Learning to Give Lesson Plans

1 Feb

Last year when the Points of Light Institute, generationOn awarded me the Teacher’s Aid Program Grant to build a technology component into our Speech & Language Therapy program, I committed to utilizing five generationOn service-learning lesson plans with my students.  Learning to Give is a youth service organization under the Points of Lights/ generationOn parent organization, that educates youth about the importance of philanthropy, the civil society sector, and civic engagement.   The Learning to Give website offers over 1,600 K-12 lesson plans and educational resources.  It is theirs mission is to foster  a greater sense of community and social responsibility in young people through volunteerism and giving.  One of the things I love about their site, is that they coded each lesson plan to a state standard (you can even look up your individual state for their specific curriculum standards), which means you can easily fit a service learning project into any aspect of your curriculum.  You can address the grade level curriculum standards while connecting students to their community, cultivating empathy and building awareness around the critical impact of  volunteerism on society.

These lesson plans work especially well for Speech Therapy in the school setting.  First, many of lesson plans are literacy-based, so based on your student’s IEP goals, you can target a variety of skills.    You can always start with a picture walk through of the book and have students predict what will happen in the story, go over key concepts before reading the story, include new vocabulary on your word walls, pause frequently to ask questions, check for comprehension, talk about how the characters are feeling and what motivates them to act the way they do.  Furthermore, the goal of any Speech & Langauge therapy is to help kids (or adults) be the most functional and effective communicators they can be.  Evidence-based practice indicates that a natural, meaningful context for communication is most effective for generalization of targeted skills.  Service-learning provides a wonderful opportunity to place students in meaningful communication contexts.

At PS20, some of our 2nd grade speech students read a book that illustrates how responsible citizens participate in their communities.  We read the book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and after identifying, describing and sequencing the behaviors of the main character, we extended the story to our own lives and brainstormed ways that we could make the world more beautiful.  Students picked one idea from a list they generated to elaborate on and illustrate.

Teachers and Speech Therapists alike definitely check out the Learning to Give site.  I can guarantee you’ll find some great lesson plans to incorporate into any unit of study in addition to monthly project ideas and a ton of other resources.  Let me know what you end up using! I’d love to hear how these lessons are supplementing curriculum standards to foster a greater sense of social responsibility in your classrooms.

Thank you Points of Light Institute, GenerationOn and Learning to Give for all the work you do and for creating this critically important, inspiring, user-friendly website.


Collaborate or Work Alone?

17 Jan


I came across an interesting article in the New York Times about the growing tendency toward collaboration in all sectors of society, including education.  Working in groups i.e. “group thinking” is  better than working alone, right?  Not always.

The author, Susan Cain says, “…we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning…Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time. And we must recognize that introverts …need extra quiet and privacy to do their best work.”  Cain expounds upon the claim that, “research strongly suggests… people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. ”  Yet contrary to this theory, it seems that our schools are rallying more and more around the themes and practices of collaboration, group work and group brainstorming sessions.  And not without good reason; there is plenty of existing research to support the move toward more collaboration.

From my experience, it seems more accurate to say that students learn best and are most creative when they are actively engaged in the learning process.  Groups do have the ability to engage students in the learning process, which is why working in groups offers many benefits to a classroom environment.  On the flip side, group work is distracting to some learners and can stifle individual creativity.  As special educators and communication specialists, we know that there is no one size fits all model when it comes to student engagement.  Fostering a breeding ground for learning and creativity requires a highly individualized investigation into each child’s disposition, interests and needs.

Group work and group thinking has its place and in some situations is a crucial aspect of the learning process.  This is especially true when we look at theories of active learners, and the benefits of peer models in early childhood education or when specifically targeting social skills.  But sometimes we do our best work, our best thinking and our creative juices flow most freely when we offer ourselves the time and space to work alone. Uninterrupted. Unconcerned about group pressures and dynamics.  Uninhibited.

For me, the take home message of this article is, like anything else in life, we need a balance.  We need group work and team work to thrive, but we also need solitude and individual time to create, grow and empower.  This is the way we are as humans, and our schools and workplaces should work to preserve this balance, being careful not to get caught up in too much of any one approach.  It takes a master teacher to approach this balance.  Ideally our classrooms and language therapy sessions are a well oiled machine, where all the parts are working together, integrating, and collaborating, yet creativity is not stifled and the capability some students gain from working alone is not overlooked.

Here is the link to the full New York Times Article by Susan Cain:


Deb Roy: The birth of a word

13 Dec


Last night I watched this fascinating TED talk given by MIT researcher Deb Roy.  Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language — so he wired up his house with video cameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son’s life.  He ended up with 90,000 hours of home video.  Using the 3 years of video footage, Roy traced each new word his son learned to the specific circumstances that led to his son’s acquisition of the word.  For example, he showed how his son’s babbling slowly changed from “gaaaa” into “water.” He looked at every context in which his son heard the word “water” during his first three years of life.  Roy analyzed many variables, such as who was present during each occurrence of the word “water” in the home, what room of the house were they in, and what were the adult language models or how was the word ‘water’ embedded in a sentence?

Roy’s research is data intensive and allowed him to draw conclusions and make connections between environment, language and learning.  He used beautiful, systematic, high-tech graphics to display his data.  The question of how we acquire new words during infancy has been explored readily in the field of language development.  We know that babies learn new words through repeated exposure, that it’s largely dependent on context and surroundings (ie. hearing the word water and seeing water at the same time), and utterance length of the language model (does mom embed the new word in short 1-2 word phrases or in long, complex sentences?).  However, Roy’s data is novel in that the time-lapse technology he uses and his graphic displays have implications for a new way of observing word acquisition over time and provides a closer look at how learning is taking place.

Roy also extends his findings to social media and examines how people behave and communicate in response to specific events in time.  He explores and pinpoints how trends get started, and how new ideas spread, through social media.

Roy’s research both confirmed what we already know about how babies acquire new words and pushed the field of Language & Communication Sciences to a new boundary.  Scientists may have a new way to create models and graphically display language data, connect language circumstances and observe not only language acquisition in infancy, but the larger implications for tracing behavioral patterns through language in social media.

As a Language Development nerd, I found this talk fascinating, and if you have 20 minutes to watch the video, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Curriculum-based Therapy

23 Nov

Hi everyone! I have received so many great comments and emails about aligning Speech-Language Therapy goals with the Common Core Curriculum Standards.  It’s an important discussion as we continuously strive to create more opportunities for our students with language based learning disorders to master classroom curriculum.  The discussion also pushes us toward more collaboration with classroom teachers and helps to keep us on track as we strive toward a more evidenced based practice.

Many therapists out there have asked for advice in aligning IEP goals with the Common Core Standards.  I would also love to get more of the teachers I work with here at PS20 on board with this discussion.  Collaboration is pivotal in a student’s ability to generalize skills from the therapy room to the classroom and makes reinforcement of communication skills across multiple settings more efficient and more salient.

So here is my advice – DON’T reinvent the wheel! Print out the Common Core Standards for the grade level of interest. Start with the standards that are most obviously relevant to Speech & Language Therapy (ie. the Language and Reading standards). The language used in the Common Core Standards is very similar to the language we use to write goals and address the same underlying skills we are targeting with our students in Speech & Language therapy. Use the language they use when it applies to your student’s deficit area.

The extension pieces as we write our IEP goals, and the differences between a Common Core Standard and the goals we write for our students are:

  1. The goal we write is individually selected to meet our student’s needs based on assessment (In NYC we use the RIOT procedure for assessment: Review of records, Interviews with parents/teachers, Observations and Testing).
  2. We add our level of cueing/ prompting that each student needs. There is a hierarchy of prompting and cueing levels that we use in therapy that is very important to the work we do. We need to indicate whether the student will master a goal using modeled cues/prompts, picture/object prompts, verbal cues/prompts continuous/maximum cues/prompts, intermittent cues, minimal cues or if we will require an independent response.
  3. We add in the other components of a SMART goal, just like we’ve been doing for years.  We state the given time frame for mastery, and how we will measure progress (a checklist, rubric, language sample, etc.).

Here are some examples of Common Core Standards aligned with Speech & Language IEP Goals.  You can click on the Common Core Standard to read what the curriculum expectations are for a student in the grade listed for each example:

Common Core Standard:  Reading Foundation Skills, Kindergarten

Speech-Language Therapy IEP Goal:  In one year, given cues ranging from visual plus auditory to auditory only in tasks with increasing difficulty via number of stimulus presented and number of answer choices, {FirstName} will segment sentences, blend and segment syllables, rhyme, blend and manipulate phonemes with 80% accuracy, measured 4 times annually using a rubric and a performance assessment task.

Common Core Standard: Language, Grade 1, Grade 2

Speech-Language Therapy IEP Goal:  In one year, given grade level vocabulary lists, or age appropriate every day words, {FirstName} will demonstrate an understanding of word meanings, relationships and nuances in word meanings by labeling and describing common objects, sorting common objects into categories, identifying antonyms, synonyms, and multiple meaning words, identifying real-life connections between words and their use and distinguishing shades of meaning among verbs describing the same general action (e.g. walk, march, strut, prance) with 80% accuracy and general prompts, using checklists and performance assessment tasks to measure progress 4 times annually in structured therapy activities.

Common Core Standard:  From Speaking & Listening, Kindergarten, 1st Grade

Speech-Language Therapy IEP goal:  In one year, {FirstName} will participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts by following agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g. listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion) continuing a conversation through multiple exchanges, confirming understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally by asking and answering questions, asking and answering questions in order to seek help, get information or clarify, describing familiar people, places, things and events, and adding drawings/ visuals to provide additional details and speaking audibly to express thoughts, feelings and ideas in 8 out of 10 opportunities with general prompts, measured consecutively over 3 sessions across multiple settings using a checklist during unstructured therapy and classroom activities .

Hope this helps to provide a little direction for those of you who are working on this.  I would love any feedback, questions and further discussion on the topic as well, so please email me,  leave a comment or stop by my office if you are in the building!


The Stuttering Foundation- SALE

21 Nov

Teachers, Parents and Therapists!  If you have a child who stutters, take advantage of this Thanksgiving Special from The Stuttering Foundation and pick up some great resources for yourself or child.  Check out the online store here, but order by phone to receive 30% off of your order.

The stuttering foundation is a non-profit organization that offers a comprehensive collection of books, brochures, flyers and DVDs for parents, teachers and students.  The Stuttering Foundation also provides free online resources, services and support to those who stutter and their families, as well as support for research into the causes of stuttering.  So go ahead and browse the website for lots of great information about stuttering!

Thanksgiving Special

30% Off Everything when ordering
by phone!

Offer ends Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

Starting today, the Stuttering Foundation is offering 30% off our entire selection of resources for stuttering when you place your order over the phone. Call 800-992-9392.

View the e-catalog by clicking here.

In order to receive the special, you must call the toll-free number at 800-992-9392Online orders do NOT receive this discount. Our hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Time on Monday and Tuesday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday. Offer ends at 2 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2011. Shipping not included in discount.

Super Duper Core Curriculum Cards

16 Nov

From all of your emails (thank you!) I can see that there is great interest in aligning classroom and speech therapy activities with the Common Core State Standards.  So I’d like to share with you a great product to have on hand (in a speech therapy room, classroom or even in the home if you’re a parent) to help students develop a core curriculum vocabulary.

Many of the Common Core State Standards include vocabulary words that are found in Super Duper Publication’s Core Curriculum Vocabulary Cards.   The authors of this product reviewed several research studies to determine 100 words at each level that students need to know in order to participate in their classroom.

These card decks come in three levels (Pre-K through K, grades 1-3, and grades 2-4).  Each level comes in a compact, colorful tin (sorry, I love great packaging!) and the cards are divided into four separate card decks (Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies).  Each deck has 25 card pairs and each pair consists of the definition card and the vocabulary word card.  Both cards include the same graphic so matching the word to the definition can be simple.

I’ve been experimenting with using the cards in different ways.  Each grade level set comes with a booklet of different game ideas for how to use the cards.  I’m thinking of lending certain cards to individual students who may need picture prompts in the classroom.  They can also be used on a rotating word wall.  One thing I love about these cards is the language used on the definition cards.  It is very accessible and kid friendly, even for kids with language disorders.  Furthermore,  the graphics on the cards help make the definitions more salient.

Most of my readers know I am a big fan of the iPad because it cuts out the need for flash cards and handouts and simplifies the paper load.  While I would love to see these core curriculum cards available on the iPad, I also love that I can physically manipulate and rearrange these cards for certain games (ie. I can place them in various corners of the room and have students search for the correct card pairs this gets them up and moving and actively engaged), hang them on my word of the day wall, laminate and tape them to a students desk, or help teachers build some of these games into independent student centers.  These are things I wouldn’t be able to do on the iPad, so there is a time and a place for both formats.

I also think this could be a great set for parents to have at home to help transfer academic vocabulary to other contexts outside of school.  Parents can help their kids make new connections and expand their understanding of core vocabulary words by using the same words students hear in the classroom in other settings outside of school.  Since kids needs to use new words in a variety of contexts to help them retain the meaning, playing games with these cards at home is a great way for parents to help reinforce the language teachers are using in the classroom.

Teachers at PS20 feel free to stop by my room to borrow a set for your classroom.  I’d also be happy to discuss how you can use these cards in independent student centers in your room.  I would also love to hear other ways people are using these cards so feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Recent Studies on Learning New Language- When and How?

19 Oct

Most public schools do not introduce foreign language instruction until Middle School.  Considering what the research says about the “critical period” for learning language, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.  But here at PS20, we are following evidence based research and have implemented a dual language Mandarin program that starts in Kindergarten.  Research suggests that the younger the brain, the more flexible it is in regards to discriminating between sounds of a foreign language.

When children are exposed to more than one language, their brain will wire itself to discriminate between the phonetic sounds of  both languages.  In a child exposed to only one language, eventually the brain wires itself to discriminate between a smaller set of sounds- only those native to the language the child hears.  By the time we are 7, we begin a systematic decline in our brain’s flexibility to learn new sounds.  Therefore, as an adult having never been exposed to Mandarin, for example, I cannot listen to a Mandarin speaker and discriminate between all of the sounds in the language.   My brain has solidified patterns and pathways and limited them the English language.  This isn’t to say I can’t train my brain to hear and learn new sounds- it will just be much more difficult for me to learn.

Some parents have concerns that by teaching two languages their kids might become confused or fall behind their monolingual peers in terms of language development.  According to a recent New York Times Article entitled Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language, scientists are showing that there are differences in the brains of children who grow up bilingual (exposed to two languages), vs. children who grow monolingual (exposed to only one language).  Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking.  These skills are known as executive functioning skills.  Bialystok says that, “Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function.”  So rest assured – research is showing that our bilingual kiddos are enhanced, not hindered by second language acquisition.

Furthermore, research has shown that babies learn new language through human interaction and not through listening to audio (through headphones) or watching and listening to TV.  This has profound implications for early learning.  The social brain must be active for children to learn new sounds and language.  A recent study by Patricia Kuhl showed that English-speaking babies exposed repeatedly to a Mandarin speaker were able to discriminate between Mandarin sounds during a lab test.  However, when English-speaking babies were exposed to the same amount of Mandarin through watching it on a TV and listening to it through headphones, the babies learned nothing.

To hear more about this new research, watch this ten minute talk entitled, The Linguistic Genius of Babies, in which Dr. Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another  by listening to the humans around them and re-wiring the brain to remember the sounds they need to know. Brain scans show how 6-month-old babies discriminate between sounds.

Piggy-backing on Kuhl’s research was another recent New York Times Article, entitled, Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest.  This article appeared in yesterday’s paper and reports that video screen time has no educational benefit for young children.  Children learn through face to face interactions with others- the social brain needs to be active  for learning to take place.  “What we know from recent research on language development is that the more language that comes in — from real people — the more language the child understands and produces later on,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University.

The article reports that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should limit the amount of time their young children are simply watching a screen (TV, iPad, cell phone) because there is no such thing as educational programming for young children.  There is evidence to suggest that older children can learn through some types of media, but younger children learn best through real life interactions and play. The articles author, Benedict Carey, summarizes that “for every hour a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she spends about 50 minutes less interacting with a parent, and about 10 percent less time in creative play.”

I talk a lot about the use of technology, specifically the iPad, in Speech & Language Therapy. The iPad is useful because it takes the place of wasteful paper materials such as worksheets and flashcards, and saves time on preparing certain activities and games that I used to make by hand.  It can generate thousands of vocabulary words and pictures and stories at the click of a button without me having to spend hours searching for specific target words or sounds online or in books.  But in order for it to be effective in the learning process, there must be face to face interaction with the therapist or parent, activating the social brain and facilitating the learning experience.

In summary:  Learning new language – When?  Early.  How?  Through human interaction.

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