Escape Speech Room Boredom

escape-blog-pic-template

I love a good puzzle and a challenge, so naturally my curiosity was piqued when my son came home after a Breakout adventure with his friends.  These adventures are themed rooms where you are “locked” in, such as a jewel heist or the CDC during a Zombie outbreak, until you solve several clues. They are elaborate and creative fun and the group has to work together, or nobody gets out alive  wins the challenge. After thinking about how cool this idea is, my second thought was why not try this in speech?

One of the skills that I find I need to address over and over again with my social language students is the concept of working in a group successfully with peers.  There are so many social concepts to scaffold prior to working in a group such as sharing personal space, whole body or active listening skills, turn taking, maintaining a topic,  perspective taking, emotional regulation, executive function and more!  However, we are requiring even our Pre-K kiddos to master this skill pretty quickly in the school setting.  These skills are also embedded in the common core under the Speaking and Listening strands  Working cooperatively is a life skill and if our kids can’t learn to develop these skills in their early years, how do you think college, jobs or even living in a community is going to go?  Not well.

Out of this skill set, my Connect the Dots: Cornucopia Caper group work product was born! I wanted a fun way to work on a tough social skill with my upper grade students.  It’s always good to shake it up a bit to avoid boredom, right?

cornucopia-caper-8x8-cover

I created a print and go packet of activities perfect for November social groups with seven puzzles and challenges to solve.  I set up a secret mission for my students and they must work together to solve all of the challenges (logic and physical) to “escape” the speech room.   I have included templates for group rules and a rubric for data collection on this skill set.

ctd-group-rules-up-close

Setting up for success

There are “How to Use” instructions included as well as mission descriptions for your students and an instruction guide/answer key for the SLP in each section.

img_3546

7 challenges to solve

Your students need to work together to solve each puzzle,  like this Pilgrim’s Peril physical challenge  (the construction paper is the Mayflower and the floor is the ocean, all must share space to stay on the boat for thirty seconds).

ctd-physical-challenge

Pilgrim’s Peril

The missions can be completed in one or even over two sessions, if the students work together.  There are two HELP cards included for the SLP to intervene if they cannot figure out a puzzle or are having difficulty working together.

The last mission is the “key” to escape and they receive a mission accomplished clue as the meet each challenge. These use these clues to solve a riddle.  I also tell my students, because they tend to be very literal thinkers, that when I tell them they are working to find the key to escape the speech room, this doesn’t mean we are actually locked in the room.  This reduces anxiety just a bit before we start the activity.  If the idea of a timer frustrates your students within the challenges, you don’t have to use it, it’s just a suggestion to move the activity along.  The goal is successfully working together, not beating the clock.

I hope this has given you a fun idea to try when practicing the social concepts of working successfully in a group !  This product is the first in a series, so check back soon for Holiday Hijinks, the next in my Connect the Dots series!

How do you work on the social concept of working in a group successfully with your students?

 

 

 

Cyber Monday Funday!

linky cybersale

What’s even better than Black Friday bargains?  The Cyber-Monday Sale on TeachersPayTeachers!  I am linking up with Jenna Rayburn for a What’s In Your Cart? linky party to highlight some holiday themed products from my store as well as some incredibly creative products from a few amazing SLPs!  Hint:  you should follow their TPT stores so that you can see the great materials they make too!!  Don’t forget to pop over to Jenna’s blog, Speech Room News,  to find TONS of SLP links for their linky recommendations too!

On Monday, November 30-December 1st, many stores will be having storewide sales on their products (including mine), BUT as a bonus gift, TPT is giving you an additional promo code to bring your discounts up to as much as 28% (use promo code: SMILE).  I feel like Oprah, YOU get a discount, and YOU get a discount!  So here are a few of my favorite things  (you sang that too, didn’t you?)  that are in my cart and my store (click on the pictures for the links):

What's In My Cup?  Inferences and Vocabulary              Untangle the Message:  Summarizing

Peppermint Point of View

 

My SmartmouthSLP holiday themed social language products will take you from your littles to your middles (and beyond)!  These seasonally themed activities are perfect to work on inferences, similarities/differences, point of view and Tier 2 vocabulary for summarizing

I am LOVING this whole body listening product from Daria over at Speech Paths!

WHOBLES

How cute is this Winter themed Feelings product from my friend Meredith at the Peachie Speechie?

winter feelings.jpg

Holiday themed carryover ideas for families are wonderful this time of year!  Check out this packet by Jenna Rayburn :

Learning through play handouts

Last but not least, Short and Sweet Speech has an adorable Naughty or Nice themed social skills product that I can’t wait to buy:

Santa's Social Skills: Naughty or Nice?

Happy shopping and Happy Holidays!!!

Social Graces

grace

This week is holiday break for Thanksgiving and boy, am I thankful!!  The year has been a roller coaster of meetings, trainings and learning to be a problem solving ninja.  I was having lunch with my fellow speechies this week during a brief lull in my schedule.  As we were sharing dessert, Dove dark chocolate peppermint squares (I know it’s not Christmas yet; don’t judge, they are delicious), a topic came up that got me thinking.

We were sharing our week, and I mentioned a meeting that I attended with the most lovely parents.  Kind, engaged and asking great questions, they were a family that was an absolute joy.  It was a breath of fresh air!!  It woke me up to the fact that these interactions have become far and few between. Social graces are apparently becoming a rare commodity, not just for our kids, but in the adults as well!  An aggressive mentality was evident in several meetings I have attended this year, with an adult screaming at the teachers and therapists.  It is always shocking to me, so when it started happening multiple times, I thought long and hard about why it was occurring.  And yes, I realize I was doing a mental FBA (functional behavioral analysis), it’s a job hazard.

When did shouting, swearing and threatening people become an accepted way to  advocate for a child?  I have been on the parental side of the IEP table too and it is stressful.  It is our job as a mom/dad/grandparent to try and do what is best for our children.  However, I tried to communicate positively how much I appreciated the effort by the people helping my child and asked questions to clarify the IEP when it wasn’t clear.  I gave my input as well, especially when I didn’t agree with something.   I was in turn. treated with respect and kindness throughout the process over the years, and it benefited my son.

It is not just a parental issue either.  I have seen poor social skills in teachers, therapists and school staff as evidenced by them checking their phones and texting, having loud side conversations unrelated to the meeting or demonstrating “unwelcoming” body language in meetings.  I am thinking of subtly hanging a Whole Body Listening Larry poster on the wall.  Seriously, how can we expect to teach our kids successful social skills when the adults in their lives aren’t modeling or using them as well?

Human beings are involved in this process, so we aren’t going to be perfect.  We will make mistakes and misunderstand things.  We should take ownership when we mess up, apologize sincerely and try to do better moving forward. We should demonstrate common sense and graciousness (thank you for your wisdom and handbags, Kate Spade!). When there is a problem, we work together to solve it.  We, as a team, are all working for the greater good of the child, no matter which seat you occupy at the IEP table.

Do you see this trend as well?  How do you diffuse or handle these moments?

 

 

 

Deconstructing the Franken-goal.

Franken goal coverI read a lot of IEPs during the school year as I supervise CFs and mentor new hires in my large county of almost 200 SLPs.  I support all areas of communication with my speechies, but social language is the area near and dear to my heart.  Because of this, I see a lot of goals written regarding conversation and turn taking.  Turn taking in and of itself is an important skill, both verbally and non-verbally.  We can’t function as a “me first/all about me” community…unless you have a show on the E! network.  However, I cringe a bit when I come across a goal that looks like this:

The student will participate in 4-6 turn taking cycles, maintaining the topic of conversation and appropriate body orientation, with appropriate greeting/farewell, on three trials each session with no more than one cue.”

To be fair, most of these Franken-goals come with the student from another county or state.  The poor SLP usually looks at me with terror in their eyes when they realize that they will have to take data on this goal (in addition to the many other goals that are also in the IEP).  I suspect an advocate may have been involved in the construction of this mash-up of many different goals into one.  I try to reassure the SLP that we are going to dismantle the goal piece by piece and we will build it back into more functional, measurable and understandable goals. I also include the parent in this conversation so that they are reassured that we are still going to address the areas of concern, and that they are part of our team.  Michelle Garcia Winner’s Think Social materials have a wealth of well written goal suggestions if you need some ideas.

Most of the pieces of this goal are not wrong or bad,  in fact they may be necessary for the student to progress not only socially but academically as well in class discussions. Keep in mind that for our kids with social language impairments, we are measuring their progress against themselves, not necessarily what their neurotypical peers are doing. Let’s start to deconstruct and take a look at the separate areas embedded in the goal:

4-6  conversational turn taking cycles:   Do most adults continue a topic through 4-6 turns?  Not often, but a first grader?  Nope.  Maybe 2-3 at most before the topic changes in natural conversation and definitely not 4-6 cycles, three times in a thirty minute session. We need to break down the steps to having a conversation, practice often, start small and build from there! I have a free conversation football game that includes these steps in my TPT store HERE .

Topic maintenance:  is it a topic of the student’s choosing or a random topic assigned?  I don’t know about you, but I am willing to talk a lot more about something I am interested in.  Are they able to transition to related topics or change the topic completely?  Do they only talk about one topic all the time?

Body orientation can mean a lot of things.  Is the goal to turn your body towards the person you are speaking with?  Turning your face towards the person and engaging in eye contact? Adjusting personal space with other people in the conversation? Whole body listening skills are critical to participating successfully in a conversation.

Greeting/Farewell, ugh.  I really don’t like this as a goal at all and would much rather use peer models and reinforce natural ways to walk into and out of a room.  Very few of us always say “hello” when we walk into a room of our peers and “good-bye” every time we leave.  My teens tip their chin up and give a short, “s’up?” and my fellow SLPS in the building give me a little wave as they walk by me in the halls. We tap into a lot of social skills during therapy naturally, without having to write a goal for each and every one.

Cues:  what kind of cues?  Verbal, visual, tactile?  The goal is independence, so why write in a generic “no more than one cue”?  Note how you are cueing, modeling or prompting your students in your data as you scaffold towards independence.  Don’t forget to share what works for your kids with the adults in their world for carryover.

I really think focusing on 3-5 clear goals is PLENTY, just make them understandable, measurable and functional for your student. An IEP is a fluid document, so I would rather set a few, reachable goals and then meet to add more within the year rather than try to collect data on a bunch of huge goals that may not help our students progress outside of the therapy setting.  No more Franken-goals, they are much too scary!

1,2,3, All Eyes on Me!!

photo 2

I was attending a “Think Social” conference (surprise, surprise!) several years ago and Michelle Garcia Winner shared a video of her working with a little girl.  She was attempting to see if the child could follow her line of sight to demonstrate joint attention and being able to literally see from someone else’s perspective.  Now this doesn’t sound that hard, but wow what an eye opener this video was for me!  The child, who was about 9 at the time, could not do it.  She even tried to put her face in front of MGW’s face to see what she was looking at, all to no avail.

I tried this little test with several of my students with ASD when I got back to school amd about half of them couldn’t do this either!  How had I missed this???  If they cannot follow very simple line of direction gaze, what are they missing in social interactions?  Pretty much everything.  I love the description of “thinking with your eyes” that also comes from Social Thinking and Whole Body Listening concepts.  It’s not just polite to look at people when they talk with you, it is a critical skill to gain information (verbal and non-verbal) and to let your conversational partner know that you are paying attention to what they are doing and/or saying!  We had a LOT of work to do.

One of the obstacles I ran into when working on joint attention with eye gaze was that I was looking at the object I wanted the child to look at, but couldn’t really look at their eyes beyond using my peripheral vision! Then I saw these nifty little “finger spies”  at the Dollar Store!  photo (2)

They fit best on skinny. kid sized fingers, but I could wiggle the little guy onto my pointer or pinky and have the kids follow the finger spies AND watch their eye gaze at the same time!!

photo 2
How do you teach this critical concept?  Share here….

 

It’s a Bunny-Palooza!

bunny 1

Spring has sprung in Atlanta (ah-choo!) and it is bunny time!  Our SNP (special needs preschool) class has outdone themselves.   Ms. Daisy created a gorgeous Peter Rabbit bulletin board featuring the kids’ artwork, and Ms. Shanee created a QR code to post a video of her amazing kiddos acting out scenes from the play.  She also added the common core standards embedded in the class play to the board!  I could see this idea being used on a speechie bulletin board too!  Take a peek here:

peter rabbit

We also have a great program for students with autism at our school (don’t you want to work here too??). The creative teachers wrote a PTA grant for not one but TWO bunny hutches on wheels and adopted two adorable class pets (names TBD). They use a visual of red tape on the floor to cue the kids for safe proximity to the bunnies and one of our awesome SLPs, Ms. Sahai, wrote a social story to talk about how to interact with the bunnies gently and safely (example:  touch the bunnies by petting them softly on their back with two fingers).  photo 2

I thought I would add my own twist on our bunny-palooza by creating this FREE spring social activity in my TeachersPayTeachers store HERE . It includes a cute poster of Whole Bunny Listening skills, a short story about meeting and interviewing the Easter Bunny (9 questions and a blank question template included) and an activity for matching and describing emotions with scenarios. These activities tap into the concepts of whole body listening, point of view, perspective taking, conversation, emotions, body language and interpreting social scenarios and are perfect for your elementary students working on these skills!  Hop to it before it’s gone….