Adventures in Surfing

No, not THAT kind of surfing (remember, I’m in a landlocked state).

Adventures in SUBWAY surfing

Also known as OMG, she’s talking about a non-speech app? What the heck?

Alternately known as Speech-language therapy is NOT supposed to be about games and having fun.

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound right.

This subject is a bear that I’ve been wrestling with for a while (since November actually). While at ASHA12 in Atlanta, I attended a seminar in which the presenter talked about how sad it was that speech therapy was known as the place where kids come to play games. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong with that scenario…

and then I realized…

It’s not that it’s wrong for the kids to come and play games – it’s wrong for them to not know what they are learning. From the time I was in grad school, I’ve made a point of making sure the kids know what our targets are for the day – we are working on /r/, we are working on /st/, we are working on pronouns, etc. However, I’ve come to the realization that not everyone does that. I’ve also come to the understanding that even though I tell my kids, they don’t always hear what I’m saying. This was brought home recently when I had a couple of students tell me they were there for articulation therapy when in truth they were there for figurative language. Needless to say, we have a few other things to work on for those kids.

It could be easy to say kids, particularly little kids, don’t need to know exactly what it is they’re working on. After all, they come with you, say some things while playing a game, and it’s done. But, eventually these kids need to advocate for themselves. They need to understand why people aren’t understanding them, why teachers look at them and ask them to repeat themselves…often. Perhaps even more importantly, particularly for those kids with language disorders, they need to be taught when and why to ask questions – to gain clarification, to ask for help. Students with executive functioning deficits need to be taught specific skills and know WHY it is so important that they use them. See a theme here?

It’s not just for self-advocacy either. According to the Code of Ethics Principle of Ethics 1, subsection H: “Individuals shall fully inform the persons they serve of the nature and possible effects of services rendered and products dispensed, and they shall inform participants in research about the possible effects of their participation in research conducted.”

This means that everyone should know why they are being seen. Now, am I going to tell my 3-year-old clients that they’re coming to see me because no one can understand them or because they only have 1 word utterances? No…not exactly. But I am going to tell them that we’re working on he/she or big/little or the /p/ sound.

For my kindergarten (and older) students…I do tell them. Well, actually, I ask them. “Do people say ‘what’ a lot when you’re talking to them?” Almost always I get a yes…and then I explain that we’re going to work on some things that make it easier for people to understand what you’re saying.

It’s easy to get caught up in the number of productions, number of trials, percentages and progress. I get caught up in that too. However, we need to remember…our clients aren’t numbers. They are living, breathing, and thinking (yes…thinking!) individuals. They deserve to know why, and they deserve to have a few minutes to just talk about things that are bothering them, successes, dreams, frustrations. My students work hard in school…My room is a safe area where they can decompress, talk, complain, and make plans for success. We need to not be so driven by numbers that we lose the humanity. Don’t get me wrong…Numbers are critical and I’m not saying we should be all fluffy bunny and no work. I’m saying, take a minute. Tell the client what they’re working on and WHY…ask how their day is going…After all we are the communication specialists.

What does this have to do with Subway Surfer? Good question!

I was working with a student recently (let’s say 4th-5th grade age). This student can be fairly defiant, less than optimally motivated, and challenging to get much out of. This student loves to play games but can manage to make a single turn take a good 4-5 minutes which really eats into the session. I’ve found that Subway Surfer is an incredible tool.

For those of you who don’t know the app, Subway surfer is a free app where the “player” is a graffiti artist painting abandoned trains on the subway. (Don’t get me started on how awful it is to teach illegal activities! I know…I’m choosing to tackle it by talking about how wrong it is to deface property, etc.) They are then chased by regional police/security (again, we talk about how we should never really run from police, real vs pretend, etc.). The object of the game is to collect coins, letters, and prizes while running over/between subway trains in various cities. The game is very fast paced and can be extremely addicting.

subway surfer

I’ve found that nearly every student, even this hard to motivate defiant student, is incredibly motivated by Subway Surfer. When I explain what we’re working on, and I know it’s one that the student struggles with a LOT (multiple-syllable words are very challenging for this particular child), I say “you say X number of words (usually 10-20), you get a turn to play. Because the game is fun and addicting, the student is willing to work hard to play it…because it’s so fast paced each “turn” only takes 30 seconds or so to play. We both win.

Do my students think we play games in the speech room? Absolutely! I have no doubt the games are a big reason this particular student works so hard. They also know that if they don’t work hard, the game gets put away. Do my students know what they’re working on? Hopefully. If not, it’s not because I haven’t told them.

Tell me…do you tell your clients what you’re working on for the day? If you do, how do you do it? Are you of the belief that speech-language therapy is too fun? Should we play games or is drill the most important? I can’t wait to hear from you…until then…

Adventure on!

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Surfing

  1. Great post!!! Games are the tools SOMETIMES used as motivation for skills taught. If all we ever did was drill without motivation and not tell kiddos what we they were working on, we would be doing a disservice to everyone, including our profession and we wouldn’t be as successful as we are with them.

  2. Great topic. The kindergarten and first graders all want to come to speech! We tell them not unless you have an appointment. (Some even go home and ask the parents if they can get an appointment, bless their hearts.). The older students would really rather not have therapy. This is a good reminder to make sure all of our students know their goals! Another good topic would be parent and teacher responsibility in helping students toward their goals.

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