Teaching is Finding Success

Children are demanding. They need fun, attractive games that hold their attention. While my speech therapy must be evidence-based and reference professional programs, it also has to be tailored to the needs of individual students. And so I’m always looking for commercially available games and then changing the rules of play so that they transform into speech therapy activities. Sometimes this is on the fly. During a speech therapy session, the parent, child, and I play around with changing game rules so that play is instructional as well as fun.

I recently purchased the game “Pickles to Penguins” (Imaginationgames.com, © 2009) because it looked like a colorful, child-friendly game that was reasonably priced. This blog is a description of how I will use this game to teach. Teaching means giving away the answers! Teaching means finding lots of ways to help a child discover/practice/play with the answers. Many games are packaged as competitive tests. There are time limits, scores, and demands for correct answers. I’ve listed some ways that the “Pickles to Penguins” game will become cooperative and informative.

It is my job to determine appropriate teaching goals through formal testing, observations, and collaborations with school staff and parents. Once goals are defined, I need to know how well the child performs these goals in a teaching activity. If the child performs well (based on a specific criteria), then the goal needs to be changed. There’s no point in teaching something the child already knows. So how will I know if a game is an effective method of teaching?

Before we play our very first game, my student will respond to what is called a “baseline” measure. He will perform the goal behavior without any hints or corrective feedback. I will record how well he achieves this task.
For one particular student, the baseline will be an audio recording (using a small digital recorder and clip mic) of his responses. The cards used for the baseline measure will not be the cards we play with. The cards used for the baseline measure are set aside and used at a later date to measure progress. Next, we will take a different deck of picture cards and begin to modify play based on the student’s responses. We play and play and play!! We change around the game rules and play again! (Don’t I have the best job in the world?)

After a period of time, we return to the cards used in the baseline. Once again, the child performs the goal behaviors without any hints or corrective feedback. If therapy was effective, the child will generalize his new skills to the baseline set of picture cards. His performance after therapy should be of better quality, include more examples of the goal behavior, than his performance at baseline.

Here are some ways we will play with the Pickles to Penguins game cards. I’m sure there are many more ways beside those I’ve listed. Specific fluency goals are added onto to each task, though not listed here.

• Modify the game as needed to achieve success.

o Slow down speech rate to slow the pace of the game
o Increase pause time to provide extra time for speech processing, coming up with ideas, word retrieval to express the ideas, sentence formation, speech production
o Consider bonus points for multiple responses. This will work only if it does not increase frustration or time pressure and if it does not increase competition.
o Use “personal best” scores as a way to be competitive. Encourage players to increase their own scores from previous times they have played.
o Select the number of cards per game based on the attention span and reward needs of the child. Several games using only 20 cards per game may be more fun for a child who needs to finish quickly and see scores improve across games asap.
o Use the same cards over and over again if needed to ensure success. E.g., play 3 times with the same 20 cards, then add 10 more new cards.
o Consider using a timer (like the hour glass or liquid drip timer) as an aid for increasing thinking time…e.g., 1 minute of thinking time is required before responding
o Team/cooperative play is a way to role model
o Plan to use the same answers you came up with together during the Review/Teach process. This will help with long term memory and with increasing success and confidence.

• Review/Teach the cards before playing.

o Spelling:
 Take turns holding a card out of sight of the other players, reading the word, asking each player to spell the word aloud or in writing on paper or in the air
 Take turns holding a card out of sight of the other players, spelling the word, asking each player to listen to the spelling and guess the word
 Sort through the cards together looking for a particular kind of spelling pattern. Be sure to take a few cards and write the words so that this is not just a flash card/recognition activity.
 Before reading a card, give a clue, e.g., “This word has the double vowel [ea] in it.” Remember, this is a teaching time and anything that helps correct repetitive practice makes playing fun and effective.
o Segmenting: take turns holding a card out of sight of the other players, read the word by omitting an initial or final sound (or a syllable) and ask the players to listen and guess the word by adding the missing sound
o Meanings: Take turns holding a card out of sight and talking about the picture and ask players to guess what the word is.
o Go through the cards and select which cards would be fun to play with. These will probably be cards that are most familiar and so the first several games should be successful. Be sure to include less popular, more difficult cards in later games.
o Talk about the cards:
 Word association: What single word(s) pop into your head when you read each card?
 Adjectives: What describing word(s) do you think of when you reach each card?
 Put each word in a sentence.
 Select 2 or more cards and make a story.
 Smell/touch/sound: Think of sensory experiences for each card (donkey feels soft, bean bag chair makes a squishing/crinkling sound when you sit in it)

There are lots of ways to play in multisensory ways. I haven't listed craft, role play, patomime, and music activities . Every teacher has personal preferences and talents that he/she brings to the lesson. Every parent does as well. Bring everyone's strengths to the teaching situation. Have fun!

Vocabulary Instruction for Children and Adolescents With Language Disorders, 2006, ASHA Professional Development Self-Study 7570

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.