Questions and Answers

If you have any questions or concerns that relate to speech language pathology in any way, at any level....just ask.
I will answer them to the best of my ability on my blog.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Learning Middle School Vocabulary In A Different Way

A few weeks ago I searched for some more vocabulary development ideas. I looked for an established program that best fit my therapy style and could be easily translated into the classroom. I found this program developed by Dr. Edwin S. Ellis called the Clarifying Routine. The program emphasizes elaboration of vocabulary while teaching it and promotes adding a "knowledge connection". The "knowledge connection" is to help the children keep the word in their memory bank.

Here is the link to Dr. Ellis's ideas
I have tried to contact Dr. Ellis and other agencys to get more information/instruction on his program but have not been successful.

Most middle school parents and teachers have seen children learn new vocabulary then immediately forget it once the test is over. They usually study for test vocabulary by creating vocabulary cards with a word on one side and a definition on the other. In his article Dr. Ellis shows a vocabulary template requiring a little more information, referred to as The Clarifying Table to replace the basic vocabulary card. This is the link to a sample Clarifying Table

You will immediately see how this table would be a better tool to use when learning/studying vocabulary. The student may not use this elaborate table for every vocabulary word, maybe just a couple. What the table is really suppose to do is to teach the child how to make a knowledge connection with words to aid retention and vocabulary development in general.

I presented the Clarifying Table to some of our 7th grade teachers and they loved the idea. A couple were using a template referred to as a "vocabulary map" which was very similar.

Teachers and therapists, I believe you will find The Clarifying Routine and template simple, fun and beneficial. Parents I think you will find the concept interesting and helpful, especially if you have a student who struggles with vocabulary. I believe that learning the concept of attaching knowledge rather than memorizing a definition would be extremely helpful for all children but especially those who may be struggling with reading or who have struggled with reading in the past. These are the kids who tend to demonstrate a decreased vocabulary.

Since I was not able to get in touch with Dr. Ellis or find a way to obtain his materials/training we put together a template that was similar to the clarifying table but fit our needs.

(Can't seem to transfer it from excel or word. Let me work on it. You will obviously get the idea from Dr. Ellis's example)

Take a peek it is worth it


Monday, October 13, 2008

Pressure vs. Expectations

Over the past several years, many books have been written about how we as parents and we as a society put too much pressure on kids. I’ve purchased several, read a couple and scanned a few. The world is different these days and kids are under a lot more pressure to perform earlier than we ever were. Pressure to perform at school, on the athletic field and with peers have lead to anxiety, acting out and even suicide. Obviously, too much continuous pressure is not a good thing for anyone.

These days children grow up quicker, they are left alone more often and participate in organized activities sooner. So many kids are in divorce situations, splitting time between two busy and sometimes angry parents. If you think that does not cause pressure think again. My own theory is we expose kids to a lot of different experiences earlier than we ever were. Many of these experiences they are not ready for from a developmental standpoint. In these experiences, I include academics, family problems, dance, music, athletics, competitions, daycare till 5 or 6, organized everything. ( I posted earlier a lot of free play is missing). So typical little Billy, who is having trouble with in full day academic kindergarten (which I strongly oppose as a standard for all), may not be developmentally ready for a full day or even some academics in kindergarten, is now sent for special education testing when probably half the class is not developmentally ready to take on the academic challenges or the stress of a full day away from home.

I am saying earlier experiences have changed but child development has not evolved any differently. So right from the start we put too much pressure on them. I am not convinced that full day kindergarten makes your kid smarter or helps them to read that much earlier. By the way, most kid’s skills tend to catch up with each other by about 4th grade. So even if little Sally’s parents bragged about her reading at 4 she will probably turn out to be just an average student. Her experiences were different, exposed to pre-reading skills earlier and it worked for her. Perhaps, she was even pressured into reading so her parents could brag. I believe a lot of the pressure (but not all) emerges when children are expected to do things they are not developmentally ready to do.

So with pressure to succeed and to fit in especially at the middle school and high school level identified as a problem, the trend has been to decrease the pressure and to get help for kids if needed. Most parents have become aware of creating too much pressure and I think have backed off. However, in the quest to decrease the pressure many parents and teachers have also decreased or eliminated common sense expectations.

So what is the difference between putting on too much pressure on a child and having expectations especially high ones. Pressure, I feel, is pointing your child toward an almost impossible goal. Talking about that goal 27/7 and having their life revolve around that goal. The goal becomes so much of a focus that the kid ends up hating the goal and only does it to please their parents. Kids will also self induce pressure so a parent must keep a close watch on high achievers and intervene when the pressure looks like it’s too much.

Expectations are the day to day rules and the life goals kids are suppose to follow whether a parent or teacher is reminding them or not. At home some expectations might be certain chores, doing homework without being told, going to bed at the proper time, preparing your self for school or other activities, doing your best at school, being kind to others, not bullying, speaking politely to adults, following the rules at school and other activities, telling parents important information, behaving yourself in public especially when unsupervised……the list of common sense expectations go on an on. Some of the expectations at school include being respectful to others, listening to adults, coming prepared to class, not throwing trash on the floor, following school routines without always having to be told to get moving, doing your work, working cooperatively, controlling anger, no bullying…..again the list is endless.

As my own children have gotten older, our expectations have changed and increased. We expect them to perform to the best of their ability at school. We expect them to put effort into extracurricular activities, volunteer activities and work. Our biggest expectation is that they will not drink especially if they are driving our car. Does that assure me they won’t? Of course not. But, they also know we do everything in our power to make sure that does not happen. They know we call parents to see if anyone is going to be home and we check their breath when they come in. They know there will be consequences at home for inappropriate behavior. They’ve missed a lot of parties because of our actions and I might add missed the near-death experience of a friend from too much alcohol.

I worked with a middle school teacher once, Mary we’ll call her. Mary called me naive to think my own middle school kids were not exposed to sex, drugs and alcohol. Mary implied that my kids probably were experimenting with all three. It is not that I don’t know those thing are out there but my expectations to my own children is that we do not want you around that kind of stuff or indulging in it. Needless to say, while Mary was spouting this to me, I knew that she had a couple of very wild teenage daughters at home. I assume she thought that because her girls indulged that that had to be the norm. See she was willing to accept their behavior as normal teenage behavior rather than tell them her expectations for behavior.

Kids with no expectations flounder, both at school and in their social lives. They tend to also grow up with an inappropriate sense of entitlement…. The ”I don’t have to do that” attitude. They goof around in school and disrupt things for others. Most of them know that their parents will not do anything if the teacher calls home. Parents seem to be too busy sticking up for their child’s bad behavior rather than giving them clear expectations for conduct. Some parents clearly do not care and I have to wonder about that. I see so many kids without clear life expectations and wonder what they will be doing in 10 years.

Teachers can provide clear expectations at school. However, if the parental expectations and follow up is not there it is almost impossible for the child to succeed to their potential. It is the rare student that can see school as their ticket to success and that can generate self expectations.

So parents, talk to your child. Let them know your expectations for them at home, at school and out in public . Be the parent you need to be and don’t let them run the house or make up the rules. Point out inappropriate behavior even if it is just little etiquette things. If there is a problem don’t make excuses for them, follow up with appropriate consequences. Basic expectations are life long lessons that will serve them well long after they leave the classroom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dealing with Bullying in the Middle School

During our teacher prep days at the beginning of school, our guidance counselors hosted a three hour introduction to our school’s new anti-bullying program. After much research, the program they chose to adopt is called “Steps to Respect”. For years, the schools I have been involved with have talked about anti-bullying campaigns. However, this is the first time I took part in any education around bullying and how it plagues our schools.
This introduction to “Steps to Respect” highlighted many truths and common myths around bullying. I am going to try and highlight the ones that stood out for me.

1. Studies are beginning to show that bullying is not normal behavior. The acceptance of boys will be boys, she is just going through a rough time or it is hormonal is just wrong.

2. Adults would not put up with bullying from a co-worker or anywhere in the workplace so why should we accept the bullying of children at school.

3. Bullying usually takes place outside of the site or earshot of adults. That is why it is important to make children feel safe to report bullying.

4. Some bullying is obviously blatant but often it can be more subtle. We use differential diagnosis a lot when identifying speech and language issues. It seems you also need to use a differential diagnosis to identify some bullying behaviors. Some of the behaviors to look for/ rule out included: was there an intent to harm, was there a power imbalance and was it a repeated activity. Some other things to consider would include was it attention seeking, facial expressions during the incident and what was the relationship of the children involved before the incident(s).

5. Cyber bullying is on the rise. It relatively new and could be whole other discussion in itself. I have seen cyber bullying spill over into school and create gigantic problems. We hear about it happening on the news but only when dire consequences result. The big question posed is who is responsible since most of the cyber bullying happens at home on home computers. Parents it might be time to look at your kid’s computer. I know that I am very lax myself about this.

6. Bullying is being taken more seriously these days. Someone in our meeting mentioned that there is current legislation being created. I assumed that was at the state level but it might be at the federal level

7. Bullying can be physical or verbal

8. Every school has some type of bullying problem and more bullying goes on that we as parents and teachers realize.

We also talked about profiles of victims and those that bully. We think of bully victims as being weaker but when we brainstormed, we realized that just about anyone could potentially be a victim.

This is taken from the “Steps to Respect” training Manual p.63
Children who are bullied tend to:
Experience further rejection from peers
Have lower self-esteem than other children
Feel more lonely, anxious and insecure.
Avoid and dislike school

We think of bullies as being stronger, tougher and maybe even smarter than the kids they bully. Bullies tend to be somewhat popular in Middle School but that is about where it ends. Many end up with real problems later on.

This is also taken from the “Steps to Respect” training Manual p.63
As children who bully grow up, they tend to:
Commit more crimes
Commit more driving offenses
Receive more court convictions
Report higher incidents of alcoholism
Experience more antisocial personality disorders
Use more mental health systems
Commit more spousal abuse

I thought these facts were interesting and wondered if bullying behaviors were addressed earlier in life would it make a big difference at least for some kids. Personally, I think that most kids who bully have other factors, outside of school, affecting their behavior. Some not all. Still with guidance they might have a better sense of appropriate behavior in public and more compassion.

The “Steps to Respect” program has a strong focus on helping the kids identify bullying behaviors, empowering bully victims and their friends to report bullying behaviors and to let them feel secure that adults will intervene and effectively deal with bullying situations. Basically, making children feel safe to report bullying behaviors. Part of the problem with reporting bullying is that a child might be labeled a tattle tale. This program tries to emphasize to the children and the entire school, they are reporting rather than tattling.

How adults respond and intervene will go a long way in making the child feel safe. We learned the basic Four-A response outlined in the program

Affirm the child’s feelings
Ask questions
Assess the child’s safety
Act-basically do what you have to do to report this situation to the administration, parents, other teachers. Make sure something is done about the situation. Explain what you can to the child reporting about what will happen next.

This actually sounds like a thorough and effective program and I look forward to attending further training. However, as a staff we posed many questions that I hope will be answered sooner rather than later.

Will bus drivers and lunch room aids receive some training on this program?
What happens to the kids once they leave the building?
How will bullying behaviors be tracked?
What will be the consequences for bullying behavior? (Almost every school system I have ever worked in had little or no protocol to deal with bullying behaviors effectively)
Will parent notification be standard procedure when their child is demonstrating bullying at school no matter how great or small?
Will parent notification be standard procedure when their child is the victim of bullying at school?
How will the “Steps to Respect” program be implemented through out the school?
Will consequences be consistent?
How much time will be allotted to this program?
How supportive is the administration of this program?

We still have a lot of questions and concerns to work out. Since we only had an introduction/overview, the whole program may answer many of our concerns. So we will see how it goes during the first few months of the school year. Teachers seemed to be very much on board with this program. Many seemed committed to posting information from the “Steps to Respect” program both in their classroom and in the hall bulletin boards. Our 6th graders were introduced to this program last year and will receive further instruction this year. I believe all students received some information around no tolerance for bullying during our opening day assembly. Hopefully, this will all make a difference.

An overview of the “Steps to Respect” program and be found at the link:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Summer Reading Blues

Every summer I argue with my kids about summer reading. I did this for seven years while at least one of my kids attended middle school and countless number of years before and after that. It seemed that no matter what approach I took it backfired. I often caught them reading other things so it is not like they hated reading.

Every summer I posed the following questions to myself….Does summer reading really foster a love of reading? Is summer reading just a chore that kids hate to do? Why does summer reading have to be so structured?

I happen to believe that more students hate summer reading than love it. My kids are so sour on the subject that they will not even discuss possible solutions to make it better. Based on Mom observations, I can cite several reasons why students learn to hate summer reading and maybe reading in general.

Just like adults, most children do not like being told what to read.
Do you like being told what to read? I don’t. If I start a book and don’t like it, I am not obligated to finish it. With summer reading, students have to finish the book. It does not matter if they like it or not. Yes, sometimes you have to read things or do work you do not like but remember this is summer reading I am talking about.

Some of the teacher’s book choices are really out there.
I don’t know who recommends book lists for teachers but I can guarantee they do not deal with middle school children on a regular basis. Same goes with award winning book lists. In my opinion, many books that receive recommendations or win awards do so because the subject matter appeals to adults.
Some parents are curious enough to read their child’s summer reading books. . Occasionally I was one of those parents. Chatting with these parents at the beach, many loved the book selections so they expected their kid to like it too. They could not figure out why their boys (especially) were having such a hard time getting into what I considered “chick books”. There are a lot more “chick books” out there than books that appeal to boys. Face it there are a lot more female teachers out there and they tend to recommend books that have more girl appeal. Get a teacher (male or female) with a social cause and all their book recommendations will slant that way.

They dread the follow up project.
If I had to do a project or write a follow up paper every time I read a book, I would never read again. There are at least three sides to this piece. Some children come from a home where parents end up doing a lot of the project because they just want to get it over with. (I admit I was one of those parents) Then you have children who come from homes were no one even cares and they have no support with home work even during the school year. Then there are children where school is just so hard for them that even with help, it is stressful and they fail summer reading too.
I have often wondered what the kids do if they spend the summer at camp. Sure, they could get the reading done but what about the projects. Some summers we have had more than one project per kid.

No time for fun reading.
Some summers my kids had to read more than just 1 or 2 books for summer reading. That left little time for any fun reading choices.

Parents have to police summer reading.
I love spending the summer asking/ arguing with my kids about whether they did their summer reading. I have enough to argue with them about. Just kidding, but it does effect some family harmony.

Please do not get me wrong, as a Speech Language Pathologist I know how important reading is. Kids need to read during the summer. My point is being forced to read can not foster a love of reading. I have no magic thoughts on how to do this. The best success I ever had was when my kids were going into 6th grade. We were given lists of books from different genres and they had to pick one from 2 or 3 genres. We made a special trip to the book store, talked about the selections, went out to lunch and went to the mall. I was lucky I could do that. The library would not have as many choices. I remember those summers were fine (for that one kid) until the projects came along.

For children with reading challenges summer reading can be torture. Perhaps the required reading can be modified but then come September, when projects are due, everyone knows they’ve read different books.

Other than bribery, does anyone have any other solutions to deal with summer reading? I think book groups would be great but accountability would be a problem. It would be difficult for every child to participate in a group unless they met at school. A more diverse choice of books might be a good first step.
Parents your not off the hook either. You need to set a good example by reading a lot yourself. Read lots of different things. Make time to read.

Send me your suggestions, concerns and complaints about summer reading. I would love to hear from middle school Language Arts teachers as well as parents. What are other schools around the country doing to make summer reading more enjoyable? There has to be a better way to motivate children to read. Let me know what you think.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Material Coming Soon

New Material Coming Soon!!!

If I have any faithful readers out there, I am sorry for the lapse of new material. I have a few good reasons but basically, life happens. In May, my oldest graduated from High School. I enjoyed the day so much and was so proud. It was a beautiful day the sun was out and all the pictures came out great. We spent the next several weekends attending graduation parties. In addition to the graduation hoopla, my son’s volleyball team won the Massachusetts State Championship. What fun that was.

During volleyball season, I took the opportunity to learn how to use my camera better. So I have spent a lot of time on line getting support and guidance around that. I am using some new software, and learning that takes time too. I was able to give the volleyball parents many decent action shots of their kids and I put together collages for all the players. The pictures are far from professional but I was happy with the results. If anyone wants to see my volleyball shots, the link to my web album is . I am shooting with a Nikon D80 and a 50 mm lens.

My youngest also graduated from 8th grade this spring. I am no longer a middle school parent. I hope this doesn’t mean I will loose that connection with who middle schoolers are. I really feel that having kids in middle school while teaching middle school gave me an interesting perspective. Having an inside view of what they liked/disliked, how they talked, how they dressed, learning what was cool and even more important knowing what they thought was babyish has helped me so much as a therapist.

Luckily, my school year ended on an easier note and the paperwork was manageable. If only we public school therapists could spend more time with the kids and less on paperwork. We are finally done with school and I plan to update my blog a little before going to relax at the lake for a week or so.

I know I have asked before but if there are any specific topics related to middle school or speech and language development in general let me know. I am always looking for ideas.

Hope you are enjoying the summer

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Parent to Parent

Play Skills Are More Important Than You Think!

This morning I read an article in Smithsonian Magazine by Monica Watrous call “Playing for Keepsies”. It was a small article about a gentleman named Bruce Breslow and his Moon Marble Company in Bonner Springs, Kansas. The Moon Marble Company produces both expensive hand crafted marbles and inexpensive machine made marbles. Breslow is a woodworker who became interested in marbles after buying marbles for the wooden board games he made.

This article caught my eye because I loved playing marbles, trading marbles and looking at marbles when I was a kid. But, what was most interesting to me was Breslow’s quote at the end of the article. When asked about the future of marbles he stated, “I am not concerned for the future of marbles I am concerned for the future of play”. Breslow’s quote reminded me of something I have believed for years and that is that kids no longer have as many opportunities to “learn” how to play with others.

When I talk about play, I am referring to free play with other children, not adult organized or adult supervised. Now you might say that daycare or preschool is play but think about it, it is really play with adult rules. Only two kids might be able to play with the blocks, no more than five can be painting, please don’t take the play dough to the coloring station, clean up everything right away and if there is a disagreement there is an adult to step right in and solve the problem. These rules are not bad or outrageous and most are needed in a school type setting. But if a child does not learn to initiate interactions on their own, negotiate with other children or create their own fun, they clearly demonstrate a certain lack of social development and definitely a lack of creativity. I would also venture to say they also demonstrate a lack of work ethic. These kids do not learn how to put effort into playing, which is a kid’s job.

So what is the difference? Adults who grew up in the 60ies or 70ies were probably the last generation to really enjoy playing. We were home more, few kids were in daycare and kindergarten was half day. We had the run of the neighborhoods we went from backyard to backyard, played in the parks and the alleys. We had a different comfort level of safety. We were able to go to the park, the library, the bowling alley, shopping, the dairy queen and the movies alone and on our own. We did not have video games and for some of us television was still in its infancy. When it was nice out, our parents kicked us outdoors. When we wanted to play with someone, we went and stood outside their house and shouted their name is a sing song voice. When we did play dough or played Barbies there was no adult around to tell us what we should do. Our parents allowed us to be creative on our own. Now I know our parents must have had an eye or an ear on us most of the timebut I never had a sense of them hovering. Board games were a staple (along with marbles, pick up sticks, checkers and cards) and actually required you to initiate and interact with others. We also made up a lot of our games or learned made up games from older kids.

In the 80ies and 90ies, the world changed. More couples were working which meant kids went to daycare and after school programs. Parents had to become more aware and concerned with their child’s safety. You could no longer always count on someone being home down the street. Kids started taking lessons after school and organized sports for younger children developed. Time for free play was becoming non-existent. A child’s circle of friends expanded beyond the neighborhood, which meant play dates had to be arranged and rides provided. Kids don’t know all the other kids on their block anymore. It seems that parents also began to compete for who is the best parent. Meaning the more I am involved, the more money I spend and the more accomplished my kids are, became a reflection of good parenting.

Today a kid’s idea of playing might be going over to someone’s house and watching them play a video game. It is so sad and pathetic to watch. Suggest a board game to them and they think you are lame. Make them go outside and that might last a half hour or so at best. Kids will also give a running account of what they are doing. Not just the big stuff like “we are going to the park” but little stuff like we are going to play wiffle ball, we are going to play a video game or we are getting a snack”. It is almost like they are looking for adult approval for their play choices.
So now, I wonder what have we done to the kids to condition them like that? In the process, have we taken away their independence, their ability to make choices and their ability to interact with peers? Many adults think they can teach children how to play but they really can’t. Kids need to teach kids how to play.

If you think kids are getting an opportunity to play at school, think again. Recess and lunch recess is 15 minutes at best these days. Hardly enough time to organize and play anything. Once kids get to middle school, there may be no recess or lunch recess.

If you have younger children try and provide them with lots of opportunities to play with other kids. If play dates are a must, then remain scarce while they are together and let them make decisions and work things out. Leave a lot of toys and games accessible even if it means a mess. That will provide them with ideas and choices. Encourage kids to go outside and create their own games. If you live a safe area, encourage bike rides around the block or trips to the playground. This can instill a real sense of independence.

Older kids should be encouraged to get involved with after school activities. They may need help and guidance to find the right activities. Most communities offer a lot of choices and your school should be able to help you with this. Use common sense; find something they like to do not something you want them to do. It is also your responsibility to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with. Hanging out outside a convenience score or playing video games 24/7 will not develop any marketable skills that I am aware of.

Social skills and the ability to get along with others is key to success in any relationship, be it a relationship with a boss or co-workers or more intimate relationships with friends, spouses or family. I believe the seeds to good social skills are planted early and developed through experiences and guidance. You may have the brightest child in the world but if they have not had good social exposure, developed good play skills or can’t negotiate with peers, life is going to be really hard and possibly lonely.

Play is important so encourage your child to do it often. However, it is more difficult for some kids to initiate this on their own. For those kids provide opportunities for them to play and socialize with peers. Just remember, instead of being part of the play group, let them figure out what to do, what to talk about, decisions and who will be the leader. If a disagreement occurs don’t step in right away, see if they can resolve it on their own. The same rules apply to your own children. Take a step back, watch and listen to the kids interacting. I know you will enjoy the show.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Parent to Parent

Hi Everyone,

It has been awhile since I had a chance to add anything. Sorry about that. Lots of little issues have come up recently in my personal and professional life that got me thinking about parent responsibilities during the middle school years. Parents really need to take more responsibility for parenting and rely less on the schools to raise their child. I put together some common sense suggestions just to remind parents of little things they can do that make a big difference in the development of their middle school child. Nothing scientific just pulled from my own experiences as a mom and working with middle school families over the years. If you have other suggestions to add, send me an e-mail. I welcome your opinions and ideas.

Thanks for taking a look


Being There for Your Middle Schooler

While our kids are young we go out of the way to make sure our kids are safe and cared for especially in our absence. We adjust our schedules, search out the best (and often the most expensive) daycare, enroll the kids in after school programs, take them to lessons, make sure they are active in sports, organize play dates, help with homework/projects, know all their friends and basically supervise all waking hours, just to make sure our kids have a chance and stay out of trouble.
All of a sudden, the kids are older, better able to take care of themselves and frankly pushing their parents away. There is no need to be home the minute they walk in the door. You may want to go back to work or increase your hours significantly. The kids are ready for more independence. However, don’t think they do not need you.
Middle School is a time where kids really need as much if not more supervision than they did when they were little. You just have to do it from a distance. One of the biggest mistakes parents make at the middle school level is to assume they do not have to keep a close eye on their kids.

Here are some simple things to keep in mind……..

*Know where your kids are all the time

*Make sure they know how to get a hold of you all the time-cell phones make it easy but it is not a replacement for your presence. If you are in a position to adjust your schedule so you are around after school do it, don’t think twice or rationalize, it will be the best gift you ever give your child.

*Make an effort to get to know your kids friends and their parents

*Don’t let them go to friends houses unless you have met the parents and call to make sure someone is going to be home

*Encourage them to get involved in after school activities-the advantage of this goes without saying

*Make sure you are available to get them to their activities or that they can get themselves there prepared and on time.

*Arrange pick up times-don’t leave this open ended especially at night. This will avoid begging and pleading via cell phones.

*Middle school aged children may still need some help with organization.

*By 7th or 8th grade, the average student should be independent with homework. However, if your child is having problems sit down with them just like you did when they were little.

*Keep an eye on your child’s progress in school. Lots of schools offer grading systems that are on line. I often know my kids grades before they do.

*A child’s behavior after school is not a school issue it is yours so take responsibility and deal with it.

*Schools are not a replacement for parents

*Don’t make excuses for a middle school age child’s bad behavior. Make them take responsibility for their actions. You will be providing them one of the best life lessons.

*If you child lies, makes bad choices or breaks a simple house rule-get stricter until they earn your trust back.

*Never tolerate bad behavior especially if it is directed at others

*Follow through on all consequences.

*Have expectations for your kids. They need to know effort with school and other activities is expected.

*Praise your child often

*Talk to your child and better yet listen to your child

11-14 years of age is not that old. Kids need to know you are interested and care. Everything mentioned above are common sense suggestions most of us followed religiously when our kids are small. Don’t stop just because your kids are looking and acting a little more grown up. Without parental guidance, it is hard for kids to develop good self image, take advantage of opportunities available and develop good values.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Speech and Language Workbooks that Work

Speech and Language Workbooks that Work
At the Middle School Level

Over the years I have purchased many speech and language workbooks to use in therapy. Some of these books have been extremely helpful and some have been a total waste of money. What I want to do is collect a list of workbooks that are actually helpful in therapy.
Therapists, please submit your recommendations to add to the list. If you have the time please mention, the skills targeted and how you use the book either in therapy or in the classroom setting if you do inclusion.
Here are a few of my favorites.

Saying One Thing, Meaning Another
Author: Cecile Cyrul Spector, Ph.D
This book targets a variety of ambiguous and figurative language tasks. It is organized into sections that focus on targets such as homophones, homographs and figurative expressions. The author begins each new concept with a highlighted section that actually helps to identify and understand. Then Spector adds good variety of practice items to help solidify understanding of the concept presented. I like to use this book as an introduction to ambiguous and figurative expressions then supplement with other games and activities.
Submitted by: Teresa S.

Language Remediation and Expansion
Author: Catharine S. Bush
This is a great book. It provides examples of a variety of language concepts. Some that I remember off the top of my head are rhyming synonyms, analogies, homophones, homographs and analogies. The examples provided in this book are at a teaching level. I often take the information and examples in this book and use them in a variety of ways to provide challenging therapy activities. Unfortunately, this book is old and I am sure it is out of print. Since it is old, some of the examples are a little dated. I just skip the dated examples or give them to the kids for fun, then explain. If you have a copy of this book sitting around your office, dust it off and take a good look at it.
Submitted by: Teresa S

Authors: Andrea Lazzari and Patricia Myers Peters
If you are a speech and language pathologist in the public schools, you have to be familiar with the HELP books. HELP 1 and 2 were the first books I bought when I started my career and I used them a lot with younger students or lower functioning students. With the older kids, I use Help 3, which focuses on Concepts, Parapharsing, Critical Thinking and Social Language. The book is organized so it is easy to pick and choose appropriate tasks. I really like the paraphrasing tasks and the way they build from synonyms to paraphrasing paragraphs. When used appropriately, this book helps to demonstrate how to be flexible with language.
Submitted by: Teresa S

Tasks of Problem Solving-Adolescent
Authors: Linda Bowers, Rosemary Huisingh, Carolyn LoGiudice
This is the newest workbook in my collection. When I ordered the updated Test of Problem Solving this book was recommended as a companion purchase. It aligns itself with many of the tasks found on the TOPS. Some of the items might be a little too easy for the sophisticated student with pragmatic issues and there are not always enough examples. However, so far this is the best workbook I have found targeting pragmatic issues with the middle school crowd.
Submitted by: Teresa S

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vocabulary Development Is Key to Understanding Higher Level Language

In therapy, I talk a lot to my students about being flexible with language. You may not find much on flexibility with language if you did a search but I think it is one of the most important parts in developing higher level language skills. I just started using the term "flexibility with language" and the kids seemed to get it. I use the term to refer to the ability to look at language in different ways……

  • to understand language can have different meanings in different contexts
  • to know how to use to use language in different ways to convey a variety of different meanings.

This is all part of developing higher level language abilities. Developing a mature vocabulary is just a first step toward efficient higher level language skills. Below are some simple suggestions to encourage strong vocabulary development during the middle school years.

Vocabulary Development Ideas
After a certain age, children primarily expand their vocabularies through reading. For a child with language or reading disabilities this usually does not come naturally. Children who do not like to read or are not encouraged to read will also have difficulty expanding their vocabulary skills. Without good vocabulary development, students will have little understanding that a word may have two meanings and various spellings. They will not realize that every little change, in how a word is used, can vary the meaning or the message conveyed.
A poor vocabulary affects all areas of language and learning. During the middle school years, a student’s vocabulary should grow by leaps and bounds. Around 7th grade text books become more technical and teachers naturally step up their own use of language. Conversations with peers are becoming more mature and topics kids talk about are more controversial. Without good vocabulary skills, kids will have more difficulty understanding the subtleties or humor in language.

Things to do at home with your middle schooler to encourage vocabulary development:

  • Obviously, encourage your child to read. If your child struggles with reading, consult with their teacher about appropriate books at their reading level.
  • Vary their reading material. Magazines are wonderful and often peak a child’s interest. Comic books, have your read one lately? Comic books often appear juvenile but some contain a lot of higher level vocabulary and language.
  • Talk to your child about current events. Provide some explanation about what is going on and why. Talk to them about your opinions and ask them theirs. Driving in the car is a great time to do this because you have a captive audience.
  • Talk about different categories of words. Homonyms, homophones and Homographs to be specific.
  • Homonyms are words that sound alike but are spelled different. An example would be: the word bark-the bark of a tree or the bark of a dog
  • Homophones are words with two spellings and two meanings but only one pronunciation. An example would be: buy/by/bye
  • Homographs are words which have one spelling but two pronunciations and two different meanings depending on how the word is used. An example would be: Let’s wind up the kite string before the wind gets too wild.
  • Do crossword puzzles together and explain answers
  • Books on tape are real good. Just keep in mind that reading is still important
  • Watch movies with subtitles on when possible. Overwhelming for some kids multi-sensory approach for others.
  • Keep checking back I will occasionally add other ideas.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Develop Those Higher Level Language Skills!

During the middle school years, students are beginning to develop higher level language abilities. Most students do this so naturally we do not even notice. Teachers do their best to help students gradually develop mature language skills. However, students with language disabilities or just weak academic habits may have difficulty acquiring these higher level language skills.

What are some higher level language skills?

• Development of mature vocabulary
• Understanding of word relationships such as homophones and homographs
• Understanding and use of figurative expressions
• Organization of mature sentences (oral and written)
• Understanding and use of mature grammatical structures (oral and written)
• Ability to draw conclusions and inferences
• Ability to paraphrase and rephrase with ease
• Ability to reason
• Looking at things from another’s perspective

Concerns when Students do not attain higher level language skills.

• Difficulty with comprehension (oral and written)
• Unable to understand and make connections and associations
• Difficulty understand jokes, riddles and humor in general
• Inability to organize language
• Writing skills will suffer
• Poor problem solving skills
• Inability to be flexible with language ( I will explain more about that later)
• Academic success is effected
• Immature pragmatic abilities (social speech skills)

Many simple activities can help foster development of higher level language skills. Keep an eye on my blog. I will continue to provide information and suggestions for intervention. If you need me to address an area ASAP or you have specific questions drop me a comment.


A Fun Blog for Moms

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Game Modifications That Work

Game Modifications That Work

Over the past 20 years, I have purchased many games out of therapy catalogs. Few of these specially designed games have lived up to my expectations. Out of sheer desperation for creative therapy ideas that were relevant, would give the students a lot of opportunity to practice the target skill with in a short therapy session and were inexpensive, I began to pull games off our own shelves at home. I was able to take many of my games and modify them to fit my student’s needs.
Even mildly language disabled children might struggle with traditional board games. Language disabled kids are usually not very quick on the draw so playing higher level skill games with peers is not a lot of fun. However, with some simple modifications board games can become fun and educational. Every week, until I run out of ideas I will try to profile a game that I have modified and used successfully in therapy. These modifications are simple and there are obviously no set rules. You can use my suggestions in therapy or at home, with only one child or with a group of children. I have often modified board games for an entire class. Keep in mind that modifications are always based on the child’s specific needs. Modifications that work for one individual or group might not for the next. I know this sounds like a simple idea. It is. Sometimes you just need the idea to get your own creativity flowing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sunrise: Manchester By The Sea on a cold January morning and topics to come

Ok so I like to take pictures too. I realize this does not have anything to do with Middle School topics. Topics to come include: Games that actually encourage language development but might not say they are "educational games", the need to development flexibility with language and talking with your child to encourage higher level language skills, mature interests and a better parent child relationship.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chronic Otitis Media and Risk of Reading Failure

While this paper does not specifically pertain to Middle School Students, I would have to guess that approximately 60-70% of my middle school caseload, at any specific time, have a history of Chronic Otitis Media also known as ear infections. Many of these students also have associated reading difficulties or history of reading difficulties.
Chronic Otitis Media and Risk of Reading Failure
by Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc
May 2007

Having worked as a Speech Language Pathologist for over 20 years, it always amazes me the number of students on my caseloads, that have a history of chronic otitis media or a history of excessive fluid in the middle ear. Perhaps it is not that that unusual. Statistics show that 70% of children will have at least one bout of otitis media commonly known as an ear infection before the age of 3. For many children ear infections are a recurring problem. It would not matter what level I was working with. I can state with some certainty that at least 50% of my public school caseload at any given time had a significant history of fluctuating hearing loss early on due to fluid in the middle ear because of chronic ear infections or chronic allergies. Let me make some generalizations about these kids. During my preschool experience, the students usually presented with articulation difficulties, had trouble with rhyming, had trouble remembering the right words to songs and many of them always seemed one step behind when responding verbally. Preschoolers may still be dealing with occasional ear infections, effecting hearing acuity and requiring treatment. During my kindergarten through 5th grade experience, the underlying language issues demonstrated by these students developed into actual reading problems. Simple articulation errors usually resolved but difficulty with phonics emerge. These students usually receive additional support services, specific reading instruction and tutoring. Often even with specific reading instruction, these kids were slow to have any kind of success with reading. During grade school, hearing usually stabilizes but it is not unusual for these students to still suffer with an occasional ear infection or fluid filled ears (especially during allergy season). In middle school my students continue to struggle with reading, they can usually decode consonants but vowels might be a problem. Difficulties with reading comprehension become very obvious. Most also demonstrate poor fluency when they read. These students have not naturally acquired the higher level language skills such as understanding ambiguous and figurative language. Their overall vocabulary is weak. These are the kids who miss the nuances and subtleties in language, they don’t get the jokes and they are not very flexible with their own use of language.

So what is the common thread that keeps kids with chronic ear infections or chronic allergies from becoming proficient readers? The answer could be very simple. Both groups experience fluctuating hearing loss early on. Ear infections occur through out childhood but the incidence of ear infections actually peaks between 6 and 12 months of age. When a child has fluid in his middle ear sounds can become seriously muffled, high frequency sounds cannot be heard. As a result, kids might miss a lot of what is said to them or miss a lot of environmental sounds that convey meaning. When hearing is effected, sounds, words and sentences are easily missed and/or misunderstood. A baby or young child obviously can’t tell you what they are missing. They can’t ask you to repeat yourself. They can’t tell you they can’t hear you because background noise is too loud. Their hearing can fluctuate so much that we can not figure out what they are missing or when. Children learn language through direct contact with others and through imitation. If their hearing is distorted, imagine how they might perceive individual sounds both speech and environmental. I have always felt that these babies and kids miss critical information or do not develop critical listening skills that in some way effects the development of language and later on development of reading/spelling/writing skills. Basically, they may have missed critical developmental periods where they are learning to listen to, learn about and discriminate phonemes or individual speech sound.

It is surprising that so little research has been done around the very common correlation between fluctuating hearing loss and difficulties acquiring reading skills. One very interesting study, completed by Dr. Heather Winskel, from the University of Western Sydney, Australia, found that if a child experiences a middle ear infection during the crucial first years of life, it may have long-term effects on subsequent language and literacy development. In her study, she compared two groups of 43 children between the ages of 6 and 8. One group had an early history of repeated episodes of otitis media and the control group was matched for age, gender and socio-economic status. Children were tested on three different linguistic levels - phonological awareness, semantic knowledge and narration and reading ability. The children with a history of ear infections tended to achieve lower scores on phonological awareness skills of alliteration, rhyme and non-word reading, semantic skills of expressive vocabulary and word definitions and reading compared to non-otitis media children. Research agrees strongly that phonological awareness or phonemic awareness is a necessary skill that children need to begin reading. Could poor development of phonemic awareness be the key factor why children with a history of fluctuating hearing have difficulty learning to read naturally, using traditional methods?
So what is phonological or phonemic awareness? Scholars differ on what exactly to call it, but it is the same thing, here we will use the term phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify individual sounds and their order within words, underlies self-correction in word attack, word recognition and spelling: the ability to go from whole to the parts (Lindamood and Lindamood 1998). Phonemic awareness is not only correlated with learning to read, but research indicates a stronger statement is true: phonological awareness appears to play a causal role in reading acquisition. Phonological awareness is a foundational ability underlying the learning of spelling-sound correspondences (Stanovich, 1993-94). Basically, phonological or phonemic awareness is the ability to identify the sounds in words, not the letters but the sounds. For most of us, we acquired this skill so naturally we did not know we were doing it or we have practiced this skill for so many years it is second nature. Phonemic awareness develops long before our ability to put sounds and letters together. Adams in 1990 described 5 levels of honemic awareness in terms of abilities:
to hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes
to do oddity tasks (comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration)
to blend and split syllables
to perform phonemic segmentation (such as counting out the number of phonemes in a word)
to perform phoneme manipulation tasks (such as adding, deleting a particular phoneme and regenerating a word from the remainder).

Scholars will also differ slightly on the levels of phonemic awareness or use different words to describe each level but they all pretty much agree that rhyming is when children show initial phonemic awareness. As a speech language pathologist, I would have to differ saying phonemic awareness begins much earlier. I believe phonemic awareness begins when the child begins to recognize and acquire sounds in their native language. However, when any of the 5 levels of phonemic awareness mentioned above are not achieved, reading difficulties are sure to develop. In some students, this can be so obvious that specific testing is just to confirm what the specialist already knows.

One reason why educators are so interested in phonemic awareness is that research indicates that it is the best predictor of the ease of early reading acquisition (Stanovich, 1993-94), better even than IQ, vocabulary and listening comprehension. This is a very interesting statement and echoed often in various research. What can be done to aid reading acquisition in children with fluctuating hearing loss? First of all children who suffer with chronic ear infections and chronic seasonal allergies should be considered at risk for reading failure and monitored closely. Parents should consult with early intervention or local public preschool to make sure developmental milestones are reached at the proper time. Public Schools also recommend and provide assessment in all learning and language areas. A full hearing evaluation by a licensed audiologist is essential. However, be aware a one time hearing evaluation can not predict how hearing may fluctuate or what the child is missing at any specific time. While a pediatrician will treat a child during an ear infection, if a child has chronic ear infections or fluid filled ears it is in the child’s best interest to consult a specialist. An Otolaryngologist (ear nose and throat doctor) along with the audiologist can determine how much fluid is in the ears, keeping the ear drum from moving efficiently. Depending on the situation, the Otolaryngologist may recommend the insertion of Pressure Equalization tubes through the ear drum. It is a very common procedure to help keep the middle ear fluid free. Without fluid in the middle hearing should return and remain consistent. When an early intervention or preschool child is identified as having difficulty developing speech and language, direct services are often recommended. A good therapist will present a variety of activities that “play with sounds and language” encouraging awareness and development of sounds and language while also focusing on specific needs. The speech therapist is often the first person to recognize that a child is at risk for reading difficulties.

Unfortunately, most reading difficulties are not identified and addressed until the student fails, usually the second half of first grade. Typical students easily acquire phonemic skills often without being specifically taught. They are ready to learn to read anywhere between 5 and 7 years of age. There are other developmental factors that determine whether a child is ready to learn reading so time might be given to see if a student can “catch up on their own”. This might be a good rule some of the time. However, if a student has a history of fluctuating hearing loss and has not developed phonemic awareness, reading is not going to emerge on its own. I do not have a lot of experience with reading programs but I have noticed that traditional reading programs do not always work for children who have deficits with phonemic awareness. These children do better with programs that use a multi-sensory approach and begin with a phonemic awareness component. The Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program (LIPS), uses a very strong multi-sensory phonemic awareness model. LIPS not only teaches the children to listen for the individual sounds it teaches the students how to feel the sounds and what the sounds look like. As the program, progresses the children are taught how to blend and break apart real and nonsense words. Teachers and specialists who are trained in this program and feel comfortable using it report wonderful successes for their students. My own child who has a history of fluctuating hearing did very well with a reading program called Project Read. I am less familiar with this program but remember it had a multi-sensory component that cued for sound and syllable production. Our local grade school uses Project Read with good results.
How does a parent know their child is developing appropriate phonemic awareness? There some very simple skills things to look for.

Awareness of Rhyming Words (age 3-4)Can your child….identify words that rhyme. For example, "Put your thumbs up if these two words rhyme, pail-tail or cow-pig?" or "Finish this rhyme, Red bed, blue ____."
Awareness of Syllables (age 4-5)Can your child…..identify that words are made up of syllables. For example, "Can you clap and count the syllables or the word parts in rainbow?"
Awareness of Onsets and Rhymes-Sound Substitution (age 6)Can your child….identify onsets and rhymes in words. For example, "What rhymes with /at/ and begins with /f/?"
Sound Isolation - Awareness of Beginning, Middle and Ending Sounds (age 6)Can your child….Identify beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words. For example, "What is the beginning sound in neck?" "What is the ending sound in jog? "What sound do you hear in the middle of kitten?"
Phonemic Blending (age 6)Can your child….blend phonemes heard auditorily into a word. For example, after hearing /c/ /a/ /t/ said in a stretched pronunciation, the child says cat.
Phoneme Segmentation (age 6-7)Can your child….count the sounds in a word (age 6). For example, "How many sounds do you hear in the word dog?"Is able to identify the sounds heard in a word. For example, "What sounds do you hear in the word man?"
Phoneme Manipulation (Age 7+)Can your child omit or substitute phonemes to make new words. For example, "What word would we have if we changed the /t/ in Tommy to an /m/?" (mommy) or "What word would we have if we left out the /t/ in the middle of stand?" (sand)

Parents can provide their child with the ultimate “phonological” experience. If hearing loss of any kind is suspected, make sure parents know to have the child’s attention and look directly at the child when they speak. Provide children with lots of opportunities to listen and respond. This may sound simple but reading, learning, memorizing and reciting nursery rhymes and singing songs are excellent for developing phonemic awareness. Reading to children is also key to developing phonemic awareness. Keep background noise to a minimum. Do not keep the radio or TV on all the time. Parents should not be afraid to express their concerns to their pediatrician. Most pediatricians are not aware of the implications fluctuating hearing loss has in learning to read. Parents should seek out services through early intervention or your local public schools. Both agencies are required to screen and/or test students to determine if a disability exists.

Phonemic awareness is one of the first steps to success in reading. When a child has not developed efficient phonemic awareness because of fluctuating hearing early on, the risk of reading failure is very real. With the right intervention, involving multi-sensory tasks that focus on improving the child’s awareness of individual sounds and how they work together, these children have a better chance of becoming proficient readers.

Adams, Marilyn Jager (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA: Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, Inc. ED 317 950
Lindamood, Patricia and Lindamood, Phyllis (1998). The Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program Teachers Manual. Austin TX. Pro-ed.
Sensenbaugh, Roger Phonemic Awareness: An Important Early Step in Learning To Read. THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER (ERIC).
Stanovich, Keith E. (1993-94). "Romance and Reality (Distinguished Educator Series)." Reading Teacher, 47(4), 280-91. EJ 477 302
Winskel, Dr. Heather. Study reveals recurrent middle ear infections can have a major impact on children's development. Research Australia. Feb 2007.
Los Angeles County Office of Education Website. Teams Educational Resources. Levels of Phonemic Awareness.