Using Behavior Routines in Speech Therapy

What are behavior routines?

Behavior routines are sets of expectations consistently implemented and reinforced in order to support attention, self-regulation, and autonomy.

Why use behavior routines?

First, establishing behavior routines frees up cognitive resources allowing you and your students to focus on what is really important–the intervention. As with anything, when you are learning to do something it requires attention and effort, but after you do it CONSISTENTLY and REPEATEDLY it becomes automated. Once your students have learned the behavior routines, they will implement them automatically allowing them to focus their effort and attention on you and the skill you are targeting.

Second, establishing behavior routines supports self-regulation and increases autonomy. I can relate to my students who feel disregulated when things are unexpected or outside of my control. Establishing routines provides your students with consistency, which supports self-regulation. Additionally, once the routines are established your students do not need to rely on you to know what to do, which gives them autonomy and a sense of control.

What do behavior routines look like in speech therapy?

FREEBIE! Click here to download the visuals pictured above.

My school district uses the Responsive Classroom Model, which is a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. It is evidence-based and emphasizes building interest in learning through engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmental awareness. I use many of the components in my own behavior routines.

One component of classroom management that they teach is the idea of using “teacher language” to effectively communicate expectations to your students. I use “teacher language” (i.e., reminding language, reinforcing language, and redirecting language) to consistently reinforce the routines I have established with my students. They have an excellent book about this topic called The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton Ed.D. I wrote a four-part blog series about how it applies to Speech Language Pathologists, if you are interested you can check that out here.

In my description of my personal speech therapy routines above, I mention two resources that I incorporate into my routines that help establish a rhythm to the session: goal nameplates and speech bins. You can read more about those tools here: goal name tags & speech bins.

What do behavior routines look like in your speech therapy sessions?

Thanks for reading!

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words (Part 4)

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words Blog Reflection Series

This month, I am reading The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, EdD. This text is recommended reading, as part of the Responsive Classroom Model to teaching. I am reading and reflecting on this book as an SLP working with early elementary-aged children.

General Guidelines for Teacher Language: 

1. Be Direct.

2. Convey Faith in Students’ Abilities and Intentions.

3. Focus on Actions, Not Abstractions.

4. Keep It Brief.

5. Know When to Be Silent.

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

The author of the Power of Our Words speaks of conveying faith in students’ abilities and intentions through the language that you use. This made me think of the concept of presuming competence, which is a common theme in the field of special education. When you are focusing on identifying and addressing areas of weakness, it can be easy to fall into the trap of promoting learned helplessness and taking a weakness-based approach. Presuming competence creates a noticeable difference in student engagement.

If we are practicing the teacher language outlined in The Power of Our Words, we have already established clear expectations in our classrooms by being direct and focusing on action. We have also created a foundation of trust with our students by being genuine listeners. Now, it is time to presume competence. Our students are capable, and they need to believe that we view them as capable. Presuming competence means trusting that students can rise to our expectations, given small supports, which is where the concepts of reminding language and redirecting language come into play. 

Reminding Language

Reminding language places ownership of classroom expectations on the student. It prompts them to remember the expectations for themselves. The school adjustment counselors in my current district recommend using reminding language to help students learn to self-regulate their anxieties. Children with anxiety may struggle with continuously asking questions to get reassurance that the answer and expectations have not changed. Using reminding language helps the students learn to reassure themselves. 

Reminding language is asked as a question in a neutral, direct tone. For example, “Tell me how we will walk back into your classroom when speech is all done?” Reminding language is only effective in calm situations, and when you follow up to see that the students’ actions reflect the answers they just provided. 

Redirecting Language

Redirecting language is brief, specific statements that immediately stop and change the direction of a students’ behavior. When you redirect, you want to directly, but discreetly call on the particular student and explicitly label the wanted behavior. For example, “Ben, freeze. We use safe hands at circle time.”  

Naming a consequence in your redirecting statements implies that we do not expect the student to follow through with our expectations. When children feel like they are not capable, they manifest that belief. Using threats and consequences emphasizes our capacity as an authoritative figure with the power to get students into trouble, rather than focusing on the students power over their actions. Furthermore, consequences, turn fixing mistakes into punishments rather than opportunities to learn and grow (Denton, 2018 p. 27). 

Managing Your Anger

“[Anger teaches] children to either comply with or rebel against [your] will rather than teaching them self-control.”

(Denton, 2018 p. 121)

Working in the schools is difficult. Spending hours on end with children, while extremely rewarding, is exhausting. We all get frustrated. We all feel anger. How we handle our anger matters because it sets the tone of our relationships with our students. Using reminding language, consistently and early, while the problems are still small, can help prevent situations that provoke anger. 

Having a take a break chair available for students, when you need a minute to decide how to proceed, can be an important preventative measure. I have a comfy papasan chair with tons of fun pillows and a stool to place your feet on in the corner of my speech therapy room. At the beginning of the year, I explain that this is our take a break chair. We take time to discuss the purpose of the chair, which is to help us calm down and return to being ready to learn. We also discuss how we get access to the chair, which is either I have told you to take a break in it, or you have calmly and respectfully requested a break in the chair.

One time, I asked a student to take a break and rejoin our lesson when he was ready to use kind words towards the other students. He fell asleep within seconds. Sometimes, taking a break helps you see the real problem. For this student, the problem was being cranky from not sleeping the night before.

I highly recommend reading The Power of Our Words for yourself! It includes concrete examples of what to say and when to say it, as well as more in-depth information about each of the general guidelines and types of teacher language. It also includes steps to begin practicing teacher language with your students.

It can be hard starting our with changing your language. I made this The Power of Our Words Reference Sheet, which I keep on my therapy clipboard, to help me remember the changes I am trying to implement.

References:

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Thanks for reading!

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words (Part 3)

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words Blog Reflection Series

This month, I am reading The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, EdD. This text is recommended reading, as part of the Responsive Classroom Model to teaching. I am reading and reflecting on this book as an SLP working with early elementary-aged children.

General Guidelines for Teacher Language: 

1. Be Direct.

2. Convey Faith in Students’ Abilities and Intentions.

3. Focus on Actions, Not Abstractions.

4. Keep It Brief.

5. Know When to Be Silent.

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

The Power of Our Words describes two types of language to help educators focus on actions, not abstractions: Envisioning Language and Reinforcing Language.

 Envisioning Language

In general, when working with children, it is helpful to focus on clear, actionable ideas over abstract ideas. This is especially true for children with language disorders, who often lack the vocabulary and comprehension skills to follow indirect and implicit classroom expectations.

The author of the Power of Our Words recommends using vision statements to help guide students’ behaviors. As SLPs, we write vision statements in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) all the time. An IEP vision statement is a clearly defined future the Team is trying to attain by completing the steps outlined in the IEP. A student vision statement works in the same way. When creating a vision statement, educators draw on the students’ intrinsic values (e.g., to have fun, be safe, feel important, make friends, learn interesting things) to define an accessible future. They complete the vision statement with clear, actionable steps to achieve that future.

 Example of Envisioning Language in Speech Therapy:

 “Today, in speech, I expect everyone will listen to each other and participate in the activities to become better communicators.”

Following vision statements with open-ended questions, which ask the students how they can make this vision come true, is an excellent way to gauge their understanding of expectations, as well as learn their perspective on the vision.

 Reinforcing Language

 “Children need to know their strengths in order to know what to stand on as they reach for the next higher rung. They need our words to help them do this.”

(Denton, 2018 p. 89)

“Children build on their strengths, not their weaknesses” (Denton, 2018 p. 88). Light bulb! How great is that quote?! I was blown away by it. Seriously, I had to put the book down and digest that little sentence. I spend so much time identifying weaknesses and figuring out the best evidence-based way to improve upon those weaknesses, and then I read this book. I have heard of taking a strengths-based perspective before, and I thought that was what I had been doing. I realize now that I had just been documenting strengths and weaknesses and then focusing on the weaknesses.

This links to my previous post about being a genuine listener; what I need to do is pay attention to my students’ interests, and strengths to help build an engaging learning environment. Reinforcing language can help force that perspective for educators.


“Good job!” “Nice work!” “I like your work ethic.”

 What I liked about the Power of Our Words was that the advice and instructions were realistic for educators. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I attended a two-day Responsive Classroom training and left feeling overwhelmed and leery of the concepts. This book does a much nicer job explaining the ideology.

 The author says that expressing your personal approval has its time and place. If you are genuinely expressing praise and personal approval to celebrate your students’ triumphs, go for it. “Good job” is for celebrating, not for effecting change. If your goal is to help your students grow, then use specific descriptive feedback. By explicitly labeling positive, concrete behaviors, students learn exactly what they are doing well and should continue doing to succeed.

Continuously framing behaviors emphasizing your personal approval sends the “message that the purpose of good behavior is to please us, when what we want is for children to be motivated toward cooperative, careful behaviors for the sake of themselves and the group” (Denton, 2018 p. 97).

Are you a good jobber? I definitely am! One thing the book mentions while you are embarking on this journey of improving your language for behavior management is to practice catching your mistakes and following them up with the appropriate response. In my speech therapy sessions, you will hear me say things like, “Good job! You used the visuals to help you remember the setting of the story that time.” It is a work in progress.

I highly recommend reading The Power of Our Words for yourself! It includes concrete examples of what to say and when to say it, as well as more in-depth information about each of the general guidelines and types of teacher language. It also includes steps to begin practicing teacher language with your students.

References:

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Thanks for reading!

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words (Part 2)

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words Blog Reflection Series

This month, I am reading The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, EdD. This text is recommended reading as part of the Responsive Classroom Model to teaching. I am reading and reflecting on this book as an SLP working with early elementary-aged children.

General Guidelines for Teacher Language:

1. Be Direct.

2. Convey Faith in Students’ Abilities and Intentions.

3. Focus on Actions, Not Abstractions.

4. Keep It Brief.

5. Know When to Be Silent.

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Let’s talk about listening.

Genuinely listening to our students is a foundational skill in behavior management. Educators can’t teach children they do not know. Taking time to genuinely listen to our students, not only helps us learn about their interests, but it opens our eyes to their fear, anxieties, and reservations (which is where most behaviors stem from).


Being genuine listeners also helps us to build further a foundation of trust, which, as I mentioned in the previous post, is vital for fostering a learning environment. Modeling genuine listening shows children that we value their answers. When they feel valued, they are more likely to put thought into their answers, because they trust that we genuinely want to know their response and understand their way of thinking.


In speech therapy sessions, it can be easy to fall into the trap of surface-level listening, because we are busy scaffolding, recalling evidence-based practice, taking accurate data, and often managing multiple different goal areas, never mind student behaviors….and oh yeah, we only have thirty minutes. However, practicing genuine listening skills is necessary not only for building rapport, but it also models effective communication skills.

Be a Genuine Listener

Set aside your ideas and agenda to focus on the student’s words. Then, adjust your body language to be open and focused on your student. Student’s can tell when we ask a question with a specific answer in mind, and they can tell when we are not actually interested in their response. If you want your students to put real thought into your questions, you need to put real effort into listening to their answers. To help make sure you are not asking questions with specific answers in mind, ask open-ended questions to help stimulate their thinking and reflection. Close-ended questions have their place, but try to include open-ended questions in your discussions to engage your students in their learning.

After your student responds, pause to model thoughtfully reflecting on what they have said. Then, paraphrase their response to ensure understanding, acknowledge their ideas, make connections in their thoughts, and provide them new language for expressing their ideas. Don’t just repeat what the student said. Paraphrase using your own words, avoid using “I,” and be brief to keep the focus on the child’s contributions to the discussion.

Do you sometimes struggle with being a genuine listener? Even though I am an SLP, I often struggle with leaving enough silence and asking questions that stimulate thinking. But that is why I am here reading this book…to learn and grow.

References:

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Thanks for reading!