Kid Confidential: Using Thematic Therapy to Write Goals

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Last month I discussed the benefits of using thematic lessons in speech therapy.  Today I will discuss how I write goals using this type of therapy.  Please understand the following information is based solely on my own clinical experience and information shared with me from other licensed speech-language pathologists.

Taking data for thematic therapy does not differ as compared to taking data for non-theme based therapy activities in general.  However, it does depend on the specific goal for each student and the sources from which you are planning on collecting data.

In the school setting, working as a multidisciplinary team, there are a number of different ways goals can be targeted: in the speech room, in the classroom, in particular academic exercises, in small groups, in large groups, in functional language opportunities, conversation, play, etc.  I also have used data collected by a number of different individuals in the school setting to determine generalization of skills: the SLPA, the reading specialist, the classroom teacher, the special educator, the classroom paraprofessional, etc.  The key to determining effective data collection is to know what you want to target and who will be taking the data.

Goal Writing

First let’s discuss how goal writing can affect data collection.  Goals should always be objective and measurable in nature targeting the individualized needs of each student. However, we must guard against writing goals that are too specific, such as naming particular intervention programs, school curriculum, or technological devices that will be used in therapy.  The problem with writing goals that are too specific is that they are not always able to translate from one school district to another, especially if a new district lacks the same access to such named programs, have different school curriculum or different technological devices.  Therefore, I always like to say my goals must be objective, measurable, individualized and transferable (meaning no matter where this child may move, any SLP can work on each goal as it is written).

Goals to Be Used With Any Thematic Activity

How can an SLP write specific goals with the plan of using thematic therapy in mind?  I tend to write my goals using a particular percentage of accuracy as the measurement, however I base it on the number of opportunities per session.  For example, I may write something like:

“Johnny will receptively and/or expressively label subjective (he, she, they) and objective pronouns (him, her, them) during thematic therapy activities independently (or types of cues-verbal, nonverbal, visual, written, phonemic, semantic, etc., and level of prompting required-minimal, moderate, maximum) with 80 percent accuracy of total opportunities per session, across three consecutive data collection days.”

The reason I write my goals in this manner is because in natural conversation or in the classroom, there may not be an exact number of trials/opportunities to demonstrate a skill.  So functionally, if my student begins to demonstrate that skill successfully at 80 percent accuracy, regardless of the number of opportunities across three consecutive data collection days, then I feel I can confidently say this student has learned this skill.  Writing goals this way also allows me to easily take data throughout an entire session regardless of the number or types of thematic activities my student participates in that day.

Writing Thematic Vocabulary Goals

Thematic therapy is such a great way to improve semantic skills!  One way to do this is to use academic vocabulary within thematic therapy activities and keep a running record of the targeted and learned vocabulary words.  It is believed that the average child can learn approximately 10 new vocabulary words every day (from approximately 3 years old on through elementary school), setting a total number of vocabulary words a child would typically learn in a week at approximately 70, and the total number of words per school year (36 week) at approximately 2,520. Not all of these words will be useful in the academic environment; therefore, when working on vocabulary goals for school age children, I tend to rely on academic vocabulary to guide my therapy as I know giving a child words they can use in the classroom will translate into improved academic performance.  As some children who are receiving speech and language services may not be able to learn 10 academic vocabulary words a day, due to cognitive delays or other reasons, I prefer to write a goal of learning new academic vocabulary words over the course of a marking period (9 weeks) based on teacher input.  I may write goals that target learning anywhere from 10-20 new academic vocabulary words a week, depending on the number of new vocabulary words the teacher will present to the student in the classroom on a weekly basis, as well as the student’s learning ability.  A simple example of this type of goal would be:

“Over a nine week period, Johnny will increase his understanding and use of academic vocabulary as determined via the academic curriculum and classroom teacher by demonstrating improvement in defining vocabulary, correctly using vocabulary in sentences, and/or labeling synonyms and antonyms of vocabulary for at least 90 new words during thematic therapy activities in small group speech therapy sessions.”

Keeping a simple running record of the academic vocabulary presented and learned during each nine week period serves as a simple way to collect data during therapy sessions.

When working in early childhood, I wrote goals specifically for thematic vocabulary that aligned with the weekly classroom themes for my preschool students.  An example would be:

“Johnny will demonstrate an increase in thematic vocabulary repertoire, by receptively and/or expressively labeling objects related to various developmental themes as determined by the classroom teacher (e.g. transportation, clothing, seasons, foods, etc.) via structured thematic therapy activities given phonemic and semantic cues with minimal assistance (cuing less than 25 percent of the time) with 80 percent accuracy of total opportunities, per theme presented.”

As preschool classrooms are based on thematic education, this particular goal could transfer to any preschool classroom.  Also adding in that this goal would be targeted for each theme presented throughout the academic year, helped to ensure that this goal would continue for each classroom thematic lesson.

Writing Goals to Accept Data From Other Sources

As I briefly mentioned above, another affective way to demonstrate if speech services are having a positive effect on a student in other settings is to accept data recorded from other sources within the academic setting–classroom teacher, classroom paraprofessional/aide, special education teacher, reading specialist, etc.  To do this, it should be identified within a goal that certain sources will be used for data collection.  For example:

“Johnny will demonstrate generalization of understanding and use of subjective pronouns (he, she, they) and objective pronouns (him, her, them) to the general education classroom by verbally expressing and/or writing the correct pronouns during class participation (e.g. responding to teacher questions, reading group discussions, etc.) or in classroom assignments (e.g. classroom journal, worksheets, homework, etc.) with 80 percent accuracy of total opportunities as per teacher report and graded classroom assignments, across 3 separate data collection dates.”

In this particular example, the goal here is to demonstrate generalization of a language skill to another environment. Therefore, as an SLP, I may continue to target this specific skill through various thematic therapy activities, however I will use teacher report and classroom assignments to determine if generalization has occurred.

Help from Other Colleagues

Some of the best goals I have found come from other speech-language pathologists.  Tatyana Elleseff, a colleague and owner of Smart Speech Therapy, LLC, has shared some of her preferences in writing goals with the use of thematic lessons in mind, which I very much like.  The following are examples simple skills one can target using thematic therapy.  Adding your own measurements systems and identifying ways in which data will be collected are necessary to complete these particular goals to create something objective, measurable, individualized and transferable.

Short-term Vocabulary and/or Grammar Skills:

  1. Child will be able to appropriately label 150 functional objects (nouns) related to his academic and home environment.
  2. Child will be able to appropriately label 70 functional actions (verbs) related to his academic and home environment.
  3. Child will be able to appropriately label 35 functional descriptors (adjectives) related to his academic and home environment.
  4. Child will define and use curriculum/related vocabulary words in discourse and narratives.
  5. Child will improve his ability to formulate semantically and grammatically correct sentences of increased length and complexity.

These particular skills lend themselves very nicely to SLP data collection simply by keeping running records or recording performance during therapy sessions.

Story Telling/Narrative Skills:

  1. Child will increase ability to produce cohesive age-level narratives containing 5+ story grammar elements
  2. Child will identify main ideas in presented text.
  3. Child will identify details in presented text.
  4. Child will answer simple inferencing and predicting questions (e.g., “How did this happen?”/ “What would happen…?”) based on presented text.

The above skills can be measured either in the therapy room by the SLP during specific language tasks, within classroom assignments and teacher report, or a combination of both depending on how many sources of data collection you would like to use.

Other Long-Term Language Skills

Receptive Language: Client will demonstrate age-level receptive language ability (listening comprehension, auditory processing of information) in order to effectively communicate with a variety of listeners/speakers in all conversational and academic contexts.

Expressive Language: Client will demonstrate age-level expressive language ability in order to effectively communicate with a variety of listeners/speakers in all conversational and academic contexts.

Pragmatic Language: Client will demonstrate age appropriate pragmatic skills in all conversational contexts.

As you can tell from the particular skills targeted above, data collection from an SLP alone is not going to be enough to demonstration functional skills throughout the academic environment or in all conversational contexts.  Therefore, using a number of data sources within the academic environment is necessary to accurately measure these particular skills.

In general, data collection does not change drastically when using thematic therapy lessons versus the “drill and kill” concept.  However, when planning to use thematic therapy, you may notice the way you write your goals and the sources from which you collect data can differ slightly from when skills are traditionally targeted by the SLP alone.

Next month, I will discuss how I collect data during thematic therapy and how I get teachers on board to become an additional data source as well.

Maria Del Duca, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern, Arizona.  She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name.  Maria received her master’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has been practicing as an ASHA certified member since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.  She has experience in various settings such as private practice, hospital and school environments and has practiced speech pathology in NJ, MD, KS and now AZ.  Maria has a passion for early childhood, autism spectrum disorders, rare syndromes, and childhood Apraxia of speech.  For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook.