Why Functional SLP Goal-Writing Best Serves Your Students

When I’m writing Speech and Language Pathology (SLP) goals for the students I serve, the main question I ask myself is, “How can I write the most functional goal?”

Female school-based speech language pathologist (SLP) shows card depicting snake to girl with Down syndrome.But, I didn’t always think this way.

I got my first job providing Speech Therapy at an Approved Private School (APS) specialized for students with more intensive needs.

Excited to begin, I threw myself into my work. My goal was to “fix” everyone. I looked forward to seeing all the students who’d be “cured” of speech-language impairments thanks to my efforts.

Did anyone else have this same attitude? 

I quickly realized my goal only set myself—and my students—up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve experienced the satisfaction of dismissing students from therapy after they reach an age-appropriate level.

But, that result doesn’t always happen. I can’t fix everyone. No school-based therapist can.

And at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), “fixing everyone” isn’t what we try to do. Instead, we try our best to improve kids’ abilities to access their education and participate more fully in the school experience.

Once I changed my mindset about my work, I put my new mentality into practice when writing students’ Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals. I started writing functional SLP goals.

These goals stopped focusing on fixing students’ weaknesses. They addressed other factors instead, leading to not only stronger and more realistic IEPs, but also greater student success.

Four Key Questions for Writing Functional Speech Therapy Goals

As I consider possible IEP goals for my students, I evaluate each one, asking four key questions:

1. Does this Goal Address my Student as an Individual, Whole Person?

Yes, the students we serve have weaknesses. But, they also have strengths, preferences, and an individual learning style, as everybody does. I adapt each goal for each unique student with those characteristics in mind. 

Don’t be afraid to get specific. Individualize the goal’s area of concern and the criteria you’ll use to measure your student’s progress toward meeting it.

I found it too easy to fall into the habit of using the “…80% accuracy across three consecutive therapy sessions” criterion found in so many SLP goal banks. But It shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all option for every child and every goal area. Here are other criteria I’ve found effective:

  • “…with less than three cues in a three-minute conversational sample.” 
  • “…in x/10 trials across 4/5 sessions.”
  • “… achieving a score of 4/5 on the attached rubric.”
  • “…at least five times independently in a 30-minute session”

2. Does the Goal Compliment Other Goal Areas in my Student’s IEP?

My therapy goals don’t stand alone, and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Unless I’m working with a “speech-only” student, I value collaborating with other IEP team members and planning my goals to complement those from other disciplines. Working together in the goal-writing process helps establish priorities and uncover ways the child’s speech and language may affect their performance in other goal areas. For example, what speech-language skills might the student need to accomplish transition goals?

3. Can the Goal Serve as a Stepping-stone for my Student’s Future, Long-term Goals?

Female speech language pathologist (SLP) holds plastic letter “S” and points to lips, working with girl on articulation goal.

Let’s be real: We may not be able to accomplish everything in the course of one year. So where should we start?

It’s okay to write SLP goals with low criteria for students who need something more attainable. It’s also acceptable to postpone working on more complex skills because the student needs to learn the basics first.

I’ve found it helpful to consider, along with the IEP team, potential long-term goals for the student. What may the student need to do in a few years? Are they graduating? Going to high school?

It’s also a good idea to gather input from parents, teachers, and the students you are working with. Students may have goals for their future. Likely, achieving them will require some speech or language skills.

I imagine myself building a ladder students can use to reach their goals, with a reasonable annual goal as that ladder’s first rung. I try to help them develop prerequisite skills for the future, while also prioritizing their most important current areas of need.   

4. Does the Goal Apply to my Student’s Classroom and Real-world Experiences?

Ultimately, we’re in the school setting to help students better access and participate in their education. But, strong functional goals should consider their unique daily experiences and routines.

What skills do students need in order to function in everyday life? What regular opportunities do they have for communication? I think about their audience, responsibilities, location, and so on, then choose goals that will benefit each student the most. The benefits of well-chosen, well-written goals will spill over into other areas of students’ lives, especially with buy-in and support from students’ family members.

Write More Functional Goals and do More Good for Students with PTS

If I can answer “yes” to the four questions above about any given goal, I know I’ve written a functional one that will serve my student well.

If I can’t, I know I’ve got more thinking—and goal-writing—to do!

I challenge you to reflect on your own SLP goal-writing strategies. Ask yourself:

  • What do you find most successful?
  • What, if anything, could you do differently?
  • Would any of your students benefit from a more functional approach?

Our jobs would be much easier if we had a magic formula for arriving at speech therapy goals that fit every student’s needs. But strong IEP goals don’t come by magic, and they don’t always come from ready-made SLP goal banks. They come through careful thought and planning, and we must tailor them to each of our students.

After all, they are the most important part of what we do! 

If you’d like to work with a related services agency that values a holistic and individualized approach to helping—not fixing—students, consider the positions for which PTS is currently seeking qualified and quality therapists like you!

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