''How would I write that?'' asked Speech Pathologist Tracy Nelson to a group of Bush Elementary School first-graders. ''R-a-t. Let's say it: Rat. What happens when I take the 're' out of 'rat'? What do I get?''
''at,'' said the students.
''Good job. What if we bring in the sound ''k.'' What word does that make?''
''You are so smart. Let's sequence it out now. Say it together, c-a-t. Can you find the picture of the cat? What is a cat?''
''What is a bat?''
With dialogue occurring between the students and Mrs. Nelson, it was decided that a bat looks like an animal with wings, it flies, and hangs upside down.
''But a bat can also be something you swing at a ball,'' said Mrs. Nelson as she showed a picture of a baseball bat. ''Now, let's make up a sentence, say it and write it, because what you say is what you write.''
Mrs. Nelson was working with the first-graders to sequence, develop vocabulary and phonics leading up to nonsense words which links the alphabet with phonics to decode words which are not familiar or known. This small-group instruction is just one of many ways Mrs. Nelson, who is speech/language pathologist at Bush Elementary School, helps students.
A speech pathologist's job is to work with speech, language, auditory processing, and literacy skills both with general education and special education students. Speech can include: articulation, fluency, voice, and swallowing. Language, which is the basis for reading, speaking, writing and math, includes putting words together to make meaningful sentences, improving vocabulary, organization and sequencing skills, teaching how to compare and contrast information, developing reasoning skills to predict, make conclusions, determine cause and effect relationships. The speech pathologists also work with social skills such as the ability for a child to have conversations with others and use alternative communication through a means of pictures, symbols and gestures such as sign language. Speech pathologists help with auditory processing, which is how information is received, stored, organized, and retrieved. The speech pathologist's role in literacy skills includes linking sounds to print for decoding words, attaching meaning to the printed word, and knowing what we say or read we can write for the five components of literacy: Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Speech pathologists do not work in isolation. They are part of a committee, which meets regularly with teachers, a school psychologist, principal, guidance counselor, nurse and parents to develop interventions to assist a student who is in need of academic or behavioral support in the classroom. Many students only require intervention for a short period of time to work out a challenge. Some who need additional or continued help are further tested to determine if instruction from the special education team is needed.
Mrs. Nelson also incorporates class curriculum into all of her small group interventions. For example, the Bush first-grade teachers give her an outline of their class themes and topics for the week, what they working, like phonics, so that Mrs. Nelson can keep the students on the same curriculum map as their peers. For example, she has a list of reading selections for each week, the phonics skills being addressed such as R-controlled vowels, spelling word list, sight word list, vocabulary words to be introduced, reasoning skills such as predicting, and making conclusions.
"Watching students progress from needing support to working more independently in their classrooms is really gratifying," said Mrs. Nelson.