateway to the Amazon." Because, go big or go home, right? 

Heather, a wonderful SLP and seasoned service-trip veteran, is heading up this project. She has been working on the groundwork for several months and has established a relationship with Esperanza para todos, whose mission is to provide education and therapy for families who have children with disabilities. Founded in 2008 by local parents, Esperanza para todos (which, incidentally, means "hope for all" in Spanish) provides daily, professional therapeutic care to 20-25 children with disabilities so that their parents can continue to hold jobs and provide a greater quality of life for their families. The Esperanza para todos team consists of 8 people: 1 physical therapist, 1 educational psychologist, 1 teacher, 1 preschool teacher, 1 occupational therapist, 1 cook, 1 master basic education teacher who helps a driver, and Yadira Escobar, the director. The students, who attend from 8am - 4pm each day, receive physical therapy, educational psychology, occupational therapy, special education, educational recovery, sensory stimulation, equine therapy nutrition services, transportation door to door, individual therapy, group therapy and recreational activities throughout the day like sports, dance, gymnastics, and puppet shows(!). 

Wait. Hold up a hot second. Did you catch that? Yeah, I bet you did. I bet you saw that speech and language services weren't listed there. It isn't listed because, unfortunately, there isn't anyone on staff at Esperanza para todos who is trained in providing communication interventions. This means that, while the staff do their very best for each child, they just don't have the support they need to help their students communicate. And this, of course, is where we come in. Our THF clinicians will be providing hands-on staff training through direct student services, as well as more "academic" trainings via lectures, with the goal of giving the staff a basic communication-intervention-skill-set that they can use well into the future. If we're lucky enough to have an OT on the team, we will also be able to support their services in that domain as well. 

As you might imagine, we're, like, rilly excited about all of this. Heather has just sent out the application to all of our THF clinicians, both SLPs and OTs, and will be announcing the team on September 1st. Monthly meetings will begin in September, and travel dates will be selected soon. This, my friends, is the good, good stuff, and we can't wait to share it all with you. Esperanza para todos . . . hope for all.  Exactly.

Research Tuesday - Narrative and Vocabulary Instruction in the Classroom

This whole Research Tuesday thing really works for me in the summer! I have the space to be a little more reflective and theoretical, without feeling like I need to implement my findings with Johnny in tomorrow's session. And the knowledge that fall is coming pushes me to think on a systems level, gathering evidence for anything new I'd like to try in the fall. 


With that in mind, I found this article on classroom-based instruction very interesting. There is not a lot of research on push-in support for students with language impairment from SLPs. Although it makes sense intuitively, the classroom is a complex environment and it is hard to isolate variables. This study is an "early-stage, non-randomized comparison study", and it ends with the all too familiar refrain (Spoiler alert!) of "more extensive research on this topic is warranted", but it is an important early step for SLPs collaborating with classroom teachers and administrators looking for more efficient and inclusive ways to support students with language impairment.

So, here we go, following Kelly Bawden's cut-to-the-chase organizational rubric: 

The Details: Sandra Laing Gillam, Abbie Olszewski, Jamison Fargo, Ronald B. Gillam; Classroom-Based Narrative and Vocabulary Instruction: Results of an Early-Stage, Nonrandomized Comparison Study. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch 2014;45(3):204-219. doi: 10.1044/2014_LSHSS-13-0008.

The Question: Having developed an intervention program that teaches story grammar elements along with embedded vocabulary instruction, the team designed this study to assess the effects of the intervention. They wondered whether students who received this intervention would score differently on narrative and vocabulary measures from students who did not receive the intervention. As a part of the study, they examined the effects of the intervention on students both at high and low risk for academic failure. 

The Method: Researchers used students in two 1st-grade classrooms at a Title 1 elementary school. The classrooms were statistically similar in their make up, as well as pre-test scores for narrative and vocabulary. The students in each classroom were divided into high-risk (scores on the Test of Narrative Language below the 25th %ile) and low-risk groups. For 6 weeks, the students in one classroom participated in three 30-minute whole-class intervention sessions per week, led by an SLP. The narrative program taught story grammar elements, gave students students instruction in elaborating on a story, and provided opportunities for students to practice story-telling in a small group. Vocabulary instruction (8-10 tier 2 words/week) was embedded in the narrative intervention. The students in the other classroom received the traditional district curriculum throughout the 6 weeks. 

The Results: The students were assessed following the intervention period with a narrative probe, scored with the rubric Monitoring Indicators of Scholarly Language (MISL; Gillam & Gillam, 2013) and a vocabulary probe, also scored with a rubric. For both narrative and vocabulary measures, both high- and low-risk students in the experimental classroom had statistically greater gains than students from the comparison classroom. In both narrative and vocabulary skills, students in the high-risk subgroup had 2-3 times the gain than the high-risk subgroup, while students in the low-risk subgroup had 6-10 times the gain of their low-risk peers in the comparison classroom. 

The Take-Away: This feasibility study documents the potential value of SLP-led narrative intervention with embedded vocabulary instruction to both low- and high-risk students. As I plan for next fall in an elementary that is more data-driven and run by progress-monitoring and RTI, I am excited to be able to participate in the conversation! I hope to be able to add depth and detail to grade-level data team meetings with progress monitoring tools such as the MISL and the Test of Narrative Recall (TONR). I struggle to balance a focus on narrative with vocabulary instruction, especially when I'm talking to teachers about collaborating on whole-class instruction. It is exciting to see vocabulary instruction embedded into the narrative, and clear results in both areas! 

Here's to another 6 weeks or so to revel in the reflective theoretical realm, before tackling the daunting task of scheduling all of my plans into real life!