Caseload Management, Organization, Technology, Therapy Tools, Thoughts and Inspirations

Come on In!

Inspired by SLP and fellow blogger, Jenna Rayburn of Speech Room News, I decided to respond to her Anatomy of a Speech Room challenge and take some pictures of my therapy room. This challenge came at a good time because I have been playing around with the configuration of my little room a lot this year. In the past, my tiny room has been overpowered by my desk, two large file cabinets, and a large round table that sat smack in the center of the room. This arrangement left very little room to stand or move, which proved a bit tricky in some of my therapy sessions (picture me, children with wheelchairs or walkers, a graduate student intern and an additional adult assistant all wedged in around a circle table — yes, can you say CROWDED???) Earlier this year, my super-organized and ambitious student intern helped me brainstorm a bit to come up with a better layout. We packed old files into boxes to rid the room of a file cabinet, traded out the round table for a small rectangular table (a feat which involved me following our building custodian into the boiler room storage  area— seriously, that “room” is straight out of Nightmare on Elm Street; Freddy Krueger just may have been lurking in the shadows! But, I got my table.) Suddenly, the room seemed much larger and brighter, and my groups could all fit in the room without experiencing claustrophobic attacks. I could also access therapy materials or files without fear of gouging my leg on a file cabinet drawer (yes, that actually happened to me. Ouch.)

All was well until earlier this month when I got my new ActivPanel interactive smartboard (note: I am NOT complaining about this gift, but setting up the device and adjacent laptop did require some more shifting.) After some trial and error with cords, placement of the ActivPanel, student access methods and ways to connect to the Internet, I think I finally have a room layout I like.   I am feeling pretty happy about the space — even though it’s small, I think about how the room is a big step up from the room I had right out of graduate school, when I shared a book closet with the school psychologist! (That was another creepy Freddy Krueger space…dark and dingy with stacks of books all around me.)

Check out the pictures below for a tour of my new and improved, geeked-out therapy room!

Here is my room as you walk in the door. I have the therapy table and also a (new) rug where I do floortime play with some of my little ones (as young as three years old.) 

Once inside the room, you can see the table and the ActivPanel set-up, with my chalkboard and the visuals I keep handy.

Here is a closer look at the ActivPanel and the board. The lower right quadrant of the board is where I write my objectives — definitely a challenge in groups with varying skills and goals, but I usually try and write something all-encompassing so that they have an idea of what we are doing:

Underneath the ActivPanel (housed on an old, door-less cabinet) I keep printer paper, construction paper, and bins for easy access to lesson plan materials:

At the table, students sit on one side and the end (enough for 4, which is my largest size pull-out group,) and I sit on the side with the laptop and board. This way, students can all see the ActivPanel and they can walk up to it when it’s their turn. I previously had the ActivPanel sitting at the far end of the table, but students were reaching across each other, and trying to get close enough to the board to use the stylus was difficult. So far, this new set-up is working out very well. The laptop sitting to the left of the smartboard provides input to the smartboard. I also use the laptop to enter student data into log spreadsheets (which is actually difficult when I have the students there with me, so really I end up entering data into my log files later…but I do try. More on that topic in a subsequent post.) I also have frequently-used supplies within reach in the space around me while I conduct therapy sessions:

The shelf behind my therapy table (on the left in the above picture) is covered in fabric. I attached fabric to the shelf unit using heavy-duty velcro as a way to hide visually alluring items from easily-distracted and/or impulsive students. When needed, the fabric is easily removed to access books, puzzles, and a variety of games I use to target speech-language skills:

To the right of the chalkboard, I have a vertical file on the wall where I keep picture schedules, low-tech communication boards, core vocabulary boards and other useful visuals. I also have an emergency clipboard I keep handy for fire drills and other emergency procedures:

Here’s my desk (ok, I admit I did organize the surface of the desk a bit before I snapped this picture! I often have IEPs, reports and other papers in a stack, among other things. I am trying to make sure the desk looks at least this neat before I leave each day.) The wall behind my desk technically leads to another office, and you can see there is a two-way mirror there. My “neighbor” has her side covered with paper, but I have grand visions of having the whole office suite to myself, creating a therapy room and separate observation room:

To the left of the desk, I have a storage cabinet covered in fabric, my printer, and a pocket chart with visuals I have hanging on the wall (door.) The fabric keeps the toys hidden until they are offered, and the pocket chart allows easy access to visuals I often use to prompt students for behaviors.

                                         

Toy bins under the fabric:

At my desk I also have a Pinterest-inspired place to store my Team notebook (holds parent questionnaires, assessment logs, and anything else I may need at Team,) and activity files/other materials that I am currently using (activity files not in use are stored in the file cabinet underneath this desktop storage.) I got the dishrack at a thrift store for $1.00…works for me!

I even use the space underneath my desk — a “shred” bin for those confidential papers, and a rolling file cart that houses a “working file” for each student on my caseload. I use these files to store individualized therapy materials, most-recent progress report and a current copy of the IEP. Some of my students have speech-language files several inches thick that date back as many as six years; this working file system rolls out when I need it and helps keep current information easily at my fingertips.

Beyond my desk is a built-in shelving unit that is not quite accessible, due to the large file cabinet I needed to put about a foot or so next to (in front of) it. I store mostly books and materials I don’t need that often on this shelving unit, accompanied by pictures of my kids and other trinkets:

I also have a built-in cabinet where I house art supplies, story board characters and pieces, cooking supplies, picture cards (ones I do not use frequently,) seasonal items and miscellaneous therapy supplies. The cabinet is spacious and holds a lot of items in an organized fashion:

At the far end of the room, I have a refrigerator (my own) with some storage on top. In the storage drawers I keep things like glue sticks, stickers, game pieces, dice, and magnetic chips. Markers, crayons, pens and pencils are also within reach:

Above the refrigerator, there are some open shelves where I keep enticing toys (up out of reach so that students have to make verbal or picture requests. No rewards for pointing in this room!) I also have free-standing therapy mirrors, and roughly two-ton pottery pieces that my sons made at pottery camp many years ago; I can’t yet bear to part with them…perfect top shelf office decor! 🙂

To the right of the refrigerator (and behind my therapy table,) I have a bulletin board atop the shelving unit. I use this board to display our school-wide behavior plan poster — a nice reminder for the students and a nice way to prevent me from having to continually update bulletin board displays!  Look closely on  the lower right side of the bulletin board and you will see some visual prompts I keep on pocket rings…I use these often with students who need behavior supports; many of these students have their own pocket rings I gave teachers use with them throughout their school day.

On the counter below the bulletin board, I keep my artic cards, picture vocabulary cards and other Fun-Deck materials. I also keep binders with adapted reading program materials, Core curriculum standards and other resources.

Well, there it is. My small but sweet therapy space where amazing things happen! Hope you have enjoyed this up-close and personal tour of my home away from home. I would love to know how this room compares to rooms that other SLPS use — I am grateful for this space but always wishing for a bigger room to allow for even more creativity (I’m thinking circle-time area, play house, puppet theater, pretend store, gross motor area and more!) A girl can dream, right?! Thanks for taking a peek and for visiting LiveSpeakLove!

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Free Downloads, Language, Resources, Technology, Therapy Tools, Thoughts and Inspirations

Visual Supports for Behavior

I was trying to think of a clever title for this entry…some alliterative phrase  that captures the essence of my theme. I quickly decided to stick with the matter-of-fact title, “Visual Supports for Behavior,” because matter-of-fact is what my message is intended to be — children often need visual supports for behavior. We know that certain students respond particularly well to visual supports. Research documents the need for visuals with the autism population, and there are many great options for visuals to use throughout these students’ school day. But what about students who do not have autism? Might they need visual supports as well? Absolutely!

Using visual supports in a school environment targets diverse needs across student populations. Visual supports can tap into the learning styles of students with a preference for visual presentation, assisting them in the processing and storage of information. Visuals can also increase comprehension in students struggling with auditory comprehension, providing a visual prototype that can hold meaning for them in a confusing world of fast-paced direction and instruction . Students with attentional difficulties often need visual supports as well. For a student overloaded with environmental stimuli in a busy classroom, visual supports can help capture their attention and give them a concept on which to focus as they process verbal information.  In addition, many students with executive function difficulties (related to attentional difficulties) might appear to grasp a concept well during group instruction. Students can follow along with information as a teacher visually demonstrates a concept and walks the class through tasks in step-by-step fashion. However, when asked to apply that same skill to complete individual seat work, students with attention and/or executive function  difficulties often flounder. But visual process charts and graphic organizers can help students complete tasks with independence as they practice the skill. A great site for graphic organizers is found here, but I often make my own to meet individual students’ needs.

One way I frequently use visual supports is to address (or prevent) behavior problems. Many students with special needs have deficits that can trigger behavior issues. Students with language difficulties often have difficulty expressing how they feel, or what they want. Issues with impulse control may interfere with classroom routines and social interactions. Students living in poverty or unstable homes may have difficulties coping with the demands of  a structured learning environment. Little three and four year-olds without any prior school experience are now attempting to navigate the social world of new people and new expectations. They long to interact with peers but do not yet know how to properly initiate that interaction. Sitting on the rug at circle time is a challenge when they are accustomed to free play and exploration. All of these issues can cause negative behaviors to emerge, behaviors that can interfere with the learning of others. SLPs are frequently involved in the problem-solving process and are uniquely skilled at developing materials to address such behaviors. Social stories, super pictures, behavior charts,  incentive charts, picture schedules and communication boards are all strategies SLPs keep in their toolbox so that students can make progress in the classroom.

 Here are a few of my favorite visuals, resources that I specifically designed for students needing visual input to assist with comprehension of expectations. I have experienced great success using these simple but powerful tools.

Visual display to help students express how they are feeling (sometimes they don’t even know until the visual seems to “match” what they are experiencing):

 

Another visual display that was made for a student to keep on his desk so that he could express the emotions he was frequently experiencing: 

Often students need individualized prompting during instruction time to follow classroom rules and expectations. Younger students and/or students with impulsive behaviors need one-step verbal commands to remind them of what they should be doing. These pictures can be cut apart, laminated and placed on a key ring for portability and easy access, or they can be enlarged and cut apart to use as a super-picture presentation. I keep these pictures and other similar visuals in a pocket chart on the wall in my therapy room:

One of my FAVORITE, most often-used visual is the First-Then board. I am posting one template below, but I have many other styles I frequently use. I have also been known to grab post-it notes in a therapy moment when necessary, and draw pictures depicting the first-then expectation. I verbally use this terminology to communicate expectations, even with my own children. “First homework; then T.V.”  The idea is to state the expectation, and when it is finished a more preferred activity can be completed. The first-then chart posted below was used most successfully with a high-functioning student with autism who could complete his classwork with assistance when he tried, but he often became overwhelmed and refused to attempt anything. The classroom teacher and I worked together with the student to identify a list of brief, preferred activities that could be used as a reward after he finished his assignment. The student chose pictures of the preferred activities to place on the bottom row of the chart each day (things like get a drink, color a picture, take a walk, say hi to people in the office, etc.) For each activity he was assigned, he chose one of his preferred options and placed it on the “then” spot. (e.g., First – math worksheet; Then – color a picture.) With a motivating goal easily within reach, the student was able to complete chunks of work and take mini-breaks for rewards throughout his day. His meltdowns literally vanished within a day or two of introducing this tool:

For students needing a visual reminder of how to make “happy” choices, I often use these supports:

A great tool to give (positive and negative) feedback to a student while you are teaching is a non-verbal signal or visual — no need to stop instruction and give negative attention to a child who is misbehaving. With older students, a simple thumbs up or down could work. With younger students, I like to use the happy face/ sad face flip visual. Just cut out the two circles, laminatend tape to opposite sides of a craft/popsicle stick. Present any student with nonverbal feedback as you continue with your lesson. I have witnessed more than a few students break their cycle of negative behaviors by experiencing confidence and success when they are rewarded positively with the “happy” side (catch them doing something positive whenever you can — it works!)

The beauty of visual supports is that they can be tailored to exactly fit the situation at hand. Programs like PowerPoint, Boardmaker, ActivInpire, MS Word, and many others allow for creative design and image selection. The internet hosts a wealth of ideas, templates and other resources to help in the process. The bottom line? Many SLPs and teachers encounter students who are struggling to meet curricular and behavioral expectations. Can we eliminate what is causing those issues?  Unfortunately, not usually. But visual supports are a wonderful tool (and in my experience, sometimes the solution) to helping these students move beyond barriers that block their progress. Increased comprehension, independence and compliance result in better learning opportunities for students, and better relationships with those around them.