Saturday, February 25, 2012

Round and Sparkly!

Last week, I had a group of kindergarteners in speech, discussing animals. It’s a good subject for learning about categories and building vocabulary. When I asked them if they had any pets, the youngest student in the group said, “I have a snake.”

I asked, “What does it look like?”

“It’s round and sparkly,” she said.

Before I could probe further, the other students were blurting out their response. I heard about the usual cats, dogs, and hamsters but I was still wondering what kind of snake is round and sparkly, maybe a stuffed toy.

During the first few months of school, the child with the snake wouldn’t speak at all in her classroom. That’s why she was referred to me - her teacher thought she was nonverbal. It didn’t take long for her to open up in a small speech group. But it soon became apparent she had significant language delays. I wasn’t about to make her uncomfortable that morning by putting her on the spot but I wanted more information about that snake. I was getting ready to ask when she spoke again, “I have a dog.”

“Oh,” I said, “tell me about it.”

“It’s round and sparkly.”

Adjectives! They must be working on descriptive language in her classroom. Now they just need to be fine-tuned a bit. It was easy to take the adjective, “sparkly,” and apply it to her shoes; they were glittering with pink and silver sequins, which reminded me of the perfect book to demonstrate more descriptive language – Shoes for Me! by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Mike Laughead. It is full of vibrant illustrations, vivid word pictures and rhymes.

“Girls shoes, boys shoes, flowers, stars. 
Jewels and glitter, trucks and cars.”

Shoes clattered and clopped, zipped and hopped and generally entertained my students while they listened to this story. By the end of it, the kids were bubbling with adjectives and they wanted to show off their own shoes so I took some pictures. Take a look:

Our group will return to the topic of animals in a week or two and I’ve asked them to bring in photos of their pets so we’ll have more information to go on. I can’t wait to see the round and sparkly snake and its twin – the dog.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Helpful Highschooler & Hurt Go Happy

In my work as a school speech therapist, I provide consultation services to our local high school. Of course, if I’m going to consult with a teacher regarding their student’s communication skills, it helps to meet the kids. I check in with a few of them on a regular basis and those kids expand the dimensions of my job in a wonderful way.

Last spring when our Special Education department purchased a few iPads, I took one of them to the high school, planning to make a video of a student so he could evaluate his own speech. At the time, I knew very little about how to use an iPad. However, it took only one consultation with this student and he set me on the right path. (I had to promise first, not to post his video on YouTube.) I was amazed at his improvement after one self-assessment.

Everyone is different. Another high school student loves to talk about books - no iPad for her. Literature is easy to use for communication development. I can listen to her rate of speech and fluency as she reads or discusses a story; I can see if she slips into an old speech pattern - using “w” for “r”; and I can check her comprehension. Recently, I had the pleasure of introducing her to the book, Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby, a local author and friend of mine.

Joey, the main character in this YA novel, has a severe hearing impairment. I won’t go into the plot except to say that another major character, Sukari, is a chimpanzee. I fell in love with her. Sukari opened my eyes to the controversies around animal testing. Hurt Go Happy also touches on many areas of communication: American Sign Language, lip reading, written communication, voice quality and miscommunications in relationships. It certainly opened a good discussion with my student.

For a detailed review of this book check out this link:

On a related note, this past week Ginny was in St. Louis serving on a federally funded panel, helping to establish writing standards for 8th and 12th grade students. The majority of the panelists were educators but many others were writers. I’m grateful for the work they did. Just think of all the young authors who will become better writers because of their hard work. And think of the books we may get to read some day, by those young authors.

Young people and education… recall the high school student at the beginning of this post? At my next consult, he suggested he could show me how to play the game, “Angry Birds.” I don’t know, it sounds like too much fun. But I imagine there are readers out there who could turn Angry Birds into an educational tool. What do you think?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Happy (Almost) Valentine's Day

I love the approach of Valentines Day with all the colorful decorations, children’s artwork and the lovingly-made cards. I thought you might enjoy a peek at some of the decorations from around our school.

Hand-made cards

"Stained glass" window hearts 

I bet you can guess what these are. 
They are just waiting to be filled on Valentine's Day.

Our school librarian, Allison Brown, is in the spirit of the holiday. Take a look at our library:

And yesterday, I got to see her at work; it looks like she's having fun to me. She loves children's literature and children. It certainly comes through when you see her with students at story time.  Here she is introducing her favorite Valentine's book, Slugs in Love, by Susan Pearson. Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley.

And here she is with a happy crowd of First Graders listening to the story:

What a perfectly charming Valentines tale! It is full of poetry, love, devotion, and slug-slime. Who could resist such a combination; certainly not our kindergarten, first, and second grade students - nor those of us who work with them. 

The kids didn’t take their eyes off the book as Allison read about the shy slug, Marylou who “loved everything about Herbie—how his slime trail glistened in the dark, how he could stretch himself thin to squeeze inside the cellar window...." She was too shy to approach him directly so she used her slime trail to write secret poems for him. Marylou didn't see what Herbie wrote in return and so, like any good love story, the tension mounted. You’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends but since it is a picture book, you’ll probably guess - the ending is a happy one.

If you have any favorite Valentine’s Day books, I’d love to hear about them!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Snail

Last Wednesday, during my final speech group of the day, I played a board game with my students. It’s a simple game. It has a very short racetrack for six colorful, wooden snails. One of the students picked up a snail and started racing him down the track and the others soon followed his example.

 “You can’t make him zip down the track,” I told them. “He’s a snail, after-all!”

Their faces fell and began to get that glazed over look kids often get after a long day of instruction.

So I added, “That is, unless he has super powers.” You should have seen their faces light up. Suddenly they were engaged, fully.

I have to remind you, this group comes to me at the end of the day and focusing is not one of their strengths at the best of times. But they were focused now. All eyes were on me  - and they were very bright.

 “What kind of powers should he have?” I asked.

“A rocket,” one student suggested.

“What shall we name him?”

“I know, I know,” The student’s hand was waving frantically. “Lady Bug!”

“But he’s a snail,” I said. “Are you sure that name captures his personality?”

Another student’s hand shot up. His eyes went wide and he said, “Bumble Bee! Let’s call him Bumble Bee.”

At first I wondered, what they could be thinking, but then I remembered the book, Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis. This story has been very popular with the younger set around our school. In fact, the students have been introducing the book to their teachers. I can see the appeal - a playground adventure where imagination turns two young friends into super heroes. With bug-wings, they zoom around to save the world from scary monsters and terrifying robots. It’s no wonder kids enjoy the entire series.

In the end, (even though I thought Shelly was a girl’s name) he became:

Shelly the snail
with a rocket tail.
Who zipped and zapped
but never, ever napped.
Who slimed and climbed
Over words that rhymed . . .
                                  you get the idea.

Now if I were to analyze this speech session, I’d have to say the kids were so engaged they were saying their target sounds more frequently than usual. They didn’t even mind when I stopped them to correct their errors. And if we look at the content standards, we touched on phonemic awareness, building vocabulary, comparing and contrasting,  rhyming and following directions (or not).

At the end of the session, I had a hard time scooting these kids out the door – and the school day was over. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when I see them next, I’ll be hearing of Shelly the Snail’s weekend adventures.