This may be the most difficult thing you will ever hear as an SLP when planning: but don’t overthink it. Not having a curriculum can be hard. As speech and language pathologists in the school setting you don’t just get a set of materials that you are required to use with each student. You are told to “teach to the curriculum” and “help all students access the curriculum”… but you don’t actually have your own!
This can actually be fun and curious while anxiety provoking at the same time. I remember a friend telling me how great it is (while I was overthinking my plans, of course) that I get to choose my own way of doing things. That opens the door to creativity while creating your own structure. Speech and language lessons really do change from one SLP to another, and it is always fascinating to see the different ways lessons are carved out while targeting the same goal. The most challenging part of this process that most SLP’s will agree upon: the need to internally constantly plan and replan.
So, here are 5 tips to help prevent getting stuck in the rabbit hole of ideas in speech cyberspace, reduce planning time to make you more efficient, and serve as a reminder that you can always do a lesson even when the “plans” don’t turn out the way you wanted them to
1. Structure planning
One thing I learned over the years is that even though the old adage of “man plans and god laughs” rings true, it’s always neat to have a structure for yourself. Especially in a post pandemic world, a nice team building/ social emotional learning activity that can get everyone in the group or individuals in sessions moving or staying in their seats is a good way to start the session. A few minutes of mindfulness (ie.headspace) can really set the tone as anxiety can be affecting our students. Then you can head into the nuts and bolts of your session.The ending can be the reflection piece where an individual student or group thinks about their goals and how they progressed towards achievement. They can’t figure it out alone. Often you’ll need to guide them and providing them with a reflection prompt with a couple of questions can help.
[Extra tip] INTERESTS are key: Using google surveys or informal conversation in the beginning of the year can help students pick out their interests.
2. Using the curriculum
The students’ curriculum has always been helpful in forming lessons! Look at what they’re reading in class, what science experiments they have recently done, where they are on the history timeline and incorporate content from their lessons with a speech and language/communication flare – “speechify” it. You can work on any goal using content from the curriculum. Teachers can be a great resource, and even show how they’ve modified content across learners. Their curriculum and modified materials for different learners is not only a great launching point for your session, but a way to help students get a better grasp on what they are learning.
3. Virtual tools
Some of us are afraid of technology, and some of us were still in school when the world decided to switch over to the virtual side. Google Docs are great and can be simple. I never used Google Docs as much as I used it during the lockdown in New York! I personally have found the hyperlinks that you can embed into the Google Doc when selecting a theme (related to a holiday, curriculum or a theme based on interests) to provide easy access and reduce the burden of planning for weeks. You can also divide the documents into warm up activities/check in about feelings, nuts and bolts of the session, and reflections. Using visuals, written prompts or even Google Forms to reflect! The virtual world has become overwhelming, so try your best to stick to your favourite virtual outlet.
More specifically, Noala Features – Noala has been a great virtual tool to help me – it is a great way for me and so many others to look up ideas for planning exercises guided by research. Just hop on to the inter-professional section. The growing speech and language community can support you if you have any questions about planning.
Additionally, a fast friend that many have warmed up to during remote learning is boom cards online: Boom Cards. The good thing about boom cards is that they provide virtual tools and pre-planned activities for all areas of speech and language that a school based SLP may be treating. You can even create your own boom cards that are individualised to student based interests! I personally have loved using it as a support for sessions, since students have become more connected to the virtual world over the last few years. It is important (like our “old school worksheets”) to use it as a helpful tool but not as the main guide for the session.
4. Organise your drive
So you’ve planned your sessions and you’ve selected a theme based on the holiday or curriculum. Now what? Continue planning? To keep it simple, save your ideas in one place! Google Drive, One drive and Noala is great. Lists of video models can be in one. Lists of Google Docs based on holidays can be in another. And of course, a list of curriculum content activities can be somewhere else. This can be your own organised filing cabinet that can allow you to “pull and add.” It’s your own personal binder with dividers.
5. Trust your gut
Last but not least, remember this: it is hard to not get lost in cyberspace of all the different approaches, ideas for plans, pre-set plans, and even varying therapy approaches. This is where your gut comes in to save you! Pick what you think will work well with the individual or the group. Remember that if the goals set by another SLP don’t align to your observations, don’t plan for that and amend as needed! If you get a little lost along the way because this is something new, remember two important things: you are trained to work with a diverse set of students of all ages and speech and language/communication needs, but you can also speak to others who may have more knowledge about a specific topic. And if someone comes into your session that you hadn’t planned for due to circumstances (ie. being human), now is your time to … stand up and land on your feet!