Saturday, November 21, 2015

ASHA Wrap-Up, Part 2

I was very happy to be an invited speaker this year for SIG 18, Telepractice, along with SLP Nathan Curtis of Waldo County General Hospital in Maine. As I have mentioned, I am not currently doing telepractice (though our practice is considering it), but my background as an instructional tech specialist as well as in SLP has led to some valuable consultations chiefly around the resources and methodologies that can be infused in the telepractice environment.

I wanted to share a few resources from our presentation,"Get Telepractical: Curating Simple, Effective and Engaging Materials, Websites and Apps for Telepractice Sessions" A major portion of our presentation described web resources that can be used over the telepractice portal. As you may know, telepractitioners use software such as WebEx (or many others) to share their screen with the client and generally an adult "e-helper" on the other side. With web and desktop applications, the clinician can truly share that screen and give the client control of the mouse to interact with a website or a program like PowerPoint (to move things around, make choices and changes, etc, and use language in that context). I made a rudimentary sketch to show what that looks like:

Note that both the clinician and client can manipulate the context on screen.

Websites like PBS Kids can be analyzed for language-based content and a list of activities can be curated for future use and sharing with other clinicians on staff. Nathan and SLP Amy Reid at WCGH have created a great list of activities available on PBS Kids which you can access here (note that these activities are also great for face-to-face therapy with the use of a desktop or laptop).

For my part, I discussed how curriculum-related websites could be leveraged in the same way, as they frequently can be mined for categorization, sequencing, and storytelling targets that can be elicited with the use of the activity in the context of topics the client is learning about in the classroom. Resources and strategies we shared in this regard, also useful for face-to-face therapy with a full web browser:
Nathan provided great information about creating authentic materials containing photos and contexts that are meaningful to the child and family. Often this experience is enhanced with some simple tricks in PowerPoint, demonstrated here in this video by Amy Reid (email subscribers please click through to the post to see the video):

We also discussed the use of the iPad in telepractice, both with its limitations and possibilities at this time. Clinicians can use software such as Reflector, AirServer, or connect their iPad directly to a Mac to make the iPad screen "mirror" or appear on the desktop or laptop screen.  However, once sharing their desktop, this does not afford the same opportunity for interactivity as the client cannot control the app from the other side.

Despite this, displaying the iPad in a telepractice session can still be useful for a variety of reasons:
  • The high quality apps available provide a window to many engaging contexts for clients to view and discuss, in the process targeting language goals.
  • The parent or e-helper can be trained in the process of co-engagement and use of language over apps such as those from Toca Boca, Dr. Panda, or others, then transferring these models to use of the family iPad with the child.
  • As indicated above, apps specific to the context of curriculum areas (see the TinyBop apps to start) can also be displayed and modeled for language development within these topics.
  • The use of creation apps such as Pic Collage can be modeled, such that the client and e-helper can later share their own language-enhancing creations. Apps such as Book Creator provide the opportunity for clinician and client to start a book together; the book can then be shared and opened on the family iPad in Book Creator to continue the simple project.
We hope this information is helpful to you and expands your thinking about both face-to-face and telepractice therapy!

Monday, November 16, 2015

ASHA Wrap-Up Part 1

I'm back in Boston and breathing after a whirlwind of visit to Denver for the ASHA Convention. The conference was a great experience in a beautiful convention center and location. However, I discovered I have little tolerance for altitude. Despite drinking TONS of water, as recommended, each day I found myself battling a pervasive brain fog (PBF) and fatigue- overall just not feeling myself! Oh well, I won't be going to a mile-high location again anytime soon!

Even with the PBF, I managed to process the following events:

Kelly McGonigal delivered a terrific keynote on the science of mindfulness. Through a discussion with a friend I learned also of the Headspace app, which offers a free 10-day course of short, simple meditations. I've already enjoyed day 1. You can see Kelly speak in her TED Talk and read some of her posts at this link.

At "Practical Strategies for Middle School & High School Language Learning Disorders," Wallach, Bartholomew and Charlton gave an overview of strategies teaching language underpinnings in the context of MS/HS curriculum, including text structure and sentence combining. Upon arriving home, I quickly bought Don and Jenny Kilgallon's Sentence Composing for Elementary School, a recommended text for getting started with content related to sentence combining.

In this post, I wanted to share information from my first talk, "'Son of' Pairing Picture Books & Apps to Contextually Address Language Objectives," which took place on Friday afternoon. The wacky title springs from the fact that this was the 4th iteration of this presentation at ASHA. I was thrilled with the turnout and enthusiasm of the audience. The upshot of the presentation is that we can select picture books and apps that overlap in context such that both address language and social goals in context. Books with "speechie" qualities-- an identifiable/mappable narrative or expository structure, vocabulary contexts, social concepts, rhyming text, rich and potentially language-neutral visuals to elicit talk and description, and contexts for asking constrained and open, higher-level questions, can be paired with apps that have some of the same qualities or meet FIVES criteria, for the construction of post-book activities that also target language objectives.

A pairing that seemed to be an audience favorite included Todd's TV and Telestory.

In James Proimos' fun picture book, Todd's parents start to rely on the TV for parenting duties. This quickly gets out of hand with the TV taking over and proving adept at "changing the subject" whenever the parents try to reason with it. In the end, they simply turn it off and the book details all of the ways their lives are more fun and connected without the overbearing TV! In addition to an important theme about moderating technology (have kids infer what the message is, or make text-to-self connections), the book is filled with lists: tasks the TV starts to take over, ways the parents try to get the TV to back off, and the benefits once the problem is solved--all mappable using narrative or expository graphic organizers.

A good pairing for this book is found in Launchpad Toys' (makers of Toontastic) free app Telestory. The concept of the app is that you can use it to make a "TV Show" in various genres: news, music, spy, etc. Within each genre are suggested situations and then storylines that provide some structure. When shooting with the simple interface, you can include an enhanced "selfie" mode where costuming tracks the face while using the front-facing camera. Students within a group can play different roles as the app allows for various "shots." Overall this easy-to-use app provides an opportunity to target narrative language, play, and any target you want to include in developing a script or plan with your students for your "show."

Below you can see the (quick and simple) app demonstration filmed during the presentation (email subscribers, a reminder to click through to the post to see any videos):

Thanks to all who attended! Great time! More on our presentation on resources useful in telepractice later in the week...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

See you at ASHA!

After a trip to South Florida (click here for info on our free workshop with UM-NSU-CARD) this weekend, I am excited to head off to Denver, and hope to see many of you there. In case you missed it, check out my article on apps that will help you navigate the convention. I'll definitely be relying as always on TripIt!

In Denver I am honored to be presenting 2 sessions on Friday afternoon:

Session Code: 1416
Title: “Son of” Pairing Picture Books & Apps to Contextually Address Language Objectives
Day: Friday, November 13, 2015 Time: 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Location: Colorado Convention Center
Room: Mile High 1E-1F
Session Format: Seminar 2-hours PDH(s): 2 Hrs
Abstract: A “sequel” to this popular presentation with installments at ASHA 2012-2014 describes all-new pairings of books and apps and suggestions for interventions. The presentation explores research-supported strategies for using picture books in intervention for language development, providing exemplars of contextual book and app pairings serving as visual, interactive post-reading activities.

This is my 4th iteration of this presentation and I am very happy to have been granted a luxurious 2 hours to stretch it out!

Session Code: 1477
Title: Get Telepractical: Curating Simple, Effective & Engaging Digital Materials, Websites & Apps for Telepractice Sessions
Day: Friday, November 13, 2015 Time: 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Location: Colorado Convention Center Room: 301-302
Session Format: Seminar 1-hour PDH(s): 1 Hrs
Presenter(s) : Nathan Curtis, Waldo County General Hosp (presenting author),  Sean Sweeney, SpeechTechie (presenting author)
Abstract: This session is developed by, and presenters invited by, SIG 18: Telepractice. Clinicians engaging in telepractice need not “reinvent the wheel” to find materials. This presentation provides strategies and resources to locate and organize digital materials. Repurposing websites and apps using a speech and language lens provides relevant, engaging and effective activities. Demonstrations of how to individualize authentic materials will be offered.

Though not a telepractitioner myself, I have had a longstanding collaboration with the folks at Waldo County General Hospital, home of a famed telepractice training center, and recently conducted a 2-day presentation with Nathan Curtis. See one of our recent articles here. My role as an instructional technology specialist has been to advise on the types of resources that can be used over telepractice web portals. I am excited to have been invited to co-present this session by ASHA's Special Interest Group 18.

I look forward to sharing some resources from these and other sessions after the convention.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Haunt the House

Many games meet the FIVES criteria for being highly interactive, visually supportive of language formulation, and geared toward addressing "Speechie" objectives such as categorization, sequencing, and interpretation of body language. Some additional factors I take into consideration are language neutrality (does the app work like a wordless picture book as a context to elicit language) and pace/timing (can the action be stopped by pausing or taking the iPad away for a moment to discuss?).

Though this is almost too late to make it useful for Halloween use (you can of course continue the app into the following week for "Halloweeen season"), I wanted to feature the app Haunt the House ($1.99)! Sort of a stepped-up version of Toca Boo!, this app has you act the role of a ghost attempting to scare people out of various settings including a village, mansion and train. The ghost can "possess" items in each room, prompting predictions about object function.

Using apps such as these with students is a good opportunity to target executive function and Social Thinking® applications around monitoring time and turns. My students yesterday posed that a fair turn would be 6 minutes! We limited them to 1-minute turns (with a timer) and then asked "how long that felt" to play or wait for a turn--it's plenty. The timer or clock can then be faded or facilitated for independent use.

We used this app with several pre/post activities:
-A mini lesson about "thinking with the eyes" and physical proximity (body in the group). You know you are being successful at scaring residents when they "notice" the object's movement with their eyes, and the best strategy is to move to rooms where people are present.
-From memory, I asked my students to create a map of the house, thereby targeting the story grammar element of setting and the executive function skill of mapping a space one is to navigate (see the work of Sara Ward and Kristen Jacobsen). I scaffolded by placing a few "anchor" rooms on the map so the students had a model of how to sketch, as well as a place to start.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Toca Boo- Currently Free and Full of Fun Scares

This is partially a repost from last year- Thanks Smart Apps For Kids for letting us know that Toca Boo is Free for a short time- please click through to the App Store from their site to support them.

This highly interactive app allows you to play the role of a "ghost" and wander a darkened house scaring members of a family. Seems a strange concept, but it's loads of fun.

Have you ever played hiding games with kids who proceed to hide themselves or items in plain sight? This illuminates, pun intended in the context of this app, problems around perspective taking and "thinking with the eyes" (see the work of the folks at Social Thinking®). In Toca Boo, to achieve a maximum scare, the ghost needs to avoid the family members' flashlights and hide in hotspots (e.g. under the covers of the bed or in a box) or behind furniture. Watch the trailer below:

The process of coaching students to effectively scare the characters will give you the opportunity to model and elicit if/then and causal language, as well as target spatial and positional concepts, in addition to the social cognitive ideas mentioned above. The app provides a good context for building the category of rooms of a house as well.

Do use your judgment of the trailer to consider which of your students would like this app, and whether it might be too scary for some. I do think they go a little far in having you scare (and knock over) the comical older man with the cane. I admit I laughed at this, though (America's Funniest Home Videos being a guilty pleasure of mine)! Toca Boca as always does a good job of discussing the ideas around the app in the "For Parents" section of the app, but I'm a believer in a little scare, suspense or humor being a great context to get kids talking.

New idea: try following this app with some dramatic play, perhaps filming with your video camera an "unsuccessful scare" vs. a "successful scare," at the same time targeting the sequential language of hiding and popping out and some feelings vocabulary.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Notes adds simple but powerful tools in iOS 9

The new operating system for iOS devices, iOS 9, came out several weeks ago. It's always a good idea to wait a while before updating (remember, all updates are free) so that Apple can work out the bugs that often persist past the "beta testing" phase. At this point, several updates have been released to iOS 9, so I'd say you are safe to update. That said, you'll want to follow some steps to ensure your update goes without issue. Cult of Mac always provides a nice guide to these updates- please see this link for information on which devices will run iOS 9 and how to update.

I do a lot of observation and consultation as an SLP, and notetaking apps are essential in this process. I have often recommended Evernote for notetaking, and still do- it has some great features including cloud storage (so I just use student initials, creation of notebooks, and audio recording).

However, the simple Notes app that comes as part of the operating system received a nice upgrade with iOS 9, and I have been revisiting it in the last few weeks. Notes now allows you to:
-Create Folders to organize notes (like notebooks in Evernote)
-Insert photos in notes
-Create a sketch in a note
-Make a note into a checklist

Each of these features makes Notes a more interesting tool when working with or for students, and also simplifies recommendations around assistive technology, as students can now do more with the operating system itself as opposed to downloading a separate app that requires an account.

As an example, I recently observed a student I work with who is struggling in math class, particularly with the word problems presented at the beginning of each period. Having a peek at the process gave me a sense of the language level of the problems, and how the student approaches them. I noted the student went right to setting up an algorithm to do the calculation and had trouble understanding what the problem was asking. Using Notes I quickly typed out the problem and collaborated with a supporting teacher on a visual "story" of the problem and how sketches might be used to support the language and mathematical thinking both in our sessions and in class. Doing this in Notes gave me a sharable record of the visit, without having to deal with any paper (a bonus for me)!

To find out some of the other education-related features of iOS 9, check out Tony Vincent's great update on the new operating system.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Links of Interest

Hi Folks,

Some news and links of interest I wanted to share with you.

On October 15-16, I am slated to present a two-day workshop sponsored by Mark R. Hammond Associates in Portland, Maine with Nathan Curtis of (famed Telepractice Training Center) Waldo County General Hospital. The information on the workshop, "Integrating Technology for TherAPPy and Education," is at this link.

On October 23, I will be presenting "'Outside the Box' iPad for SLPs- Apps Through Language/Literacy Lens" for the Central New York Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The brochure is here.

I have published a number of columns for ASHA Leader, linked below:

September 2015, Just Google It! Google offers simple, free tools for sharing, organizing and interacting with student materials 

September 2015, Your Students, You and the Tube!: Need a visual for any context? YouTube offers a “social” solution. 

August 2015, Up Where the Air is Clear (Apps for ASHA Convention) 

And for Mindwing Concepts' Blog:

Create Visual "Explanimations" to go with your Expository Lessons (Using Educreations app to explain ideas)

Bring EPIC! Contexts to your use of Story Grammar Marker® (Story Grammar and the EPIC! E-Books app)

Vocabulary and Story Grammar Marker (combining the World's Worst Pet- Vocab app with SGM and Social Thinking® Lessons

Happy Reading- hope to see some of you at a conference soon or at ASHA (check the planner- I'll be there!)

Author is a paid consultant to Mindwing Concepts, Inc for creation of blog content. Social Thinking is based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner (see

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Toca Life Apps and Contextual Therapy

Following up on my last post on the "Toca Life" open-ended sandbox-style apps, I recently read a "Clinical Focus" article in American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and thought it shed light on how these apps (and others) can be used in context in therapy. Fey, Long, & Feinstack (2003) sought to outline "Ten Principles of Grammar Facilitation for Children With Specific Language Impairments" with research tie-ins relevant to all ages, but particularly for ages 3-8. This is a great article for any SLP or language interventionist to read, but I wanted to present it with ideas related to the principles being used in context, in particular the features and content of the Toca Life Apps.

So, the principles and some ideas:

1. The basic goal of all grammatical interventions should be to help the child to achieve greater facility in the comprehension and use of syntax and morphology in the service of conversation, narration, exposition, and other textual genres in both written and oral modalities.

This principle asserts a general philosophy of intervention, but for me speaks to the kind of functional communication that can be elicited through conversation and play around an app such as Toca Life: City or Toca Life: Town, and the student's greater enjoyment of communication situations hopefully as a result of that intervention.

2. Grammatical form should rarely, if ever, be the only aspect of language and communication that is targeted in a language intervention program.

The authors assert that students with grammatical impairment rarely have this as their only communication problem, and that grammatical intervention alone does not always impact other areas of deficit. Toca Life apps allow for targeting of multiple goals including categorization (say, in the store or home), sentence formulation and storytelling in the context of the app.

Looking for a healthy meal, the man can lay out or collect different fruits and vegetables in the Toca Life: Town store.

3. Select intermediate goals in an effort to stimulate the child’s language acquisition processes rather than to teach specific language forms.

An example given in the article is the targeting of nominative case pronouns as a class rather than individually.

Have a party in the Toca Life: Town or City loft apartment to emphasize what I, you, we, and they are doing.

4. The specific goals of grammatical intervention must be based on the child’s “functional readiness” and need for the targeted forms.

i.e. Pick targets in the child's zone of proximal development that reflect a pragmatic need for their use in daily life.

5. Manipulate the social, physical, and linguistic context to create more frequent opportunities for grammatical targets.

6. Exploit different textual genres and the written modality to develop appropriate contexts for specific intervention targets.

This is where I think such apps provide a great tool. Of course we should manipulate low-tech contexts for language targets, but apps that have many open-ended contexts make this manipulation quite easy. AND they serve as a different "genre" to work from, along with picture books, one of my other favorite tools.

Toca Life: City has a world of contexts. Just think of all the action words that can come from a theatre!

More specifically regarding the manipulation of contexts, the authors indicate:

...making a peanut butter sandwich could be an excellent activity for a child working on negative forms. Instead of typical ingredients, however, the clinician might have on hand things like noodles, cheese, dog food, or even a pencil, as ingredients for the sandwich. Such unlikely choices will create opportunities for sentences like, “You can’t eat that,” “That wouldn’t taste good,” or “We don’t need noodles/cheese/hot dogs.” When the proper ingredients are used and the activity has been completed, recapping the entire process can create numerous obligatory contexts for the target forms in a very short time. 

Clinician: “We used/ate/needed peanut butter. We also used cheese.” 
Child: "No, we not use cheese.” 
Clinician:  “Right, we didn’t use cheese. What about dog food?”

Note that Toca Life: Town's cafe lets you complete "recipes" (see the wall or here). Silly items to prompt negative forms can be used from the cafe itself or brought in characters' hands from other locations.

7. Manipulate the discourse so that targeted features are rendered more salient in pragmatically felicitous contexts.

"The most straightforward way to increase the salience of grammatical intervention targets, especially grammatical morphemes, is to stress them by making them longer and louder and producing them with more dynamic pitch changes."

Don't put her IN the bed! She should be OUT of bed. 

The kids are playing cars BECAUSE it is fun.

8. Systematically contrast forms used by the child with more mature forms from the adult grammar, using sentence recasts.

Re: the above scene- 
Adult: What happened?
Child: The girl eat the cake.
Adult: Yes, the girl ate the green cake.

9. Avoid telegraphic speech, always presenting grammatical models in well-formed phrases and sentences.

10. Use elicited imitation to make target forms more salient and to give the child practice with phonological patterns that are difficult to access or produce.

#9 is a good reminder, and #10, noted as an "intrusive" practice for social interactionists, is described to be effective in situations where targeted forms are used pragmatically and contrastively, for example, prompting "Say, 'She will play the game,'" followed by "Say, 'She played the game,'" after the action is performed in the app.

As a context clinician (it's what makes it fun!), I really appreciated the authors' references and examples in this article. Check it out for more information.

Fey, M. E., Long, S. H., & Finestack, L. H. (2003). Ten Principles of Grammar Facilitation for Children With Specific Language Impairments. American Journal Of Speech-Language Pathology, 12(1), 3.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Toca Life: City Adds Screen Recording

Toca Boca, long one of my favorite developers of contextual digital toys, has added a powerful feature to one of their already very useful apps- Toca Life: City ($2.99 for iPad). The Toca "Life" apps allow you to move characters around interactive environments; in this app, that includes a loft apartment, theatre, food park, hair salon and mall. Characters can pick up and interact with objects in each setting and even move from place to place with objects as you act out dramatic play sequences. These features in Toca Life: City have been enhanced with the addition of screen recording-- this captures the movement and records audio as you and students speak in order to create an animation. The animation can be immediately replayed, but also saved to the camera roll for later review or even sharing!

After rehearsing or storyboarding a "scene" with your students (further emphasizing your language and social targets), just tap the film icon in the upper left corner and begin recording.

Though the Toca: Life apps (see also Toca Life: Town) provide great opportunities to target play skills, cooperation and social cognition, and language targets such as sentence formulation, microstructures such as verbs and pronouns, as well as overall narrative, the screen recording feature can make this work more salient, with auditory feedback on student performance.

That this feature was added recently again underscores the importance of running and reviewing the contents of your app updates, which can be done in the App Store app Updates tab which provides text descriptions of changes within apps.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Do We Have a Subscription to...(Part 2)

In the last post, I discussed how the beginning of the school year is a good time to acquaint yourself with any technology resources offered by your school district, as many do not realize the benefits subscription-based services can provide.

While BrainPOP, described in the last post, is accessible by an affordable monthly subscription even if your school doesn't have it, ExploreLearning's Gizmos are more of a district investment. I would, however, encourage individuals to check it out via the free month trial, if only for exposure for how interactives connect with language. ExploreLearning (accessible also via a new iPad app once you obtain the trial login) provides interactive activities called "Gizmos" that show the sequential, cause-effect, and conditional relationships in science topics (e.g. tides, flower pollination, forces). The activities are open-ended and meant to be constructivist and inquiry-based, leading students to ask questions and draw conclusions, which is facilitated by printable "Student Exploration Guides" for each Gizmo. Again, I'd encourage you to check it out or take advantage of it if your school offers the service (my middle school did). If you save the guides, the language-based questions provide a good model for questions you can ask when using interactives such as the free ones available at BrainPOP GAME UP or, as well as for apps such as MarcoPolo Weather. Overall, this type of interactive provides a visual contextual support for you to target objectives around description, sequencing, and cause-effect, while providing students (particularly upper elementary, MS, and HS students) additional review of classroom topics.

ExploreLearning's Gizmo on Tides and its Exploration Guide prompts knowledge-activating questions, observation and cause-effect statements about the relationship between the moon and tides, and would be useful when students are studying topics such as Earth, Sun and Moon.