3 Tips for Making Sense of IEP Goals that You Didn't Write!

A new student enters your caseload with an IEP and goals already set up for the year. Your first thought may be, “FANTASTIC! One less IEP to do!”  But as you dig in deeper, you begin to wonder what in the world is going on here.
The goals are all done, but they aren’t the kind you write.

Maybe they are so long and in-depth that you wonder how anyone could think a superhero SLP would get that done in a year.
Tips for Prioritizing Needs and Using Goals You Didn't Write

Maybe they are so short and simplistic that you feel the student has nothing to gain from it.

Maybe you are just confused about why it was chosen at all.

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that we should give each other the benefit of the doubt, since there are so many different factors that come into play, depending on where you work, what your experience level is, and what your therapy framework is. 


Most of the time, there is something in a goal that you can work with.

WHERE YOU WORK


Where you work can influence how you write goals.

Some school districts have IEPs scattered throughout the year. In the month before, you assess the students, whom you already know well after having them on your caseload for a while, and write new goals that continue from the current skill level. Lots of written work, but pretty straightforward.

Some school districts use IEP compendiums, purchased or self-made. The benefit to using computerized IEP goals is that it can cut back on the time you spend re-writing goals. 

Drawbacks can include:


• If the goals are detailed and specific, there may not be enough of them to cover all of your students’ varied needs.
• If the goals are broad, listing every skill needed to be able to do the functional skill in a year’s time, it can feel overwhelming. “I have to accomplish all of this! Are they out of their minds?”

Solutions can include:


• Finding out the way to add a goal that is not currently in the compendium so that your students’ specific need can be met.

• Figuring out which part of the lengthy set of skills shows where your students’ current needs are and addressing that specific section of the goal. Session notes document exactly what is being addressed and the data to document growth. Informal measures taken quarterly can look at the big picture to show that progress is being made toward the overall goal as well.

Students show different aspects of themselves in different settings- we all do! This means that therapists might observe some differences in skills and in the impact of difficulties, according to where they are seen. For example, in a clinic or hospital setting, where the student is more likely to be seen individually, it is more difficult to assess the impact of speech/language problems on interactions with peers, making input from parents and teachers vital.


Some school districts put pressure on providers of special services to provide fewer services, write more goals, have higher levels of success, you name it. This can come about because of administrative pushes, funding issues, audit results, and probably a variety of other causes. This is the reality of therapy in schools. Do your best for your students within the parameters you’ve been given, decide to fight against it or move on to another job.


OUR EXPERIENCE LEVEL


      With large caseloads, multiple schools, and varying degrees of practical experience, SLPS are doing the best they can. No one went into this field thinking it was a huge money-making career, so assume that we all have our students' interests at heart.

There's more than one way to meet student needs.

      As beginning therapists, we all work on building up our resources: materials, knowledge of strategies, 
     the variety of student management techniques, ability to handle the overabundance of paperwork, 
      and diversifying our therapy skill sets in general.

      Maybe that goal that has you perplexed stems from a subtest score that the participants in the IEP meeting were especially concerned about.

Maybe the new therapist chose similar areas of student need for much of their caseload because they felt secure about helping students make improvements in groups while they learned to handle more diversity.

Maybe that one goal has enough flexibility built in that the therapist was better able to meet diverse group needs!

So many language skills have a variety of components that are needed for functional application, it could be that the therapist who wrote the goals was aiming for the same outcome as you would like. Just a different path to that outcome was chosen!

THERAPY FRAMEWORK


Face it, speech/language therapy covers a multitude of disabilities and skills!  We all have some aspect of communication that we are especially interested in, and that helps to personalize the lens that we use to assess students.

Especially for students with bigger delays and multiple needs! One of the hardest parts of our job is prioritizing what to work on when a student has delays in many skills so that you can have the biggest positive impact in their lives.

TIPS FOR PRIORITIZING NEEDS


Use informal assessments and team input to help prioritize needs.

      LISTEN!


      Listen to everyone on the student’s team to hear what they are all saying about the student’s weaknesses. Parents, who know their child best of all. Teachers, who observe the student in many school contexts, have knowledge of both strengths and weakness, and other students for comparison. Specialists, who bring their specific area knowledge to combine with yours and help the child as a whole.

     OBSERVE!

      Informal assessment can occur at any time or any place during the school day. Build a relationship with your student’s teachers and find out what their concerns are. Watch the students in the room in between sessions when you are picking up and dropping off. Pay attention to their interactions with peers while you are on your way to the copying machine, or doing bus and lunchroom duties.

THINK!

Think about what you know about the child’s language system and how this could be impacting the ability to function in the school. What strengths and weaknesses are a common theme in the team discussion? What communication needs can a part of any behavioral concerns? Is there a pattern showing that improvement in a specific area of communication deficits could help the student at multiple times of the school day? There’s your answer!

BRINGING IN RELATED SKILLS


At some point in the year, you will have reached a point where you feel comfortable with your therapy routines and materials for the specific aspects of students’ goals that you are taking data on since you are seeing progress.

Yes, you will! And every year it gets a bit easier.  But, for me at least, the discomfort level at the beginning of the school year never stopped. Kudos to you if you have managed it! 


When you reach a point that you can look beyond the next week or month, or your student shows that the basics of the IEP goal have been learned, think about bringing in skills that were not a priority at the beginning of the year. Keep on listening, because the student may have another priority need by now.

Or maybe there are some other areas of need that just tie in well with the types of activities the student is experiencing progress with. Some ideas are:

* The student who answers basic WH questions can play teacher and ask you or peers the questions.
* The student with improved memory strategies can apply the skills socially to remember information about peers for better social skills.
* The student who follows directions now can try giving the directions in an activity.
* The student who understands narrative structure in simple stories can use it to expand personal narratives or make them more concise.
* The student who uses expanded sentences in structure can work on social skills and reinforce the expanded sentences in a social activity.

Don’t be too fast to move on to new skills when you can incorporate newly learned skills with other areas of weakness. Combine your therapy expertise and framework with the IEP goals the student came with to meet as many of the student’s communication needs as you can. Your students will benefit!

Enjoy!

You'd Hate to Work Here! Speech Rooms that Could Make You Cry



Speech therapists in schools get offered some of the worst rooms ever! If a great therapy space is one of your priorities, private practice is probably the way to go, since school space is often crowded and administrators seem to prioritize by how often you are in the building and the number of students you work with. With our small groups and multiple schools, it seems that SLPs are often the last to get a space to work in a school (and often the worst!)

The WORST Speech Therapy ROOM EVER!


Did you ever have to work in a terrible space? Read these stories from SLPs!

The Cage

“My Worst Room Ever was what we dubbed "the Cage."  It was in the basement of the building and was literally "cage" material that cut it off from the rest of the area.  I shared it with the band/instrument instructor and was constantly having to move all the music stands out of the way on the two days I was there.  There wasn't anywhere to hang pictures or make it more comfortable and a friendly atmosphere for my students.  Luckily I was only there for a semester when another room opened up for my use.”  Stefanie

The Smell or The Noise?

“When I was student teaching, once/week we saw students in the custodian's closet, complete with the mop in the rolling bucket or water....and the SMELL!!  At another school, while I was student teaching, we saw students on the stage with the curtains closed but in the rest of the room, the BAND was practicing!!!”  Beth

The Crowd or The Hall?

“More recently, I worked in an Early Learning Center.  I could see students in a room with 8 SLP's desks.  Multiple therapy sessions went on at the same time, teachers came in and out of the room to talk with the SLPs, parents came in, administrators, etc. Or my other choice was to see students at a table in the hallway outside the bathroom and a classroom for early childhood autistic students.”  Beth

The Bathroom

“I went to a new school where the principal hated speech paths. He took me to a boy’s bathroom that was IN USE! Really? When I said no thanks, he then led me to a dentist office where there was a dental chair and room to walk around it. Needless to say, I found my own space that year, which was on the floor of a stairway landing.”  Linda


The worst real estate in the school! Which would you choose for your speech therapy space?


The Stage

“Worst room experience - when I had to work on the stage at the elementary school while PE was happening in the gym  - only thing separating us was the stage curtain.  I had a very hard time trying to tell if my students were saying their sounds correctly :(“  Kim

A Tornado Proof Room!

“Worst room for me was a previous janitors closet at a middle school. Still had water fixtures exposed, no windows, barely fit 3 students. However, if there would have been a tornado, I would have been set!” Ashley

The Roach Motel

“I’ve been pretty lucky with rooms, but my first speech room consistently had roaches and roach poop in it :/” Annie

Just a Desk

“Worst room was an electrical closet that could only fit my desk and a file cabinet. I had to search the school to find an empty space for the actual therapy session.”  Tatiana

Beer, Anyone?


“When working early intervention, I had two different families own liquor stores and had to do all my visits on top of crates of beer! Seriously!” Renee

SLPs have been offered some pretty terrible spaces to work in! What is your WORST ROOM EVER story

Please add your story in the comments- then we will feel like we are in good company!

5 NO COST Tips to Help STOP Summer Time Lag!


Did you know that students who don’t keep expanding their vocabulary over the summer come back to school in the fall lagging behind their peers who continued learning?

5 No Cost ways to stop summertime lag by Looks Like Language
It is just one way to measure growth, but is closely tied to many skills needed for school success.

Parents, what you do with your children at home is so important! You CAN help your kids to be better prepared for school each and every year. These ideas are NO COST, but they do take a bit of time. And you don't even need to leave your home for most of these!

5 tips to help stop that summertime lag!

Talk to your kids with higher level vocabulary!
1. Vocabulary:

Choose a word of the week and give a thumbs up for every time one of your kids uses that word in a sentence. The winner earns an easy prize:

• Stay up 15 minutes later (or in bed later in the morning)
• Choose the next cereal to be bought
• 1 chore to be shared by the other kids one time
• A star next to their name on a piece of paper on the fridge

2. Play word games:

Take turns:
-naming something in a category that starts or ends with a letter.
-describing something until someone guesses it.
-going through the alphabet to name an item you would find in a place.

Try having your child read to you!
3. Read:

Reading is the most important thing you can do! If your kids totally resist trips to the library, try these ideas:

     • Try a manga (comic strip pictures)      book.
     • Read the comics together if you get a paper or have computer access.
     • Make something your family loves to eat and have your kids read the recipe to you.

It doesn't matter what you read, just read!
• Have your kids read the labels at
the store to find out how much sugar
or salt are in the food.
• Find a show or movie with subtitles 
that you have free access to and 
take turns reading the script.


Remember, just read!

Tell stories! Kids especially love to hear about when you got in trouble!
4. Tell a story:


      For school practice, the stories have to have a beginning, middle and end that are connected by a main idea. Try these ideas:

     * At a shared meal, tell something about your day.
     * Tell a story about something that you will always remember.
     * Tell about the worst time you ever had at (place.)     
      * Tell about a time you got in trouble when you were little.
     * Tell about the last episode of their favorite tv show. Does it make sense even if you haven’t seen the show?

Tell a wish/hope story, like:
      - If I could travel anywhere...
-If I won a shopping spree at my favorite store...
-If I invented a _____...
-If I was stranded on an island...
-If I had a personal robot...



Your kids are never too young to talk to!
5. TALK!
Remember, your kids are NEVER 
too little to talk to. 
That is how they learn!


Whatever you do, just keep on talking!
Have a great summer!

Making It Work: 3 Steps for Using Adapted Books and Play

Do you ever finish reading something and wonder, "The idea sounds good but how do I make it work for me?" Read on for 3 concrete, practical tips for combining adapted books and play that you can put to use immediately!

3 steps for using books and play in speech/language therapy!
Step 1: Choose a theme!

How about a picnic theme? It is lots of fun and has so many options. Themes allow you to:

      • Make groups work when you have to switch your groups around for make-up sessions.

      •  Coordinate with the theme being used in a pre-K or K classroom.

      • Get out a limited set of toys, books and craft activities for the time you are using the theme.

      • Start collecting fun toys and activities to expand your theme for next year.




Picnic books for kids and YouTube books, too!
Step 2: Choose and adapt a book!

There are so many choices!

⁃ Start by looking at what you already have around or can get inexpensively. Planning ahead and looking at the Scholastic Book club choices can be a good way to go, so parents can get the same book for home carryover!

⁃ Often it is good to have a higher level book and a lower level one for your theme, so you can meet most of the goals you are working on and have a cohesive set of follow-up activities for everyone.

⁃ Look at the pictures in the book. Does the text talk about what is happening in the picture or can you adapt the text easily so that they match? Our students need to have this visual matching support to make sense of the language in the text.

⁃ Adapt the book so that your lower-level students can fill in the vocabulary words while your higher-level students can complete the sentences. This can be done easily if you have more than one place with a blank Velcro spot to add the missing symbols. Just choose which set of symbols to remove depending on the needs of each student or group.


Playing out the story plot helps build language and literacy skills!
Step 3: Choose your follow-up activities!

You want these activities to reinforce the language and concepts for the theme and the book. Best practice would have you read the entire book first before you focus on sections of it for skill-building.

1. Start with the object vocabulary. 
Find toys or bring in the real items to elicit the labels. How about a picnic basket filled with the items you are talking about? Students can take turns putting their hand in the basket without peeking and pull out an item to label.

2.  Re-enact the plot sequence by doing the activity. 
This is a great way to reinforce the object labels and introduce the verbs that go with  them. If your students can handle it, go outside to an enclosed area and have a picnic with their favorite snack and drink. 

Do you have runners? Then have a picnic on your therapy room floor with the door closed. Still won’t work? Put a plastic tablecloth or red bulletin board paper over your table and have your picnic there while your student is in the accustomed seating.

3.  Now that your students have some experience with a picnic, go back to your adapted book and see how successful they are at completing it. 


Activity ideas with a picnic theme!
Note their errors to choose which follow up activities to use:

* Play having a picnic with toys.
* Do a craft to make/decorate/color the vocabulary items.
* Play a game with pictures of the activities involved in the theme.
* Watch a You-tube video associated with the theme.
* Use an interactive activity on your iPad for the theme. BOOM Cards are great for this!
* Make a flipbook activity for forming sentences.
* Adapt a picture worksheet to make an interactive activity, or have your higher-level students just complete the worksheet.
* Have students fill in more of the symbols in your adapted book, or use additional books to expand their language for the theme.



Try Autism File Folder Activities: Picnic!
Of course, you can always make life easier for yourself and check this out at my store!

It has sentence building games and activities, photos, and adapted books at different levels to meet the needs of diverse groups.



Enjoy!




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