Friday, April 4, 2014

“Once Upon a Time” at a Speech/Language Convention

Last week, toward the end of an exceptionally rainy day, three of my first grade speech students (all boys) came bounding into my classroom, overflowing with unspent energy. I had an appealing speech game laid out on the table, ready for this exuberant group, but as we started the activity, their wiggling bodies and wandering eyes made it obvious—their minds were not fully engaged. And so, with a quick sweep of my hand, I gathered the articulation pictures, folded up the game-board, and stood. They looked a bit worried when the game disappeared but their wrinkled foreheads cleared and their eyes sparkled when I said, “I think we need a story.” I had their full attention from the moment I spoke those words and their minds didn’t wander through the rest of the session.

Stories are powerful. Whether the students are listening to them, reading them or helping create them, I can’t think of a better way to reach a child or help a child reach their goals. Since that has long been my belief, I was delighted to find two story-related courses at the California Speech, Language and Hearing Association Convention last week. I guess I’m not alone in my desire to use literature with my students. The massive ballroom at the San Francisco Hilton was packed with speech therapists during both courses.

The first one, entitled Narrative Intervention: Teaching “Once Upon a Time” was taught by Teresa A. Ukrainetz, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Wyoming, in the division of Communication Disorders. From her first PowerPoint slide, I knew I had found a kindred spirit, or mentor, or story-telling guru, (after all, she has a Ph.D and has written numerous research articles on the subject.) But back to that first slide. Under the bold printed title, Why Narratives?, she listed, among other things,

            Bridge between orality and literacy
            Teaching language and literacy through stories
            The magic of story

Parents and professionals, both, will easily catch the direction of her research findings. Stories build a bridge. What child, after hearing a good story, does not want to decipher those letters and watch them turn into words, then lift off the page to become unicorns or castles or wild horses running through their imagination? As Dr. Ukrainetz indicated, literature provides a perfect avenue for teaching speech, language and literacy skills, and that is when the magic happens.

Later that same day, I attended a course by Dr. Shari Robertson, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This one was entitled, The Best of Both Worlds: Using Children’s Literature to Meet Oral and Written Language Goals. Once again, I was hooked by her first slide. This course was in the afternoon and after a heavy lunch, but I had no problem staying alert, even when she pulled out a picture book and read, what easily could have become, a bedtime story.

In the course description she stated, “Put some evidence-based zing into your therapy sessions by using books to target oral and written communication development.” Dr. Roberson put some zing into her entire presentation, and if I hadn’t already been enthusiastic about using literature with my students, I would have come away committed to doing so. As it was, I came away with fabulous new lists of books to use with my speech and language kids, one of which is a picture book written by Dr. Robertson herself—Capering Cows—the story of a sleepless child who counts cows instead of sheep.

CC Cover

This book, illustrated by Alexandra Crouse, is perfect for children who need practice with their “k” or hard “c” sounds and it is full of descriptive words and rhyming stanzas, like this one:

Cows that are cowardly
Cows that are brave.
Cows that have ears that waggle and wave.

The book includes tear-out flash cards for vocabulary practice and story extension activities. And at the back, you’ll find instructions on how to effectively use the book to address several National Reading Panel targets.

Dr. Roberson introduced other books produced by her publishing company, Read With Me! Press, which support language and literacy development. Speech therapists will especially appreciate the stories in their “Word Menders” series, which target specific phonological processes.

You don’t need to be a speech therapist or to understand those processes to read these stories to children. Elizabeth Redhead Kriston’s Go By Goat, charmingly illustrated by Gary Morgan, will help children listen to and pronounce the final consonants in words.  Since this sound often disappears when some of my younger students speak, I’ll be putting the book to good use.

And when my exuberant speech group comes in for their next session, I’ll be armed with several new stories that are certain to delight them as we work toward their goals.

I received these books for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience. I was not financially compensated for this post.