Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Robyn Merkel-Walsh, MA, CCC-SLP

mybioPosition: Speech and Language Specialist
District: Ridgefield, New Jersey

One of the key things that Rethink prides itself in is its flexibility and value across the special education profession. While we primarily think of Rethink as a resource for teachers, its value to paraprofessionals as a training and professional development resource but also to special service providers, like speech and language pathologists, cannot be understated.

That is why this month we chose to spotlight a speech and language specialist working in New Jersey who views Rethink as an invaluable tool for teaching and data collection, but also for collaboration with her students’ classroom teachers.  We wanted to get Robyn Walsh’s unique perspective on the value of Rethink in speech therapy.

Q&A with Spotlight Teacher Robyn Walsh, Speech and Language Specialist

Rethink: Can you describe how you have incorporated Rethink into your therapy routines and teaching practice?

Robyn Walsh (RW): As an oral-motor, Oral Placement Therapy (OPT), and feeding specialist, Rethink has helped me track data on pre-feeding, feeding, OPT and speech clarity programs. I customized all my goals and objectives into Rethink, with coordinating lesson plans. Now when students transfer to our upper extension program, the therapists know exactly what the student is working on. The Rethink program has also helped collect data for case study research, as well as authoring articles on OPT and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Data was used for presentations at this year’s American Speech and Hearing Association annual convention in Denver Colorado. One poster was presented on the comparison of NSOME and OPT, and the other was a verbal lecture on the correlation between jaw movements and speech.

Secondly, the Rethink program was utilized to create a district wide screening tool for all students receiving speech and language as a related service. This screening tool included: receptive and expressive actions, curriculum based vocabulary, object ID, labeling common objects, categories, oral motor imitation, articulation, object functions, same and different and object associations. This screening measure established a baseline tool to create not only speech and language programs, but assisted the classroom teachers on creating objectives, selecting programs and vocabulary targets. Based on the success of my Primary Screening, the speech team created a Secondary Screening for those students who have mastered programs at the primary level.

Rethink: What have been the most valuable aspects of Rethink to your instruction and/or students?

RW: Intricate oral-motor, feeding and OPT programs are sometimes challenging to explain to parents and other staff members. Rethink has helped break down these programs into small steps that make these programs easier to understand and helps to provide trackable data. It has also helped determine if a pre-feeding program is helping feeding skills, and if an OPT program is helping speech clarity. If the data is not positive, a student program can be changed, and if a program is helping a child the parent is able to see clear progress. Rethink has also made data collection and artifact logs easier for teacher effectiveness. The language based screening tools have helped establish a target curriculum for our speech department. It helped us share ideas and come together as a team.

“When the staff communicates, the children have maximum potential for success. Rethink allows the therapists to view teacher data and the teacher to view therapy data. We can share goals or we can choose to coordinate similar goals in different contexts. This is a key for generalization of skills. Rethink bridges the gap.”

Rethink: What is one problem or issue you have had in your practice that Rethink helped solve?

RW: In the field of Speech Pathology, Oral Placement Therapy is often confused with “non speech oral motor exercises” which are tasks that are unrelated to speech. Rethink helps ease this confusion by providing evidence-based clinical tracking of programs in relation to speech articulation and language output. The professional graphs created by Rethink are very helpful in analyzing student progress or lack thereof, and helps us track what may be enhancing or hampering student growth.

As the Board Chair of the Oral Motor Institute, and as an instructor Evidenced Based Practice is very important to me. This is why I write, teach and collect clinical data. Many parents seek information on how specific methods of therapy help their children. Rethink has helped ease the minds of many parents and therapists alike, because it shows clear correlation between therapy tasks and speech and language progress. jawgradinggraph

Rethink:  What advice would you give to a teacher or therapist new to Rethink?

RW: At first, it may appear that Rethink is only applicable to discrete trial teaching, because historically graphing student growth via graphs is an ABA method. Rethink is unique because it can be customized to suit both discrete trial teaching and therapeutic interventions. I encourage therapists to give the program time, and to learn how to add your own programs into the software.

Rethink: What is the greatest student success you have seen through utilizing Rethink?

RW: One of my students was really was not progressing in speech and language using traditional methods, so his mother requests a detailed Oral Placement Therapy evaluation. Based on the evaluation, programs were created and tracked. More specifically, lingual range of motion was a huge problem due to a tongue tie. Post surgically, Rethink helped me track lingual range of motion and the relation to tongue tip sounds. This showed a correlation of how practicing tongue tip lateralization with Zvibes , and tongue retraction with horns, bubbles and straws impacted the sounds /t/, /d/, /n/,/l/, /k/, and /g/. The parent was very pleased with the progress and expressive skills data has also increased since the child has an improved phonemic inventory.

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Rethink:  Why do you believe Rethink is valuable to special educators?

RW: Rethink helps with lesson planning, activities and tracking outcomes of lessons and therapy sessions. Its possibilities are endless. Each educator can customize the program to their own needs, yet it has many established programs and activities at the touch of the tool bar. It takes away the need for manual graphing and makes data tracking much easier. Most importantly, everyone on the child’s team can see the overall program, rather than isolated programs in different settings.

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