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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Speech-Language Pathologists: Gear Up to Meet Common Core State Standards!

       Believe it or not, back to school time is here.  Some districts I know are already back.  Amazing in the heat of summer.  Others don’t start until after Labor Day.  Whenever you start, you are surely ramping up to get ready for the coming school year.

As my years of being a speech-language pathologist have passed (more than 35 of them) I have seen changes in my profession and changes in the focus areas we are serving.  There are fewer and fewer articulation cases making it onto caseloads in many districts, as children with more pressing language and communication needs fill the rolls.  And we are taking a more active role in the areas of reading and writing, which are - let’s face it - basically language tasks related to communication.

So, what do the Common Core State Standards mean for SLPs?  How broad does our scope become and what do we have to offer to the classroom that relates to the CCSS?

The CCSS present a unique challenge to the Special Education classrooms where w, of course, want students held to the highest possible standards and to be provided with the curriculum to meet them.  However, the disabilities of these students make reaching those goals at their own grade level difficult to achieve.  

What must be held in mind is that these standards are a continuum.  As you look at them, the same threads run from Kinder through the rest of the grades, with only the level of complexity and specific details changing for many of them in ELA.

As SLPs we are uniquely qualified to address vocabulary instruction, formulation of oral and written language, and comprehension of text.  We have proven methods for increasing vocabulary comprehension and use.  We have the tools and experiences to grow expressive language formulation.  We are the teachers of descriptive language. We understand the underlying language involved in phonological awareness skills.

Speech-language pathologists know that reading is a language-based task, and that reading difficulties stem from difficulty with the language components of sound/phoneme manipulation and vocabulary deficits.  The CCSS identify “Foundation Skills” that include phonological awareness and phoneme awareness.  SLPs have stepped up in recent years in their involvement in teaching and remediating these skills.

There are a few basic types of text structures in written (and oral) language. Speech pathologists have spent much time and effort on narrative skills.  There are tests of narrative skills, dynamic assessment and intervention programs, rubrics and developmental charts for narrative skills development.  
There is less information and research on development of other speaking and writing styles in the speech pathology literature.  These have, historically, been the bailiwick of teachers and resource room specialists.  We do, however, provide intervention for students who have difficulty with formulating, organizing and producing text of any sort.  We were, in many places, the first proponents of graphic organizers.  Our understanding of how students formulate language, retrieve words, and monitor or self-correct their expression is what teachers often rely upon.
Speech Pathologists are uniquely trained to understand building Listening and Speaking skills of Oral Language, as well as Reading and Writing of Written Language.  Reading involves both decoding and comprehension, the latter of which we are more routinely involved with.  Written language deals with spelling, handwriting, and written composition, the latter of which we are, again, mostly concerned with.  
Oral language is particularly important for young students, whose learning and academic progress are strongly influenced by early experiences with vocabulary they hear.  Even later, research shows that reading comprehension continues to be influenced by these early experiences with vocabulary.  Once decoding is tackled, comprehension is most influenced by vocabulary.  Vocabulary builds upon itself.
As speech-language pathologists we have always addressed the building, retrieving, using and expanding of vocabulary.  Intervention has moved from the pull-out to more push-in models, but it has not necessarily changed our focus on specific skills in vocabulary acquisition and use.  Many of us focus on what are considered Tier 2 words; those that go beyond the basic and add color and specificity to what our students say.  Some of us also work with students who have difficulty with acquiring even the Tier 1 words.   We have the expertise, as well, in giving teachers strategies for building Tier 3 vocabulary within the classroom, based on the strategies we know and use.
Many speech-language pathologists are unsure of what their role is in adopting the CCSS and teaching students those skills outlined.  But reading the standards reassures us that there is not really anything new.  
Our interventions have always focused on teaching:
Phonological awareness skills
Vocabulary skills for reading comprehension and oral language/speaking skills; including naming, describing, defining, comparing, contrasting, categorizing, associating, knowing synonyms/antonyms/homonyms
Answering - and asking - questions
Narrative skills - recounting experiences, retelling stories and telling new stories
Writing skills - requiring organizing and formulating language for different purposes
Syntax skills - for speaking, for reading comprehension, and for writing
and...all things language.
       So, don’t panic or stress out.  Keep on doing what you have been doing to make your students successful language learners and language users.  Keep your eye on the continuum of skills as you work with your students who, by definition of meeting criterion for receiving intervention, are not at age or grade expectations.  

       What is important to note about the CCSS is the emphasis on not just access to the general curriculum but also adherence to these standards for students in special education.  Students receiving special education services are being held, more than in the past, to these same standards.  Which mean that we, as therapists and teachers, need to strive to prepare our students for meaningful participation in classrooms and for their lives after school.
        I have a resource packet for SLPs with posters, flow charts, and information on the CCSS for Reading and Writing for K-3 in my TeachersPayTeachers store.

        Have a great school year!

1 comment:

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