As a young speech pathologist, I was confronted with a caseload that was so large and staggeringly diverse that it nearly brought an immediate end to my early career. I worked across two campuses with 65 Spanish-speaking students and conducted evaluations on another five campuses. 26 of my students were in a 3-year-old half day program and many of them had multiple disabilities.
I wasn’t alone. The teachers that I worked with had equally diverse classrooms and needed a way to better to work students from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Working with diverse students poses some of the greatest benefits and the greatest challenges of teaching. On one hand, we are exposed to extremely unique and interesting cultures and the amount of impact you can make with each child is massive.
On the other hand, we are never sure if a child is behind because they have not had exposure to a certain topic, are having difficulty working in a second language, or truly have communication impairments.
I worked nights and weekends to keep up with paperwork and plan therapy and was rewarded that spring with an additional campus to cover a maternity leave. As bleak as this situation felt at the time, I now know that it is typical for educational professionals across the nation. These situations are indeed fierce but they also provide us with a certain resolve and the perfect laboratory to create a solution.
Curriculum-based intervention materials can simultaneously enrich language and teach academic concepts.
1) We don’t make assumptions about a student having prior knowledge.
2) We give students multiple opportunities to practice their concepts in school and at home.
3) We don’t waste precious time re-creating lesson plans and materials year after year.
To solve the issue, several speech pathologists formed a working group to create language rich materials and enlisted teachers from campuses across several districts to let us teach portions of the class and incorporate these language-rich materials into their classroom.
Intervention with young students is successful when it:
- Aligns to curriculum
- Is multi-modal (hands-on, table-time, floor time)
- Has buy-in from all educational professionals
- Increases parent involvement
- Is in the child’s home language
- Can be used in a variety of settings (full-day, half-day, in-classroom, group therapy, and individual therapy)
- Takes into consideration second-language influence and low socio-economic status
This is exactly what these materials promise to do.
After several years of trials in the schools of Central Texas we have finally built units that meet the above criteria. It didn’t come without its fits and failures but we have just released 3 curriculum-based units in Spanish and English and have designed 30 more units that we are currently field-testing.