Monday, October 1

Northern Speech Services {Review}

This review was originally published in April 2017 on our Gypsy Road site.

Northern Speech ServicesIf you’ve followed our blog for any length of time, then you know that we tackle as many of our special needs issues at home as we possibly can.  Speech therapy is one of the biggest of those needs, and recently Northern Speech Services sent us their Color My Conversation set to try out! 

Color My Conversation (CMC) uses all three modalities of learning (audio, visual, and kinesthetic) to teach conversational skills.  Through the use of a ‘conversation coach’ (the teacher), students spend 30-45 minutes twice weekly to work on the foundations of good communication.  There are games and assignments that can be done outside of therapy time to reinforce these skills.  The program is designed to be completed in about sixteen weeks, but can take up to a year, depending on how much reinforcement is required for the student.

There are four levels to the program : Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert.  The Beginner level is designed for your youngest children (it says 5-12, but could be used with even younger children) and children with disabilities, and it is the most hands-on level of the program.  The conversation stones, ribbon, and ball are used to get younger learners actively involved in the program.  There is also a wall chart so that they can see the results of their progress.  The Intermediate program level (same age group) starts applying the skills learned in the Beginner level.  There are still hands-on games, some crafts, and drill work as they learn new skills, but they begin to incorporate the older skills into conversations. 

At the Advanced level (aimed at 8-12 year olds), all of the skills are incorporated and applied into conversational practice.  The students learn to actively listen and appropriately respond.  There are some games incorporated into this level.  The Expert level (best for 8+ year olds) takes the skills from the ‘lab setting’ and into the real world.  It is still focusing on incorporating the skills learned into conversations, but it does so in real life settings.  This level could be used in a Human Resources setting with adults – as it is widely applicable across many age-levels.

The program incorporates audio, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles through sign language, audio recordings, role playing, games, and worksheets.  Additionally, each of the levels, particularly the Beginner and Intermediate, can be adapted to use with special needs children.  Some of the examples of adaptations include replacing oral communication with gestural, lots of repetition, using pictoral in lieu of written words, and using beads to reinforce learned skills. 

The CMC box kit includes :
  • 12 "Conversation Path" Stepping Floor Graphics
    • These are pretty sturdy, and hold up to little feet jumping on them, which is nice.
  • 100 Topic Prompt Picture/Emotion Cards
    • Used for practicing conversations and learning empathy, as well as reinforcing learned skills.
  • 50 Game Tokens
    • Used in the games, these come with a cute storage bag.
  • 50 Dry Erasable Wall Display Cards
    • We did not use these, but they look like they would work well in a larger, classroom setting.
  • 2 Dry Erase Pens
    • Dry erase pens are always good!  These go with the large cards.
  • Cloth Ribbon (approx. 9.5ft)
    • This is one of the hands-on components that used for reinforcing skills.
  • Game Board (foldable) with 4 new Activities on the back
    • My son responds really well to games, because it’s like playing rather than learning.  So these were a nice addition.
  • CMC Ball
    • Admittedly the favorite object in the entire box, my son plays with this whether we’re doing speech or not.  It’s the only ball allowed in the house, and he likes to bounce it while we’re doing other classes, too.  All little boys (maybe little girls, too…we only have boys) need a kinesthetic outlet during school!
  • Classroom Poster
    • Similar to the flip cards, this would be an asset in a classroom setting, but was not necessary with one-on-one homeschool instruction.
  • Instructional Manual on CD
    • If I had to pick the one thing about this program that I just disliked the most – it would be this element.  There are a ton of itty bitty files on the CD, and after accessing the first couple, I found myself incredibly frustrated that there wasn’t a book manual with this.  I already have enough things that tether me to the computer, and don’t need one more.  A nice manual in your hands that you can flip through……real books are becoming a lot art.  This, however, is all personal preference.
  • 12 CMC Songs on CD
    • These are cute ditties that help to remember the conversational skills.  My son felt like he was too old for them though.
  • Additional Reproducible Worksheets & Activities
    • In a classroom setting, this would be a fantastic bonus!  In the home setting, they aren’t really necessary.
  • A handy storage box for keeping it all together 
    • Lots of little pieces, and a nice way of keeping everything in the same spot?  Perfect.
We spent the vast majority of our time with this program at the intermediate and advanced levels, since he is an older child.  The conversation stones received a lot of attention, not only from the son we were using the program with, but from other kids, too.  As a novelty, they all worked together to play with them for a bit, incorporating some physical education with communication skills learning just good old-fashioned fun.  Here’s a breakdown of how the stones work :
  • Yellow :  This is the first and last stone (and the first one you’ll be introduced to), and it signifies the opening and closing of a conversation.
  • Green :  This is the conversation starter (the ‘green light’), and could be something like “How are you doing today?”
  • Red :  This is the conversation stopper (the ‘red light’), and is opposite the green.  This would be something like “It was nice to see you again.”
  • Blue :  This is the meat of the conversation – the questions, comments, and the back and forth.

A typical longer conversation with the stones would progress :  yellow, green, blue, red, yellow.

Our Thoughts :
The program did not work that well for our son, because while he lacks the articulation skills necessary for good communication, he has a very good grasp on non-verbal communication, as well as the ability to carry on a conversation.  What he lacks is the ability to be understood.  This program would work considerably better for a child who needs help understanding communication in general, such as one on the autism spectrum.

A note on articulation specifically :
We have several targeted speech sounds that we continue to work toward mastering.  The CD comes with a link to access teacher training videos to help the Conversation Coach learn some skills that will come in handy when trying to master these, typically difficult, target sounds.  The videos walk the coach through the exercises - telling what materials will be used and how to use them - and provide suggestions for helping the child to master each one.

One of the things that this program focuses on is patterns of conversation.  The theory is that when a child masters the repetitive pattern of a conversation, then they have to devote less energy toward the conversation itself, thereby providing the chance to really target specific sounds.  

For example, we are working on "th," which comes in "thank you."  My son automatically uses 'thank you' at appropriate points in the conversation (patterns - it really is about patterns) and so now his focus is on working to get that "th" in the 'thank you.'

One final note, from the NSS Teacher's Manual : 

See what others are saying about Northern Speech Services at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.
Color My Conversation {Northern Speech Services Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

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