Tech Tuesday: Summer Study Series #2, Stories of a School Year Like No Other

Summer study Series imageContinuing here with 2021’s Summer Study Series, this post will be a little different. Rather than focusing on analysis of one article for further learning, I’d like to point you in the direction of a few resources related to a theme: mental health and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve all heard and experienced it in some way, at this point almost a cliché; it was a school year like no other. Loss of a feeling of safety, of connection, of experiences, of freedoms, perhaps of health or people in our lives, these all pervade our memories of the past year. I’m of the mindset that every little bit of processing is potentially helpful.

However, you may feel uncomfortable or unequipped to go into these topics in personal narrative with your students. For some support, I’d like to point you in a few directions.

The already-analyzed here (in 2017) Telling Tales: Personal Event Narratives and Life Stories (Westby and Culatta, 2016), from which—if you don’t mind, I am going to quote an entire critically relevant-to-NOW paragraph:

“Competence in producing personal narratives—both event narratives and life stories—is important for social and psychological well-being because the sharing of personal events is a major component of all social interactions and thus relates to the ability to function in natural contexts (Schank, 1990). In addition, the ability to generate a coherent, integrated life story relates to an individual's sense of self-identify and self-determination. The generation of a life story stems from reflecting on how one's own characteristics have influenced past actions, but also can lead to setting goals for how the future will unfold. A coherent life story can lead to making informed choices, learning to effectively solve problems, and taking control of and responsibility for one's life.”

What else can we say? Practicing all of the above in the hopefully much more normal 2021-2 school year will be essential for all of our students in processing the events of the last year and moving forward, even if they think they were “fine with it.” Please visit or revisit this article from two of the leaders in our field.

Of course, you’ll likely want to know how to respond to difficult moments that might be shared in narratives reminiscent of the months of the pandemic. Having some comfort and familiarity with counseling “moves” appropriate to SLPs and related providers can be one resource. I recently took the online course SLPs and Communication Counseling: Facilitating Personal Adjustment (Flavia, through SpeechPathology.Com) and found much reinforcement. While acknowledging the importance of referring to mental health supports should significant issues become apparent in conversations with students, Flavia discusses the wielding of activities related to positive psychology and use of prompts and responses that provide scaffolding for narrative sharing of experiences.

Hewitt (2014) also describes the overlap between practices in speech-language pathology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), again referencing appropriate disciplinary distance: without necessarily setting up shop as a cognitive behavioral therapist, an SLP can maintain awareness of the core principles involved and align his or her practice with some of its relevant ideas. In my own light self-therapizing efforts in recent months, I have been struck by how much CBT’s ABCDE model resembles a story grammar of thinking/feeling and, of course, the Story Grammar Marker® and the Critical Thinking Triangle®.

ABCDE sample pictureWhile our goal in active listening should be supportive and validating, suggesting helpful directions in thinking and ways to “dispute” what might be cognitive distortions can be part of a narrative intervention activity. For example, some very quick maneuvers using MindWing’s Digital Icons set resulted in the following visual support:

Critical Thinking Triangle image

I recently also made some modifications to Julia Dweck’s very fun Games of Chance Jamboard to demonstrate how while some games are random, life in general is NOT a game of chance. The Critical Thinking Triangle® provided an avenue to thinking about worst- and best-case scenarios contrasted with the most-likely-case scenario related to a Kick-Off, and the strategy of planning for the most likely scenario.

For some great ideas of prompts that could be used to launch all sorts of narratives related to this past year, see this post from The New York Times.


Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Author

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. Sean has transitioned to telepractice in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis but is looking forward to a return to in-person work in the fall! His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology "through a language lens." Contact him at sean@speechtechie.com



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