When I first embarked on my arduous, yet ultimately rewarding journey, of becoming a speech-language pathologist, I knew that I would encounter roadblocks along the way. As an individual who falls under the classification of the hybrid Type A/B personality, I loved how this profession required a certain extent of preparation while simultaneously requiring an ability to think on one’s toes and adapt to any situation that could come your way. When I was in graduate school, I read an article that completely altered my perceptions and changed the way in which I would approach the profession for the rest of my life. The article discussed the importance of ensuring that therapy is student-centered. As molders of young minds, it is imperative that we implement differentiated instruction, adapting a set plan to match the needs of the specific student and ensure that we are creating an instructional environment conducive to success.
Those who are the most efficacious speech-language pathologists, I believe, are those who are inherently altruistic, those whose greatest pleasure in life is seeing others grow and succeed. This is not something that can be taught or acquired, but rather is something that must be intrinsic. These educators are the ones who feel a sense of pride not from the acquisition of accolades, but rather from enriching the lives of those they teach. In the article I read during graduate school, the author preaches the importance of student-centered teaching. Initially as new speech-language pathologists, we will be concerned with how we are doing and how our colleagues view us. We want to present ourselves with aplomb, and avoid coming across as disheveled or overwhelmed. However, the mark of a great SLP is when the question turns from internally directed to externally directed; turning from how am I doing, to how are the children doing?
While reading the article, the image of John Keating, the exuberant and unconventional teacher from Dead Poets Society, came to mind. Although I believe those educators who believe in structure and strict adherence to rules would meet his pedagogical methods with condemnation, he was able to connect with his students on a cerebral as well as emotional level, in a way that would be unachievable had he just tediously read his students facts from a book. He exercised differentiated teaching, taking into account the individual needs of each student. He then formulated creative ways to engage them and foster learning. Of course I am a little biased, as this is one of my favorite movies; but I’m sure anyone would agree that Mr. Keating is very deserving of the reverence I have for him. As perfectly stated in the article, “While taking our hands off the steering wheel is a bad idea in a car, it isn’t always bad pedagogy.”
Each day as I progress on my CF journey, I become more and more comfortable with metaphorically taking my hands off the steering wheel, trusting my instincts, and thinking on the spot. It believe it has immensely improved my ability to implement therapy, and will continue to benefit me as I cultivate my skills while navigating this incredible profession.
Included are a few articles that describe differentiated instruction, and subsequently offer ways to incorporate the strategies into classroom and therapy settings:
Brianna Fonti, CF-SLP, TSSLD