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This week’s Episode: Curriculum-Based Therapy Bootcamp: Setting the Stage

What is Curriculum-Based Therapy? It is when we provide educationally relevant services and support progress in the classroom.

So let’s set the stage…

In this episode we will identify strategies to use curriculum-based materials to target students’ individualized speech and language goals while collaborating with teacher and setting our kiddos up for success!  We discuss why curriculum therapy is important and the benefits for our kids as well as the benefits for teachers and SLPs.

The main goal: What happens in speech doesn’t stay in speech.

Because it doesn’t matter whether our students can follow 500-step directions in the speech room if they’re not able to translate that to the classroom or their daily lives, right?

Let’s get to it!

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Just a little bit of background on my story. So, let's just call this hypothetical but not so hypothetical student Johnny. And so, during my CF I had the student and I had this with all of my students but I got really, really excited when they were making progress. I was not beyond crying in my speech room just because I was so proud of the students for making progress towards their goals. I think I was not the most confident CF in the world for a variety of reasons and so it just felt so good. It was so incredibly rewarding when I saw a student understand something and just demonstrate mastery of a skill that especially if we had worked really hard on it or if I took 50 webinars to figure out how to successfully help the student. So, that happened a lot.

And this particular student was making really nice progress with WH questions. I had made this visual and it just it helped cause he was really struggling with understanding the question type and he would hear a question and he would just, he would pick up on a key word but it wasn't the question word. And he would just answer it with whatever came first. And so, I created a visual that helped us stop and process the question, identify which question word was being used so we can find the appropriate answer. And it just was working really well and he was rocking it in the therapy room. And so, I went to the IEP meeting and I was really, really excited to share this progress. But then the teacher was like, "That's one of his biggest weaknesses in the classroom. He's not able to answer questions." So yeah and she was more diplomatic about it but essentially I wasn't doing my job.

And so I ended up, I was like, "Okay, well we've got to find a way to work around this because the student has the ability to answer these questions." And so, I shared the visual with the teacher and she started using it with my student and that made a big difference. And then she also started sharing it with other students who needed support who had similar difficulties with responding to questions. And so it was just, it was really cool to, that experience wasn't very comfortable in a moment when I realized I made that mistake but I really, I learned a lot from that. And just the importance of first of all communicating with teachers and then sharing what we're doing with teachers and the teacher didn't have that in her skill set. She didn't think to use a visual to break down the different types of questions and to scaffold students in that way. And that was something that came really pretty naturally to me especially after all of those years of training.

And so, we really have so much to offer in terms of our expertise and we're doing a disservice to our students if like I always say this what happens in speech does not stay in speech, it should go out into the classroom. And we're doing our students a huge disservice if our therapy rooms are Vegas and if what happens in the speech room stays in the speech room because it shouldn't. Our job is to help our students reach access to curriculum and participate in the classroom to the best of their ability.

So for this hypothetical Johnny, let's get out of our comfort zones a little bit and make this happen for our students. So just as that, after we set the stage, we're going to back up a little bit and talk about what curriculum based therapy even is. I alluded to some examples of communicating with teachers, sharing our expertise with them, supporting in the classroom and all of that so we're just going to break it down a little bit more.

So in the literature, I found that curriculum based therapy is one we provide educationally relevant services. So we are supporting progress in the classroom and it can be we can deliver the services in the classroom or we can deliver them in the therapy room. Both can still be considered curriculum-based therapy and we get to use our clinical judgment to decide what makes the most sense.

And then another word that I come across a lot is contextualize [inaudible 00:05:16] When we provide explicit skill instruction in ways that are meaningful and purposeful for the student. And so, that is really important and it's just another way of thinking about what this is. And it doesn't always have to be the written curriculum because some of us are working with students on social language and everything like that. And we have an implicit curriculum that we can teach as well. Sometimes it's unwritten, unofficial and unintended lessons that students learn from interacting with peers. So, we don't have to pull from a textbook or something for it to be curriculum-based. There is that unwritten curriculum that we can support as well.

And so a couple of quotes to drive that home, Judy Montgomery is a huge inspiration for me but she says that language is a pervasive part of each life and SLPs can serve as the glue that unites a child with his or her environment. So, that is super powerful. We have some amazing skills that we can offer in the therapy room but also in the classroom. And we have a very unique lens and we play a crucial role in being able to empower our students to use language to really access that curriculum.

And then ASHA also has something to say about this. So, they say that individualized programs always relate to the schoolwork. And this is something that's been in the guidelines for years and years and years, it's nothing new. And they suggest that we take materials for treatment from or that they're directly related to content from the classroom. So this isn't just something that I think is a cool idea, it's something that ASHA recommends as well.

And so, we talked a little bit about some of the benefits in my setting the stage story but I thought it would be cool to dive into it a little bit more and I'll share just one more. I have just one more quick experience share to highlight how big of an impact this can have. Because we're all, every single speech therapist that I talk to emphasizes the importance of we do this for the students. We want to be there for our students. We want to have an impact on our students. That's why we do what we do. We don't do it for the paperwork. We don't do it for the fame or the money or anything like that. It's all about the students. And that's what every single SLP says.

So I was working with a group of sixth graders and I observed in the classroom a couple times and the teacher did a weekly article where they'd read the article and they did a bunch of activities with that article throughout the week. And when I observed my students in that classroom during this dedicated article time they were absolutely not engaged. They were daydreaming, doodling, anything but participating in discussion and the activities. And so, I thought this could be a really great... I was starting to dabble with curriculum based therapy and I was like, "Yes, this is how I can support." And I had no idea how big of an impact this could have. It was really incredible to see this in action.

But I asked the teacher for the article that was coming up and I knew that we would need a significant amount of time to prepare. And it wasn't something that, I wouldn't be able to keep up with an article a week. I'd been doing some literacy based therapy and I knew that I needed significant amount of time to really dive into the article and do it justice. So, I got the article a couple of weeks ahead of time. I read through it with my students. And so I was curious how they would respond to it. So we read through it and did a quick comprehension quiz and they bombed it. They absolutely bombed it. And then I looked at what might be happening and I realized that it was an issue with vocabulary. It ended up being a little bit of a dynamic assessment and then I taught the vocabulary and then redid the comprehension activity and it made a huge difference.

And then we just kept working through the article, breaking things down. And then I got a call from the teacher when they started the unit and actually started working through the article. She's like, "Marisha, you would not believe how the students did in class today. They participated for the first time. They were raising their hands. They did a great job." And so, taking that article and targeting, supporting the students ahead of time, made it possible for them to participate in a classroom activity for the first time all year.

They'd been checking out and not participating and then just taking that curriculum and bringing it into the speech room. Really targeting their skills and supporting them in the areas that they needed allowed them to actually participate in that classroom discussion. And the next time that I saw them they were just really excited. Because especially in sixth grade they were pretty far behind and the fact that they were able to participate with success and successfully answer questions and feel confident about what they were doing was huge. And granted, we weren't able to do that for every single article but I was teaching them strategies that they could use for the subsequent articles. And I was able to share some strategies with the teacher as well. So there's some really cool things that can come out of that.

So there we go and that's just the picture, it reminded me to tell that story. And then, so some other benefits like we've come up with a bunch of them already is just like we've seen that we're all about the students and this approach can really benefit our students. It can make it possible for them to access their curriculum when they might otherwise be checking out. And we're setting them up for success. We're really focusing on generalization from the start. So, when I was working with those sixth graders I got that article ahead of time. We worked on it for a couple of weeks and then they were able to apply those skills in the classroom and it was really clear. They didn't have to do any... They practiced their skills and they knew exactly what they needed to do because they had that familiar context.

We had worked on that specific article and they knew exactly what they needed to do with that article in the classroom. And then there's some other benefits to it as well. So it helps our students generalize and be more successful but it also is convenient for speech therapists. We get free materials from the curriculum. So we don't have to buy as much stuff and it also can mean less prep. Once we get into a rhythm with using these types of materials it's very minimal prep and we're good to go and we can use pretty much anything.

And then some other benefits in terms of where we are in the school, once I started doing that teachers started valuing me much more. They would reach out and this a double-edged sword but I was having so much more of an impact in the school. Teachers were coming to me with questions. I was able to work with them to troubleshoot and problem solve and support students on my caseload but then also other students. And I was able, like that example that I gave with the teacher the second grade teacher where I shared that visual, I was able to teach her some strategies that she used with my student and other students in the classroom. And potentially that's a type of RTI.

It's possible that some of those students might have ended up on my caseload but because I equipped the teacher with strategies to work on some of those skills and support some of those skills in the classroom they didn't have to come on my caseload. And that was least restrictive for the students and that's a strategy that she'll be able to carry forward for years to come in impacting hundreds of students. And so, I was appreciated, I was seen, I was not forgotten quite as much as I was before and teachers really understood what I had to offer. And of course it took some time of showing up and doing that consistently but with every example they got a better idea of what I had to offer and how important our role was is as a speech therapist.


Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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