Surviving your first week!

It’s back to school for me… TODAY!   Summer got away from me and it seriously feels like I just wrapped up my last IEP a week ago, not 12 weeks ago.  Regardless of whether or not I’m ready for the start of the new school year, though, it’s coming, and I need to be prepared! I want to help YOU be prepared, too, so I’m joining The Frenzied SLPs again to give you some tips!

Tip #1:  Expect the Unexpected (#amiright “Big Brother” fans?!)
Be prepared to have at least one unexpected thing thrown your way.   You will probably get emails about new move-in students throughout that first week, so your caseload will be fluctuating a bit.  You may be asked to provide assistance for something that’s not normally part of your work duty.

A couple years ago, one of my dear teacher friends had a funeral to go to and missed the first day of school.  She was new that year, and had brand new paras and a sub with a class full of special needs 3 year olds.  It. Was. Crazy Town.  My principal came to my room and asked if I could go down and help manage the classroom, so I did.  I didn’t have her morning kiddos on my caseload because of how the SLPs split the prek load that year, but that first week is all about jumping in and helping each other survive, so I helped anyway!

Really, just know that one or two things will probably be thrown your way.  Problem solve/go with the flow as best you can!

Tip #2:  Be extra nice to your secretaries and custodial staff!
Bring them cookies or brownies or some other little treat! They are going to be crazy busy the first week, too.  Secretaries will have class lists and the Master Schedule, as well as info on transfer students.  Custodians may help you move a piece of furniture in your office or procure an extra bookshelf for your space, etc…  and if you’re nice to these people at the beginning of the year, they’ll be willing to help you out throughout the year!  They might be two of the most underappreciated positions in the building, so show them some love!

Tip #3:  If you’re new (to the school, to the district, to being an SLP.. whatever!), find someone who can help show you the ropes!
This is pretty self explanatory, but find someone that can help explain building-specific procedures, building politics if there are any (which, let’s be honest, there almost always is), IEP paperwork, the procedure for setting up meetings, etc…  This may be another SLP, another therapist, or maybe another SPED teacher!

Tip #4:  Get a caseload list from your SPED secretary, and make a few spreadsheets:
Your SPED secretary (or equivalent person) will have a list of students on your caseload.  Get that list, and if you’re a veteran and see new/unfamiliar students on that list, ask for a copy of move in IEP paperwork if it hasn’t been given to you already.

Once I get my caseload list, I input everyone into Excel spreadsheets with the following information:
-Name, DOB, IEP date, # of days/minutes per week of therapy (or however yours are set up– weekly/monthly/etc), related services, brief summary of goals, and classroom teacher.

You can sort the lists in Excel in whatever ways you find helpful, but I find the following helpful for me:
-Alphabetically:  I have one spreadsheet of students sorted alphabetically.  If I need to look up a piece of info like DOB or IEP date for a specific student at a glance, I can accomplish this quickly.
-By IEP date:  This lets me see at a glance how many IEPs I have due in a particular month, or if there is a cluster around the same time, so I know to try to plan ahead.
-By # of days per week they get therapy:  This helps me when I’m ready to start making my schedule!

By putting the info in an Excel spreadsheet and sorting it, I can add new students throughout the year and just re-sort it without having to create entirely new lists.

Tip #5:  Make a spreadsheet to track evaluations throughout the year
A spreadsheet with students’ names, ages, eval/IEP dates, amount of time spent on testing, reason for referral, and whether or not the students qualified will be helpful to track an aspect of your caseload that can’t always be seen just by tracking caseload numbers.  If you need to go to administration about needing help, having various types of data other than caseload numbers can help your cause.  If you track this info from year to year, you can show trending data, as well, over time!

Tip #6:  Plan an EASY activity that can be used with almost EVERYONE for your first therapy sessions:
You probably won’t see kids the first few days of school as you get teacher’s classroom schedules and get your caseload sorted out, but once you DO start seeing some kids, plan an activity that can be used across all of your students.  The first week is crazy with all of the administrative things going on, so make this one easy! I work with preschoolers, so with 99% of them, I can ask them draw a picture of what they did over the summer and then I have them tell me about it.  You can get a little bit of info for areas like vocab, MLU, articulation, and grammar with this activity and it takes zero time to prep except by getting some paper and crayons!

Were these tips helpful for you? I hope so! What are some things you do during your first week?

Why I use dot markers in speech/language therapy

Bubbles, Cariboo, and dot markers:  three things my students never get tired of, and are always excited about.  I don’t know what it is, exactly, about those three things that make them just as exciting after the 100th time as they were the first time, but they definitely hold some sort of magical powers when it comes to the little ones (Teach me your ways, inanimate objects!).

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about why I use one of those items–dot markers–in therapy sessions, and what skills they help promote!

1.  Fine Motor Development:
Especially in an early childhood setting, there is a lot of collaboration between service providers, and we are always trying to promote our students’ development and generalization of skills across people and settings.  Using dot markers is an easy way for me to work on development of early grasp patterns with those kiddos who are still pronating (wrist turned so that their thumb is down while they’re holding their writing/drawing utensil).  I just give them a cue of “thumbs up!” and most of them can remember to turn their wrist.  From there, I can help facilitate moving from a fisted grasp pattern to holding it more with their fingertips (OTs, aren’t you impressed with what I’ve picked up from listening to you guys in IEP meetings? Ha)  Side note: Teacher and OT friends, you’re on your own, though, with scissors.  Teaching preschoolers to wield scissors is terrifying and I’m leaving that work to you ;-))

2.  1 to 1 Correspondence:
As I mentioned earlier, all of us service providers are working towards helping our students master and generalize skills.  1 to 1 correspondence is an early math skill I can help facilitate for the classroom teacher.  When I’m using dot markers, we can work on counting each dot as we stamp it, because I always have them stamp more than one on each turn!

3.  It’s a quick reinforcer:
Some of my students need an immediate reinforcer to stay on task or to stay motivated.  When they enjoy dot markers (and I’ve yet to meet a preschooler who doesn’t), their reward is immediate– Practice 5 artic words, stamp 5 dots.  Easy peasy!  It also keeps them busy when their partner is practicing their targets, as well.

4.  Creativity:
Sometimes I feel like there’s so much push for our little guys to master all of these academic skills at an early age, that creativity and learning through play can get left in the dust.  With all of the academic demands expected to be met in the classrooms, there is often limited time for art and play, and general creativity.  With dot markers, some of my kids like to switch colors throughout their picture or make patterns by alternating colors.  It’s just a little thing I can let them do to foster some of their creativity, but every little bit helps! 🙂

5.  They have a clear ending:
Dot marker pages are an activity that have a clear ending.  It’s a visual that lets my students see how much of that activity is left before we move on to something new or before they go back to class.  When they see that 3/4 of the dots are left, they know we still have a bit before our session is over.  When they see that they only have 5 more dots left, they can figure out that they’ve just about completed their work.  It’s a visual reference of what they are working towards (ie peacin’ out of speech and getting back to their friends– ha! Just kidding (kind of.  for some of them.))

I love dot markers and include them in a lot of my TpT creations! You can find dot marker pages in my Apple Speech & Language pack, Print & Go Phonology seriesCommunity Helpers Mega Pack, and my Spring Print & Go Pack,

For some freebie dot marker pages with an apple theme for Fall, Back to School, or a Nutrition unit, check our this free sample of my larger Apple Speech/Language pack here.  You can also find a lot of dot marker pages (or magnet pages, as they are called on this site) by theme at Making Learning Fun.

Are there any other go-to resources you love for dot markers? I’d love to see them!