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Little Stories icon

Here is something totally new [for this blog]: An APP REVIEW! Over winter break I received a copy of Little Stories Pro, the newest app from one of my favorite app designers Little Bee Speech.

I already own the Articulation Station Pro app, which I use regularly. It is my favorite articulation app, both for the beautiful graphic design, but also because it has clearly been created by someone who knows what SLPs need from an app, and has a mind for details. So I was interested when I learned that Heidi Hanks (the SLP who founded Little Bee Speech) was releasing a new app focused on stories.

OVERVIEW

Little Stories home

This app has 82 stories of 100 words each. The stories can be sorted by target phoneme, theme, or reading level. Each story has a phonemic target sound, and comprehension activities for each story. Each story also has a synopsis with critical facts (reading level, phonemic target, verb tense, point of view, theme) on the home page to make it easy to find an appropriate story. Each story also has an engaging illustration to accompany the story. I noticed that the illustrations feature children and families with a variety of diverse physical features (skin tone, hair texture, facial features) which was nice to see.

FEATURES

The features of this app are what impress me. Each feature shows how much thought and planning has gone into this app.

  • 100 word stories

Why is 100 words significant? 100 words is a short story. It has a story structure, but not a complicated structure. It is short enough that even my students who struggle with working memory can remember what happened in the story.

100 words is also the ideal length for a stuttering fluency sample. When I use other materials I have to count the words in the passage by hand, and then calculate the percent disfluent. With 100 word stories, the math practically does itself!

100 words is the ideal length for Quickdrill therapy (which I’ve written and presented about before). I have struggled to find materials that are both engaging AND short enough to use for Quickdrill therapy without extensive modification. I now have 82 stories which fit the bill!

100 words is the ideal length to provide multiple repetitions during a longer therapy session. If I am working on answering WH questions, or sequencing, I need to give many chances to practice those skills. Having short stories makes it easier to increase the number of repetitions.

  • Before you read

Each story has extensive information about it under the “before you read” heading. There is a list of sight words for each passage, as well as a list of words with the target phoneme. Most amazing is that there are also FLASHCARDS for these lists, to give students a chance to practice the words BEFORE they read them! I have been doing this with disorganized word lists and post-it notes. Now I have beautiful flashcards on my iPad!

  • Text features

The text customization features are amazing. I can chose the “easy reader format” which puts fewer words per line of text, for emerging readers. I can turn on the “reader helper” which is a colored box that helps students track the lines of text. I can bold the sight words, or the phonemic targets, or the challenging words in each passage. Each passage also has a Tongue Twister that goes with it, to practice oral motor skills (and have some fun!).

  • Story Retell – recording

Every story has a story retell spot, with the ability to record students as they retell the story. Once they record, you can replay their recording and mark words correct/incorrect, to get a percentage. What a perfect tool for data collection and progress monitoring! If you want to save recordings of individual students, you do need to set up a student profile for each student first. Having an easy way to make, organize, and score short recordings of students will make my progress notes so much faster, and my data so much more meaningful.

  • Sequencing

Every story has a 4-step sequencing sort in the story comprehension section. ALL of them! The sorting is errorless, meaning that the app won’t let students put the story in the wrong order (the tiles jump back to their original spot if they are placed wrong). It is basic sequencing, but a nice structured way to start for students working at this level of narrative understanding.

  • WH questions

This section blew me away with the clever design. All of the WH questions are here, but the unique detail is that the question is asked first, and students prompted to answer what they know. THEN, if the student does not know the answer, you click the button and multiple-choice answers appear. I LOVE THIS FEATURE!!!! It allows me to scaffold for students as they grow in this skill, from needing multiple-choice options, into coming up with answers independently.

LIttle Stories where 1LIttle Stories where 2

  • Story Talk

The “Story Talk” element of each story is one of the unique features of this app. Instead of the simple WH questions we usually get to accompany stories, the questions in Story Talk are more like book club discussion questions, and encourage students to give their opinions, draw inferences, use their imaginations, and dig deeper into the stories. This section gives great opportunities to work on articulation skills in a conversational context, and also to work on conversation skills themselves.

HOW I WOULD USE THIS APP

I definitely plan to use this app during my Quickdrill therapy with younger articulation students who are working at the reading or conversation level.

I will also use this app with my students who stutter, to get realistic fluency samples that are easy to score.

I will use this app with language students who are working on basic narrative structure, or answering simple WH questions.

I will use this app with students working on conversation skills, particularly focusing on the Story Talk section for each story.

LIMITATIONS

Overall I am clearly impressed by this app. However, that doesn’t mean it is perfect, or perfect for every occasion. One limitation I definitely noticed was that this app is designed for younger elementary students. It is an awesome app for that age group (!!!), but both the design and content fit with a K-3 developmental level. I would hesitate to use this app with my older elementary or middle school students, just because it looks like an app intended for younger students.

Another limitation I see with this app is that for the most part, the language skills targeted are very basic. 4-step sequencing sentences. Simple WH questions that can often be guessed without needing to read the story. Etc. I definitely have students working on language skills who are at that level, and for them this app is perfect. But once students grow beyond that basic level, this app is going to be too easy for them. I guess that’s intentional, since the whole point of the app is to have short, simple, 100-word stories, right? It’s a strength, but also a weakness, to have such a narrow focus.

Lastly, while the story protagonists are diverse in terms of skin tone, hair texture, and facial features, it would have been lovely to see other aspects of diversity reflected as well, such as protagonists with different abilities, or stories from different cultural backgrounds. There were a few stories drawn from Western European myth and fable traditions, but none from other cultures (or, none that I noticed). Having a broader spectrum of representation would have increased the cultural value of this app even more.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this app to review. I am receiving no other compensation for my review. The thoughts and opinions are entirely mine.

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This post is going to be a bit different. Most of my posts are intended for teachers and families, to share what students are doing in their speech/language time. This post, however, is for other SLPs. It is about how to complete a Professional Growth Plan (offered by OSPI) to get 30 clock hours for our certificate maintenance! I presented this to my district SLP colleagues last month, and have figured out how to add narration to my powerpoint in order to share it here.

To get the most out of the presentation, you will need to download/print the two documents that I am referencing:

Here are the other links that I reference in the presentation:

To view the presentation, click here: Professional Growth Plans for SLPs Narration. You will need to click on the sound icon in the upper right hand corner of each slide to hear the narration.

This fall has flown by! I am in shock that November is here, and two months of school have already passed.

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She hates wearing her cone. 😦

One thing that has been occupying my mind this fall is the health of my therapy dog, Ginger. She is almost ten years old, which for her breed is a senior dog. As you dog lovers know, we never expect our pets to get old, and are surprised when they do! In my mind, she is still the 7-week-old puppy I brought home from the shelter in 2007.

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2007, a few days after I brought her home.

Since I brought her home, she has certified and recertified 5 times as a therapy dog with Pet Partners (the certification is renewed every 2 years). We have taken buses, trains, and even airplanes together, and she has interacted with hundreds of students and teachers along the way. Right now she is being treated for some autoimmune issues, and hasn’t been able to come to school since June.

This blog post is dedicated to her recovery, cataloging some of the things I miss about working with a therapy dog.

  • Instant rapport

Having a therapy animal creates an “aura of safety” (my term) in the therapy room. Students who are shy or unsure are often much more outgoing and confident when Ginger is with me, and it becomes much easier to establish rapport and trust. I need students to trust me, in order for them to feel confident to try new, hard things and make progress on their goals. I need their parents to trust me, so they will tell me important info about how things are going at home, and also be willing to put in the work to support their students.

I also need teachers to trust me with their students, who they care about and want the best for. Teachers have a wealth of knowledge about their students, and it is so valuable to me when we are able to establish enough of a connection so they can share it. When Ginger is in my office, teachers, students, and their parents are much more likely to come by and chat. It is during those informal chats that I gain the most insight into student needs, parent priorities, and teacher observations. Having a therapy dog facilitates these interactions in a natural way, with so much ease and grace. It is wonderful to experience.

I have been amazed over the past 10 years how quickly rapport can be established when I have Ginger with me. People trust her, so they trust me. (And I am a trustworthy person, I promise!). Working in a new school this year, I very much miss her ability to connect. I can do it without her, but it takes much longer, and is much more work.

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School photo from 2012. How could you not trust this face?

  • Motivation

Students LOVE THIS DOG. They want to come to therapy to see the dog. Their friends want to come to therapy to meet the dog. They work hard in therapy sessions to earn a treat to give to Ginger at the end of the session. Students bring their friends to my office after school, introducing Ginger to their friends, and their friends to Ginger. Older students, who are much too cool for candy, stickers, or high-5s, will still come to get pets and licks from a furry friend.

We’ve all had students who were difficult to motivate. Stickers, candy, and prize boxes have all failed me at one time or another, but a fuzzy puppy has never failed to engage and motivate my hard-to-reach students.

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2015, when we visited a medically fragile classroom every week. This student LOVED petting Ginger, and would use her switch to ask for Ginger.

  • Increase social interaction

This is a big one. Therapy animals have been shown to provide positive social benefits to children with Autism. I have had minimally verbal students say multiple words together as they were petting Ginger, talking to Ginger, or talking about Ginger. Even some of my unpredictable students, who I would worry about using gentle hands when petting, seemed to intuitively understand how to be gentle with Ginger. They would get quiet, kneel/sit down, and sometimes just smoosh their faces into Ginger’s neck or chest. Her moments with students who have autism have been some of the sweetest I have ever seen.

Even for students (and teachers, and ME) who do not have autism, having a therapy animal can provide a topic for conversation, and a level of comfort which fosters more social interaction than would occur otherwise. During Ginger’s training I took her out into the community to socialize and desensitize her to novel experiences. I was always amazed by how many strangers would start conversations with us when we were out as a team. We had conversations with everyone! This happens in the community, and it happens in my school. I miss those opportunities for interaction that happened so naturally when Ginger was coming to school with me.

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Ginger and me, at a university recruiting event in 2013. She was the star attraction at our booth, and facilitated many great connections.

  • Deescalation, sensory breaks, and stress reduction

I cannot count how many times Ginger has helped me get through a marathon testing session with a student who had difficulty focusing. Our routine was simple: 5-10 minutes testing, 2 minutes of “dog time.” I could get through the most grueling standardized tests, with students who had the most difficult time with testing, so long as I had a dog to play with during the breaks. It served as a “brain break” from concentrating, a sensory break for students who needed it, and a fun respite from the hard work of testing. Even the most wiggly preschooler has been able to sit for a few minutes, with the promise of doggie time after 5 more questions.

I have also used Ginger with students who were easily frustrated (mostly students who had autism), to decrease melt-downs as we worked on difficult skills. One student in particular needed Ginger to be sitting on his feet, and he could handle anything. Without her he might be under the table refusing to work, but with HER under the table, we could work for an entire session without interruption. I would see him reaching down towards her as the tasks got harder, using a few pets to calm himself down so he wouldn’t lose it.

And for my own stress reduction, during hard days or when I was working under a deadline, I have used Ginger more times than I can count. I have crawled under my own desk to get a hug and a kiss when I needed it, to keep myself sane and stable.

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My sister, snuggling with Ginger over winter break last year.

So here’s to a quick recovery, and thankfulness for wonderful veterinarians who provide the best care possible, and to every old dog who has spent their life giving love and snuggles.

Home practice folders are coming home this week!

You will find a GREEN folder in your student’s backpack. It will have their name on the front, like this:

homework20folder20cover

Inside the folder, there will be:

  • A page to practice on the left-hand side, with directions for what to do
  • A log-page, for you to write any questions/comments, and sign that you’ve seen the home practice.
  • Old practice pages will go in the back.

homework20folder20inside

What you should do:

  • Pick a time to practice – at breakfast, in the car going home from school, before dinner, etc. Practice with your child as frequently as you realistically can. 3-5x/week is great, but even 1-2x/week is extremely helpful. Any responsible person (parent, babysitter, older sibling, grandparent, etc) can be a good practice partner.
  • Keep it short! Practice should be 3-5 minutes MAX. Short, frequent practice is the most effective way to make progress, and also the most likely to actually happen in busy families.
  • Sign the log-sheet or home practice page, so that I know you’ve seen it. 🙂
  • Keep the folder in your student’s backpack. If it is always in the backpack, then it never gets lost. 🙂

Here’s to a new year, and lots of speech and language at home!

I don’t do many app reviews, but I found one that I’ve been using in the intensive support classroom I serve that has been fabulous for helping my students stay on-track with their behavior.

Class Dojo is a FREE app and website for classroom teachers. You can get it for apple or android devices, or use it on the website. I use it to motivate students to make good choices during speech, and to help them begin to monitor their own behavior (for those impulsive kids we all have!).

Here is an introductory video for students, to show them how it works:

For teachers, here is a video on how to set up your class. It outlines the main features, and shows you how to set it up for your students/class.

I use it when I am working with a whole class to reward students for showing me positive behaviors, and to alert students when they are choosing poor behaviors. I set up my laptop so that students can see the screen, and give points as students show me positive or negative behavior.

Reasons I love this app:

  • Behavior expectations are represented visually, which is important for my students
  • Students like getting rewards
  • Everything is customizable
  • It reminds me to reward positive behavior!
  • It makes it easy to redirect negative behavior without interrupting the flow of the session
  • I can print reports of student behavior if I need to share with teachers or parents (though I have not needed to do this so far!)
  • I can access the same data from any device – laptop, phone, or iPad.

So far I have not needed to use this app to address any large behavior issues, but even with light use I am seeing my students more motivated to participate during therapy, and less likely to engage in negative behaviors.

It is spring break this week in Edmonds. So far I have gotten a pedicure, spent time with family, and done some home improvement (new baseboards!). It’s not exactly relaxing, but it feels good to accomplish things.

It is time to start thinking forward to the end of the school year. (I can’t believe it, either!). There are 71 days until students will be let out for the long break of summer. And when that happens, there are three things that can happen.

  1. The student stops learning, and forgets some of the things they know. They return to school in September with fewer skills than they had in June. 😦
  2. The student stops learning, but maintains what they already learned. They make no gains over the summer.
  3. The student continues learning, and returns to school in September knowing even more than they did in June! 🙂

Obviously, I want option #3 for all of my students. In order for students to continue growing over the summer, they need to continue practicing EVERY WEEK of break! I send summer practice calendars home with each student at the end of the year, which are a great way to keep learning at the forefront. You will see those posted in the coming months, when I update them for this year. READING every day is another way to practice language and articulation skills.

One more way to keep on-track with summer learning is to do private therapy over the break. I take private clients in the summer (though none of the students I see at school, for ethical reasons), so if that is something which interests you, and you live in the Seattle area, let me know and we can schedule a free consultation in May or June. If you are looking for summer private therapy and I work with your student at school, let me know and I will refer you to some great SLPs in our area.

Either way, with home practice or with some extra therapy in the summer, students can come back in September ready to begin another year of learning!

An update from the front lines on Washington State education politics. 🙂

In 2012, the State of Washington was sued by NEWS, a coalition of 420+ education associations, community groups, and school districts for failing their constitutional obligation to fully fund K-12 public schools. The case, McCleary v. State, resulted in the State Supreme Court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on all counts.

Because our state has a history of underfunding education, promising to fix it, and then doing nothing, the Supreme Court retained jurisdiction in the case. This means if the State does not fix the problem, the Court has the right to make them fix it. Since 2012 the Court has issued several warnings about the case, and has not been impressed. That is probably because Washington classrooms remain the 47th most crowded in the nation, we come in 43rd in per pupil spending, and our teachers are the worst paid on the west coast. We don’t have money for things like copy paper or pencils, and have resorted to asking parents to bring in basic supplies. (True story: since 2009, parents at my schools have been donating reams of paper to the school every fall. We still run out before the end of the school year…)

When schools do not have money even for paper, how much money do you think they have to pay for the extra needs of students with disabilities? What is their budget to pay for SLPs, therapy materials, or adaptive equipment? Not much… Our schools do an amazing job of magically staying open every year, continuing to educate our children, but there is only so hard we can pinch each penny. Thankfully, we have the State Supreme Court on our side.

The most recent statement from the Supreme Court came last week. You can read a summary of it on the NEWS website.

Basically, our legislators have done almost nothing [yet] to fix the problem. Current funding levels are only 57% of the State’s own estimate of the cost ($7,200 of $12,700 per student).

As you can see from the chart above, there is lots of work (read: MONEY) left to be done. The green line is the needed funding increases each year to fully fund public education by the court deadline in 2018. The red line is the “progress” made so far.

What can you do? I’d suggest calling/emailing your legislator (daily?) and asking her/him how they plan to fund education. (You can find their information here). The session only lasts for 60 days, so they have a limited amount of time to fix this problem before the Supreme Court will fix it for them.

You can email your legislators using the WEA Take Action website HERE, to email specifically about the voter-approved COLA for educators.

Me: How are a nose and an ear alike?

Kindergartener: You can pick your boogers out of ’em.

HA!

The past several weeks have been a long and well-earned break for both students and teachers in my district. Over the break I got married, and spent 8 wonderful days in Puerto Rico. The average temperature was 81 degrees, and sunny, the whole time. The few times it did rain it was WARM rain, and cleared up quickly. It was lovely.

Today is my first day back. What a shock! Back to the grind… Although I did have several nice surprises today. I often send speech homework with students so that they can practice their skills at home. Without home practice, students progress very. slowly. (if. at. all.) Several students told me that they had practiced their speech during the break! The best part was that I could tell which students practiced, because they were the ones who had made noticeable gains over the break. It really makes a difference!

I make very few NYR as a rule (new year’s resolutions), since in general I always have a goal or two that I am focusing on, and it seems silly to make more just so that I can break them later. The goals I am already working on, which I plan to continue, are:

  • Learn to use Boardmaker Plus: I’ve organized a Boardmaker group with other SLPs in my school district, and we are meeting once a month to provide support to each other as we explore this program. Things are going well on this goal!
  • Establish better communication with parents of my students: I have been focusing on my personal best forms of communication this year – blogging and emailing. So far I’ve hunted down emails for many of my student’s parents, and have gotten in the habit of emailing them after sessions to let them know about speech practice, and checking in at least every other week. And if you’re reading this post, the other form of communication – blogging – is working!

Happy New Year!

This week I was working with a 5th grade boy doing a vocabulary assessment. I would say a word, and then he was to point to the picture that matched what I said. Things were going fine until about half-way through when I turned the page.

“Show me ‘swamp’” I said.

“Damn!” he said.

I was so surprised to hear an elementary student swear that I didn’t know what to do. Do we need to have a discussion about appropriate words to use at school? Is he getting frustrated and needing to take a break? What was going on?

I was just about to say something, when he said “Hoover Dam!” and pointed to one of the pictures.

I checked the page, and right next to the picture of the swamp was a picture of a dam.

Kids say the darnedest things!

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Spring break!

Spring break!March 30th, 2018
spring break!

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