Enjoy the Ride: Four Ways to Navigate Speech Therapy with Secondary Students

Guest Post by Melissa Porter, MS, CCC-SLP

I remember the first time I felt like I was drowning as an SLP.  I was in my third year and had just been reassigned to work at a middle school.  I quickly realized that not only did each student have a lot more on their schedule than the younger kids, but the games and picture books I had acquired at my other school now seemed completely useless. Trying to navigate the choppy seas that is adolescent speech therapy felt like trying to paddle upstream with no map and a broken paddle.  Since then, I have worked with multiple secondary students in a variety of settings and have gained a lot of confidence. I now love working with this age group and would like to share four tips that have helped me stay afloat. 

1. Let Them Steer

These students have been in speech therapy for years, have a life, and will soon be independent.  They are not going to be motivated if they feel like they are going nowhere.  So, ask them what is important to them.  What do they want to do after high school?  What classes are stressing them out? What are their interests?  Review their goals often, explain why you have chosen specific targets to focus on, and if possible, let them have a say in their goals at IEP time.  

2. Take a Deep Dive

It is really important to take time to drill the skills listed on their goals.  Look for any gaps.  Spend extra time on areas that have a big impact.   Focus on teaching strategies that they can use if they get stuck in real life.  Every single one of my students has “ask a teacher” under their belt, but has needed extra training on other things they can do such as using context clues, working with another student, or asking themselves questions to make sure they are comprehending what they hear and read.  

3. Throw Them a Life Preserver

During the pandemic, all of my secondary students had at least one class shift completely online and they were struggling.  Several of them asked me if we could cancel speech so they could focus on their homework.  Instead, I had them pull up their homework and share their screen with me.  Not only was this a great way to relieve some of their stress, it also gave me an excellent window into how they were actually doing in school.  I realized that a lot of what I was working on was several grade levels below what they were expected to complete on their own.   Using material mostly from their English and History courses, we were able to address a wide variety of goals including sentence structure, vocabulary, inferencing, main idea and details, comparing and contrasting, and figurative language.   Most of my students are now back in school full-time, but I still ask them if they have any homework they need to work on, and one frequently comes prepared with word lists or essay questions to review with me.  

4. Enjoy the Ride

Finally, as I began to settle in with my secondary students, I realized that this age group can be a lot of fun!  Thematic units centered around picture books gave way to units on animation, online ordering, ugly sweater parties and the Super Bowl.   Matching games were replaced with 20 Questions.  I found it was a relief to not have to change activities every few minutes to keep the students engaged, and relished when they began opening up to me.  These kids have a lot they need to say, and I have been privileged to be able to listen.   

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