In the early 1970s, I began my work as a Speech/Language Pathologist in the Hartford, Connecticut Public Schools. The department head, Margaret Kennedy, an Iowa native, was trying to entice someone to teach a “Language Disabilities Class” at Dwight School in the South End. Language Disability was the new term in our field at that time. I had just gotten my Master’s Degree at Penn State and had an enlightening summer course in “language disabilities” under my belt. We used Helmer Myklebust’s text entitled Differential Diagnosis of Language Impairments, as our basic text and studied intervention methodologies such as the Association Method, developed at Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, the ITPA, Auditory Discrimination in Depth (now known as Lindamood/Lindamood).
Ms. Kennedy told me that if I took the position I “would never regret it!” I never have! I was the only person in the communication Disorders Department of 30 “speech therapists” to hold the position. It got me into general education classrooms to actually see my students’ struggles with language and how those struggles impacted their academic, and social, success. I had the opportunity to collaborate with these classroom teachers to better understand their “curriculum” and to assist them in understanding what a language disability was! I also had a “built-in” parent visitation day, each Wednesday, when either at home or at school I would meet with the parents (and sometimes grandparents, aunts and uncles) to talk about language development, disorders and how they could help their children. I began to collect children’s literature as a tool to further understanding and my individual mission to spread the word about “language."
What was a language disability? How I wish I knew then what I know now! Those days were indeed the pioneering days in the area of language. Collaboration with the teachers and the social worker at the school was a primary focus of my days. Sometimes I felt as if I was “speaking a foreign language." After all, they “did language” when they taught reading and writing! Over time, through mini-inservices and observations and moments in the teacher’s room, I spread the word about areas of language and how it was the foundation for the curriculum!
Pragmatics, phonology, semantics, syntax and the all-important discourse strands of language—I talked about these language components which were first used and solidified at home through verbal interactions/conversations with family, day care providers and other children. As children entered school, the curriculum of reading and writing, this “oral language” provided power to learn and confidence to persist.
I am including a diagram with names of the language strands that I used in Hartford to foster collaboration and that I continue to use over time as an anchor chart for inter-professional discussions. This first “job” was the foundation for a lifetime of work.
This past March through March, 2017, is the Twenty Fifth Anniversary of my creation of Story Grammar Marker®. This is a tool for oral language development focusing on the strands of language. It was developed to assist students who could answer Wh-Questions but not orally communicate the same content without scaffolding by the teacher or SLP. Many of those students had the diagnosis of a language disability but many were students with diagnoses of ADHD, Executive Functions, Working Memory and the many students who have difficulty with social communication and self-regulation!
Over these forty years, the study and research of Language Disorders has deepened, providing a myriad of resources for differentiation and intervention. There are basic areas of focus depending upon the students you see and the conditions they face. Many students, language impaired or not, have problems with the following:
All of the above bullets are reasons to collaborate with teachers, special educators, social workers, school adjustment counselors and school psychologists.
The other major collaborative position that I had was at the Curtis Blake Center and Day School, then on the campus of American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. I collaborated and learned with and from colleagues from the disciplines of reading, learning disabilities, executive functions and school psychologists. I had three concurrent positions:
Truly, these were collaborative problem-solving positions. Each group of professionals was coming from their own knowledge/experience base. Everyone was open to collaborate, which made the environment unique. The experience could never be replaced. It was during this time that the Story Grammar Marker® was created and field tested in 1991. The creation of the SGM® was a solution to a problem: Students who were language impaired but had much to organize, orally communicate and write!
Presently, my collaborative efforts continue as I provide professional development for school systems across the USA and Canada. The Story Grammar Marker® is in use worldwide and various aspects of the methodology have been translated into Spanish, French, Icelandic and Dutch! We, as a company, have published 16 manuals and 40 hands-on products building on and responding to research which has been done in the field of discourse level language disorders: narrative and expository (https://mindwingconcepts.com/collections/all). Also, please browse our website particularly this other entries in our BLOG to see scores of free lessons, book recommendations, technology blogs by Sean Sweeney and teaching blogs by Sheila Zagula.
The Critical Thinking Triangle® In Action! is our newest creation! It is our response to language, social communication and self-regulatory needs for student to student dialogue. Difficult dialogue about feelings, thoughts and plans that tie into the motivation of a character to set a goal and ultimately carry out that goal, is central to this hands-on tool. The Critical Thinking Triangle® in Action! set has several vital outcomes. It is a strategy to be modeled, practiced and used at will to accomplish academic tasks and solve social communication problems. The Critical Thinking Triangle® in Action! assists teachers by:
Collaboration with colleagues continues by travels within the USA and Canada and the power of technology to reach international audiences. My colleague, Michelle Garcia Winner and I have presented on the synergy of the Critical Thinking Triangle® with the components and process of Social Thinking®. Additionally, in the area of Executive Functions, self-regulation strategies must be explicitly discussed, modeled and practiced. Perhaps the words of colleague Marcia Zegar of Oregon say it best:
“There is a hyper-awareness of self-regulation at a national level. Professionals recognize catastrophic challenges and failures but do not appear to understand the connectivity of the Critical Thinking Triangle® and how events have transpired and/or options available to bridge productive, positive resolutions!”
ASHA, in the November 2016 edition of The ASHA Leader, focused on “A Bridge to Better Care: Tips for Interprofessional Team-Building”:
"We, as Speech/Language Pathologists have the expertise and knowledge to make a difference. Collaboration and dialogue, over time, are keys to successful, memorable teams."