Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Giant's Sneeze

With Thanksgiving around the corner, our school walls are covered with beautiful fall and holiday-themed artwork. It makes me realize how thankful I am for my artistic coworkers.

One I’m particularly thankful for is Susan Joyer who loves art, loves kids and loves children’s literature. That is a winning combination in my book, in fact that winning combination is in one of my books—The Giant’s Sneeze

I wrote this story to give my students an entertaining way to practice their “ch” sounds, a fairly common speech error. Since my artistic talents are limited, Susan Joyer volunteered to illustrate the story so we could both use it with our students to encourage pre-reading skills along with articulation.

Speech and reading skills are interdependent and children make leaps toward literacy when those skills are taught together. It so happens, this practice fits in nicely with one of the Common Cores Standards—Reading: Foundational Skills (RF.1.3) where students are expected to,

“Know the spelling-sound correspondences for common consonant digraphs (two letters that represent one sound).”

Like “ch” for example.

I had a chance to read our book to a couple of classes yesterday. It was fun to watch the kids’ enthusiastic response to Susan’s illustrations and to the story. They chimed right in when the giant gave his mighty warning of several “ch” sounds before each sneeze. They laughed at the blustering sneeze-breeze that turned milk into cheese and scattered millions of bees. They were especially entranced with the honey tornado caused by the gusty sneeze when it, “rounded up the scattered bees, and funneled their honey far into the seas.”
Marcia Douglas' Class - some are showing how to make the "ch" sound.

Gabe, one of the first grade students, wondered if the giant put bread on his honey. That sparked some lively discussions about what the honey tornado might look like with thick slices of bread stuck to the sides. By the end of the story, the students had no problem identifying the sound represented by “ch” and they had no trouble showing me how to articulate the sound clearly. We’ll probably need to review the information after the holiday break, but that should be an easy job. I’ve already heard students say, “Read it again, read it again!”

Thanksgiving will be here soon. I can almost smell the turkey cooking and apple cider simmering on the stove. There will be ten of us around our table and I’m grateful for each one. When I return to work on the following Monday, fall decorations will start coming down and winter snowflakes and snowmen will begin to make an appearance. My Thanksgiving attitude will linger as I watch the transformation brought about by many of my coworkers who use their artistic talents to create an inviting learning environment for our students, and an inviting place to go to work each day. And I feel especially grateful to Susan Joyer for using her artistic talents to bring The Giant’s Sneeze to life.

Happy Thanksgiving! May it be filled with good food, friends and family.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


There was no school on Monday of this week in celebration of Veterans' Day. With the three-day weekend, my husband and I left straight from work on the preceding Friday and headed up the coast for a mini-reunion with friends. Our group rented a house somewhat midway between those furthest north in Washington and those furthest south in California. We arrived late at night and settled into an oceanfront rental for our third annual reunion with three other couples. 

We’ve known all but one of these friends for over thirty-years but we lost contact for at least 25 of those years. Our friendships started in Southeast Alaska where we all lived: young, single, and in the beginning stages of new professions. 

One of our friends brought this one, taken the day
my husband and I met! Can you guess which one is me?
During our reunions we’ve caught up on all the major life events, poured over old photographs and shared our stories. I especially enjoyed reminiscing about the ones we have in common, like our hike along Salmon Creek, visits to the Mendenhall Glacier and camping at Denali.

Our trip to Denali 

Phyllis reminded me that during one hike she stepped on a rotting bridge and her leg went right through, landing her in the creek. She started back to work as a classroom teacher with a fat lip and a suspicious principal. 

This may seem like an "off-topic" subject for a speech therapy/kidlit bog, but I don't think it is entirely unrelated. In my work, whether I'm teaching students to articulate sounds, formulate a sentence, learn the fundamentals of social language (pragmatics) or increase their vocabulary, one of my ultimate goals is to help them become better communicators so they can have healthy long-term relationships and so that they can tell their own stories, the stories of their lives.

This past week I haven’t had a chance to read books with the kids. Report cards go home next week (along with IEP progress reports) so I’ve been busy testing and writing reports. It seems somewhat tedious but the time is well spent. I can see tremendous growth in some students and it is obvious, by their smiles and the glint in their eyes, they recognize their growth. A couple of the students, who were almost ready to be dismissed from speech at the end of last year, are now fully ready. 

I have mixed feelings about letting them go, but it is time to do so. I feel good knowing their speech and language skills have grown stronger and my hope is that these new skills will help them form friendships like those I cherish. Perhaps, one day, they’ll enjoy reunions with old friends and be able to share life-enriching stories of their own.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Robots in the Speech Room!

I had a new student in speech this week. When I went to his classroom to pick him up for his first session, I called his name and he shrank. His shoulders rolled forward, he tucked in his chin and tried very hard to disappear into the crowd of kindergartners sitting on the carpet at their teacher’s feet. I gave him what I thought was an encouraging smile but it wasn’t encouraging enough—his eyes widened in apprehension, then melted into a pleading look as he turned toward his teacher, obviously hoping she’d rescue him. She didn’t. But she introduced us and reassured him that a lot of kids love going to speech. After I spoke a few kind words and found a friend to walk with him, he left with his new speech group and trudged along to my classroom.

Fortunately, I had an enticing book on my desk, just waiting for the right moment and a fitting group of kids for its introduction. I’d found both, so I scrapped my original plans and grabbed Robots, Robots Everywhere! by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Bob Staake.

Robots, Robots Everywhere!

I thought the cheery illustrations and catchy rhymes might help this new student forget his nervousness. I was right; the worry lines on his forehead softened the moment he looked at the cover of the book and they disappeared entirely by the time I’d finished reading a few pages,

On the ground
and in the air,
Robots, robots

Up in space,

Beneath the seas,

Robots make discoveries.

I’d forgotten how appealing robots are to young children. The kids moved in close to examine each illustration. Soon, this reluctant child leaned against my side so he could get a better look at the pages. It wasn’t long before he was pointing and laughing and talking about the kind of robot he wants to own. All of the kids had ideas to share. Jose wants a double-headed robot that climbs trees. Olivya wants a pumpkin-robot that glows. Enrique wants a tiny one “about this big” he circled his hand around a walnut-sized pocket of air. His robot will go on water, land, and in the sky.

My students made a scavenger hunt out of the book and scanned the pages for familiar shapes—squares, circles, rectangles, triangles, ovals, and ice-cream-cone-shapes. Their enthusiasm was contagious. I snatched my box of paper-scraps and quickly cut out a few similar shapes. We made collages, building our own robots as we built vocabulary.

I’ve known for a while, knowledge of shapes is an important foundation for growing math skills, but I was curious about its place in the curriculum so later in the day, I searched the Common Core Standards to find out where it’s listed. Sure enough, the first two kindergarten geometry standards require students to learn the names of various shapes. Our vocabulary lesson and Ms. Fliess’ book was a perfect fit for these kindergarten mathematicians.

The next day, when I went to pick up my new student, he practically bolted from his classroom. He could hardly wait to see if his robot collage was dry. He didn’t trudge to my room; he scurried along on imaginary robot feet, smiling all the way. It was no surprise to me. Over and over, I’ve seen what an appealing book can do to reach a reluctant child, whether it is a reluctance to leave a familiar environment, face a challenge or learn a new skill; books often ease the way into comfort and open minds to learning just as Robots, Robots Everywhere! did for this student.