My SLP Story

This week I'm linking up with the Frenzied SLPs to share my story about how I became an SLP.

I am not the best decision maker. Anyone in my family or circle of friends can vouch for that. When it was time for me to choose a college, I had it narrowed down to 2 - one that offered Communication Disorders as a major and one that offered Occupational therapy as a major. God had his plans, because even the day that I was going to commit to a school I wasn't sure where I would go until the name of the university popped out of my mouth.

Growing up, I went to a parochial school and I didn't have much exposure to what special educators did.  When I was in third grade, I remember that one of my brother's friends went to speech therapy, but I don't know why and it never really occurred to me to ask. It never really popped up on my radar again until I was in 8th grade. One of my classmates new how to finger spell so I learned how to do that. I knew that I liked sign language, so when we had to do a project about an historical figure, I wanted to learn more about Helen Keller. That project led me to learn about Anne Sullivan. Maybe it was a coincidence, but more likely God knew what he was doing, because that year, the local high school did the play "The Miracle Worker." I still remember that play very well. The girl who played Helen Keller went on to be one of my good friends once I reached high school. I was enamored with sign language, but I didn't really think about it again for a while. 

I grew up in a very musical family. Many people assumed that when I went off to college, I would major in music performance or music education. Because I am stubborn and I know that I don't do well when competing with others, I decided that I would not do what everyone expected. I would find something else. Sophomore year of high school, our class went to a college fair. I walked up to the information booth and said, "I want to do something with sign language." The workers looked puzzled and conferred for a while before they said, "You mean occupational therapy?"

Having no idea what that was, I went to a few tables for colleges that had occupational therapy (OT) as a major. Later that year, we were given 2 days off from school during which we had to shadow some professionals. Thank goodness my mom knows people. My mom arranged for me to shadow a friend of hers that was an OT in a skilled nursing facility (SNF). I thought OT was very interesting, but the SNF made me a little uncomfortable. I continued to shadow OTs and one even connected me with an SLP in a school setting that I was able to shadow. I had it narrowed down to both of those fields, but really had no idea what they entailed.

Fast forward to college, I was in my sophomore year studying communication disorders, but I really missed music. I was involved in choirs a little, but was seriously considering switching my major to focus on music. Then I had my first voice disorders class - I was hooked. Now I was able to use what I knew about singing and about sound to help others without the constant competition that comes with being a musician. I continued to sing through college and frequently referred fellow choir members that continuously lost their voices to our university clinic. I also really grew to love neurology. I thought that I would for sure be working in a hospital setting. 

During grad school, my professors often gave me clients at the university clinic with voice disorders, but I also had young children, who were some of my favorites (shhh...). I really enjoyed my medical placement where I had lots of experience with voice disorders and dysphagia. I also enjoyed my school placement. So, again, my decision making skills were put to the test. All I knew is that I did not want to be in an SNF. When it was time to apply for positions as an SLP, I was applying to schools, clinics, and hospitals in 3 different cities. Obviously my decision making skills weren't the best, but I trusted God to help me find the right position and I knew based on my externships that I would be happy in almost any setting (just not an SNF).

It's been 4 years since I started in the field and I can honestly say that I would still be happy in a school, clinic, or hospital. Maybe that's why I work in a school and at a clinic part time! Even though I know that my skills are not well suited for an SNF, I really admire SLPs who thrive in that environment.

I may not be the best decision maker, but that's why I have God to help guide me. 
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21

How were you guided to be an SLP?

10 Things You Need to Do Your First Week

I'm one of the lucky ones who have not yet started school. I know this may be late for a few people, but for those of you who haven't returned to school, here are my top 10 things I do before the students arrive for open house night.

1. Get Your Caseload
How can you begin if you don't know which students have moved in or out of district, to another school or who are coming into kindergarten with an IEP? This is my third year at my current school and 4th year in the district, so I know how to access who new or gone from my caseload.

If you don't know your caseload or are new to the position, here are a few tips for finding your caseload:
-Ask the special ed teachers which of there students have speech on their IEP.
-Talk to your building's special ed coordinator or secretary. They most likely have a list.
-Access a list of the students in your building on IEPs and check their IEPs for service minutes for speech/language.
-Ask the teachers who in their class last year had speech.

None of these are fool proof. I've had students move in midway through the year and after they've been at the school for a couple weeks, someone lets me know that they have an IEP with speech services. I've also been in the position where a student was accidentally marked "inactive" in our system and they missed a week of service. If this happens, do your best to make up the service times missed and to set up a new system for incoming students.

2. Introduce Yourself
Introduce yourself to the families. Hopefully you have met many of the teachers during workshop week. For students I case manage, I call the families and let them know that I will be the case manager and how they can contact me. For all families, I write a welcome letter introducing myself. In the letter I include my title, my service schedule (I use the 3:1 model, so I describe this), and a small picture of myself. I make sure to have a packet for every student that they receive at open house night from their teacher.

3. Do File Reviews
Look at each student's file and current IEP. Here are some things to pay attention to:
  • Dates
  • Service minutes and frequency
  • Primary disabilty
  • Type of service: language, artic, social skills, phonology, etc.
While I'm making the file reviews, I make a list of students with artic goals, a list of students with language goals, and a list of students with social skills goals. This helps me group these students more easily by similar goals.

4. Check Your Dates
Look at the IEPs of your students and find which ones are due for re-evaluation. In Minnesota, we re-evaluate every 3 years, so I make a list of students who need to be re-evaluated during the school year and keep it in my planner. I keep track of which students need IEPs for each month of the school year in my SLP Planner with Psalms. This comes in very handy. On the first of every month, I double check this list to make sure I have planned all the meetings needed for that month.

5. Schedule IEPs
Don't panic! I'm not telling you to schedule all your IEPs for September. I make a list of students I case manage and look at when their IEP needs to be scheduled. For IEPs, they must be held within 1 year of the last IEP date. I typically like to schedule the meeting as close to that date as possible.

I look at each month and for which students I will need to hold a meeting. I then create a tentative date that I pencil in my calendar. One month before that date, I pencil in "Schedule *student's* IEP" into my calendar to make sure I touch base with parents and teachers and ensure that I have availability for this meeting. I use my planner's IEP pages to write in tentative dates for each month. I also send home IEP "save the dates" on brightly colored paper. Many parents have to work and need advanced notice of when to take a day off or when they need to leave earlier. To make my job easier, I send home these save the dates.

6. Gather Good Times to Pull Students
I talk to teachers or give them a form to list times when students can be pulled from their class. On the right is an example form of what I have used before. I have also used forms where teachers list increments of 30 minutes when I can pull their students. I really love having a copy of their times so that if when my schedule needs to be re-worked, I can refer to their preferred times.
7. Start Scheduling
This is honestly a love-hate relationship for me. I love making my first schedule. I hate having to adjust it on a weekly or even daily basis when things change. Check out this post on how I use excel to schedule students.

8. Make a Goal Cheat Sheet
I try not to waste paper by printing off each IEP and carrying it around when I'm planning lessons. Instead, I make a cheat sheet that contains all of my students and a brief list of what their goals are.

For example instead of saying:
Johnny will produce /k/, /g/, and "ng" in isolation with 80% accuracy across 3 sessions as measured by speech language pathologist data collection.
Johnny will produce /k/, /g/, and "ng" at the word level in all word positions with 80% accuracy across 3 sessions as measured by speech language pathologist data collection.

I write:
Johnny (2): /k/, /g/, "ng" isolation/words; rhyme discrimination, rhyme generation
Jane (3): story retells, sequencing, vocabulary expansion, describing w/4 attributes

This way I can usually fit all my students and their goals onto a front and back piece of paper. When it comes time to lesson planning, I use this sheet to help make sure I am targeting each goal on their IEPs.

9. Create Working Folders or Notebooks
Each SLP has a different way to do this. In the past, I've created a folder for each student that contains their IEP goal sheet and any materials they might use throughout the year. Materials include worksheets, start of the year activities, and their data collection sheet.

Which leads me to....

10. Prep for Data Collection
There are so many ways to collect data. The important thing to do is to collect the data. Remember, if you don't document, it didn't happen. Here are 3 ways I collect data for students:
  • Progress monitoring
  • Attendance
  • Attendance
  • Daily Stickers
I use progress monitoring, such as Natalie Snyder's progress monitoring tools or 5 minute Kids for articulation. This lets me compare a baseline to where they are at the time of their IEP and the end of the year. I also track attendance in my planner. This way I can list all my students and keep track of when they were absent, on a field trip, seen individual or in groups, etc... Instead of a separate sheet for each student, I use address labels to collect data. I initially got the idea from Queen's Speech. You can find her original post here. In each student's folder is a sheet where I place these labels at the end of a session. No matter how you prepare for the school, remember that you are an awesome speech language pathologist (or other educator) and that YOU make a difference in your students' lives.

God's richest blessings on your year!

Link Up: What's in Your Cart BTS 2016

I love a good sale. And I love a good sale with a coupon! All summer I have been looking forward to TPT's back to school sale. Check out what's in my cart for tomorrow.

My preposition cards at school are form the 70s (you know the ones I'm talking about). I've been looking for a great looking preposition resource that is very versitile - and I can't wait to try this out. It's created by Word of Mouth.

I've seen teachers using interactive notebooks and was thinking about trying to create interactive books for my students. But now I don't have to thanks Speech Is Sweet.

Finally I can add some real photos to my vocabulary building materials. Connecting illustrated items to the real object is very difficult for my students at a lower language level. Cat Says Meow's resource looks great for this.

Now, here's what you need from my store to get an amazing start to your school year.

Start your year off with these teacher friendly speech and language milestones. When using this with my teachers, less students are missed and the referrals I receive are more appropriate. Teachers love them too. The information was adapted using ASHA norms.

Help make your planner functional and beautiful with these printable planner stickers. Make these with your own printer and labels. I love how I can take a quick glance at my calendar and know exactly what is going to happen that month and each week.

And if you have some awesome stickers, you'll need a planner to go with it. Make sure to snag my newly updated SLP planner with Psalms. Keep your 2016-2017 school year rooted in God's word with weekly Psalms and monthly Bible verses.

Enjoy the sale and don't forget to use the promo code "BestYear." Also check out the rest of my store for up to 28% off. Best year ever!

Using Google Spreadsheets: Caseload Management

As my caseload grows, people frequently ask how many students I see each week. For a while I would just shrug and say, "alot." I knew it was time to get organized and store my information in a way that I could easily access. The solution: Google Sheets.

I've never been afraid of using Excel. My dad, a wonderful engineer, uses excel for everything - budgeting included. I like Excel, but I love how I can access Google spreadsheets from my computer, iPad, and phone. 

Caseload Management
I keep track of my caseload using Google spreadsheets. Here's what I do.

Fill in each student's information in the appropriate column.

This is just one way to organize your caseload. I love how I can share this document with administrators and teachers so they know how many students I actually work with. I am also able to access this information from home, which is very helpful.

For a copy of this spreadsheet, you can click HERE. Don't forget to change the formula next to CaseManage to include your name instead of mine. 

I hope this information helps you get organized and ready for fall.

The Magic of Narrative Language

This week, I'm celebrating being SLP Materials Club's featured seller. Stop on by their facebook page throughout the week for exclusive freebies and giveaways. I thought I would kick things off with a post about one of my favorite topics and with a great giveaway!

The Magic of Story Telling
Narrative language is my favorite. Really, I love narrative language. Growing up, I read stories all the time. I wouldn't even waste time putting the books on my night stand before falling asleep; they would simply sleep in the bed with me and fall off during the night, startling my parents or the cat. Sometimes I would write stories. Most of them were short and silly, but when I was in high school, I was convinced I would be the next hit author. I wrote alot and drew maps... but that's not what I'm here to write about. 

What is narrative language?
Simply put, narrative language is story telling. Sounds easy right? Most 5 year olds can tell  you a complete, perhaps silly, story in a way you can understand. Now compare those stories to those of children with language impairments, and you will understand a whole new level of complexity.

True story - I had a student tell me this exact story during an assessment:
"Mr goody glasses, he went off to forest. Found map. Map lead to place where someone live. He be going and going. Pattern on map and pen feather. Wrote message then there's message on back. Beware don't go each way. Then he go to house.  Then he found ...go up on tree. Then he swung up. then he found branch. Then he found lava.  Throwing party. I sometimes I get parties. My parties and I really don't know."

As you can imagine, this was incredibly hard to follow. I think I sat their for a good minute after he was done at a loss of how to respond. Needless to say, he qualified for a language disorder and is now receiving services. One of his IEP goals targets narrative language.

Narrative Elements
When most people think of parts of a story, they think of the characters, setting, problem, solution, etc. When a speech language pathologist thinks of story telling, we consider the vocabulary along with syntax, morphological structure, sequencing, cause and effect, and so much more. The complexity of a narrative will depend on the complexity of a child's language ability.

Narrative Language and Education
Narrative language is essential for academic success. Think about kindergarten. Children listen to stories every day in the classroom. Students learn to socialize by telling stories about what happens at home. Teachers ask questions about things that happen and students must first understand what happened in order to answer those questions. When learning to read, what do students read? Stories. Narrative language. A student's success within our school system will have a direct link to their ability to retell and generate stories.

What Can We Do?
Everyone is tired of hearing this, but children need to be read to starting very young. My facebook feed is constantly full of "new" studies that confirm over and over again that exposing children to stories at a young age is beneficial. You know what I haven't seen? Any studies saying it's bad.

Other strategies include talking about stories after reading them, modeling story retells, talking about real life events as they occur, and helping children make up stories. SLPs are also equiped with express knowledge related to narrative language and there are so many cool resources out there. Here are just a few:

SKILL - Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy
This resource was created by Sandra Gilliam. You may know her name form the Test of Narrative Language (TNL) or from ASHA's 2016 board of directors. I had the opportunity my first year in the schools to go to a seminar she led. She is an AMAZING speaker. If you get the chance, go to one of her presentations. What I love about this resource is that there are lesson plans and it's scripted. I can grab it off my shelf and continue from where I left off with my students. There are visuals ready to go, I suggest laminating them.
Story Grammar Marker - MindWing Concepts
I don't currently have this resource, but I know many SLPs who love to use it. It's a multisensory tool that helps students tie in different elements of stories with a visual and tactile piece. I've hear many good things. Maureen at The Speech Bubble has a neat blog post about it here.
Not ready to "bite the bullet" on one of these awesome resources? Check out my Narrative Language Story Creation Unit on TPT. This mini-unit is by far my favorite thing that I have created since I started on TPT. I designed it to be easily paired with the iPad app Toontastic. This week, it will be 50% off in my TPT store.

And now, for the giveaway....
Enter below - one lucky winner will win a hard to find complete Cariboo board game.
Don't forget to stop by the SLP Materials Club Facebook page for more giveaways and freebies this week.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Opening Doors: Building Relationships with Classroom Teachers

This school year, I have loved holding the same position as I had last year. One of my favorite parts about staying in the same school is the relationships I have built with the teachers in my building. My co-workers are supportive and when we found out that our building would be adding 0.5 FTE for speech and language to support my growing caseload, everyone applauded because they have seen how much stress my diverse caseload puts on me. Without my co-workers' (and now friends) support, I don't know how I would make it through the end of the year. So, what are my thoughts about building relationships with classroom teachers? Keep reading!

Eat Lunch with Your Teachers
Yes, we often are multitasking throughout the day, but take the 15-20 minutes and do this. When I started in this new school, I scheduled my lunch at a time when I couldn't see most of my students because they were all at lunch. That means that their teachers were eating lunch too. I have laughed more in the teacher lounge over the past year than I thought I could. At first it was a little awkward since I was the newcomer, but I soon became one of the regulars. Eating lunch with my co-workers has turned them into life long friends.

Be Ready for Questions
Bring your best stories to lunch. Be ready to answer questions about your family and your life. Oh, and be ready to answer questions about what SLP means, which sounds are age-appropriate, what stuttering is, why is this student not learning, and so much more. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know. I'll look at the research." 
Educate and Learn
Along with questions, never be afraid to teach classroom teachers. They are life long learners. For the most part, I have never run into a teacher who refuses to listen to information about students or speech and language. This school year, I made it my mission to help teachers understand appropriate milestones for their grade levels and how to provide interventions. Their feedback helped me create these two resources for speech and language that are teacher friendly. 

After giving teachers a variety of interventions to try for students who have mild articulation difficulties, the feedback I received helped me create these interventions. 
Teachers are just as busy as special educators. Now that they are asked to provide more and more in less time, the last thing they want is complicated interventions for their students. Hence, these interventions were born! My favorite comment from a fellow teacher is, "They literally only take two minutes! I'd rather have my student in class than miss (more) class for speech. Another resource that came to be due to feedback from teachers is grade level milestones for speech and language. I started this school year with over a dozen 4th grade students because no one had ever noticed they couldn't say their /r/ sounds before! With these milestones, I am receiving more referrals, but they are appropriate. It's also great to hand to parents of a kindergartener who are concerned about that their student can't say the /r/ sound. 

Be a Speech Geek
I love all things speech and language. Sometimes I have to reign in my excitement for interesting cases. My co-workers love it when I wear my Peachie Speechie t-shirts and laugh when I start spewing random facts about fluency or how the articulators work. Share your passion and your friends will share theirs!

Grant Writing 101

In the past 2 years, I have written grant proposals and received four grants. To put this in perspective, I have only been working for three years and have received nearly $4,000 in grant awards.

I can’t say how often I have heard teachers say, “Well, I just don’t have time to write a grant.” My rebuttal is that spending an extra hour to save you from using your own money to purchase materials is worth it. Spending an extra hour for improving your students’ access to learning is worth it. Spending an extra hour to make a lot less work for yourself down the road is worth it.

Why YOU should write a grant proposal.
If you are reading my blog, chances are you are a speech language pathologist. Guess what – if you are, you write reports all the time. Your writing skills were honed in grad school and you know how to support your goals with evidence. This is what grant committees look for.

What to include: Numbers
Think of a project that will reach as many students as possible. Committees like to see how many students a proposal will affect, so include a hard number or range. When I wrote a grant for social skills materials, I included how other special education teachers would have access to the materials, increasing how many students it would affect. When I wrote a technology grant for iPads, I included not only the students targeted for the specific project, but also stated how all students on my caseload could benefit from having access to an iPad for speech/language sessions.

What to include: Evidence
To me as a speech language pathologist, this seems like a no-brainer. In grad school, supporting everything with evidence was drilled into me. It is always important to explain what is missing from your current program to help students succeed. If you are applying for materials, make sure to include how you are lacking materials or forced to utilize less than desirable conditions and activities to teach. When explaining student deficits, I like to site examples from actual research studies, or at least explain the reason my students are unsuccessful. Believe it or not, grant committee members may not know that much about Autism spectrum disorders, language deficits, or developmental delays. Make sure to include a few statements explaining the disorder of students you plan help with this project.

What to include: Concrete examples
You know your students best. In what situations with speech/language, social skill, learning, attention, etc. deficits affected them within the classroom? Providing a concrete example of a student is one way to help the committee relate to your project and see how it will affect student learning (keep confidentiality a priority of course). If you do not receive funding for your project, how will your students be affected?

Final Advice
Writing a grant can be scary. I know that each time I submit a proposal, I worry that I might not receive the funding. Having a strong grant proposal helps, but sometimes it simply comes down to the amount of money requested or other grants that have an impact on more students. Sometimes grant committees look for evidence that their money will go far with a particular application, so make sure you explain how the funding can be used for many students and perhaps a long time.

Imagine what the person on the grant committee who DOESN'T want to fund this proposal might be thinking and adjust your writing to address that. If you don’t receive funding, the great news is that you now have a proposal that you can tweak and revamp to use for another grant application!

Do you have a supportive team or parents who go above and beyond for you? Ask them to proof read your proposal; it will save you time and spark ideas in them as well.

So get writing! Your future self will thank you, I promise.

Appreciating Others

Ah, the February doldrums have officially arrived in Minnesota. This is the long stretch of cold weather between winter break and spring break that is full of meetings, evaluations, and long dark nights.

Driving into work, the sun is finally starting to show up by the time I arrive. To combat the darkness, I use light therapy in the morning. But, enough about me, it's time to talk about others.

Valentine's day is the time of year when we are encouraged to show our love for others. Why wait for February 14th each year?

I work at an awesome school with wonderful co-workers who are very close to my heart. We have been through quite a bit this year and word of restructuring in the fall is causing extra stress on my dear friends. Seeing the stress in others made me wonder how I can support them and show them that no matter how they feel, they are amazing educators. Thus, kudos were born!

I love sharing how amazing my co-workers are and know that they often go unrecognized for all that they do. Kudos allows me to let them know just how amazing they are.

So, kudos to my amazing co-workers.
Kudos to you, dear blog readers.

Head on over for this freebie can be found on my TPT store page. Let your co-workers know that they made your day, deserve a break, or simply stayed calm in a stressful situation. You are alll amazing educators and clinicians and deserve to know that. Happy Valentine's day, from my heart to your heart!

~For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Therasimplicity Review

I am excited to review my first "product" on my blog. This product is one that I have used since grad school and I use it every week in therapy now.

TheraSimplicity is a site that has many ready-made materials for SLPs. When I was in grad school, we had free access to these materials through our university partnership with the company. I have been using TheraSimplicity for about 3 years now within my practice and I'm still discovering activities I haven't seen before.

Some of the features of Therasimplicity that I love are the variety of photo images, colored clipart, and black and white drawings. These are great and readily accessible to be used with your students quickly. Therasimplicity's features also allow you to select images and it will create worksheets, slide shows, board games, and decks for you.

The website has materials for almost every person on your caseload including cognition, swallowing, speech, and language. There are ready made worksheets, parent handouts, diagrams, and more.

I find the site to be user friendly and full of useful materials. There are also video tutorials on how to use your subscription.

Some of my favorite and frequently used materials are for my articulation students. There are lots of worksheets, coloring pages, and activities that are a click and print away from your finger tips. My favorite is the "Sound Detective" series which has color and black and white printouts with pictures of target words hidden within a larger picture.

I could go on and on about the materials TheraSimplicity has to offer, but why not explore them yourself? TheraSimplicity offers a "Try Me" feature that allows you to explore all aspects of the website. You will be able to preview all the materials with a watermark on them. With all the materials offered, a yearly subscription of $49 is money well spent.

Note: Photographs are screenshots of the actual TheraSimplicity website and belong to TheraSimplicity. I do not receive any sort of compensation from TheraSimplicity, I simply love the product.