Your materials are prepped for the session and you look at the clock and start the waiting game. Five minutes go by and you are getting annoyed, they're not showing up again! You weed through the mound of schedules to locate where your students may be. You wonder if you should call and disrupt the class, and decide against it so not to embarrass your students. The session is half way over by the time you get your group together.
...If you work with middle or high school students you know this common scene all too well.
I'm happy to share with you some tips and tricks to get your students to speech and/or special ed services during their scheduled times!
Before I provide specific tips, I want to share a few broad pointers.
Be Mindful of Stigma: SLPs and Special Educators are considered cool to students in the younger grades. Students grab us in the classroom and ask to come to speech even when they are not on our caseload. This usually comes to a screeching halt when kids enter the pre-teen stage. Don't get offended. It's typical for students in middle and high school to not want to be seen as different. The stigma of special ed is real and we should not take it personally when our students avoid us like the plague. For more on this, check out my most popular blog post: Special Ed Stigma.
Be Age Respectful: On the other hand, our space and expertise can extend a welcome mat for students to decompress and have fun while learning communication skills. Remember to be age respectful and empathetic to students at this critical time of development. Use materials and techniques that are trending and cool. Check out my Emoji Freebie as an example. Try using Siri during speech sessions (blog post- Get Siri-ous in Speech), bring in You Tube videos of favorite pastimes, and try Pixar clips for inferencing. I promise, you'll see increased motivation and participation.
Ask Your Students: From special ed stigma to deficits in executive functioning skills, there are many reasons why students don't show up for services. Ask your students why they aren't showing up. Try this approach, "Hey Johnny, I've noticed you have trouble getting to your speech session on time, what's up?" We SLPs love to talk, but keep it quiet. The gift of the pause is golden. You may be surprised by your students' responses.
Educate Your Students: Do your students understand themselves as learners and know why they come to work with you? Educate them on their strengths and weaknesses and help them to see why this work is important for their future. My IEP and Me product may help your students take ownership of their learning and increase attendance.
Now to some of the more specific tips and tricks.
1. Pass it on: Many SLPs and special educators use appointment cards for students. Once again, make it age respectful. Include service time, teacher name, and location, but leave out the cutsie pictures. You could also develop a hall pass for teacher classrooms. Students simply bring the pass with them when they transition to your service location.
2. Classify it: Our local high school has the special ed services as an actual elective class called study skills. Students receive credit for their specialized instruction and it's built into the schedule. I really wish we had this model at the middle level, but there is no reason we can't write our service times onto our students' academic paper schedules. Students reference their schedules daily. You may also make a copy of this schedule in a reduced size for students to tape into their lockers. Write speech in the schedule as an actual class. Call it Communication Skills- ain't it the truth?
3. Make it Natural: Okay, I know that scheduling is the hardest part of our jobs, but think about how awkward it feels to leave, say, in the middle of a meeting. Imagine being a middle school student and having to leave smack dab in the middle of math class and then having to return 10 minutes before the class is over. I let students have some input into when they would like to come see me. Try to make the service start or end time during a transition or when the student doesn't mind leaving his/her classroom.
4. Technology Time- Do your students have a 1:1 laptop program, iPads, or are they allowed to use their iPhones in school? These are some favorite tech tips that give students more independence while using reminder alarms. There are a lot of favorite apps for reminding and Remind App or Remind 101 are on top of the list. You may also set up reoccurring emails for students. Use Mail Conductor and input your information only once. Students can use Google Calendars to input their schedules as well. Have your students bring their technology to their session and spend a few minutes setting up reminder alarms. They may even teach you something.
5. Code the Call- I call the classroom as a last resort, which may be your best option for some students with severe organizational challenges. Set up a code system with the teacher and student. I let the phone ring once and the student and teacher know that it's my specialized instruction time. Your success will increase when you have more people involved in remembering service times.
It's taken me years to get a steady flow of students arriving to speech and language services on time. I hope these tips and tricks are useful and that you see a huge improvement in attendance this year.
You may also like my FREE Incentive Punch Cards for Attendance and to reduce tardiness.