speech-language pathology

Bilingualism and math standards

I am preparing for an upcoming presentation on instructional strategies for young children who are dual-language learners.  I am really fascinated by the language used in the Common Core Mathematics Standards.  You might wonder what bilingualism and mathematics standards could possibly have to do with each other.  Well, I think quite a lot.  These standards remind me of numerous advantages that many bilinguals have been found to experience, such as with problem-solving skills.


Take a look, for example, at the first two goals which you can find on page 6 of the Mathematics Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/Math/):

  1. “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.”
  2. “Reason abstractly and quantitatively. Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations.”

For brevity, I’ll highlight a few particular areas and phrases to illustrate why these standards make me think of bilinguals:

  • “They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems… the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize”
  • “…to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved”
  • “…attending to the meaning…not just how to compute”
  • “…knowing and flexibly using”

So, attention, abstraction, symbols, manipulation, meaning, flexibly using—do not these terms also all relate to the natural experience of being bilingual?  Bilinguals attend to the language being used; they may display early understanding that words are abstract and arbitrary symbols to convey meaning that vary by language; they demonstrate the ability to manipulate language use to communicate in one language with one person, the other language with another person, and even both languages simultaneously with certain people in some situations to enhance meaning.  Talk about flexibility!

The mathematics standards are much more than rote memorization and computation; they target underlying cognitive skills in attention, analysis, abstraction, flexibility, and creative thought processes in which bilinguals have been shown to have advantages.

In my mind, this is all the more justification for not only allowing children to maintain their first language, but strongly encouraging and supporting parents’ endeavors to raise their children with more than one language, and therefore, experience the benefits that bilingualism affords them.

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Increasing client motivation

What do we do when our clients lack motivation?

Words of wisdom from our beloved Shel Silverstein.

A student clinician asked for advice on how to increase client motivation.  She is working with an adolescent client in her internship who has a very negative attitude about speech-language therapy.  He refuses to participate in language activities—he thinks they are “stupid.”  The clinician hopes, somehow, to motivate him so that he can benefit from therapy before the end of the school year.

I think we have all experienced similar scenarios with client motivation at one point or another.  Student clinicians are in a particularly unique situation because their time with their clients is limited.  This means they have less time to establish a therapeutic alliance, which can be a critical intervention component.  On top of having language impairment, adolescence is often a challenging time filled with academic pressures, social pressures, family pressures, and uncertainly about the future.

One of my all-time favorite authors, Shel Silverstein, shares wonderful words of wisdom that I even find relevant to developing therapeutic alliances in clinical practice.  In the poem “Tell Me” (Falling Up, 1996), he writes:

“Tell me I’m clever,

Tell me I’m kind,

Tell me I’m talented,

Tell me I’m cute,

Tell me I’m sensitive,

Graceful and wise,

Tell me I’m perfect—

But tell me the TRUTH.”

Teens want independence and autonomy, yet they also want relationships with adults who value them, adults they can trust, adults they like.  The latter two require that adults share some information about themselves too.  Like the poem states, they want positive feedback from adults who recognize their cleverness, their kindness, their talents, their strengths.  Caring clinicians can always benefit adolescent clients by being that trustworthy person who sees their strengths. This does not mean that clinicians sugar coat everything, since our clients also need and want the truth.  They want sincerity, so it is important that adults make sure their verbal and non-verbal cues are consistent.

Listening is critical to developing a therapeutic alliance.  When we listen, our clients feel valued, and when they feel valued, they are more motivated.  While there is no single solution for solving motivational problems, the more we know and listen to our clients, the more likely we will identify successfull strategies.  Teens want to have a voice, and they are at the age when they can, and should, have a voice in the intervention planning process.  If they initially do not want to share their thoughts about therapy verbally, there are other outlets.  For example, I have heard from some professionals who have their clients design dream boards, or collages, to illustrate their interests, desires, and goals.  Such boards can lead to engaging discussions and activities, such as role plays, that address the steps necessary to achieve that dream job, car, whatever it may be.

And speaking of listening, I find more wise words in Silverstein’s poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts” (Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1974).  These words can symbolize the many obstacles that many teens feel during this vulnerable time in their lives, particularly our clients who may perceive even greater obstacles related to language impairment.  These words acknowledge our clients’ challenges, which can sabotage motivation, and then speak about their dreams with hope.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.

Communication is power, and teen clients may be more willing to engage if they sense that we are there to help empower them to achieve their goals and dreams, and that we believe in them, because Anything Can Be.

Shel Silverstein

The Current and Growing Need for Multicultural/Multilingual Preparation

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has reported that the prevalence of communication disorders is approximately 10% of the population.  This means that more than 31 million people in the U.S. are affected by speech, language, and/or hearing disorders which negatively impact their social, academic, and occupational communication skills.  The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (2013) estimates that the number of speech-language pathologists will grow by 23.4 percent over the next 10 years, with approximately 28,000 new jobs in speech-language pathology by 2020.

There is a significant need for more speech-language pathologists, and in particular, greater numbers of professionals with specialized training to serve culturally and linguistically diverse populations.  Approximately 1 in 5 people in the U.S. speak a language other than English.  Therefore, more than 6 million people would benefit from the services of a bilingual speech-language pathologist to help them meet the communication demands in the social, academic, and occupational contexts of their daily lives.  In the state of Illinois, 22.2% of individuals speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Census, 2010).  According the American Community Survey (ACS), the ten most commonly spoken languages after English in Illinois are Spanish (58.60%), Polish (7.54%), Tagalog (2.94), Chinese (2.25%), German (1.89%), Korean (1.89%), Arabic (1.75%), Urdu (1.61%), Russian (1.61%), and Italian (1.56%).

EcuadorsArt | Boston Massachusetts

To help meet the demand for professionals who can provide optimal services to diverse populations, the graduate program in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elmhurst College will begin offering a Multicultural/Multilingual (M&M) Emphasis in the fall of 2015.  Such an emphasis is urgently needed in the greater Chicago area and many areas of Illinois where speech-language pathologists and audiologists serve individuals from numerous language backgrounds.  This emphasis is designed for students with oral proficiency in more than one language who wish to pursue specialized academic, research, and clinical experiences to meet the unique needs of culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

In accordance with ASHA’s practice policy (please see http://www.asha.org/policy/KS2004-00215/), the emphasis will foster students’ language proficiency, cultural competence, knowledge of typical and atypical speech and language development in diverse speakers, and their ability to provide appropriate assessment and intervention to diverse populations through a combination of coursework, clinical experience, and if students choose, an international travel experience.

We are excited about this effort to better serve our communities in the greater Chicago area and beyond.

ASHA 2014 is here!

Orlando, here we come! We can’t believe the 2014 ASHA Convention is upon us. We’ve been packing our bags, running through last minute checklists, and checking our weather apps to make sure Florida still reports sunny and warm. Tomorrow we take flight for our favorite event of the year! To say we are excited would be an understatement.

As always, we can’t wait to see friends old (we’ve been looking through last year’s School Spirit Challenge!) and new, gather some fun goodies, and explore and celebrate this year’s theme, “Science. Learning. Practice. Generations of Discovery.” This year will be very special with a keynote presentation by the Belafonte family on passing down a passion for social activism through the generations. We can’t think of a better way to begin a week of learning and fellowship than with an inspiring presentation from three extraordinary activists.

Met some great students last year (from so many places!). Can't wait for Florida! #asha #asha14 #slpeeps

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After the keynote presentation and throughout the convention, we invite you to stop by our booths in the exhibit hall (1145) and career fair (979). Staff members at both booths will be available to tell you more about career opportunities with LinguaHealth, including our Bilingual Immersion Program. Also, Sara will be conducting interviews all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Email Sara at sarap@linguahealth.com to schedule your interview today!

We hope you are all as excited as we are for the 2014 ASHA Convention. See you there!

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Common Core – Where to begin this discussion?

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

In the language and literacy course I am teaching, we are currently discussing the Common Core standards and the implications of these standards for speech-language pathologists.  It is a fascinating discussion.  It was a hot topic at the recent ASHA Schools Conference in Pittsburg, and a number of presentations on the topic will be shared at the upcoming ASHA Convention in Orlando.

I have shared SLPs’ professional interest in the Common Core standards since they were introduced.  Over the last several months, I have been hearing more and more parent perspectives, which have also been interesting, to say the least.  Where I live, the mention of Common Core elicits either positive or extremely negative comments from parents.  A few of my students were already aware of this controversy and had a lot to share in our discussion.

There are critics who are indicating that they want the Common Core “curriculum” abolished.  I have heard from some parents who are ready to pull their children from their current school and are seeking out other schools that do not implement this “curriculum.”  Relative to the reading standards, I have read various comments indicating that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of building blocks for reading, including phonics and phonological awareness, and jumping to the expectation that children read full texts as early as Kindergarten.  For mathematics, I have heard some people indicate that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables, and instead moving directly to the types of problem-solving tasks that are commonly appear in social media and You Tube videos.

As an educator and as a parent with children whose education is impacted by these standards, naturally, I have been concerned by many of these claims.  However, upon hearing or reading them, I go directly to the source and re-read the standards; to my relief, I am generally unable to find evidence in the standards to support such claims.

So, what’s going on?  It seems clear that there a many misconceptions and myths out there, and we as SLPs should be aware of them so that we can understand and better support the families we serve.  Perhaps the most common misconception is that the Common Core is a curriculum that tells teachers what and how to teach.  The standards, however, clearly indicate that Common Core is not a curriculum.  Rather, they are a set of goals.  These goals can be addressed within the curriculum that teachers and schools choose to implement.   Therefore, we may be able to help parents understand the difference between the standards and a curriculum, which guides implementation.  There seem to be dramatic differences between schools’ and districts’ curricula and implementation, with schools addressing the Common Core standards in different manners.  Importantly, most of the specific examples of parents’ concerns that I am hearing point to problems with implementation and high-stakes standardized testing, not the standards themselves.

As crazy as it may seem, I recently thought about this topic while eating Brussels sprouts after having read a social media thread.  My husband usually hates them, but for whatever reason, he decided to buy them and prepare a Brussels sprout salad using a new recipe.  The salad was incredibly delicious!  I couldn’t help but think that the Brussels sprouts reminded me of the standards; healthy or not, it’s the preparation, in other words, the curriculum and implementation, that makes the Brussels sprouts palatable or not.

Indeed, we do have to figure out how to make the standards palatable, how to make them “work” for our children.  Clearly, the standards aim very high, and they will be very challenging for our students with speech-language impairments.  Upon examination of not only the reading standards, but also the math standards, you can see that successful achievement will demand strong language skills.  Therefore, I think that speech-language pathologists have a tremendous role in ensuring the standards are targeted appropriately and successfully.  I also think that educators and administrators will continue to see the importance of our role as language experts in the achievement of these standards.

It is important for us to understand parent perspectives and to help provide accurate information about the standards and what they mean for their children.  If parents still do not favor the standards after clarifying misconceptions, that’s certainly their prerogative.  It is important for us to let families know that our role is to help their children succeed and to make the standards “work” for rather than against their children.

So while there is certainly more to be said, this is where I have begun our discussion of Common Core.  I am looking forward to the ASHA Convention and learning more about the topic.  If you are unable to attend, I would like to share that I am half-way through what I am finding to be an excellent, very insightful book: Pathways to the Common Core, written by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman.  If you are looking for a good read on this topic, I am learning a great deal from this book and will share some of their insights in an upcoming post.

Pathways to the Common Core