Last week or so, I posted on Instagram about my new found love for 1-on-1 therapy sessions. For 5 of my 8 years as a public school SLP, I have worked primarily with 6th-12th graders. I really think this probably contributed to my dislike for 1-on-1 sessions, especially since I had a couple of, shall we say, traumatic experiences in my first couple of years. Regardless, as a new school-based SLP with, typically, quite full groups, the idea of working with just one student from “bell to bell” was intimidating! What would I do for that long? How would I keep them focused without other students? How awkward does this have the potential to be, especially with high school boys?
This year, due to COVID, I began the year with mostly 1-on-1 sessions, both in person and virtually. Although I was apprehensive at first, after a couple of weeks of adjusting, I came to really love this individual instruction time! Today, I thought I’d share just a few things that I’ve found to be true about 1-on-1 sessions.
1 | Increased Rapport
When you get to middle school grades and higher, many students have little to no interest in seeing the SLP. Speech has stopped being cool and become a bit of a stigma. I’ve had students specifically request that I not say the word speech when calling their rooms for therapy! Because of that stigma, rapport was often low in my group sessions. Even though each student in the group was, obviously, in the same situation, the students would spend their time trying to seem like the student who didn’t need it. I seemed to fall into the role of the enemy – the mean lady who embarrassed them in front of their peers, no matter how hard I tried not to! With 1-on-1 sessions, some of those problems started to fade away. Left with only me, students were more willing to admit areas of struggle, ask for help, and risk being wrong in order to give it their best effort. I started getting to know students who were previously closed-off and even learned, with my virtual students, that they actually enjoyed working with me. They just didn’t want to seem like they needed it in front of their peers.
2 | Decreased Behavior Management
The prevailing behavior I’ve found myself having to manage since holding 1-on-1 sessions? Chattiness. But since they’re chatting to me, it’s not quite as big of a deal! Seriously, behavior is so much easier to deal with when it’s just you and the student. This isn’t necessarily the case for those with extreme behaviors – see traumatic experiences, above – but most run-of-the-mill school-aged behaviors are easily dealt with in this scenario. Without other students to distract or feed off of, my students have been easily able to focus for the time allotted. And since it’s just us, I feel no guilt giving an iPad break if needed to keep us going. Yet another thing that’s easier to manage – no fighting over the iPad, whose turn it is, etc… when allowing for a brain break!
3 | Increased Productivity and Progress
For many of my students, I’ve arranged sessions like so: the first chunk of time (15-20 minutes, depending on session length) is spent on 1 or 2 activities. We come out swinging and work without stopping. Once we’re done, assuming we have time left (and with just two of us, we usually do!), I pull out the iPad and let them engage in 5-10 minutes of independent work. I’ve found this to be a good time for working on listening comprehension, phonemic awareness, and/or phonics skills that aren’t specific goals, but could use some regular honing. For the reasons mentioned above, we’re getting far more accomplished in a shorter amount of time than usual, with improved progress over time.
I have a feeling I’m going to be quite sad when my face-to-face schedule starts to fill up again and I inevitably have to start forming groups. Even so, I’m trying to keep my group size to 2 students at a time (for COVID reasons, as well as the perks I’ve talked about here). Getting over my fear of 1-on-1 sessions has made me feel like a clinician, rather than a juggler of humans and goals, for the first time in quite awhile!
BONUS Perk: Improved Clinical Skills
As I was writing the closing paragraph, this occurred to me: having the opportunity to work 1-on-1 with students is also making me a better clinician. Because I’m able to truly focus on the 1 or 2 goals I’m targeting at that time, rather than jumping back and forth between goals, trying to fit several goals into 1 activity, and managing a bunch of different personalities, I find that I’m taking more time to think through my directions, my scaffolding, my presentation, etc… Whereas before, I would focus so much on making sure I managed to get *some* sort of data for at least 1 or 2 kiddos that sessions, I find that I’m able to think through what we’re doing, as we’re doing it, adjust as needed, take time with my instruction, and provide better therapy. And that is what it’s all about!
So, tell me – do you find yourself working more 1-on-1 this year than usual? Do you love it or hate it? Or have you been singing the praises of working 1-on-1 forever and think I’m just slow to get on board? Let me know!