Our final guest post of the week was written by Katie Pedersen. Katie is a full-time mommy, part-time school speech-language pathologist. She has spent most of her time at the secondary school level, and currently works as her district’s assistive technology specialist. She loves living in a beautiful little valley amid the mountains of Utah with her husband and three children, and going on outings with her family. Her newest adventure is sharing her passion for speech-language development with parents and other SLPs on her website, Let’s Grow Speech. You can also follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
I’m so excited to be joining Carrie for her Blog Birthday! She is a party animal with all of her giveaways this week. It’s so much fun being an SLP. We all remember what it was like to be a newbie, though, trying to figure out the ropes of our profession. There is definitely a learning curve, and I think every SLP would agree that he/she is still learning. For all of you recent graduates, clinical fellows, and maybe even some experienced SLPs, here are the top 5 things I wish I had known as a new SLP:
1. Use visuals and other multi-sensory approaches
One of the best things I learned as a new SLP was the importance of using visual supports and other multi-sensory approaches in therapy. Visuals are an excellent way to support learning. Concepts stick with students better when they are paired with a visual, tactile, or auditory cue. I recently shared one of my favorite visual supports for scaffolding narrative interventions. I also use visuals to encourage articulation skills with my sound association cards.
For my students with autism, I encourage the use of visual schedules and reinforcers to provide structure and foster independence. I have even implemented some of these strategies with my preschool daughter to help with her morning routine and managing iPad time. My poor kiddos always have their mom using therapy techniques on them at home :)
2. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
You are surrounded by experienced professionals. Use them as a resource. One of my best mentors was a special education language arts teacher. I used a push-in model during her resource English class. We had a room full of unmotivated high schoolers who were supposed to be reading novels and writing essays, but who would’ve rather been playing video games or sleeping on their desks. I learned so much as I watched this teacher carefully select literature that would appeal to this group and scaffold writing assignments so they didn’t even realize they were writing 5-paragraph essays until they were done. After I had done a vocabulary or narrative activity with the class, I would return for my next session to find her reinforcing the concepts I had taught earlier in the week. It was brilliant! Some teachers are more willing to work with you than others, but don’t be afraid to suggest a more collaborative approach to therapy. I know it is not always feasible or best to use this type of push-in model, but there is always something to learn and to be learned between professionals. Many teachers just don’t understand what we do in our closet space and this is our chance to show them.
3. Take meaningful data
Ah, data. I still don’t think I am a pro at this, but I have definitely learned a few things along the way. For my first few years, I frequently switched my approach to keeping data. Some worked better than others, but none of them were super efficient. I would spend hours transferring plus and minus signs from piles of sticky notes to therapy logs, and then when it was time for progress reports, I spent hours transferring information from therapy logs into progress reports. Luckily I had all the time in the world to stay at work until 6pm every night! I most recently discovered an organized, visual way to monitor progress using Excel spreadsheets, but then my coworker shared an awesome datatracker app she downloaded from Super Duper that essentially does the same thing with even less paperwork! It is $1.99 and well worth every cent. She is even able to email progress to parents as needed.
So when should you take data? I also struggled with this one. I like to approach therapy sessions with the “I do, we do, you do” model. First, I teach and model the target concept. Then, we practice the concept together. Finally, I have the student demonstrate his proficiency with the concept. This is when I take data.
4. Make sure the student knows the goal for each therapy session.
Give the what and the why at the beginning of each session. Identify your goal for the session and give the student a reason to accomplish it. Will it help him to communicate better with his friends? Will it help him to write an A+ book report that he can be proud of? When the student is struggling with motivation, you can remind him why you are doing what you doing. Too often I would go through therapy without giving my students a reason to care.
5. Have fun and be creative
One reason I love being a speech-language pathologist is because I can get away with doing silly, unexpected things. I can guarantee that you will have your student’s full attention if you show up dressed as a Dumbledore for your Harry Potter unit (yes, I actually did this) or be sitting under the table when they show up for their social skills group. Use technology if you have it. Teachers Pay Teachers is a goldmine for motivating activities to use in therapy. Let your students know that you are enjoying therapy and they will enjoy it too!
So… what do you wish you’d known as a new SLP?
Thank you, thank you, Katie! This is great information for new (and even experienced) SLPs! I know I'm continually striving for a better/more efficient means of data collection! Katie also donated one of her Let's Grow Articulation books for my BIG giveaway! You will definitely want to check out these amazing resources!