At any given point in the year, there are always a couple students with articulation goals on my caseload who stand out as “short-timers”, those who are close to meeting their goals. Maybe they are working on that last target sound, and they’ve got it in words and sentences. Often they are the ones who are acting out or getting silly in our small group. The structured articulation exercises are no longer as challenging for them as they once were.
This is when I start looking for ways to push them towards graduation from speech! I address this with great excitement – parents and teachers can be quite supportive at this point when they are given direct instructions on what to do. Students also may give it some extra effort when they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A change in the way we serve these students – either in schedule or environment – is a signal to everyone that we are nearing the end!
So what should we do differently in this final stage of therapy? I always look for ways to get more “bang for my effort-buck.” Just practicing common words with the target sound in a different environment is usually not enough. I choose words, phrases, and passages that will be repeated even when I’m not there. For example, reading aloud from a choice book and practicing target sounds as they come up is fine, but there is little to remind the student of this exercise next time they pick up the book. If, on the other hand, I choose target words from a passage that the student will read repeatedly over the coming week – think 6-Minute Solution, Read Naturally, or a partner-reading program, especially if you can highlight or mark the words in some way – and have created an automatic reminder for the student to think about and practice speech sounds in my absence.
Here are 5 ideas for extending your reach beyond the therapy room and creating automatic reminders for students generalizing articulation targets:
- Oral reading exercises in the classroom – Repeated reading is a method commonly used to build fluency. Ask classroom teachers what passages students are using for this. Ideally, you could spend 10 minutes reviewing the passage and marking target words at the beginning of the week, and another 10 minutes at the end of the week.
- Spelling or vocabulary words – Just like repeated reading, a spelling or vocabulary list usually represents words that will be used and studied and repeated over the course of the week. Remembering their speech sounds while they’re learning the spelling or definitions might even help cement the new learning!
- Review the lunch menu – If students have to talk to their teacher or cafeteria staff about lunch choices, this can also be an opportunity to practice. Review the lunch menu for the week, highlighting target sounds and challenging combinations. Maybe the student could even have a job announcing the day’s lunch choices to his class?
- The Pledge of Allegiance or learning a poem – The Pledge of Allegiance may offer an opportunity to practice speech sounds, but if the student doesn’t really know all the words or the words are too unfamiliar it might not work out. In this case, try a fun poem that the student can learn little by little and recite for friends and family – or just repeat for practice!
- Reach out to others for ideas! If you explain to parents and teachers what you are looking for – phrases and passages that the student will be working with repeatedly over some period of time – they may be able to think of opportunities you didn’t know about. Watch for words that are too automatic, though! Names or common phrases like ‘let’s see…’ or ‘I don’t know’ may be spoken without enough thought. Look for language the student has to slow down and think about, manipulate, or learn something about!
Any of the above ideas may also involve a schedule change. Can you redistribute their service time? 10-minute check-ins during independent work time or when the teacher introduces the new reading unit? Maybe it makes sense to decrease service time? If there is concern about reducing services before a student has fully reached his goals, provide reassurance that you will continue taking data, and making adjustments as needed.
Meanwhile celebrate the hard work that has gotten the student this far. And keep your own work fresh and interesting by always looking for new solutions.