Stepping Outside Your SLP Comfort Zone: Part One - Middle School

I think every SLP develops their own “comfort zone” when it comes to therapy.  By comfort zone, I mean which ages and disorders you feel most comfortable working with.  For me, I love working with elementary students (K-6), especially with language disorders.  I just don’t have the energy and patience to work with preschoolers all day!  (A definite tip of the hat to those of you that enjoy the preschool population!)

Until I moved to my current position, I had never worked with middle school students.  In my current district, K-6 is housed in our elementary school, and grades 7 & 8 are several miles away in our junior high.  

When I first “inherited” students in that setting, I was very unsure of how to approach therapy with these older students.  It definitely was a step outside of my comfort zone!  A big worry was making sure that my students didn’t think my materials and ideas were too juvenile.  I also wanted to avoid embarrassing them in front of their peers at all costs!  

First, I had to figure out the schedule, which can be a challenge.  For my students, they’ve all been in general education at least part (if not all) of the day, and it’s not an option to pull them from academic classes.  Fortunately, our junior high has a short study hall period before/after my students’ lunch time.  I was able to arrange to see my students at this time once or twice per week (depending upon their minutes).  

In my first session of the year, I make it a point to get to know my students’ interests and preferences (especially the students that are new to me), and have them fill out a short survey.   I want to know what some of their favorites are – color, snack, subjects in school – as well as figure out what is difficult for them, and how I can support them in the classroom.  I also find out how the students would like to be reminded of how to come to see me once or twice per week.  A few of my students promised that they would come on their own – and I’m pleased to say, all of these students have done well with remembering our therapy times.  Other students are a bit more forgetful, and prefer me to send another student to get them.  For some students, I might call their study hall teacher and ask them to send the student down.  For others, I might wait in the hallway outside their class during the passing period, and that is enough of a reminder for the students. 

Something I found that helped my students was to make reminders for their lockers with their therapy days and times on them.  A little scrapbook paper or age-appropriate clip art along with some fun magnets in their favorite colors, and you’re all set!  Here is an example of what some of mine have looked like:

Another thing I found was interesting about working with middle school students is that they still love to play games!  It’s amazing what the promise of a couple quick rounds of Uno at the end of the session can do.  Other favorites include Jenga, card games (such as War), Scatergories, and Apples to Apples. 

Now, what goals to target?  For me, my goal is to help my middle school students become more independent, and help them with skills needed as the curriculum becomes more difficult.  I had a hard time finding any materials that fit with my students’ current goals and needs, so I ended up creating many of my own materials.  Lucky for you, they’re all available in my TpT store here!  My main focus is on vocabulary, writing skills, and compensatory strategies (such as learning to take notes effectively or to utilize Venn diagrams and other graphic organizers) to help in the classroom.

One of my favorite items is my High Stakes Testing Vocabulary Builder.  This product was inspired one day when I was talking with some of my students about the upcoming standardized tests that were taking place that month.  I realized that my students often had a grasp of the material being tested, but did not understand what some of the questions were asking.  I designed this product so I could spend about 5 minutes on one word each week with my students, reviewing the definition and making up our own sentences.  It is great to use in conjunction with my Personal Dictionary freebie in my store!
I also really enjoy using one of my newer products, my Around the World Language Activities set.

These activities allow my students to learn valuable information about the world around them, as well as target their varied language skills at the same time.  We work on learning and organizing information that is similar to what they may be getting in class, but in a small group setting, where we can really focus on whatever tasks they need help with, such as summarizing, comparing/contrasting, using graphic organizers, getting their thoughts into a coherent form, grammar, and more.

Over time, I’ve come to find I enjoy working with middle school students, but it definitely was a big step out of my comfort zone at first!  For those of you who are used to middle school, do you have any tips for this age level?

Stay tuned for more in the "Stepping Outside Your SLP Comfort Zone" series!

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