Believe It Or Not: The Common Core Standards Can Make Your Job Easier

shutterstock_15584677The Common Core State Standards have changed my life.  I know that’s a bold statement to make, but armed with simple resources and the confidence that I really am integrating the curriculum and assessing academic impact, working as a school based speech-language pathologist is suddenly more fulfilling. And yes, we are talking about the same Common Core State Standards. While some teachers seem to be quivering in their boots about the prospects of implementing the Standards, I think speech-language pathologists should be rejoicing.

Now I’m not going to tell you about the oodles of research that went into developing them (for history on Common Core State Standards, go to the CCSS website and look under ELA Appendices A), nor will I lecture about why you should use them (let someone else do that). I’m here to show you why they changed my practice from a speech-language lens and how it has not only improved my treatment but strengthened my clinical skills too.

Sometimes, as therapists, we can find it hard to know what a child should be able to do when all we see are students with delays, disorders and disabilities. What is grade level, age appropriate and just plain old typical can become confusing when you don’t have a set of norms to compare to. With the added pressure on school-based SLPs to be curriculum- related and demonstrate academic impact, it has been a personal relief for me to simply look up a standard and think, “so that is what my student is expected to do.” Even if you aren’t based in a school but work with school-age clients, the Common Core State Standards can still guide your treatment decisions.

The Common Core State Standards can look overwhelming, but the English Language Arts curriculum is probably the most useful for speech-language pathologists. It focuses on reading, writing, listening and speaking and language. What may seem cumbersome at first will soon become ingrained and you will start to see just how our profession and scope of practice is present in almost every learning outcome. A very simple idea of how different areas of speech-language pathology relate to the curriculum is demonstrated below.

Reading: Focuses on the reading continuum from foundational skills to fluency and integration of knowledge. Areas include phonological awareness, answering key details, identifying main ideas, description, comparing and contrasting, sequencing and retelling.

Writing: Focuses on written compositions of a variety of genres (for example, narratives, explanatory and arguments). Areas include sequencing, linking words, description and comprehension.

Speaking and Listening: Focuses on oral and receptive and expressive language skills. Areas include syntax, pragmatics, narrative skills and comprehension.

Language: Focuses on grammatical conventions and vocabulary. Areas include vocabulary acquisition, syntax, morphology and higher-level language skills such as multiple meaning words.

Most SLPs already know just how much of learning is dependent on language and communication skills. So I encourage you to think outside the box and use the Common Core State Standards in a number of different ways:

  • Refer to them to write grade level Individualized Education Program goals.
  • Use the horizontal/vertical progressions (below) to help with step up/downs in treatment.
  • Use the standards to help guide informal assessments. Take a language sample and compare to the standards’ Language section or do some classroom observations to understand academic impact.
  • If teachers are still unsure of your role and scope, why not do an in-service and use the standards as a reference. This could help with collaboration, response-to-intervention and moving toward working in the classroom.

You can go straight to the Common Core State Standards site and view the English Language Arts Standards, but keep your eye out for ways other states present the standards. Maine breaks down them down into vertical progressions (view writing, language, speaking and listening) so you can see how each skill develops each year, while Arizona provides the standards in a horizontal progression.

Download the free Common Core State Standards app. I love the ease of swiping through the standards, as it is much faster than flipping through papers. Finally, ASHA’s Common Core State Standards: A Resource for SLPs also includes great information and resources for speech-language pathologists. Be sure to click on “Resources and References” to access articles, blogs and useful sites.

Remember, the Common Core Standards are coming to a school district to you soon, so why not start getting familiar with them now?

 

Rebecca Visintin, CCC-SLP,  is an Australian-trained, school-based speech-language pathologist  in Washington state. She has worked in the Australian outback and Samoa and provides information for SLPs working abroad and free therapy resources on her site Adventures in Speech Pathology.

 

Putting the Scope Back Into Your Practice

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Have you ever found yourself doing tasks or odd jobs as part of your speech-language pathology role and then think to yourself, “‘I don’t think that was in my job description?”

Are you feeling a little burnt out? Stuck in a rut? A little unenthused at the prospect of attending more meetings, completing endless IEPs and filling out more paperwork than clients you see? I have felt like this and I know other SLPs have cycled through the same dilemma so I sought my own solution …

As the sole speech-language pathologist working in a special needs school in Samoa, some of the questionable roles and responsibilities I undertook included:

  • Toenail clipper
  • Inventor of new dance moves for health class
  • Instructor of brushing teeth
  • Shaver of beards and trimmer of moustaches
  • Wound management officer

It would be an understatement if I said that I felt a little under-utilized or that my skills were not being put to best practice. Proud of my qualifications, I wanted to yell “I’m a speech-language pathologist! This is NOT what I do”’ but I didn’t. I just sunk a little lower, burnt out that extra bit more until one day I decided to do something productive with my new duties. I thought of ways that I could put speech-language pathology into these roles because I can tell you this much; no one could invent new dance moves like me!

Hence, the Scope of Practice Challenge was born.

The first and only time you looked at the ASHA Scope of Practice document may have been for a college assignment and then you tucked that hefty piece away. Out of sight, out of mind. But I assure you, the Scope of Practice wasn’t created for a one-time essay. I believe it was written to inspire forlorn, burnt out or plain ambitious SLPs! I challenged myself to apply one new scope each month and see if it improved my job satisfaction because, like you, I just wanted to make the biggest difference possible. It might not have been what I thought I would be doing but, like the cunning therapist I was trained to be, I made things speech-language pathology related without people even realizing!

I reluctantly took a side step from assessments and therapy and did things that were in my scope that I never would have thought of doing. I helped to create a policies and procedures manual, gave phonologic awareness input toward a basic language-arts curriculum, taught social skills and made locally appropriate social stories, provided in-service training, did team teaching and had local special education students work shadow me to learn more about speech-language pathology. To be honest, it was a liberating experience because it showed me that there was so much more to being a speech-language pathologist than simply providing therapy. It also made realize that I could strive to be better and do more.

So why should you take up the Scope of Practice Challenge? It will broaden your skills and make you into a more rounded therapist. It can help provide new direction and inspire your work if it has become a little predictable lately. Or it could be a creative means to get more out of bus and lunchroom duty!

Here are some sample roles outlined in ASHA’s document to get you thinking about how simple it can be to initiate your own Scope of Practice Challenge:

  • Fostering public awareness of communication and swallowing disorders and their treatment: Why not create some cool informational resources with your students to send home? Make speech-language posters and hang them around your school. Get active with Better Speech & Hearing Month in your local community and have a quiz night or set up a little booth at the local markets for Q&A with some colleagues.
  • Educating and providing in-service training to families, caregivers, and other professionals: Offer in-service informational sessions to parents about how to complete therapy in the home environment or on speech sound development. Present to your team on language stimulation techniques. Do a quick five-minute vocal hygiene session with peers during cold and flu season.
  • Recruiting potential speech-language pathologists into the profession: Get in touch with your local high school, college or university and do a talk with students on how awesome it is to be an SLP!

So instead of saying “this is not part of my job,” think about your scope of practice and how you can make it part of your job.

Rebecca Visintin is an Australian-trained speech-language pathologist. She is currently working in elementary and middle schools in Washington state after experience in the Australian outback and as the sole speech-language pathologist in Samoa. She provides information for SLPs working abroad and free therapy resources on her site Adventures in Speech Pathology.

Connecting with the Curriculum

Curriculum Books

For a while there, I had no idea what “IDEA” was and “504” could have been a building for all I knew. And then there were the word associations; “FERPA” made me think of a Sherpa, “HIPAA” of hippos and an “IEP” of the movie ET. Moving from Australia and launching a speech-language pathology career in the American school system was a completely different field to wrap my head around and I had a dilemma.

I had never worked in a school before.  Apart from the acronyms, numerous vocabulary challenges and having to change my naturally accented schwa to the vowel controlled “r” to be understood, everything fell into place except for one thing: the curriculum. The ASHA website for speech pathologists working in the School Setting gave me much needed direction, so I started looking for speech-language curriculum related materials on the Internet.

Then I looked a little more.

And more again… until I gave up.

I couldn’t understand that with Pinterest, TpT stores and school-based SLP blogs inspiring many of us to don our creative hats, that there was not more school based resources out there. I couldn’t help but think “Pirates are pretty cool…. but where do pirates fit into the curriculum?” Why do speech pathology materials constantly revolving around seasons and holidays such as Valentine’s Day, winter and St Patrick’s Day? We know that our students need repetition after repetition after repetition to cement their learning, so why are we introducing our own themes and topics with new vocabulary if it will not help our student’s succeed with the language and knowledge that they are learning in their classroom?

So I want to set a challenge: Really think about the following ASHA guideline, broken into two parts for clarity:

  1. Individualized programs always relate to the schoolwork.
  2. Therefore, materials for treatment are taken from or are directly related to content from classes.

Are you doing this in your school-based practice? If the answer is “no,” then why not set yourself a challenge to be more curriculum focused? Just think that every year you could recycle and add to your language materials like our teachers do! It may be some work in the beginning but you could set yourself up for years of minimal planning and support language in the curriculum at the same time.

Here are some ideas to get you started on how you can add some more curriculum to your therapy practice:

  1. Ask to borrow your grade level teacher’s curriculum handbooks and get acquainted with their themes.
  2. Get a grasp on the Common Core Standards and investigate what skills your students should have in the areas of speaking and listening, language, writing and reading.
  3. Borrow your student’s grade level books from the librarian or classroom teacher and use them in therapy.
  4. Find the website on which your curriculum is based for online games and glossaries.
  5. Ask the grade level teachers for tips on where to find resources or look up their teacher site on the school website. Many teachers provide a list of related and helpful links for parents, so start searching through there.
  6. Contact your favorite speech pathology blogger and ask them to start making materials that are curriculum related.

So take the challenge! Change your practice and connect with your student’s curriculum.

Rebecca Visintin is an Australian trained speech-language pathologist. She is currently working in elementary and middle schools in Washington state after experience in the Australian outback and as the sole speech-language pathologist in Samoa. She provides information for SLPs working abroad and free therapy resources on her site Adventures in Speech Pathology.