Speech-Language Pathologists Climbing the Steps to Mastery
By Lydia Kopel
Co-author of IEP Goal Writing for Speech-Language Pathologists: Utilizing State Standards
Facing the mountain
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), you are forever tackling a huge mountain called language. There are peaks at the top that you are trying to help your students/clients reach. Do you ever find yourself working on a skill with a student/client who does not seem to be making progress? That peak didn’t seem so far away, but along the way, you encounter twists and turns, making it around one corner only to face an obstacle around the next bend. Frustrating, right? On the inside you’re screaming, “Why can’t he get this? How can I approach this in a different way? What am I doing wrong?”
You’ve set your goal(s) for this individual carefully choosing the target skill(s). But, did you think about prerequisite skills? Prerequisite skills are all the skills that lead up to the targeted skill; the building blocks. Every skill has several prerequisite skills; each prerequisite skill has prerequisite skills. With language learning there is a great deal of scaffolding – one skill builds upon another skill, builds upon another skill, and so on. Let’s look at an example related to the skill of the main idea.
To be able to identify the main idea when it is not stated in a text, one has to have success with many other language skills. These include being able to answer factual questions, determine important details from unimportant details, determine how the details go together in the sequence of events, and be able to draw inferences. Of course, each one of these skills has even more prerequisite skills! And it doesn’t end there!
Each target skill also has several steps to mastery. With the same example of the main idea, we probably shouldn’t expect that a 6th grade student will learn the prerequisite skills outlined above and be able to identify the main idea and supporting details from a grade level text in one year. It is more likely that additional scaffolding and instruction will be needed at various steps. The student may first need to identify a supporting detail when given a choice of three and given the main idea in a 5th grade text. Maybe then you can move them to identifying three details that support a given main idea in a 5th grade text. With further scaffolding, this student may move toward identifying the details in a 6th grade text when the main idea is unknown. Going through these prerequisite skills and steps to mastery can increase an individual’s success and decrease therapist and client frustration—making for a much smoother climb up that language mountain.
Peaks and valleys
We all encounter those individuals who have splinter skills. They have some of the language skills in the developmental continuum but are missing others. There may be no specific order, no rhyme or reason, to what they can and cannot do. If we can tap into the skills that haven’t fully developed, we can help increase performance on the target skills that are lacking.
Let’s look at the semantic skill of compare/contrast. Perhaps you have a client who can label pictures of nouns and verbs. He can tell you the color, size, and shape of single pictured items. He may be able to use comparatives and superlatives. However, he can’t sort items by attribute, identify things that do not belong, or state category labels. His describing skills are limited because he breaks down when more than one item is pictured together in a scene and more than two descriptors are expected. Would it be reasonable to expect this client to state how two or more items are the same or different? It seems like there may be numerous gaps in his semantic skills that would be imperative to the skill of compare/contrast.
Reaching the peak
As an SLP, do you have students/clients who are lacking some of the necessary prerequisite skills? Taking the time to figure out what prerequisite skills are needed can lead to success with the target skill(s). Take a step back and work on the missing skills. Sometimes we need to go backward in order to move forward.
When setting goals, consider the amount of prerequisite skills needed and how fast you anticipate the student to progress. Is your anticipated target skill too high? Maybe you need to aim for a smaller peak. Maybe the goal needs to be one of the prerequisite skills. Take it one step at a time and you’ll soon find the individual standing at the peak.
Prerequisite skills, goal writing, and much more are discussed and outlined in the book IEP Goal Writing for Speech-Language Pathologists: Utilizing State Standards. Check it out!
Lydia Kopel and Elissa Kilduff