Friday, December 19, 2014

A Few Thoughts about Language and the Serial Podcast

For a few years now, I have counted podcasts among my key resources of information related to technology integration. If you are not sure what they are, podcasts are basically radio shows distributed online; the term podcast dates back to the iPod being a revolutionary method of accessing audio as iTunes opened the door to many people sharing ideas through independent podcast creation. Time was, podcasts needed to be accessed by downloading on a computer and then syncing your device, but this can be done easily (and for free) now with the Podcasts app. 

This fall brought the release of the most popular podcast ever. Serial, from the producers of the also-great This American Life, followed one story over the course of a season of 12 episodes released weekly. Journalist Sarah Koenig attempted to unravel the 15-year-old murder of Hae Min Lee, a teenage girl- her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted of the crime, but as we learned, the details are far from straightforward. The podcast became somewhat of a sensation, with media outlets and people all over social media weighing in as each episode brought new twists in the case. So what does Serial have to do with language?

Serial reminded me first of all of the value of listening. Our world has become inundated with tech-mediated visual experiences, and it's rare that we slow down to experience the purity of listening to language. Though this practice is something I have tried to revisit as much as possible, I was so thrilled to have company in the audio realm as many friends became immersed in and were eager to discuss a story that is riveting, emotional and quite tragic, possibly on several levels. Koenig herself became somewhat of a celebrity for her intimate narration of her investigation, which at times felt like being a listener inside her head. Most of all for me the listening experience awakens meditative and metacognitive processes- you don't think about your thoughts when watching TV quite the way you do when listening. I often noted the way I was visualizing the narrated events as they unfolded and thanked Lindamood-Bell for giving me a structure within Visualizing and Verbalizing® to make this imagery even more "sharp," at times painfully so.

Serial also is ultimately about narrative language, hence the title. What you think at the end of the series depends on whose version of the story you believe. Throughout the series, Koenig continually reframes episodes of this story in ways that make you reconsider the characters, key settings, initiating events and responses. Key to the story in particular is perspective taking: could Adnan have been that angry after the break-up to commit this crime? What do the people who surrounded Adnan at that time think about his state of mind and possible responses? Timelines also play an essential role, as each episode forces us to consider disparate sequences of events leading up to and surrounding Hae's murder. For me, Serial underscored the importance of narrative language as part of the experience of being human--which is one of the reasons I am so clinically engaged in building discourse skills. It was interesting that as the series drew to a close, there was much concern that Koenig wouldn't present us with a satisfying conclusion, as if this were a carefully plotted piece of episodic television. I found the "ending" satisfying, though also unsurprisingly a reinforcement of the truth that life is messy and often evasive of clear narrative conclusions.

If you haven't listened to Serial, I strongly recommend it. Start at episode 1, avoid "spoilers," and think about language.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Edublog Awards and Year in Review

I have had the honor of being nominated for Best Individual Blog in this year's Edublogs awards. Each year this event serves as a reminder of the importance of social media in education, as well as a great place to find new blogs and other resources for ideas in your work. As has been the trend, SLPs have made a good showing this year, including:
If you get a moment to stop by the Best Individual Blog category and give me a vote, I'd appreciate it! This requires signing in Twitter, Facebook or Google. In the case of Facebook, you need to allow access but not to allow Listly to post.

It totally slipped my mind to do nominations this year, with ASHA Convention and all, so I want to give a shout-out to Chris Bugaj and family at A.T.TIPSCAST, who continue to provide entertaining and extremely helpful podcasts. Check them out on your free Podcasts app. Chris should be at least as popular as Serial. Though I am obsessed with Serial.

2014 was a good year. I got to quite a few places to make presentations- Atlanta, Las Vegas, Michigan, Ottawa, Nova Scotia, Nashville, Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati. I wrote a bunch of columns for the ASHA Leader and nearly 50 posts here on the blog. Whew! Looking forward to a productive 2015, but I need to take a rest for a few weeks!

To close out the year (though I probably will sneak one or two in), here are the most popular posts of 2014:

Calming, Part 2

TED Talks of Interest to SLPs and Language Folks

Re-Usable Images

Stick Around: The Spectrum of Repurposing

iPad Essentials: Window Shopping in the App Store

Phrasal Verbs Machine (don't quite know why this one got so many hits, but OK)

DirecTV's "Don't" Commercials

Social Fortune and Fate/Comics Head


Write About This

Hope these are of use to review or if you missed them! Have a great Holiday Season...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Calming, Part 4

Rounding out this series on apps to explore calming and self-regulation in the course of language intervention is the free app Epic Zen Garden. This title seems somewhat of a contradiction in terms as it hypes up your expectations for a "Zen" experience that just "is," but especially given the price it is a worthwhile app to explore. Zen Garden (let's just call it that, now) made a notable debut at a recent Apple event highlighting the power of the new interactive programming format called "Metal." The result is a beautiful graphical experience allowing you to explore the grounds of a house and engage in visual activities such as making a tree bloom, playing in a Koi pond, making patterns in the sand, releasing butterflies from a fountain, and viewing the house from afar. It's a simple experience but could be used as a sensory tool and for eliciting descriptive language. See also Beth Lloyd's great posts on apps for sensory seekers.

Friday, November 28, 2014

ASHA 2014 Takeaways!

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! For me, the holiday followed soon upon returning from the ASHA 2014 Convention in Orlando, where I presented and also attended many sessions.

It was fun being in Orlando, even with sort of crappy (cold, then rainy) weather. I rented a Yaris just like mine at home! Well, newer and nicer, but...

Overall I applaud ASHA for a great event. My hotel was easy to obtain and nice, the shuttles ran without a hitch, and the convention center was pretty easy to navigate! Along the way, I learned a lot:

At Carol Westby and Kristine Noel's session on Social Cognition and Emotional-Behavioral issues, they presented recent work on Theory of Mind (summarized in Topics in Language Disorders) and their framework for Narrative Intervention and Problem Solving, honed with incarcerated youth with language issues and also summarized in their article in that issue of TLD.

The mother and daughter team of SLP Henriette Langdon and Counselor Maxine Starr presented a helpful session on self-care and balance in our work as SLPs. They sited eight areas of balance to consider in living a healthier life.

The folks at Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children (Dorman, Lee, Gloria and Ritter), folks who have presented many informative sessions analyzing board games for speech and language aspects (repurposing!), applied their "language lens" to a number of apps and presented video on how they use them. I was happy to learn about Vocab Scenes ($1.99), which reminds me of the very useful but defunct Kerpoof website.

The Social Thinking® Team of Nancy Tarshis, Kari Palmer and Ryan Hendrix presented important new information on building resilience in our students with Social Cognition challenges. I can't wait to make some "potions" (colored oil/water jars with little objects inside emphasizing positive tools) and also to use the marshmallow test video to discuss self-talk.

Tara Roehl presented great ideas on integrating apps with contextual activities building language and executive functioning. Be sure to check out her resources on her blog and Pinterest.

I always love to see the "Divas Plus One" (this year including Whitmire, Singer, Appel--the plus one--, Wallach, and Malini) and their session celebrated the work of Barbara Ehren on curriculum-relevant therapy. This year Dr. Ehren was a recipient of ASHA Honors of the Association. You can view much of her work and influences on ASHAWire.

Many of the authors of a recent issue of Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools (Kahmi, Appel, Wallach, Gillam, Hadley) presented findings, reflections and best practices around clinical practices in language disorders. I will be studying this issue for some time.

It was great as always to see Michelle Garcia Winner, in this case discussing the important role of social attention and executive functioning in social cognition. You can read more of her and Pamela Crooke's ideas on this in a recent article.

I attended a terrific session on the overlappings and collaborative potential between cognitive behavioral therapy and speech and language pathology by Lynne Hewitt. You can see her work in a recent issue of Perspectives and view my tweets from this session, in a compilation of items shared by other attendees.

In addition to Barbara Ehren, several people I admire were honored at the ASHA Awards Ceremony, including language maven (and SpeechTechie supporter) Rhea Paul and my BU Professor Elizabeth Gavett, whom I am happy to see semesterly to give a talk in her class. All these folks have been critical in shaping my thinking over the years! Wonderful also to see John and Annie Glenn present the Glenn Award to Bill and Willie Geist. I have to admit that this was my first time attending the awards ceremony and it was an impressive production!

Saturday afternoon I attended a terrific presentation by Mindwing Concepts' Maryellen Rooney Moreau and Linda LaFontaine of the Curtis Blake Day School with awesome contextual tie-ins and many language activities conducted around the book Letting Swift River Go, which describes the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir outside of Boston.

I was proud to see my friend Beth Harmon present an extremely practical and fun session on pairing topic boards with the iPad to encourage use of core and fringe vocabulary along with word combinations. See some of her ideas at Sync Up Autism.

And my session- I was happy to have a really good crowd (despite the Saturday afternoon timeslot) show up to learn about contextual pairings of picture books and apps. Thanks for the tweets, Brittany and Angela:

PHEW! That was a lot to learn. Hopefully some of the links are helpful to you!

Monday, November 17, 2014

ASHA 2014 Orlando Session

I am excited to be presenting in Orlando next week, as well as having the opportunity to see great friends and get lots of ideas from attending sessions!

This year I am presenting another sequel to my Pairing Picture Books with Apps series. This is one of my favorite topics and I have at this point presented about 30 contextual pairings of books and apps. This year's session focuses on several categories of post-book language activities and examples within them.

Post-Book Art Activities- Reading picture books interactively with students can provide a context for drawing or creation within similar contexts, and models within books can influence the content and language use of students while creating a visual response (Bartelo, 1984). Apps provide an avenue to target language while creating visual artworks simply and quickly and omitting some of the time-consuming aspects of drawing or crafting.

Post-Book Discussion Webs- Visual diagrams can be used to map elements of a text or topic to develop categorization and association skills; webs can also be employed to have students respond to higher-level evaluative questions (Alverman, 1991). Apps use a touch-screen interface to create visual webs, and also can provide a context for topically related webbing and discussion.

Post-Book Dramatic Play- Acting out elements of or related to a story can be used to target sequencing skills, sentence formulation and overall story comprehension, and enhances children’s ability to explain ideas (Putnam, 1991). Apps can provide visuals that scaffold language and sequencing during the process of play.

Post-Book Story Grammar Cueing- Teaching students story elements such as character, setting, initiating event and conclusion has been shown to improve narrative comprehension and formulation (Davies, Shanks & Davies, 2004), and a number of apps can assist with visualizing and practicing this process.

Each of these categories provide a framework for choosing apps and books that go together contextually. I hope many of you can make it, but if you can't, check out a quick example of a post-book art activity in my post over at Daily Genius, spreading the word about a similar session I am presenting at EdTechTeacher's iPad Summit Boston.

The details of the session are as follows:

Session Code: 1718
Title: Pairing EVEN MORE Picture Books & Apps to Contextually Address Language Objectives Day: Saturday, November 22, 2014
Time: 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Location: Orange County Convention Center Room: W414CD
Session Format: Seminar 1-hour

Abstract: Support for using picture books in intervention is long-standing and relevant to the development of language skills. Books pair with apps with similar contexts to serve as visual, interactive post-reading activities. Revisiting a popular topic from ASHA 2012-2013, this presentation describes overlaps between books and apps and suggestions for interventions.
Speech-Language Pathology Topic Area: Language and Learning in School Age Children and Adolescents
Instructional Level: Introductory (Assumes little or no familiarity with the literature and professional practice within the areas covered)

Learner Outcome 1: Describe resources helpful in book and app selection for language intervention Learner Outcome 2: Identify key categories of post-book language activities that align with app use Learner Outcome 3: Discuss the contextual overlap of presented books and apps and their potential use in language intervention

Alverman, D. (1991). The discussion web: A graphic aid for learning across the curriculum. The Reading Teacher, 45, 92-99.

Bartelo, D. M. (1984).Getting the picture of reading and writing: A look at the drawings, composing, and oral language of limited English proficiency children. Plymouth, NH: Ply- mouth State College. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 245 533)

Davies, P., Shanks, B., & Davies, K. (2004). Improving narrative skills in young children with delayed language development. Educational Review, 56, 271-286.

Putnam, L. (1991). Dramatizing nonfiction with emerging readers. Language Arts, 68, 463-469.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Calming, Part 3

Incorporation of mindfulness techniques, regardless of instructional discipline, is a strategy that has more than emerging evidence. A systematic review of studies of mindfulness training for students and adults with developmental disabilities found significant effects on a range of areas, documenting reduced aggression and anxiety and increased social skills and academic performance (Hwang & Kearney, 2012). Many programs such as Mindful Schools are being implemented school-wide, teachers are being encouraged to practice mindfulness and leading treatment practices incorporate activities such as Yoga classes.

For our students who struggle with managing their own thoughts, and so are led in tangential/oppositional/anxious/dysregulated directions impacting their communication, mindfulness can be incorporated in small ways. Books, videos and audio files focused on awareness of and strategies around thinking can be very engaging, and also serve as language activities by virtue of eliciting descriptive and metacognitive language.

I highly recommend the Cosmic Kids YouTube channel for a start for short meditation activities for your young students. The Zen Den series are short, beautifully produced, visual meditations focused on a variety of calming thinking strategies. I have field-tested these with a range of groups, with great responses from both girls and boys. The fact that the clips are on YouTube makes a great connection to home, as meditation is meant to be done regularly, even for short periods of time.

Even if that carryover is not achieved, clips such as Master the Monkey establish a concrete connection and vocabulary for an abstract concept: our mind can be like a hyperactive monkey and we can practice strategies to keep it present:

Movies in My Mind presents a fun visualization exercise for which you can conduct a language-based debriefing after the fact: "What did you see on the other side of that door?"

Getting Wanty discusses a specific situation of wanting something in a store, but can be applied to many other situations involving "JustMe" vs. Thinking of Others and social behavior (see the work of Social Thinking®).

See also the great Yoga Adventures videos that put yoga in the context of settings and "stories," again offering connections to language activities and themes.

Hwang, Y, & Kearney, P. (2012). A systematic review of mindfulness intervention for individuals with developmental disabilities: Long-term practice and long lasting effects. Research in Developmental Disabilities. 34, 314-326

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Calming, Part 2

Many of our students have difficulty regulating themselves around problem situations--or situations that are not even really a problem. These students benefit from strategies such as building causal language, using visual tools such as The Incredible Five Point Scale (my favorite being the Problem Scale from Disaster to Glitch), The Zones of Regulation, and self-talk. Lynne Hewitt recently wrote a great article on the connections between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology, so do check that out as well.

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (Free) provides a fun context to explore these strategies with your young students (PS-grade 1). The app presents five episodes including frustration about getting dressed, separating from a parent at school, and a block tower that falls down. Interactive activities guide the student to help the "monster" use diaphragmatic breathing, visualize plans, and choose a plan to solve the problem.

In addition to the above resources, the app also aligns well with use of Braidy the Storybraid and The Incredible Flexible You Program (TIFY), the five episodes being individual Abbreviated Episodes containing character, setting, kickoff event, response, plan and conclusion, and relating to the social cognitive instruction in TIFY. See also Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobson's terrific work on executive functioning and making a "future picture" to accomplish tasks.

Disclosure: Author is a contractor with Mindwing Concepts, Inc.  for provision of blog content and professional development.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Toca Boo!

I'm taking a brief break here from talking about calming/regulating apps to discuss the power of a little scare. Toca Boca, a studio I have long been a fan of, just released Toca Boo ($2.99), a great app to grab and have some language-based fun this pre-Halloween week.

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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


October is tough for me. I live in the Northeast (in a location that is in a questionable time zone), and have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, so fall isn't the best time. Mums, hay bales, scarecrows, apples and pumpkins, while triggering joy for most in the area or those who travel here specifically to see those things, bring about the rather the opposite in me. I deal.

One of the strategies that has been of great use to me in recent years is incorporating mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques in my daily life. We all have the experience of encountering our email or a potentially stressful IEP meeting and being overcome by thoughts of RISK, rather than OPPORTUNITY. In my own life and work with clients, it has been helpful to channel my already brain-based inclinations and apply them to myself in simple ways. Though technology has been rightfully sited recently as a culprit in increasing anxiety and counteracting mindfulness, it can also give an assist by bringing us content that helps us work on being aware of our thoughts, relax and be more effective in our work. These tools can in turn provide a good context for "check-in" activities with clients and discussions of mindfulness that can be very language-based.

I have written about a variety of tools in this vein, but in this post I wanted to point out Calm. Navigate to and your browser turns into a serene scene with the option of simple timed or guided meditation. Even 2 minutes--which there is an option for--is helpful and is a good step for training your brain or just being calmer in the moment. Consider saving it to your bookmarks bar for a visual reminder to practice, putting your browser into full-screen mode and closing all tabs to eliminate any possible distractions for a few minutes.

Also check out the free Calm app for iOS, which offers a similar experience.

For another take on this practice, see SLP Kim Lewis' recent post at Activity Tailor. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Welcome to Social Studies: a "Sphere" of Language Development

As a companion to my column for the ASHA Leader App-Titude series, "Welcome to Science Class," this series explores how technology can serve as a context for teaching "language underpinnings" related to the social studies curriculum.

When using apps and contextual connections with students, we can follow a few principles:
-Think carefully about the "S"/"Speechie" in the FIVES Criteria- how can the app serve as a context to address specific language objectives relevant to the student or students? What structures will you add- visual supports such as graphic organizers, verbal supports such as questioning and scaffolding- to make sure this happens?
-Avoid becoming overwhelmed by the curriculum- take a few topic areas you have become familiar with and begin using them in even a broad sense with a grade or grades.
-When possible, find an app you can use in different ways over a span of years, keeping in mind how the objectives might change depending on the student, his or her grade, and level of development.

An app that can be integrated to exemplify some of these principles is Sphere (Free). Sphere brings you 360º views of landmarks and locations around the world, so you can bring students on "virtual field trips." The app uses the gyroscope and a form of augmented reality (layering digital info over our ordinary world) to respond to your movement of the iPad, so that your view of the location changes as you move around. Answers to common questions about this app: the view is not live, but a still 360º image, and if you walk forward it does not affect the view.

The best way to understand what I mean is to download this free app and give it a try. The app does require a sign-in; you can use a Google or Facebook account. This has the advantage of allowing you to tap the heart to "Favorite" 360º views and save them for use with students (hopefully year after year), itself a step to bring structure to your use of this app.

The 360º view of the Great Wall of China will change as you position the iPad in different directions or angles.
Sphere can be a resource for contextualized, specific therapy activities over several grade levels. Taking some curriculum progressions in Massachusetts, for instance:
At Grade 2, explore landmarks from various continents or use the China "Collection." Have students describe what they see in a location using conceptual words such as beside, above, under, right, left.
At Grade 3, explore locations from one's home state. Use a "5 Senses" based graphic organizer to have students generate sensory details they might experience if standing in that spot.
At Grade 4, view areas from regions of the United States. A more schematic graphic organizer can be used to incorporate more abstract language, e.g. comparisons to other settings. The Story Grammar Marker® Setting Map is a good example of this type of scaffold.

Along the way, you can be considering if the target activities are within the particular student's "zone," or if he/she/they need a simpler task within the context.

Thanks for coming along with me for this trip through some tools and contexts within social studies- I am going to say "goodbye" to the topic for now and will be saying "hello" to Nashville, Cincinnati and Halifax, Nova Scotia as I travel a lot in October. I'll check in when I can!

Disclosure: Author is a contractor with Mindwing Concepts, Inc.  for provision of blog content and professional development.