May 15, 2012 Columns

App-titude: Slash Your Workload

In recent years, speech-language pathologists who work in schools have seen caseloads steadily climb along with demands to be part of Response to Intervention (RTI) initiatives that extend our work into the classroom for greater impact on student learning.

Though RTI is meant to decrease caseloads, right now it's making time management quite challenging for many of us. Enter Web and mobile apps that can trim minutes, even hours, from your day and free up more time for both RTI and individual casework.

Save Trees—and Time

Many school districts have adopted Google Docs, a free Web-based documents management system that offers clinicians time-saving tools. Users can create and store frequently used documents (no more e-mailing your colleagues to ask where to find this or that form), meeting minutes, and data-tracking spreadsheets and forms.

Access these tools from a free account you create yourself—or that is provided by your district—on your computer or Mac or Android mobile device. Features for mobile apps are more limited, but you can use your mobile Web browser or apps such as Google Search for iPhone/iPad and Google Drive for Android, both free. Be aware that, even though Google Docs is a password-protected tool, concerns about confidentiality remain and districts approach this issue differently. You may want to use only student initials in any document you create.

RTI activities and many other aspects of work in schools require diligent data recording. In my case, additional paper causes stress, so I organize records digitally whenever possible. Apps make data collection easy to do—it's always available to collect data on student progress, no matter where you are.

As a dedicated data tracking application, Percentally, designed by SLP Eric Sailers ($2.99, for iPhone/iPad), allows you to record and export data directly to Google Docs or via e-mail (for a free Android option, see T-Counter).

Additionally, many SLP-dedicated and "repurposed" apps provide ways to store and track data for articulation and language interventions using tallied or voice-recorded data collection that can be saved in the app or shared via e-mail.

Skip the Cutting and Pasting

Apps should be chosen with a critical eye for integration with evidence-based activities and clinical objectives—but they can trim time spent creating and collecting materials for intervention.

Clinicians can use apps such as Toontastic or Puppet Pals, free for iPad with expansion packs available at cost, to create animations that tell stories with audio—serving as visually supported speech and language samples. On the Web side, tools that record voice in response to visuals such as Voicethread can be used.

Toontastic, based on research on narrative and play, allows students to create and record stories, demonstrating use of vocabulary, sentence construction, and narrative structure.

A clinician could spend hours preparing a language-based lesson around, for example, the historic Age of Discovery. But this prep time isn't necessary with time-saving apps such as European Exploration (free for iPad), which provides a visual experience of world exploration and can be used to target sequencing, categories, and cause-effect relationships. Clinicians can find similar apps at Appitic.com and Web-based simulations at sites such as LearningScience.org, some of which will run on mobile devices.

Tap Social Bookmarking

Clinicians can extend the reach of their time-saving mobile resources by sharing them with teachers and paraprofessionals, who can in turn use them in the classroom. This extension gives students additional exposure to vocabulary and concepts, while providing opportunities for valuable consultation between the SLP and teacher. Tools such as the free "social bookmarking" service diigo can greatly reduce the time involved in this sharing process. Rather than storing bookmarks in your Web or mobile browser, then e-mailing them to others, diigo allows you to store resources in a Web-based account with short descriptions and categorical "tags."

The true collaborative power of diigo is the ease with which you can create and share lists of bookmarks related to any topic. Because each list resides at its own URL (Web address), you don't need to go back and add bookmarks on your students' classroom computers as you update the lists. Items added to diigo also can be accessed through mobile apps for iPhone/iPad and Android; links to these are on the diigo home page.

These suggestions, I hope, will save you time and stress as you balance increased classroom activities with a growing caseload.

Disclosure: Sean Sweeney has a role in app design and development for Smarty Ears Apps.

Sean Sweeney, MA, CCC-SLP, is a school-based and private-practice SLP in Newton, Massachusetts. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology "through a language lens." Contact him at sean@speechtechie.com.

cite as: Sweeney, S. (2012, May 15). App-titude: Slash Your Workload. The ASHA Leader.

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