Snow day in NC!!!! Thanks Leon!
Today I thought I would take a detour from my typical blog posting about AAC and talk about the other part of my job (SLP for middle and high schoolers). Never in a million years did I imagine myself working at the secondary level – but now I can’t imagine a world in which I don’t work with adolescents! (at least some of the time)
Working at the secondary level has it’s unique challenges to service delivery. Here are two of the biggest challenges that I have come across, and how I’ve addressed those:
1. Secondary students have limited time. Once students hit middle school, they have classes that they are required to take. Often times, students spend a limited amount of time with each teacher, so teachers are not usually willing to let students miss a class period once/twice per week (not to mention time lost due to testing, assemblies, field trips and required remedial programs). How can you provide service delivery when students only have a limited amount of time in the day?
a. Schedule students in sessions per quarter (rather than sessions once/twice per week). Unlike many of my peers, my schedule is a fluid, ever changing thing. So when a teacher says, “Johnny can’t come to see you today because he failed his science test and needs to retake it.” I can say, “OK, I will catch him twice next week” to make up for the lost session. FLEXIBILITY is key! Scheduling times per quarter is also helpful when state mandated testing rolls around. In my experience, this is a horrible time for students and speech language therapy is the last thing on their minds. If I can avoid it, I do not schedule therapy on days students are testing. Remember though – you should not schedule students based on your convenience! The team decides what level of support the student needs to access his/her IEP goals – which you can translate into times per quarter.
b. Parent and elementary SLP education. The other secondary SLPs and I have done some brief inservices for our elementary counterparts to inform them of the unique scheduling demands of middle and high school. One of the biggest differences is that students are not with one teacher throughout the day – so if they miss that day’s lesson, there’s no making it up that day and the class will move forward without them. In my district, students at the resource level may get one small group resource class with a resource teacher per day. THAT’S IT! Student’s may get put into collaborative classes (resource teacher or teaching assistant in the class with the gen ed teacher) as needed. This means that the resource teacher has one period per day to preteach/reteach concepts, provide opportunities for test retakes, and help students complete assignments (not to mention any required remedial programs that must be provided). Once we lay this out for parents and SLPs, we can talk about ways the SLP can support the student within the secondary environment. Which brings me to my next point…
c. CONSIDER OTHER MODELS OF SERVICE DELIVERY. I think the biggest problem that I see is the Related Service Support Description (e.g. support plan) is considered a means to exit students from speech and language supports, or provide less supports. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!!
Let me explain: Sally is a 6th grader with a significant learning disability. She is reading independently at a mid 3rd grade level and writing is below grade level. She works hard and is turning in most of her homework (which she completes in her resource class with the resource teacher). Her homework completion is saving her grade, because she is failing tests (as you would imagine since her skills are not at the 6th grade level). Classroom instruction is moving much too fast and the gap is growing.
An 8th grade general education teacher asked me, “When students come to my class, I expect to lay the 8th grade set of bricks. What do I do when I have a student who does not have the 7th grade (or even the 3rd grade) bricks?”
Enter specialized instruction team! Wouldn’t it make more sense for the EC teacher to be able to spend more time with the general education teacher to adapt assignments to ensure that they are on Sally’s level (IN ALL CLASSES), so Sally can benefit from the instruction and learn? It also stands to reason that the speech and language pathologist could provide input as well to address language needs in the classroom. This way, Sally is getting that support throughout the day (not just in speech and language therapy sessions). Unfortunately, there is limited or no time for this collaboration throughout the day. Everyone’s schedule (including the kids’) is so jam packed, that we are relying on our predetermined times set on the IEP instead of looking at the bigger picture here. It’s like putting band-aids on a broken bone.
2. Student Motivation – As students enter adolescence, they worry about “being cool,” yet strive to fit in with their peers. In my experience, pulling students out of class to work with me is the worst thing I could possibly do for their self esteem. No amount of prize boxes or bribery can make up for that. I see VERY few students 1:1 for this reason. Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve worked very hard to build positive relationships with my students and have done so with many of them. It has become clear that INCLUSION YIELDS THE BEST RESULTS.
a. INCLUSION. So there are many levels of inclusion (more on this later), but I hate going into the classroom and acting as support staff for a teacher’s lesson. I do not want to go into the classroom and walk around keeping students on task and “getting them through” the assignment. For me the best place to do this inclusion is by “pushing in” to student’s small group resource classes. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly built relationships with resource teachers, and they allow me to come into their classrooms once or twice per week to delver a lesson to the whole class (usually 5-6 students). We give it a jazzy name like “Writer’s Workshop” (haha). I create lessons that are targeting the language based needs of a couple of students in the class; however, the entire group benefits from the instruction. This set up gives me the best chances at student participation and allows the resource teacher to see what I’m doing so he/she can carry that skill over into other lessons. For example, I have been working on teaching my 6th graders how to write a paragraph using a 4 square graphic organizer. Now, when the student is asked to write a paragraph in Language Arts, the resource teacher in that collaborative class can refer back to the graphic organizer that students used in Writer’s Workshop (disclaimer: we call it Writer’s Workshop, but reading comprehension or other language based objectives can easily be addressed).
A good resource for this is Western Michigan’s (Go Broncos!) Writing Lab Outreach Project – found here.
All of this makes me wonder, what if we changed the traditional views of speech therapy? What if I primarily served as a consultant for teachers (both EC and gen ed) to address language based needs in the classroom? Would I still lead Writer’s Workshops and drive instruction through student data? – ABSOLUTELY!
How are others serving their students?