A wise speech/language pathologist once said, "the best language therapy can be conducted with just a piece of paper and a pencil."
With the explosion of Pinterest and cute speech ideas on sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, it's tempting to stray from this advice and instead create over the top, fun-focused speech language sessions. But is this best practice for the school based setting?
A short quiz: Which of the following traditional activities completed in school-based speech/language sessions for elementary age students have academic merit that extends beyond the speech room?
A. In order to work on narrative language skills, students sequence pictures of how to make microwave popcorn. Then, students retell the sequence.
B. In order to target the ability to follow directions, the SLP gives students commands such as, "open the book, touch your nose, and clap two times." The students take turns completing the activities. For every correct answer, students get to move a space on a game board.
C. To help build auditory comprehension, the SLP reads a short story aloud and then asks students questions about the story. After every question, students spin a dice to earn points.
If you answered "none of these," then you would be correct according to a recent article in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools by Geraldine Wallach.
While each of these activities may provide some benefits, Wallach encourages school-based SLPs to
"think of language intervention goals as those that emphasize students' active engagement in their own learning and those that help them acquire the knowledge, skills, and strategies needed to access and retain curricular content, as well as dealing with the social and emotional pressures that accompany the changing demands across time."
With this in mind, at Speech Language Literacy Lab, we encourage school based SLPs to put down fun games, and pick up some pencils (and academic content) when working with elementary age students and older.
Here are some ways that we are doing this with our elementary aged students:
- Teach vocabulary that crosses content areas: Dr. Alan Kahmi recently discussed the importance of not just teaching processing, but also teaching content. At SL3, we teach students vocabulary words that cross academic content areas. Using student academic materials, we teach students how to mentally organize new vocabulary to aide with retrieval and how to use new words meaningfully.
- Teach vocabulary-learning strategies: While it is crucial to help students develop vocabulary, it is also important to help students build metacognitive awareness of learning strategies. At SL3, we teach students to answer the question: "When I come to a word that I don't know, what can I do?" Teaching students about reading conventions can help them learn new words independently. For example, what does it mean when words are set off in parenthesis? What about bold-face? When is it important to find out the meaning of an unknown word and when it is acceptable to just skip it and move on?
- Teach morphology to expand vocabulary: Instruction in prefixes and suffixes will help students greatly expand their vocabulary.
- Teach "internal language" reading comprehension strategies: When students actively comprehend, they self-monitor their comprehension. We help students build their metacognitive awareness by practicing self questioning, "What is happening now?" (summarizing) and "What do I think will happen next?" (predicting).
- Teach text structure and signal words: Students with Language Learning Disability often struggle with vocabulary and complex syntactic structures present in reading. One way to help is to teach text structures and signal words. At SL3, we feel strongly that students should be able to create their own graphic organizers using nothing more than paper and pencil. If a student can not reproduce the organizational system, it is not academically functional.
- Teach children how to self-advocate: There is no research to support that SLPs can expand a student's working memory skills. Therefore, if a student has difficulty following complex directions or processing auditory information, we need to teach self-help skills. Practice having students raise their hand to ask a teacher, "Can you repeat that please but slower?" or, "Can you show me an example?" or, "What does this word mean?" You can also teach students to ask a peer for help (make sure the teacher accepts this accommodation!)
- Teach study skills: Our ultimate goal is to make students self-sufficient learners. Helping students (especially upper elementary students) learn how to study is also an effective use of therapy time. Students benefit from direct strategy instruction in study skills such as note taking, mnemonic devices, self-quizzing using folded paper, and identification of key concepts (bolded words, chapter review information).
At Speech Language Literacy Lab, we believe that school-based therapy needs to be academic in focus. For pre-school and part of kindergarten, therapy can be play-based and include toys. However, elementary-aged and above language therapy should mostly happen within the context of the classroom setting.
Follow us on facebook for future blogs where we will explore academic therapy goals more thoroughly.