This fall I have had the great pleasure of working with a student who is very engaged in teletherapy and has a special interest in topics related to social justice. His “woke” nature has served him in keeping informed about the pandemic and stories related to the Black Lives Matter movement, but like many of our students, he can miss important elements of these narrative events.
ASHA outlines that incorporating Client Values into treatment is an important component of Evidence-Based Practice (EBP). This is defined as “the unique set of personal and cultural circumstances, values, priorities, and expectations identified by your client and their caregivers.” This aspect, as well as the importance of engaging textual contexts and targeting narrative for students with ASD, led me to conduct a weekly current events activity through teletherapy for his sessions.
There are many great options for obtaining e-text for narrative and expository language targets, but newsela is one of the best! This website promotes the targeting of ELA-related skills through current events; sign in for free with your Google account and many features are available at no cost.
Newsela, first of all, allows you to change the reading level, which simplifies and shortens the article, and quizzes and writing prompts are also connected to each story. Reviewing a story through a teletherapy platform such as Zoom will allow you to create simple annotations on screen to scaffold comprehension while reading, and you can also download the article and annotate in tools such as DocHub (attached to Google Drive).
I realized after teaching this student the elements of Story Grammar Marker® that news stories are the perfect context for working with the Critical Thinking Triangle®. The elements of Kick-Off, Feeling and Plan, combined with the discussion of thoughts related to a kick-off event, provide essentially a summary or main idea of any news story. Additionally, the use of cognitive verbs prompts the production of complex sentences (e.g., The dance company thought that previous productions of The Nutcracker were not inclusive), which also can be scaffolded through the visual connections in the Triangle and sentences containing because or so.
I have previously mentioned here that Google Slides makes language mapping quite easy with the combination of images with insertion of typable shapes (see MindWing’s Digital Icons set). For this particular student, sharing the slide deck gave him access to type within it, which is very motivating for him. A selection of stories we covered in sessions is below!
Note that use of the CTT allows for some flexibility and affirmation of students’ efforts. In this case the Kick-Off could have been labeled as colonial land takeover, or the efforts to replant seeds itself.
What does this mean for you? Placing cognitive verbs within the slide serves as a response to prompt perspective taking, metacognition, and construction of complex sentences.
Although Character and Setting are not technically part of the CTT, I find that including them within some activities helps us clarify these situational elements, and in this case had us discussing some word morphology (What do we call people from Mississippi?)
For this student, modeling more advanced emotional vocabulary has been an essential part of using the CTT, taking his initial contribution of mad and moving toward stronger adjectives.
Of course, using political contexts for language therapy will not be in everyone’s comfort zones or be ideal for group treatment where there may be students with diverse political opinions. However, I hope that the models here will be of assistance even if you are choosing more neutral stories.
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. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology "through a language lens." Contact him at email@example.com.