In the past, I have written about why narrative assessments should be an integral part of all language evaluations. Today, I’d like to share how I conduct my narrative assessments for comprehensive language testing purposes.
As mentioned previously, for elicitation purposes, I frequently use the books recommended by the SALT Software website, which include: ‘Frog Where Are You?’ by Mercer Mayer, ‘Pookins Gets Her Way‘ and ‘A Porcupine Named Fluffy‘ by Helen Lester, as well as ‘Dr. DeSoto‘ by William Steig.
Depending on the child’s age, I may read the story to the child or ask the child to read the story to me. One of the reasons why I like to utilize the second option is because it also allows me to ascertain, to some extent, the child’s reading skills in the areas of phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, as well as reading comprehension.
After that, I ask the child to retell the story back to me. Once again, depending on the child’s age as well as the estimated extent of his/her language severity, I may show the pictures from the story (and cover up the words) or ask the child to tell the story back to me without the benefit of visual support
As the child is retelling the story I digitally record his/her narrative so I can later transcribe and analyze it. As the child is retelling the story, I may use verbal prompts such as: ‘What else can you tell me?’ and ‘Can you tell me more?’ to elicit additional information. However, I try not to prompt the child excessively; otherwise, the child is merely producing heavily prompted responses vs. telling me a spontaneous story. I then transcribe the child’s narrative verbatim and include all the pauses, mazes, linguistic reformulations, etc. This is particularly important for the purpose of determining the extent of the child’s word finding difficulties (if any) as well as in order to establish whether the child can retell a story with ease or if s/he struggles significantly during this task.
Here’s an example of what my transcription and analysis look like for first-grade students. Below narrative was produced by a 6-year-old student after I’ve read to her a script of ‘Frog Where Are You?’ by Mercer Mayer. Analysis: This student’s narrative was judged to be immature and decontextualized for her age. The student’s strengths included the inclusion of all the relevant story grammar elements (for her age), some dialogue (e.g., “Frog! Where are you?”), as well as limited use of perspective taking (e.g., /mad/; /the boy checked that the dog was OK/, etc.). However, her narrative was very difficult to follow due to its limited coherence and cohesion. The presence of grammatical, syntactic, and pragmatic errors, tangential story production, as well as abrupt and confusing shifts between settings and characters made it further confusing and difficult to follow.
With respect to microstructure, the student’s story was composed of numerous partially produced phrases and simple sentences, had limited temporal markers (e.g., then), and did not contain an adequate number of complex and compound sentences as is appropriate for a child her age (Paul, 1981). Throughout her narrative student inconsistently used anaphoric referencing. She was observed to overuse the pronoun ‘he’, which resulted in lack of clarity regarding which characters – the dog, the boy, or the turtle, she was referring to. She also at times evidenced pronoun confusion (referred to the boy as ‘it’).
Throughout her narrative, the student also evidenced a number of word finding difficulties manifested via word/phrase repetitions and revisions, use of fillers (e.g., “um”), and pauses, which made her story difficult for listeners to follow. Usage of invented vocabulary (e.g., stairpass) as well as target word substitutions (e.g., /roof/ vs. /cliff/) was also noted (German, 2005).
Summary: A 6-0-year-old student is expected to be at the True Narratives Level I (Hedberg & Westby, 1993), characterized by a well-developed plot, character development, clear sequencing of events, and consistent perspectives which focus around an incident in a story. Weaknesses in the area of narrative ability possess adverse impact on academic performance in the areas of oral language, reading, and written expression. Narrative weaknesses also significantly correlate with social communication deficits (Norbury, Gemmell & Paul, 2014), which this student is currently displaying. In order to facilitate academic and social success in this area, therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended.
Please note that the above analysis is by no means exhaustive. Furthermore, there are numerous other ways one can analyze a narrative sample. Nevertheless, I hope you found the above example useful for your language assessment purposes. Stay tuned for another example of my narrative analysis, to be posted shortly. Meanwhile, feel free to share in the comments section of this post, how you perform narrative assessments and what materials you use for this purpose.
- German, D.J. (2005) Word-Finding Intervention Program, Second Edition (WFIP-2) Austin Texas: Pro.Ed
- Hedberg, N.L., & Westby, C.E. (1993). Analyzing storytelling skills Theory to Practice. Tucson, AZ: Communication Skill Builders.
- Norbury, C. F., Gemmell, T., & Paul, R. (2014). Pragmatics abilities in narrative production: a cross-disorder comparison. Journal of child language, 41(03), 485-510.
- Paul, Rhea (1981). “Analyzing Complex Sentence Development.” Assessing Language Production in Children: Experimental Procedures. Ed. Jon F. Miller. Baltimore: University Park Press.
Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:
- Narrative Assessment Bundle
- Narrative Assessments of Preschool and School Aged Children
- Vocabulary Development: Working With Disadvantaged Populations
- Understanding Complex Sentences