Take a Seat, My Friend!

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The Buddy Bench has been in the news for a while, but if you missed it, here’s the gist.  A special bench (the “Buddy Bench”) is designated on the playground for kids to sit on if they don’t have someone to play with.  It is a signal to others that they should come and ask that child to play. I first heard about this idea on the news, when they picked up a story about a little boy named Christian (you can read his story HERE ) and his idea.  There is an entire website (www.buddybench.org) with ideas, a teaching video and a buddy blog with stories of the benches around the world.

My school installed one of these benches on our playground, but I heard one of the students say that he sat there, but no one asked him to play.  My heart hurt for him and I started thinking about why that may have happened.  Many of my friends with social language impairments struggle with the unstructured time at recess.  Too many hidden rules, social anxiety with initiating conversation or play, and the fast pace of social interaction outside are all hurdles that make it easier to wander around the periphery of the playground alone.   And just like any new concept in school, the kids have to be taught the rule of how to use the bench.

It made me so happy to walk down the hall a few weeks later and see that our counselor, Christina, had made a bulletin board (see pictures below) to do just that!  She had the kids make mini-posters of how to use the bench and even social scripts on what to say and do!  The information that I read about the bench also encourages schools to designate peer mentors (aka play pals) who will watch for kids on the bench and actively include them.  This is a strictly voluntary job, but oh how it warms my heart to see so many kids have empathy for others! In an increasingly academic focused environment, it is nice to see kindness and inclusion being fostered as well.

I love this teaching video and this one to share with a class, and prep the kids on how to use the Buddy Bench.  These videos really function as social teaching stories (and can be shared at home with families for carryover).  How great would these be in a public park to generalize a skill taught in school?  If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to call our local Parks and Recreation department and invite our Mayor to propose we do just that!

Does your school have Buddy Benches and if so how are they being introduced?

Celebrating MLK Day with a social language craftivity!

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The life and words of Martin Luther King Jr. are embedded throughout the city of Atlanta (and beyond), where I live.  I love the idea of volunteering to honor his lifelong work by helping others on MLK Jr. Day.   The social challenges that sparked this Pastor’s passion for peace are complex and difficult for some of my students to understand.   With my younger students, I like to focus on the concept of why we should help others.  It fits beautifully into a social thinking framework of taking someone else’s perspective, thinking about how our actions and words make someone else feel and the value of doing something kind for another person, without expecting anything in return.

At first glance, these are pretty big social concepts, right?  However, when you look at Dr. King’s vision and the words of his sermons, you will see the essence of his message is to love and accept other people.  A big part of being able to do this is to be able to think about how other people might feel and think, in relationships to our words and actions.  In order to talk about this concept, we break big picture ideas into scaffolded steps,  like this helping hand wreath.

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I found these great free clip art hands  from Teacher’s Clipart on TPT.   I printed them, cut out the shapes, and then let my kids pick a hand.  Your students can also trace their hands on construction paper and cut them out too for an ink saving version with a fine motor bonus.  Add to the lesson with Readworks , a free website that has many articles at different comprehension levels/grades that help us talk about MLK in the context of history and social change like this second grade passage with great pictures.  It is important to talk about why we honor someone, what that looks like and how helping other people can do this.

Next, I ask the kids to think of a way they can help someone and we talk about the idiom “give someone a hand”.  They can then write or draw how they can help someone on their paper hand.   It doesn’t have to be formal volunteering, it can be as simple as bringing the garbage can in for an elderly neighbor, holding the door open for someone or picking up your room without your mom asking you to do it. The object is for their actions or words to help someone  (and in turn that person will have good thoughts and feelings about them)!  It can even be a “secret mission” as the point is not recognition for a good deed or even telling others what you did, but that doing for others makes us feel good too.  They often come back and share how it went and it is a great time to connect how their actions and words made other people feel.  I hope this activity lights a tiny flame of altruism that they carry throughout their lives and effects positive social change for them too.

How do you teach the bigger concepts of kindness and service?  Share here…

 

My Social Calendar.

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I loved the Kindness calendars that were floating around Facebook and Pinterest this holiday season, but why should kindness only be on the calendar during December?  So I made my own “social calendar” for January (you can click on the link below to print your own).   I tried to add ideas for my students to challenge themselves to stretch a bit socially this month, including adding some volunteer/service ideas.   You can make your own personalized version, if you have Powerpoint (the calendar templates for a whole year are available for free and you can add/edit to your heart’s desire). I’d love if you would share your calendar creations too!

I may make one to encourage my introverted self to step out a bit more in the social world this year too!  Happy New Year to you and hope to see you back here soon…

Heidi

Print your free copy here:  january-social-calendar

Stuck Thinking

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I had the misfortune of walking into a spider’s web the other morning.  I was caught up in my own thoughts and didn’t see the web draped across the hedges until it was too late.  There’s nothing quite like a spider web freak out, and I am glad no one was nearby to witness it (or they would still be on the ground, laughing).  It took me a good twenty minutes to untangle myself from the sticky webbing, and at least another twenty minutes to calm down.

This experience made me think of my students who get caught in their own thoughts but can’t get “unstuck”. Mental health is a big issue in our society, especially with our older kids. Many of our students with social language impairments, anxiety, and ADD struggle with managing their focus internally and externally.   It’s easy for someone who doesn’t struggle with these thoughts to say, “Just stop thinking about it!”, but it is harder than it seems.   Negative or perseverative thought patterns often upset our students, keep them disengaged in learning and conversation, and make it difficult for them to establish friendships if they become stuck in a chronically negative mindset.

This is one of those gray areas that overlap speech therapy and counseling’s scope of practice.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other, as our students can benefit from the support of both specialists.  From a social language perspective, helping our kids connect the concepts of keeping their “brains in the group“, taking the perspective of others, connecting how their choices might make other people think or feel, and emotional self-regulation  are all valuable tools in their coping toolbox. Using a five point scale to talk about the size of a problem and matching the size of a reaction to that problem, are also helpful strategies with our kids. We need to make sure that we are working on these skills  outside of the moment, as our students are often not available when they perseverate.  They need to hear the message that they don’t have to do this on their own,  and there are supports all around them!  If the anxiety or compulsive thoughts are overwhelming for the student, then we need to dialogue with the family and encourage them to involve their pediatrician or psychiatrist in the conversation.

A friend once told me that she can’t be in her head too much because it’s a bad neighborhood to linger in.  What she meant was that she can get stuck in dark and negative thoughts when she thinks too much on her own.  She needed to talk through her worries with others who could put her concerns into perspective when she couldn’t. This is a similar  premise of cognitive behavioral therapy .  CBT is a “short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.”  This sounds like an approach that aligns with social thinking concepts and emotional regulation strategies, doesn’t it?

I created a TPT product for my older students to work on strategies and problem solving to get unstuck in their social thinking.  It walks them through the steps to learn to “change the channel” in their mindset from negative to positive! Want to check it out?   Social Skills: Change the Channel from Negative to Positive .

 For your younger students, I really love the book by Kari Dunn Buron,  When My Worries Get Too Big , or Julia Cook’s fantastic book,  Wilma Jean the Worry Machine .

How do you work with students who are chronically stuck in an internal or negative mindset? Share here!

Social Language and Literacy (part 2)

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Last week, we talked about using books for social language concepts with younger students in part one of this series.  This week, I want to talk about using literature to work on these concepts with your middle and high school students.  I had the opportunity to be invited to at TPT brunch recently in Atlanta.   (Side note: if the TeachersPayTeachers brunch rolls through your area, grab an invite and GO!  There were so many great ideas shared and it was fun to connect with TPT people in real life!) One of the speakers was a fabulous local TPT teacher, Heather LeBlanc of Brainy Apples .  She shared about how she uses literacy across the curriculum with her students.  Our conversation sparked some ideas on how to use literature with my upper grade students with social language impairments.

Heather explained how she used The Diary of Anne Frank  as part of the difficult unit on the Holocaust in her social studies class.  In addition to the novel, she found some amazing resources in our local community through Kennesaw State University including the library lending actual materials (Traveling Trunks) from that period of history and providing connections to survivors of the Holocaust to come speak to students.  How amazing to hear the story of someone who was witness to these historical events! From a social perspective, connecting a personal experience to our thoughts and feelings in deeper and more meaningful ways to words in a book is a powerful teaching tool.

Her great ideas caused me to think more about the literature  that is used in our upper grades.  The stories are often complex and require a lot of background knowledge to understand the stated themes as well as the more subtle ones that are woven through the books.  For example, my own high schooler is reading A Raisin in the Sun.  This story contains themes about dreams, hopes, racism, poverty, pride, family and suffering. These are concepts that often pose a challenge to our students with social language impairments, and frankly can be difficult for even our neurotypical students to understand. We often ask our readers to take the perspective of other people or experiences that our students haven’t had.  Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is hard work socially!

Breaking down these bigger concepts into the basics of what the characters (and we as people) feel, think and say, can help us understand the character’s actions, motivations and point of view more accurately.  Cause and effect (walking through this step by step), identifying problems and possible solutions and discussing how a character’s actions impact other characters in the story all have a social language basis. Graphic organizers are an effective tool to pull apart these social pieces for your students and there is a great set for free from The Curriculum Corner HERE .  While this set is for 4th and 5th grade students, I use them with my older students with social language impairments as they are clear and organized well for the concepts.  Take a look at the Common Core to see how much is already embedded in the classroom ELA standards for our beginning middle school students!

I love using the resources from Sparknotes and Schmoop  to help my older students understand the themes and social meaning of stories.  Schmoop even has a video summary (Schmoop tube), in a three-minute condensed version using student friendly language, of many of the literature units for middle and high schoolers.  As I was Googling A Raisin in the Sun materials, I happened to stumble across this class assignment for students to develop a play list of music that would align with the themes of the story. What a great way to demonstrate understanding of these themes!  You can get pretty creative in working on these skills but don’t reinvent the wheel, look around for lots of great ideas that are already available.  Great SLPs (and teachers) work smarter not harder, right?

What are some ways you work on social language concepts with the upper grades ELA curriculum?  Share here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fits to a T

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With the Presidential election around the corner, I have noticed quite a few slogans on T shirts that make me laugh out loud or cringe in embarrassment.  Whoever you are voting for, there is sure to be a T shirt to make a statement!  This got me thinking about T shirt slogans and the thoughts we have about the people wearing them (well, at least I do!).  What a fun way to talk about the social language concepts of inferences, conversation topics and being politically correct in today’s world (and the hidden rules that go along with this)!

I found this great freebie on TPT from Cara’s Creative Playground with a variety of clip art baseball style T shirts. You can make your own slogan activities for your late elementary through high school students to figure out the meaning of the slogan or guess who might wear these shirts.  If you don’t want to make your own, the internet is FULL of great examples (preview first my friends, preview first). On a related note, I also found a cool website, Stereotype Design, that gives a few sentences on a T shirt and you have to guess the movie ( well, hello figuring out the big picture from details!).

You can create a whole Pinterest board of t shirt slogans to work on these skills as well (or just click for my board here; it’s a growing work in progress, just like me).  Walk them through a few examples to practice together, then see how they do!

The questions you can pose with the slogans could include:

What do you think the message means/intent?  

Is this literal or sarcastic? 

Who might wear this shirt?  Who would NEVER wear this shirt?

What do you think other people might think or feel when they see this shirt?  

Where would it be okay to wear this shirt?  Where would it NOT be okay to wear this shirt? 

What first impression do you have of someone wearing this t shirt?  

What background knowledge might you need to understand the slogan?

Would you wear this t shirt?  Why or why not?

If you disagree or are upset with a t shirt slogan, should you say something?  Why or why not?

*Ask your students to take pictures of any other interesting t shirts they see to extend this activity.  You can call it “operation slogan sleuth”! I would clearly state the rule that the slogan can’t have any profanity, especially with your middle schoolers on up.

Any good slogan t shirts that you have seen recently?  Share here!

Start With the finish in Mind.

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There are BIG international sports competitions that are starting this month and while I am not watching all the events, I do love the moving highlights of the athletes’ personal stories.  The details differ a bit here and there, but what strikes me is the theme that their journey to reaching their goal usually started with the end, not the beginning.  Visualizing themselves winning an event, standing on the podium and receiving a medal were all part of the training process for these elite athletes way before they qualified for the first event.  This wasn’t daydreaming, it was purposefully envisioning what they wanted to see in their futures.

This idea isn’t just for athletes, it applies to our students too.  SLP Sarah Ward , of Cognitive Connections,  presented at our GOSSLP conference I attended earlier this year. Her focus was  on beginning with the end in mind when developing executive function skills, an “a-ha” moment for me as a SLP!  She shared a fun therapy technique of putting on our “future glasses” (any funky sunglasses you could find in a dollar store or even making and decorating your own paper versions) to visualize ourselves walking through a plan successfully. If you start with the finish in mind, it’s easier to visualize the steps you need to take to get there.  If you don’t know where you are headed, it’s easy to get lost.

It’s the beginning of a brand new school year for me and this visualizing technique is something I want to try for myself and my students!  Why not think about where you want your therapy sessions to lead ?  How do you see yourself developing new skills this year? What about teaching your students to “see” themselves in the future with clear articulation, strong social skills or participating in a class discussion successfully?  For my students with social language impairments, it is hard to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, including their own in the future! This visualization may help motivate us through the difficult times when we don’t see progress, have a set back, or we are just plain tired. This would be a great way to start your first few sessions this year when you are setting your goals with your students!

Would you use visualizing with your students or yourself in speech therapy this year?  Why or why not?  Share here!