It's that time of year again! The wonderful time of year when those of us who are lucky enough to work with children get exposed to runny noses, explosive sneezes and coughs that sound as if they could be coming from a 70 year old smoker.
Ahhhh the joys.
No amount of of hand sanitiser or hand washing can prevent the inevitable and lo and behold, I could feel the beginnings of something awful taking over my body this week. And then it happened. I got to work this morning with a funny little tickle in my throat and as the day progressed, I could feel my voice slowly giving up on me. I was in the middle of running an articulation group and was pretending to talk really loud so that the kids could practice their 'sh' sound by telling me to 'shhhhushh!' (an activity which they get a kick out of every single time!) Suddenly their 'shushing' was incredibly effective because I could barely speak above a whisper.
I've lost my voice before and it is incredibly distressing because I love to talk. But to lose my voice at work when I'm supposed to be TEACHING kids to SPEAK is even more distressing! But as they do here in Britain...I kept calm and carried on! The results pleasantly surprised me.
Here's what I learned from my afternoon of not speaking in speech therapy.
1. Kids can be speech therapists too!
'That was perfect! NowI was SUPER proud of my students in my articulation group today. Because I was struggling to talk, I asked the group to give each other verbal feedback about their sounds. This particular group has been together for awhile now and are really comfortable with each other so I knew that they would be respectful and kind to each other. And they were! But not only that, they actually gave really good feedback. Here's some examples of the awesomeness that I heard today.
'That was a really good try but it sounded a bit more like a hissy snake sound instead of the quiet sound'
try it in a sentence!'
'Maybe you could try it again but make a kissy face with your lips'
As you might expect, I was SO proud of my little mini mes! They were showing awesome auditory discrimination, giving great feedback and were being so positive. I could potentially lose my job to a bunch of six year olds...
2. Visuals, visuals, visuals
Visuals are important on any given day as a speech therapist but today they were a life saver! I used my portable white board to write out schedules for each session so that they kids could organise themselves without me having to do much explaining. Also, when it was time to move on to another activity, I could just point to the board. I drew very sophisticated happy faces and sad faces on post-its and used these to give feedback to the kids. I had the kids use the same post-its to self-evaluate themselves. I also made a 'word' visual and a 'sentence' visual to move the children up or down levels while they were practicing their target sounds. This turned out to be a very efficient way of getting lots of quick repetitions and taught me that visual feedback can be just as effective as verbal feedback. I should use it more!
3. Self-evaluation is important
Today I had my students self-evaluate themselves a lot more than I normally do. It was interesting to see which children were really good at self-evaluation, which needed more practice with it, and which were giving themselves check marks simply because they wanted to play the game that they were working towards. Although I do get my students to self-evaluate themselves some of the time, today was a nice reminder that I should really be getting them to self-evaluate all of the time in addition to giving my own feedback.
4. When I'm quiet...the kids are quiet!
I found that all of my students really fed off of my quiet nature today. They themselves used softer voices, and they were much more attentive because they needed to look at my visual feedback. It showed me how great of an effect my demeanour can have on the kids!
Giving speech therapy without actually being able to speak as much as I normally do taught me a lot. I wouldn't want to go through it again because I know it wasn't perfect speech therapy BUT I it did give me some helpful reminders. I've worked really hard all year to give my students the skills they need to evaluate themselves and each other. Now it's time for me to give them more responsibility so that they can use these skills more. Visual feedback can be just as effective as verbal feedback, if not more. It was an interesting afternoon and it's definitely made me reflect on some of the positive strategies that I'm already using in my sessions and other strategies which I should use more of.