Feelings, nothing more than feelings.



As we edge closer to Spring Break around here, there are lots of feeling words flying about.  Kids are excited, distracted, hyper and giddy at the thought of the week ahead. Teachers are feeling the same things, but with a thick layer of exhaustion overlaying them all!!  I often get frustrated (another feeling word!) when working with the concept of emotions in the classroom.  For some reason, we seem to get stuck on happy, sad, mad and silly.  That’s it???  I know those are the primary feelings that come to mind with little people, but when working with students who have social communication weakness, subtlety is not our friend.  For us to have teachable moments, we have to talk about many more than just those four.

A SLP I work with forwarded me this amazing emotion graphic from Do2Learn .  It shows a HUGE variety of emotions that are placed on a color wheel. Each emotion word is color coded to intensity levels, then when you click on the word, it gives you a picture of someone showing this emotion and a description of it!! For example, aggravated is pink where as furious is dark purple, genius!  My only wish is that you could attach video clips not just static pictures of the emotion, but this is a fantastic starting point.   Along with this emotion chart, we need to include the clues to figure out people’s more subtle feelings such as looking at the person’s mouth (frown, tight-lipped, smiling?), the eyes and eyebrows (angry eyes anyone?), and body language (arms crossed, hands fisted, physical proximity to someone).  Take the language out of videos or commercials and have your students practice figuring out how someone feels once they master static pictures.  Emotions change over time, people and places, so this is an ongoing life lesson.

Here is a free checklist for working with your students on determining emotions (pair it with the emotion wheel!).



When Aretha Franklin pops into your head, don’t sing.

respect Keep Calm

In working with students on the spectrum (and I also include my kiddos with attention challenges, LD, EBD and all the other alphabet soups that are part of people), one of the areas we seem to bump into over and over again is the idea of respect.   Respect is simply treating others the way you would want to be treated. People work together often in school, at home, in communities and at work, and respect is the key to doing this successfully!  The topic of respect can open up discussions about feelings and situations that can take you down some pretty involved roads.  I often think our speech therapist identities are part counselor, part teacher and part researcher (with a dash of comedian/mad scientist/referee thrown in)! While it may veer off the lesson plan, sometimes the most wonderful therapy sessions come from these teachable moments!

One of the important concepts to help students understand the idea of respect is talking about who, what, where and when.  While there are several ways that we treat people the same when it comes to respect (tone of voice, using kind words, listening what is being said before responding), there are also clues that help us figure out how we treat people differently.  I have noticed that what often appears as disrespect from students is not necessarily just naughty behavior.  If a child doesn’t understand the hierarchy of relationships and thinks that everyone is their peer, their responses to unfamiliar adults or teachers may come across as rude or disrespectful (or sassy if you are from the south).  Talking about the rules of relationship and the use of visuals can help them get a better understanding of how people think about other people.   Visuals,such as a target, are helpful to talk about relationships between the child and other people in their life( like this one I created as part of a five page mini-lesson/activity here at TPT  ). This is hard for many students, especially those with ASD.  Respect goes way beyond just the words that are said!  Other facets of respect include:

  • volume of your voice (too loud or too quiet) * Decibella from Julia Cook is a great teaching tool for this concept!
  • personal space (too close or too far away)
  • tone of voice (do you sound mad or frustrated?)
  • gestures (arms crossed, eye rolls, pointing fingers)
  • timing (can you interrupt someone or should you wait?)
  • people (do I talk to my friends the same way I talk to my bus driver?)
  • things and places-important to show respect to these as well

There are many video clips to illustrate the concept of respect.  While I have an abiding love for Disney, I have noticed that most of their kids programming demonstrate significant disrespect to adults from kids (I am talking to you Zack and Cody) and offer lots of teachable moments. If your kids get stuck on the words people are saying, turn the sound off of the video and have them watch all the non-verbal clues that are going on!

Keep calm and respect on!     Share your ideas on respect here…

Why IEPs don’t have to make you cry…


A friend of mine posted on facebook a few weeks ago that she was dreading her son’s IEP.  I have heard this from many moms (and a few dads), and it always frustrates me.  While I am a speech language pathologist and a creator of said IEPs, I have also been on the other side of the table as a parent.  It is an interesting experience to have the perspective of both sides of the coin.  Why is the very document that is supposed to be an individualized road map for everyone working together, often an anxiety producing fear-fest?

The SLP side of me really tries to engage my families in creating goals that are meaningful, will move their child forward in functional and academic ways, and most importantly, are realistic and achievable.   I cringe when I see a list of 59+ goals for one kiddo; I am exhausted just reading it!!  All of them may be great goals, but when you have so many at one time, you dilute the efficacy of what you are trying to achieve and end up over-therapizing the child, leaving everyone frustrated.  What happens to teachable moments that occur throughout the day? You can’t tap into them because you are so data driven (don’t even get me started on the “rigor” of the core that is moving at the speed of light).  Yes you have data which is important, but therapy is sooo much more.  It’s also about building trust and relationships that lead to growth.

Switching to my mom hat, I felt a lot more supported and engaged when I was included in the process, not just handed the draft with the goals already done.  I know my child the best, just like most parents, and I had important input that was appreciated and considered.  I also had a realistic view of what he could achieve and was okay with taking baby steps in the right direction.  If he made leaps and bounds, fantastic, but I understood that language and learning is a complex road that takes time.  As long as the teachers and therapists were communicating the good, bad and ugly with me,  I could trust that we were moving in the right direction.  When my son got older (heading to middle school), a smart special education teacher suggested that he become part of his IEP team.  It was wonderful medicine for him to hear positives from his teachers and it added a level of personal accountability when he realized the adults in his life would be partnering with him with his progress.

I have made checklists here for parents and therapists to use in the IEP process.

Hopefully it will help make the process a more positive experience for everyone!  What are some great tips for IEPs that you have?

Do you speak school?


I had the good fortune to attend a conference where Dr. Barbara Ehren (from my alma mater, the University of Central Florida!) spoke on literacy and the common core in schools.  Her focus was adolescents, but her message was really applicable to all ages.  As she was sharing research and her experience, it clicked for me that shifting to the language of the common core has created a kind of communication disorder in all of our kids.  Stay with me here.  Dr. Ehren pointed out that there are different kinds of literacy for each academic content area (particularly in middle through high school). For example, in history dates are critical information but in math it is not.  Science is all about describing specific information and processes, while literature is about contextualizing language and themes.  Our students have to not only be aware of the language expectations and shifts, but also fluent in these content specific skills to keep up!   She compared it to us asking our students to speak French in period 1, then Spanish in period 2, Russian in period 3 and so on.  No wonder middle schoolers can be so cranky!

The common thread in all academic content is language (*SLPs jumping up and down while cheering*).  This visual does a much better job than I can of explaining how it is intertwined in everything we are asking students to do throughout their day from Kindergarten to college:


In considering what language encompasses, we have to think about all the pre-requisite skills that come before our kids can use language in the classroom successfully.  For kids to be able to listen, speak, read and write in all academic areas, they also have to master semantics, syntax, morphology, pragmatics, phonology, cognition/executive function.  Additionally they need to have the ability to manipulate and play with language to understand the nuances of words and be able think about thinking. It’s a wonder they don’t curl up into a fetal position and hide in their lockers for the day!

Even our “on level” kids are struggling in be able to show what they know with the core, never mind our kids with language impairments!  So what can we do?  Dr. Ehren suggested that we need to help kids understand and differentiate knowledge, skills and strategies in literacy.  Knowledge is what you know + a skill is something you can do = a strategy is putting these two pieces together to figure out new information.  Our role as teachers, SLPs and parents is to help our kids learn how to learn and to use strategies that are both effective and efficient.  Strategies that work well for one student may not work for another, so it really is an individual learning curve.  We are all in this together and need to work collaboratively to support our students.  It’s not my job or your job, it’s our job. So what’s the magic ingredient for success?  Get ready……we have to talk to each other and our students.  I know, big reveal, but honestly we don’t do this particularly well with the ever growing to-do lists we all seem to have.

In thinking about strategies, I started looking at different blogs and websites for ideas.  I love teacherspayteachers, and found this wonderful visual for the verbs of the common core.If you don’t know what words like analyze and cite mean, how are you going to know what to do? I am a big believer in using visual support for elementary students to connect a picture to word in the classroom and create a lot of materials to go along with the social studies and science units for my kids.  It is interesting to me that what works well for my students with language impairments also benefits our ESOL students, our kids with weak executive function (ADD), our late readers and our kids on the spectrum who decode words without attaching any meaning to what they are reading. Want more information?   Take a peek at Dr. Ehren’s presentation for great examples on supporting literacy across the core (from KSHA presentation 2012).

How do you get from here to there?

picture courtesy of www.mycutegraphics.com

picture courtesy of www.mycutegraphics.com

Predictions and inferences are language arts concepts often used interchangeably , but they don’t mean the same thing.  An inference in reading is to go beyond the author’s words to understand what is not said.  A prediction is taking what the author writes and adding personal knowledge to make a smart guess about what might happen next in the story.  The core is filled with standards that align to these concepts, but for our kids with social language impairments, it is tricky territory.  One of my student’s asked me during a discussion on this topic, “How do you know what you know?”  That question is a great place to start.

Using pictures to teach inference and predicting makes a lot of sense.  One of the strategies we use is to make a movie or get a picture in your mind when we are talking about an idea or experience.  Connecting a visual to a language concept is a powerful tool, particularly if someone has weak executive function skills like retrieval and working memory.  Using pictures to make word maps like these at myeasybee.com , and show how to connect ideas really reinforces these concepts.

Here area some mini-movie clips that you can use to talk about inferences and predicting.  Pinterest has lots of options for pictures as well as using magazines or commercials.

Help your student make personal connections to what they are reading about.  For example, you student may have never visited Hawaii, but maybe they have been to a beach or have seen a palm tree.  Personal connections make it much easier for students to put themselves in “someone else’s shoes” and they are asked to do this often in language arts literature.

I love using books with minimal words or just pictures to begin working on these skills.  My new favorite is Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack.  This simple book follows the adventures of a optimistic rabbit and his pessimistic mouse friend as they share experiences with very different points of view!

Share your great ideas here!