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This Week’s Episode: How to Navigate Alternative Scheduling for School-Based SLPs

This month, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with BeckyAnn Harker all about service delivery, tips, and strategies to help us schedule smarter in the schools. BeckyAnn is a school-based SLP near Youngstown, Ohio, and she has 24 years of clinic and school-based experience. She is currently a doctoral student in special education at Kent State University, and she’s very interested in caseload management and vocabulary intervention. For this podseries, we will be focusing on her caseload management expertise!

So far in this pod series, we’ve discussed a brief intro to smarter scheduling for school-based SLPs, a review of different service delivery options like RTI, and today BeckyAnn will share some of her tips on how to navigate scheduling.

Key Takeaways + Topics Covered

3:1 model of scheduling: 3 weeks of direct service and 1 week of indirect.
That 1 week of indirect service gives BeckyAnn the flexibility of missing one session per week.

Block scheduling: This is a school-wide schedule of alternating subjects for Math, English, etc. For BeckyAnn it is scheduling blocks of time for each teacher, and not scheduled by the student.

🗓 What does Block Scheduling look like? 🗓

✓ Could be during a Language Arts block, or during stations, or an intervention time block

Sample of Block Scheduling

✓ I started by telling the teachers I wanted to be able to work with them/around them during that block. If they are in the middle of something when I get there, I will push in to help my students within the classroom. Otherwise, I will pull them out. 

✓ My schedule looks like-colored blocks of time.
9:00-9:45 – I am with one teacher, and I have 3 students there.
9:45- 10:50 –  I am with a different teacher and his 4 students.
During their half-hour intervention time, I have 2 teachers scheduled, each with one student with articulation needs.
I usually see them individually, but sometimes I will see them together. It’s flexible!

Tips to implement

✨  Schedule the teachers and not the student. The block will be longer if that teacher has more students in their class.
✨ Be flexible!
✨ Maybe there are classes that have similar schedules and only one kid each- you can put them together in a block. Maybe one class is in the middle of something today- you can take the other student first.

Additional Links

ASHA Leader: BeckyAnn Harker Can We Break From 30-Minute Group Sessions in Schools?
ASHA Leader: Jennifer Taps RTI Services for Children With Mild Articulation Needs: Four Years of Data
SPEEDY SPEECH: Efficient Service Delivery for Articulation Errors (Kuhn, 2006)
Laurel Bruce A Team Approach to Response to Intervention for Speech Sound Errors in the School Setting 
Plant et al., (2019) Treatment Efficiency. 
BeckyAnn’s Minutes Log Example
Minutes Log Template

Next Up in this Pod Series

6/7/22: An Intro to Smarter Scheduling for School-Based SLps
6/14/22: A Quick Review of Service Delivery Options for School-Based SLPs
6/21/22: How to Navigate Alternative Scheduling for School-Based SLPs
6/28/22: How to Start Using Smarter Scheduling for School-Based SLPs

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Thanks so much!


Speaker 1: Hello there and welcome to the SLP Now podcast, where we share practical therapy, tips, and ideas for busy speech language pathologists. Grab your favorite beverage and sit back as we dive into this week's episode.

Speaker 1: Welcome back to our series on smarter scheduling, all about service delivery with BeckyAnn. Today, we're diving into one of the big questions, which is how to navigate scheduling. BeckyAnn, I'm just going to let you take it away, but I'd love to just focus on what tips you might have to navigate scheduling when using this alternative scheduling approach.

BeckyAnn: Well, I think I want to start first by talking a little bit about the three-to-one model. I use it, but don't use it. We plan our minutes per month... when we're making our IEPs, we have to put our minutes per month... and we do have that idea of the three-to-one model, where you have three weeks of direct service and one week of indirect. I have never had an entire week of indirect service. But what I do have is some flexibility of when I see my students. You might have your best plan, all your students are scheduled, but then you'll have an IEP meeting that might take over. And then now you can't see those kids. So I can see them sometime later.

BeckyAnn: I like to see my kids, especially the articulation, and even most of my students actually, I actually do try to see twice a week. But I have some flexibility. So if something comes up... We had state testing this week, for example. We had an assembly this week, and I can't see my kids, but I'm not stressed about it because I still have the next week that I can see those kids. So it's this week buffer. I don't use it as one whole week of indirect services, but I use it as a buffer to make up those minutes. That already, I guess, from looking at monthly minutes, that reduces those minutes a little bit to give us some flexibility.

Speaker 1: Just to confirm, you're writing your minutes per month?

BeckyAnn: We write them per month.

Speaker 1: Okay, awesome.

BeckyAnn: So that's one thing that I think, depending on what program your district uses, sometimes they make you put in two times per week, one time per week. I'm not sure how to get around that because I don't have to. We have frequency. So we have minutes per whatever. So you can say per week, per month. You could do per quarter if you really wanted to be fancy schmancy or give yourself a little extra time, or maybe those kids are weaning off of services. So maybe you do only need to see them 60 minutes a quarter just to check in. So yes, we were able to do that.

BeckyAnn: The other thing that I have started doing... And I am really happy with this, and this has been what drove me to write the article for the ASHA Leader... is my version of block scheduling. So block scheduling, it's out there. There have been several articles that talk about block scheduling. And it has more to do with how schools will block their schedules. So they might do a 90-minute language, arts block and a 45-minute social studies block. My own daughter's middle school did that, but it was on this rotating basis. It was an hour and a half of one subject one day and then an hour and a half of another one another day. That would've driven me crazy.

BeckyAnn: But how I do it is I look at my schedule and I don't schedule my kids. I schedule the teachers. You do that anyway. You may have a classroom that has three students in it, but you might make that 30-minute group with those three students. Instead, I am going to maybe schedule that teacher in this 45-minute block where I know that that teacher should be available. But like I said, sometimes they're not. So you'll walk in and they're in the middle of a lesson. And so you have to be flexible. You can go do it, see a different teacher, or you can stay and help or just see what they're doing. But I will schedule these teachers in blocks.

BeckyAnn: And so I know that at this time, maybe right before lunch, this teacher is a really good time for that teacher. So I will know maybe on Mondays and Thursdays, I can go into that classroom and I can pick any number of those kids. And sometimes I'll put them in groups, and sometimes I don't put them in groups, but I know I've got this 45-minute block where I can see that teacher's students, if that makes sense.

Speaker 1: That totally makes sense. And that's perfect because if you schedule by students and Johnny is scheduled for Monday, but he's absent on Monday, then he just doesn't get services that week. But if you're in that teacher's classroom two days, you're like, "Oh, I miss Johnny on Monday. I'll see him on Thursday."

BeckyAnn: Right. I do that all the time.

Speaker 1: No, I love that because you started talking about what it looks like during those blocks of time. But could you dive into a little bit more detail? What happens in those blocks?

BeckyAnn: So I do run around the school a tiny little bit because sometimes I will come. I have a teacher block maybe from say, I don't know, 9:30 to 10:15. And so I will go into that classroom. And I usually have in mind the student that I want to take, or sometimes students, maybe I've got this activity that I think would be really good for these two students, but not that one because that one has to work on articulation, but these two are doing some listen comprehension. I've got this great story. So I will go into the classroom, and I lurk in the doorway a little bit. And I will ask the teachers because I want to be respectful to the teachers and what they're trying to teach at that time, and I don't want to just pull them out in the middle of their lesson.

BeckyAnn: So I'll listen or I'll just tell them, "Just finish what you're doing." And then as soon as they're done talking and I'll say, "Well, can I take these two students now?" And I always ask. I might take those two students back to my room to do that story activity that I wanted to do. And then whenever we are done because we have read the story and we've answered all the questions that I wanted to answer or did the activity that I wanted to do, if that took 20 minutes or 35 minutes, that's what it takes. And then I will walk them back to class and maybe take the other student, and we'll drill some articulation for 10 minutes. And that might be in the room just around the corner. There's an empty space. I'll just work with them there. I couldn't even work with them in the class. I just really don't working on articulation drills. I think it's uncomfortable for the students. There's a lot of other nosy students who are paying attention to what you're doing. So I usually do pull them out then.

BeckyAnn: Sometimes I'm in there for the whole time because they're doing this really great writing activity that's really language-heavy. Or of course, a lot of our students will struggle with that as well. So I do look a little bit like a tutor in those moments, and I will leave that day thinking this is a great activity, and then I have no good data to put on my sheets because we didn't actually work on their language goals. But honestly, we are there as related service. So as long as I have a balance, I will for sure get to their goals the next time. But it's all about being flexible.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And I think for our language students, if they have those grammar goals, vocabulary, I feel like with a good language-rich activity, I mean, that's prime therapy content right there. And it's so relevant to what they're working on. Being able to scaffold and support that skill in the context of something they're actually doing is just... It's so powerful. I think that's really awesome.

BeckyAnn: It's what we're supposed to be doing. But then-

Speaker 1: Right?

BeckyAnn: Right. But then sometimes, because we've written our goals a little separate from that, so it doesn't always match. But in the end, we are doing what's best for the student at that time, and we are there to support their education. So if we have to take a step back and help them because this was what they're working on in class, then I think that that is okay.

Speaker 1: Yeah. No, I love that. Just to recap, you're shifting to a three-to-one schedule, it sounds like, so you're shooting for a certain number of minutes every week, and you plan out those minutes just to give yourself a little bit of buffer in case there are those extenuating circumstances, which there always are.

BeckyAnn: Correct.

Speaker 1: And then you use a block scheduling approach. So you'll schedule sounds like usually 45 hour-long blocks.

BeckyAnn: So it depends because if there's only one student in that block and it's in our classroom and he is in articulation again, so within this half an hour, I might take one kid from this class and one kid from this class. So I made a little block for only 30 minutes with those two teachers. In one class, I had seven kids, which was a lot. Well, and actually what I did, I didn't block in two and a half solid hours there, but I broke that up over the week. I'm in that classroom four times a week, and it may only be for half an hour, just to get that one kid that I didn't get on Monday, and maybe I can pick them up on Tuesday and then their second time. So I can mix and match the kids based on what I'm doing or what they're doing.

Speaker 1: I bet most often, there's not that many students in one class where you're in the classroom four times throughout the week. But does that get hard to track how many services the student has received? Because I feel like once you get a hold of the schedule, it's probably pretty easy to mentally keep track of like, "Oh yeah, I know I didn't see Johnny yet." But do you find that is tricky at all?

BeckyAnn: I have a tracking sheet that I use. And if you have a place, I will be happy to share with you. You can post this as well. I make a grid. I just use an Excel spreadsheet and I grid by five-minute increments. So maybe some kid I'm going to see 120 minutes a month. That's the most that I can fit on this page. So if you are going more than that, you might need two lines. But I see the kid for 15 minutes, and I draw a little line across three of those little squares, and I use different color ink every day or every week at least, just for myself, for my own reading purposes. But I'll cross out three of those little blocks and I'll put, "Today's date was 3:30. I saw them for 15 minutes. I saw them for 30 minutes."

BeckyAnn: So I can see I still owe this kid 25 minutes. It's the last week of the month. I owe them for 25 minutes. So I am going to try to make sure I have a longer activity that day. So it is a lot of flexible thinking, flexible scheduling. And it does sound like a lot, I guess, as I say it out loud, but I felt like I was doing this all the time anyway. Even back in that 30 minutes, my brain hurt from just trying to keep track of who I had to see when and where and who. But within those blocks of kids, I'm like, I know I get to see them sometime this week. And if you get to the end of the month because of the assemblies and everything else, maybe you have to go to that classroom on a day that wasn't originally scheduled. But you know that that's the time slot that that teacher's available. So you're more likely to be able to work with them.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And I think that it's a lot less scheduling Tetris because those blocks will stay the same and you're just focusing on, "Okay, how can I like get these students seen?" versus trying to manipulate your whole schedule and all of that. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me.

Speaker 1: And then in the article, I'll link to the article in the show notes too, but you had a beautiful graphic of what your block schedule looks like for those of us who are more visual learners. You can find an example of that in the article as well. Okay. Awesome. I love the scheduling tips, thinking about a three-to-one model, planning minutes per month or quarter. One of my districts used to do minutes per year, which is uber, uber flexible. Using this approach, it might be easier to work by month just to make sure you're on track.

BeckyAnn: Yeah. I can't even figure out how many minutes. Those are more minutes that I could probably deal with at a time. It would be nice for flexibility, though.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And then the block scheduling approach, that all sounds awesome. And so next week, we will chat about just some tips to get started and starting to navigate this process. So we hope to see you again.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the SLP Now podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your SLP friends, and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episode sent directly to you. See you next time.


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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