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Test Review: Clinical Assessment of Pragmatics (CAPs)

Today due to popular demand I am reviewing the Clinical Assessment of Pragmatics (CAPs) for children and young adults ages 7 – 18, developed by the Lavi Institute. Readers of this blog are familiar with the fact that I specialize in working with children diagnosed with psychiatric impairments and behavioral and emotional difficulties. They are also aware that I am constantly on the lookout for good quality social communication assessments due to a notorious dearth of good quality instruments in this area of language.

I must admit when I first learned about the existence of CAPs in May 2018, I was definitely interested but quite cautious. Many standardized tests assessing pragmatics and social language contain notable psychometric limitations due to the inclusion of children with social and pragmatic difficulties into the normative sample. This, in turn, tends to overinflate test scores and produce false negatives (a belief that the child does not possess a social communication impairment due to receiving average scores on the test).  Furthermore, tests of pragmatics such as Test of Pragmatic Language -2 (TOPL-2) tend to primarily assess the child’s knowledge of rules of politeness and knowing the right thing to say under a particular set of circumstances and as such are of limited value when it comes to gauging the child’s ability to truly assume perspectives and adequately showcase social cognitive abilities.

The CAPs is a unique test as compared to others with a similar purpose, due to the fact that the testing administration (which can take between 45-60 mins) is conducted exclusively via videos. The CAPs consists of 6 subtests and 3 indices.

Subtests (You can read up more on the comparison of the CAPs subtests HERE ):

Instrumental Performance Appraisal (IPA) subtest (Awareness of Basic Social Routines) is a relatively straightforward subtest which examines the student’s ability to be polite in basic social contexts. The student is asked to first identify “if anything went wrong in the presented scenario?” After that, the student is asked to explain, what went wrong and how s/he knows? Targeted structures include greeting and closure, making requests, responding to gratitude, requesting help, answering phone calls, asking for directions, asking permission, etc.  Goals: can the student discern between appropriate and inappropriate language and then provide a verbal rationale in a coherent and cohesive manner.

Score types: (2) correct identification of problem or lack of thereof + correct justification; (1) correct identification but incorrect rationale; (0) incorrect identification.

Social Context Appraisal (SCA) subtest (Reading Context Cues) requires the student to engage in effective perspective taking (assume mutual vs. individual perspectives) by identifying sarcasm, irony, and figurative language in the presented video scenarios. The student is then asked to provide a coherent and cohesive verbal explanation and effectively justify own response.

Score types: (3) correct identification of the problem or lack of thereof + identification of idiom or sarcasm + reference to both characters actions; (2) correct identification of the problem or lack of thereof + identification of idiom or sarcasm + reference to one character’s actions; (1) correct identification of the problem or lack of thereof but an inability to verbalize the problem in the situation; (0) for incorrect identification.

Paralinguistic Decoding (PD) subtest (Reading Nonverbal Cues) assesses the students’ ability to notice and interpret micro-expressions and nonverbal language.  The aim of this subtest is to have the students grasp what went wrong vs. well in the presented videos, assume mutual perspectives,  as well as verbally justify their responses providing adequate and relevant details.

Score types: (3) correct identification of the problem or lack of thereof + explanation of situation + reference to both characters facial expressions and tone of voices; (2) correct identification of the problem or lack of thereof + explanation of situation  + reference to one character’s facial expression and tone of voice  (1) correct identification of the problem or lack of thereof but an inability to explain actions and/or nonverbal body language; (0) for incorrect identification.

Instrumental Performance (IP) subtest (Use of Social Routine Language) assesses the student’s ability to use rules of politeness (e.g., make requests, respond to gratitude, answer phone calls, etc.) by providing adequately supportive responses using first-person perspectives relevant to various social situations.

Score types: (2) appropriate introduction + use of supportive statements; (1) appropriate introduction without the use of supportive statements; (0) inappropriate intent of message or use of impolite language 

Affective Expression (AE) subtest (Expressing Emotions) assesses the student’s ability to effectively display empathy, gratitude, praise, apology, etc., towards affected peers in the video scenario. It requires the usage of relevant facial expressions, tone of voice, as well as stating appropriately supportive comments.

Score types: (2) expresses empathy, praise, apology, gratitude, etc. along with supportive statements +appropriate facial and prosodic affect; (1) expresses empathy, praise, apology, gratitude, etc. + appropriate facial and prosodic affect without relevant supportive statements;   (0) provides an approrpiate response but lacks adequate prosody and affect, or message contains inappropriate intent 

Paralinguistic Signals (PS) subtest (Using Nonverbal Cues)assesses the student’s ability to appropriately use facial expressions, gestures, and prosody (act out vs. recognize and interpret facial expression and gestures). This includes showing appropriate expression of empathy, frustration, alarm, excitement, gratitude, etc., exhibiting relevant inflection in prosody as well as showing appropriate to the situation facial expression (vs. having inappropriate message intent, be monotone, have flat affect, etc.)

Score types: (2) appropriately expresses urgency, empathy apology, etc. +exhibits inflections in prosody and shows relevant facial expressions; (1) appropriately expresses urgency, empathy apology, etc. +exhibits inflections in prosody without showing relevant facial expressions  (0)   inappropriate intent of message or monotone prosody. 

Indices (information regarding the student’s pragmatic proficiency):

  1. Pragmatic Judgement (Sum of IPA, SCA & PD scaled scores)
  2. Pragmatic Performance (Sum of IP, AE & PS scaled scores)
  3. Paralinguistic (Sum of PD, AE & PS scaled scores)

Based on the administration of this test the following goals can be formulated for remediation purposes:

Long Term Goal: Student will improve pragmatic abilities for social and academic purposes

Short-Term Objectives: 

  1. The student will verbally identify instances of politeness or impoliteness in presented social routines
  2. The student will provide relevant justifications explaining which aspects of the presented scenarios were appropriate vs. inappropriate
  3. The student will verbally identify sarcasm, irony, and figurative language in presented social scenarios
  4. The student will effectively explain sarcasm, irony, and figurative language in presented social scenarios
  5. The student will verbally interpret micro-expressions and nonverbal body language  (e.g., they feel disgusted; the girl is smirking, the man’s hands are crossed, etc.)
  6. The student will effectively use rules of politeness and provide adequately supportive responses using first-person perspectives pertaining to various aspects of social scenarios
  7. The student will display a range of emotional expressions via the use of relevant facial expressions, tone of voice when providing supporting responses
  8. The student will state appropriately supportive comments regarding relevant social scenarios
  9. The student will use a range of facial expressions, gestures, and relevant prosody pertinent to the provided social scenarios

Furthermore, this test comes with a Contextualized Assessment of Pragmatics Checklist as well as a downloadable  Free Report Template.

Multiple videos posted by the Lavi Institute showcasing individual subtest administration can be accessed by clicking on the above-highlighted links as well as on YouTube.

Psychometrics: the normative sample consisted of 914 individuals out of which 137 (or 15%)  included individuals with atypical language development: ASD: N-18; SLI: N-27; Other (Learning Disabilities): N-92.

Excellent Sensitivity and Specificity Cut Scores (at 1, 1.5 & 2 SD) for clients with ASD ONLY:

Impressions:  To date, I have used this assessment with only 3 students. As such, expect multiple updates of this post as I continue to document how well it suited to identify children with social communication difficulties. Below are my preliminary impressions on how well this test is suited for children with varying pragmatic profiles.

A. Initial Assessment: 8-3-year-old male diagnosed with Autism

The CAPs had captured the student’s display of pragmatic deficits extremely well.  It was able to highlight the student’s relative strengths as well as pervasive pragmatic needs.  Based on the results of the CAPs, I was able to generate relevant pragmatic goals to target with this student in therapy.

B.  Yearly Reassessment: 8-11-year-old diagnosed with Anxiety:

I definitely had some trepidation about how well the CAPs will be able to capture this student’s pragmatic difficulties. This student was initially assessed via the Social Language Development Test-Elementary (SLDTE), which did show deficits in the areas of making inferences, interpersonal negotiation, as well as multiple interpretations of social situations. However, subsequent to his assessment that student did exceptionally well in treatment and had improved exponentially. While I knew that the student was not done with the treatment quite yet, I wasn’t certain if the CAPs was capable of picking up his subtle social pragmatic difficulties. Much to my surprise, the CAPs was effective in highlighting my student’s difficulties on a number of subtests including those pertaining to the effective reading and use of context and nonverbal cues, comprehension  and interpretation of irony and sarcasm, effective support of peers via a variety of statements relevant to social situations (coherent and cohesive sentence formulation given relevant details), as well as use of relevant prosody, facial expressions, tone of voice, and nonverbal cues.

C. Initial Assessment: 11-year-old student with suspected language and literacy deficits 

This was definitely the trickiest assessment subject from my small sample. Based on the collected data I suspected the student had social communication deficits, however, given his relative strengths in a variety of areas and that the fact that no one had previously brought it up, I truly did not anticipate that CAPs will effectively and accurately identify his pragmatic needs. As expected, the student did quite well on that “easier” subtests of the CAPs: (IPA, IP, and AE). However, I was very pleasantly surprised that the CAPs had accurately picked up on the fact that the student presented with difficulty reading both context and nonverbal cues as well as using nonverbal cues to effectively answer the presented questions.

Summary: While my sample of subjects has been quite small to date, I fully intend to continue using the CAPs with students of varying ages with varying diagnoses in order to continue refining profile of students who will significantly benefit from CAPs administration for assessment and reassessment purposes.

MISC:

Current Cost $149

Where to purchase: Effective 1/7/19 on the WPS Publishing website

There you have it! These are my impressions of using the CAPs in my settings. How about you? Have you used this test with any of your students to date? If yes, what are some strengths and limitations you are noticing?

 

 

 

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Editable Report Template and Tutorial for the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy

Today I am introducing my newest report template for the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy.

This 16-page fully editable report template discusses the testing results and includes the following components:

  • Table of testing results
  • Recommendations for using severity ratings of percentile ranks
  • Recommendations of which information to include in the background history section of the report
  • Teacher Interview Samples for Adolescent and Elementary Aged Students
  • Classroom Observations Sample
  • Adaptive behavior section sample
  • Assessment findings
    • All subtests descriptions
    • Extensive descriptions of how to analyze error patterns on all subtests
    • Descriptions of how to analyze scenarios when a student obtains average performance but it contradicts academic functioning.
    • Elaborations regarding specific subtests, weaknesses on which are not as apparent or straightforward (e.g., Nonword Repetition, Following Directions, etc.)
    • Recommendations for supplemental testing when the performance on select subtests (e.g., Social Communication) is within the average range despite glaring weaknesses
    • Extensive error descriptions that can be found on the Reading Fluency subtest
    • Extensive footnotes with clarifying information
    • Links to a variety of TILLS FREE tutorials created by the authors
    • Impressions section formulation
    • Possible ICD-10 diagnoses that can result based on TILLS assessment
    • Accommodations Section
    • Adaptive Recommendations Section
    • Maintaining Factors Section
    • Suggested Therapy Long and Short Term Goals Sampler for
      • Listening Comprehension
      • Oral Communication
      • Social Communication
      • Phonological Awareness
      • Phonics
      • Reading Fluency
      • Reading Comprehension
      • Spelling
      • Writing Conventions
      • Writing Composition
      • Reward System and Rationale
      • Expected duration of treatment
      • Prognosis
      • Therapy Discharge Recommendations

You can access it HERE in my online store.  My review of the TILLS is available HERE 

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On the Limitations of Using Vocabulary Tests with School-Aged Students

Those of you who read my blog on a semi-regular basis, know that I spend a considerable amount of time in both of my work settings (an outpatient school located in a psychiatric hospital as well as private practice), conducting language and literacy evaluations of preschool and school-aged children 3-18 years of age. During that process, I spend a significant amount of time reviewing outside speech and language evaluations. Interestingly, what I have been seeing is that no matter what the child’s age is (7 or 17), invariably some form of receptive and/or expressive vocabulary testing is always mentioned in their language report.

Many of you may be wondering, “What’s wrong with having a vocabulary test as part of an assessment battery? Isn’t vocabulary hugely correlated with both language and literacy outcomes?”  The answer is, “It is more complicated than that.” Here’s why.

Children with robust lexicons formulate longer sentences and more interesting stories, better comprehend complex texts, and even compensate to some degree for reading deficits (Colozzo et al, 2011Law and Edwards, 2015; Rvachew and Grawburg, 2006).

In contrast, studies have found that children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) (formerly known as Specific Language Impairment or SLI) have limited expressive vocabularies (Leonard, 2014), have trouble learning new words (Alt & Spaulding, 2011; Storkel et al, 2016), and have clinically significant word retrieval deficits (Dockrell, Messer, George, & Wilson, 1998).

Due to these deficits, one-word vocabulary tests are often used in the assessment process to qualify children for speech and language services (Betz, Eickhoff, & Sullivan, 2013). However, studies have found that single word vocabulary tests have poor psychometric properties and/or are not representative of linguistic competence embedded in life-activities (Gray et al., 1999; Ukrainetz & Blomquist, 2002; Bogue, DeThorne, Schaefer, 2014).

Furthermore, because of this, single word vocabulary tests can overinflate testing scores and not represent the child’s true expressive language competence. Finally, even when a student truly has solid or even superior vocabulary knowledge and naming skills, doesn’t mean that s/he can effectively utilize these abilities during the narrative production as well as reading and writing tasks.

Image result for test resultsDon’t believe me?  Consider reviewing language evaluations of current or former students who received outstanding scores on one-word vocabulary tests, yet who were unable to utilize these words to perform semantic flexibility tasks (e.g., name antonyms, synonyms, provide clear definitions as well as define multiple meaning words), produce coherent and cohesive narratives, comprehend these words in the context of read texts, or utilize them during writing composition tasks.

The problem is that numerous SLPs overuse these tests and rely on them for qualification purposes when diagnosing language impairment (Betz, Eickhoff, & Sullivan, 2013). However, the practice of qualifying students based on single-word vocabulary testing in conjunction with psychometrically weak comprehensive testing (visit HERE for a compilation of psychometric data on major SLP testing), can often result in many language-impaired students not being qualified for language therapy services despite desperately needing them.

Image result for informed decisionNow it’s important to understand that I am not recommending elimination of vocabulary tests from SLP assessment batteries.  I am merely suggesting that SLPs use these tests wisely during the assessment process, and utilize them with children who truly benefit from their administration. Such populations include toddlers and preschoolers (under 5 years of age) as well as any children presenting with severe language deficits regardless of age, secondary to intellectual and neuro/developmental impairments such as ASD, DS, FXS, FASD, etc.  They are especially relevant for children with limited vocabularies who are unable to effectively participate in semantic flexibility tasks or produce narratives. As such, we want to learn more about the types of words they know and use on a daily basis to express their wants/needs, so we can increase their lexicon for functional communication purposes and prepare them for effective engagement in both semantic flexibility as well as narrative tasks, in order to further improve their language abilities.

In contrast, for children age 5-6 and older, it is far more practical for SLPs to functionally determine their linguistic flexibility skills as pertaining to the use of language.  This can be accomplished via standardized as well as informal measures. As mentioned above, broadly speaking, linguistic flexibility tasks focus on the manipulation of language.  Tasks such as generation of attributes, production of synonyms and antonyms, formulation of clear and precise definitions of words as well as explanations of multiple meaning, figurative, and ambiguous words and sentences are all examples of language manipulation tasks.

As such, these tasks are far more representative of the student’s language ability in an academic setting versus selecting a picture out of a visual field of four items (receptive identification) or naming a word in the presented picture (expressive generation).

Now there are numerous tests which possess subtests relevant to this purpose.  I, personally, often use select subtests from the below tests:

  • The WORD Tests (Elementary and Adolescent)
    • Associations
    • Antonyms
    • Synonyms
    • Definitions
    • Flexible Meanings
  • Language Processing Test – 3 (LPT-3)
    • Similarities and Differences
    • Multiple Meaning Words
    • Attributes
  • Expressive Language Test – 2 (ELT-2)
    • Metalinguistics
    • Defining Categories
  • Test of Integrated Language and Literacy 
    • Vocabulary Awareness
  • Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5 Metalinguistics (CELF-5M)
    • Multiple Meanings
    • Figurative Language

There are a number of other tests which contain subtests suitable for this purpose. SLPs can also easily create their own informal assessment procedures, similar to the above, for clinical assessment purposes.

However, even these tasks, though a huge improvement over one-word vocabulary tests are not sufficient. In addition to these, research strongly recommends the inclusion of narrative assessment (which is highly correlated with social, reading, as well as academic outcomes), as part of SLP assessment battery.

Related imageNarrative language skills have routinely been identified as one of the single best predictors of future academic success (Bishop & Edmundson, 1987; Feegans & Appelbaum 1986; Dickinson and McCabe, 2001). Language produced during story retelling is positively related to monolingual and bilingual reading achievement (Reese et al, 2010; Miller et al, 2006) Narratives provide insights into child’s verbal expression by tapping into multiple language features and organizational abilities simultaneously (Hoffman, 2009; Ukrainetz, 2006;Bliss & McCabe, 2012). They encompass a number of higher-level language and cognitive skills (Paul et al, 1996) such as event sequencing, text cohesiveness, use of precise vocabulary to convey ideas without visual support, comprehension of cause-effect relationships, etc. Narratives bridge the gap between oral and written language and are needed for solid reading and writing development (Snow et al, 1998).

Contrastingly, poor discourse and narrative abilities place children at risk for learning and literacy-related difficulties including reading problems (McCabe & Rosenthal-Rollins, 1994), while narrative weaknesses significantly correlate with social communication deficits (Norbury, Gemmell & Paul, 2014). As a result, narrative analyses help SLPs with distinguishing children with DLD from their typically developing (TD) peers (Allen et al 2012).

So the next time you are tasked with selecting appropriate language testing to determine whether a student presents with language and literacy deficits, don’t be so hasty in picking up that single-word vocabulary test.  Take a moment to carefully consider its utility for the student in question. After all, it may very well be a determining factor in deciding whether the student will qualify for language therapy services.

References: 

  1. Allen, M,  Ukrainetz, T & Carswell, A (2012) The narrative language performance of three types of at-risk first-grade readersLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 43(2), 205-221.
  2. Alt, M., & Spaulding, T. (2011). The effect of time on word learning: An examination of decay of the memory trace and vocal rehearsal in children with and without specific language impairmentJournal of Communication Disorders44(6), 640–654
  3. Betz, Eickhoff, & Sullivan,( 2013) Factors Influencing the Selection of Standardized Tests for the Diagnosis of Specific Language Impairment. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 133-146.
  4. Bishop, D. V. M., & Edmundson, A. (1987). Language-impaired 4-year-olds: Distinguishing transient from persistent impairment. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 52, 156–173.
  5. Bliss, L. & McCabe, A (2012, Oct) Personal Narratives: Assessment and InterventionPerspectives on Language Learning and Education. 19:130-138.
  6. Bogue, E. L., DeThorne, L. S., & Schaefer, B. A. (2014). A psychometric analysis of childhood vocabulary tests. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 41, 55-69.
  7. Colozzo, P., Gillam, R. B., Wood, M., Schnell, R. D., & Johnston, J. R. (2011). Content and form in the narratives of children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54(6), 1609-1627.
  8. Dickinson D. K., McCabe A. (2001). Bringing it all together: the multiple origins, skills and environmental supports of early literacy. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. 16, 186–202.
  9. Dockrell, J. E., Messer, D., George, R., & Wilson, G. (1998). Children with word-finding difficulties: Prevalence, presentation and naming problems. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 33, 445–454.
  10. Feegans, L.,& Appelbaum, M (1986). Validation of language subtypes in learning disabled childrenJournal of Educational Psychology78, 358–364.
  11. Gray, S., Plante, E., Vance, R., & Henrichsen, M. (1999). The diagnostic accuracy of four vocabulary tests administered to preschool-age children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools30(2), 196–206.
  12. Hoffman, L. M. (2009). Narrative language intervention intensity and dosage: Telling the whole story. Topics in Language Disorders29, 329–343.
  13. Law, F., II, & Edwards, J.R. (2015). Effects of vocabulary size on online lexical processing by preschoolers. Language Learning and Development11, 331–355.
  14. Leonard, L. B. (2014). Children with specific language impairment. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  15. McCabe, A., & Rollins, P. R. (1994). Assessment of preschool narrative skills. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 3(1), 45–56
  16. Miller, J et al (2006). Oral language and reading in bilingual childrenLearning Disabilities Research and Practice, 21, 30–43
  17. 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.
  18. Paul R, Hernandez R, Taylor L, Johnson K. (1996) Narrative development in late talkers: early school age. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 39(6):1295–1303
  19. Reese E., Suggate S., Long J., Schaughency E. (2010). Children’s oral narrative and reading skills in the first three years of reading instruction. Reading & Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23, 627–644.
  20. Rvachew S., Grawburg M. (2006). Correlates of phonological awareness in preschoolers with speech sound disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49: 74–87.
  21. Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (eds.) (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press
  22. Ukrainetz, T. A. (2006). Teaching narrative structure: Coherence, cohesion, and captivation. In T. A. Ukrainetz (Ed.), Contextualized language intervention: Scaffolding PreK–12 literacy achievement (pp. 195–246). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
  23. Ukrainetz, T. A., & Blomquist, C. (2002). The criterion validity of four vocabulary tests compared with a language
    sample. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 18, 59–78.

 

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What are They Trying To Say? Interpreting Music Lyrics for Figurative Language Acquisition Purposes

Image result for music lyricsIn my last post, I described how I use obscurely worded newspaper headlines to improve my students’ interpretation of ambiguous and figurative language.  Today, I wanted to further delve into this topic by describing the utility of interpreting music lyrics for language therapy purposes. I really like using music lyrics for language treatment purposes. Not only do my students and I get to listen to really cool music, but we also get an opportunity to define a variety of literary devices (e.g., hyperboles, similes, metaphors, etc.) as well as identify them and interpret their meaning in music lyrics.

Lyrics interpretation is a complex task.   There is definitely a myriad of ways one can interpret the lyrics of a particular song, the sky is the limit!  As such, I am always mindful of the complexity of this task and typically tend to target this as a language goal with my adolescent students.  I don’t always target the interpretation of lyrics in the entire song, especially because many great recording artists use quite a healthy amount of profanities in their lyrics that I do not necessarily want the students to hear. As such, I may play portions of songs or present clean versions of lyrics to my students for their interpretation. Prior to choosing particular lyrics I typically review the following wikiHow article: How to Figure Out a Song’s Meaning as it provides some helpful advice to students regarding the parameters which they could use to analyze music lyrics.

Typically, I like to approach language goals pertaining to music lyrics interpretation, thematically. So, if I am working with my students on the identification of particular literary devices/figurative language, I will use that opportunity to introduce a variety of songs containing that particular literary device.

To illustrate, if my students are working on the identification and description of 1hyperboles, I will locate a number of songs containing hyperboles for them to identify and utilize in a variety of contexts.

Working on 2alliteration? There are plenty of songs available on this topic.

Looking for songs that utilize 3similes? There are literally so many of them! You can find them HERE, HERE, and HERE for starters.

How about 4metaphors? Sure thing!Image result for metaphors and similes

5Personification? Oh, yes, plenty of sources!

6Onomatopoeia?  Ono mono, no problem! 

Finally, how about some 7 irony? Definitely got it!

Now that we have identified just some of the potential sources we can use for this purpose,  let me describe how I address this goal with my students. Prior to initiating a unit on the interpretation of music lyrics, I typically ensure that my students are highly familiar with the expected literary terms (e.g., similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, onomatopoeia, hyperboles, as well as irony).  We use a variety of worksheets at first, then find these terms in a variety of texts, and later transition to using the above terms in conversational exchanges via oral and written sentence formulation tasks.

Some basic questions to ask the students:

  • What is figurative language?
  • What are the most common figurative language types? (metaphors and similes)
  • What is a metaphor? (definition)
  • Can you give me some examples of metaphors?
  • What is a simile? (definition)
  • Can you give me some examples of similes?
  • What are some other examples of figurative language?  (ask for definitions and examples of personification, alliteration etc.)
  • Why do songwriters use figurative language in their lyrics?

After ensuring that my students have the solid knowledge of definitions and can use examples of these terms in sentences, I introduce them to the mutually selected music videos and ask them whether they know what the lyrics signify. Many of my students frequently report that while they had memorized some of the lyrics in the past, they’ve never actually thought about their meaning.  After listening to a portion of the video/audio I then present the words in writing and ask them to answer a few questions.

For example, after listening to “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha I will ask them: “What type of figurative language is Ke$ha using here?’

“Tick! Tock! on the clock but the party don’t stop”. 

What makes it __________?

Image result for lyric writingIn addition to defining the literary terms, locating their examples of music lyrics, using them in sentences, etc. there are numerous other extension activities that SLPs could use for the purpose of targeting this goal.  One suggestion is to ask the students to create their own simple music lyrics utilizing figurative language and then have them explain their songwriting process.

There are numerous fun and educational activities which can be targeted via this goal with the help of the selected FREE resources below. So if you didn’t get a chance to target this therapy goal in sessions, give it a try. It definitely goes a long way toward improving our students metacognitive and metalinguistic abilities for social and academic purposes.

Helpful FREE Online Resources:

Helpful FREE TPT Worksheets

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Have I Got This Right? Developing Self-Questioning to Improve Metacognitive and Metalinguistic Skills

Image result for ambiguousMany of my students with Developmental Language Disorders (DLD) lack insight and have poorly developed metalinguistic (the ability to think about and discuss language) and metacognitive (think about and reflect upon own thinking) skills. This, of course, creates a significant challenge for them in both social and academic settings. Not only do they have a poorly developed inner dialogue for critical thinking purposes but they also because they present with significant self-monitoring and self-correcting challenges during speaking and reading tasks.

There are numerous therapeutic goals suitable for improving metalinguistic and metacognitive abilities for social and academic purposes. These include repairing communicative breakdowns, adjusting tone of voice to different audiences, repairing syntactically, pragmatically, and semantically incorrect sentences, producing definitions of various figurative language expressions, and much, much more. However, there is one goal, which both my students and I find particularly useful, and fun, for this purpose and that is the interpretation of ambiguously worded sentences.

Image result for amphibologySyntactic ambiguity, or amphibology, occurs when a sentence could be interpreted by the listener in a variety of ways due to its ambiguous structure.  Typically, this occurs not due to the range of meanings of single words in a sentence (lexical ambiguity), but rather due to the relationship between the words and clauses in the presented sentence.

This deceptively simple-looking task is actually far more complex than the students realize.  It requires a solid vocabulary base as well as good manipulation of language in order for the students to formulate coherent and cohesive explanations that do not utilize and reuse too many parts of the original ambiguously worded sentence.

Very generally speaking, sentence ambiguities can be local or global.  If a sentence is locally ambiguous (aka “garden path”), the listeners’ confusion will be cleared once they heard the entire sentence.   However, if a sentence is globally ambiguous, then it will continue to remain ambiguous even after its heard in its entirety.

Lets’ take a look at an example of an ambiguously worded global phrase, which I’ve read, while walking on the beach during my vacation: ‘Octopus Boarding’.  Seems innocuous enough, right?  Well, as adults we can immediately come up with a myriad of explanations.  Perhaps that particular spot was a place where people boarded up their octopedes into boxes.  Perhaps, the sign indicated that this was a boarding house for octopedes where they could obtain room and board. Still, another explanation is that this is where octopedes went to boarding school, and so on and so forth.  By now you are probably mildly intrigued and would like to find out what the sign actually meant.  In this particular case, it was an indication that this was a location for a boarding of the catamaran entitled, you guessed it, Octopus!

Of course, when I presented the written text (without the picture) to my 13-year-old adolescent students, they had an incredibly difficult time generating even one, much less several explanations of what this ambiguously-phrased statement actually meant. This, of course, gave me the idea not only to have them work on this goal but to A. create a list of globally syntactically ambiguously worded sentences; b. locate websites containing many more ambiguously worded sentences, so I could share them with my fellow SLPs.  A word of caution, though! Make sure to screen the below sentences and website links very carefully in order to determine their suitability for your students in terms of complexity as well as subject matter (use of profanities; adult subject matter, etc.).

Below are 20 ambiguously worded newspaper and advertisement headlines for your use from a variety of online sources.Image result for ambiguous sentences

  1. The professor said on Monday he would give an exam.
  2. The chicken is ready to eat.
  3. The burglar threatened the student with the knife.
  4. Visiting relatives can be boring.
  5. I saw the man with the binoculars 
  6. Look at that bird with one eye 
  7. I watched her duck 
  8. The peasants are revolting 
  9. I saw a man on a hill with a telescope.
  10. He fed her cat food.
  11. Police helps dog bite victim
  12.  Enraged cow injures farmer with ax
  13. Court to try shooting defendant
  14. Stolen painting found by tree
  15. Two sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout counter
  16. Killer sentenced to die for second time in 10 years
  17. Most parents and doctors trust Tylenol
  18. Come meet our new French pastry chef
  19. Robert went to the bank. 
  20. I shot an elephant in my pajamas.

You can find hundreds more ambiguously worded sentences in the below links.

  1. Ambiguous newspaper headlines  Catanduanes Tribune (32 sentences)
  2. Ambiguous Headlines   Fun with Words Website (33 sentences)
  3. Actual Newspaper Headlines davidvanalstyne.com website (~100 sentences; *contains adult subject matter)
  4. Linguistic Humor Headlines  Univ. of Penn. Dept of Linguistics (~120 sentences)
  5. Bonus: Ambiguous words  Dillfrog Muse rhyming dictionary, which happens to be a really cool site  which you should absolutely check out.

Interested in creating your own ambiguous sentences? Here is some quick advice, use a telegraphic style and omit the copulas, which will, in turn, create a syntactic ambiguity.

Image result for goalsSo now that they have this plethora of sentences to choose from, here’s a quick example of how I approach ambiguous sentence interpretation in my sessions. First, I provide the students with a definition and explain that these sentences could mean different things depending on their context. Then, I provide a few examples of ambiguously worded sentences and generate clear, coherent and cohesive explanations regarding their different meanings.

For example, let’s use sentence # 18 on my list: ‘Robert went to the bank’.  Here I may explain, that ‘Robert went to visit his financial institution where he keeps his money‘, or ‘Robert went to the bank of a river, perhaps to do some fishing‘. Of course, the language that I use with my students varies with their age and level of cognitive and linguistic abilities. I may use the word ‘financial institution’, with a 14-year-old, but use the explanation, ‘a bank where Robert keeps his money’ with a 10-year-old.

Then I provide my students with select sentences (I try to arrange them in a hierarchy from simple to more complex) and ask them to generate their own explanations of what the sentences could potentially mean.  I also make sure to provide them with plenty of prompts, cues, as well as scaffolding to ensure that their experience success in their explanations.

Image result for read it write it learn itHowever, I don’t just stop with the oral portion of this goal. Its literacy-based extensions include having the students read the sentences rather than have me present them orally. Furthermore, once the students have provided me with two satisfactory explanations of the presented ambiguous sentence, I ask them to select at least one explanation and clarify it in writing, so the meaning of the sentence becomes clear.

I find that this goal goes a long way in promoting my students metalinguistic and metacognitive abilities, deepens their insight into their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as facilitates critical thinking in the form of constant self-questioning as well as the evaluation of self-produced information.  Even students as young as 8-9 years of age can benefit significantly from this goal if adapted correctly to meet their linguistic needs.

So give it a try, and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions?

Because the children I assess, often require supplementary reading instruction services, many parents frequently ask me how they can best determine if a reading specialist has the right experience to help their child learn how to read. So today’s blog post describes what type of knowledge reading specialists ought to possess and what type of questions parents (and other professionals) can ask them in order to determine their approaches to treating literacy-related difficulties of struggling learners.

The first question I ask the reading specialists doing the interviewing process is: “Can you please describe how language development influences literacy development?” I do so because language development occurs on the continuum. Hence, strong oral language abilities (e.g., solid vocabulary knowledge, good narrative abilities, etc.) are the building blocks for future reading comprehension success.

Image result for reading componentsNext, I ask them to list the components integral to reading success.  That is because in order for children to become successful readers they require instruction in the following aspects of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and semantic awareness, morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge, as well as reading fluency and reading comprehension (the effect of handwriting, spelling, and writing is also hugely important). I am quite happy though if phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension, make the list.

Another question that I always make sure to ask is whether the reading specialist subscribes to a particular instructional approach to reading. Currently, all popular reading instructional practices (e.g., Wilson, Orton-Gillingham, Barton, Reading Recovery, etc.) no matter how evidence-based they are advertised/claimed to be, possess significant limitations if used exclusively and in isolation.  As such, it is very important for parents to understand that it is not the application of a particular approach, which will result in successfully teaching a child to read, but rather knowing how to integrate multiple instructional elements in order to create scientifically informed reading intervention sessions.

Given the proliferation of questionable programs that claim to improve children’s reading abilities, I always ensure to ask whether the reading specialist employees a particular computer program to teach reading. That is because some reading specialists utilize the Fast ForWord program. However, systematic reviews found no sign of a reliable effect of Fast ForWord® on reading. Similarly, the Read Naturally® software used by some reading specialists was found to have “mixed effects on reading fluency, and no discernible effects on alphabetics and comprehension for beginning readers.” That is why systematic and explicit direct instruction is still the most evidenced-based intervention approach for children with language and literacy needs.

To continue, I always ask the reading specialists about the role of morphology in reading intervention. I also ask them whether they utilize spelling interventions to improve the reading abilities of students with reading difficulties. Research indicates that beyond phonemic awareness and phonics, morphological awareness plays a very significant role in improving vocabulary knowledge, reading fluency, reading comprehension as well as spelling abilities of struggling learners (especially beyond 3rd grade).  Similarly, studies show that supplementing reading intervention with spelling instruction will improve and expedite reading gains.

Image result for tracking progressYet another important question pertains to the tracking the progress of struggling learners in order to objectively document intervention effectiveness. There is a variety of nonstandardized tools available on the market to track reading progress. Unfortunately, some of these tools such as the DRA’s are unreliable and too subjective. As such, I am very interested regarding how well versed are the reading specialists in the administration and interpretation of standardized phonological awareness, reading fluency, and reading comprehension measures such as the PAT-2, CTOPP-2, GORT-5, TORC-4, TOWRE-2, TOSCRF-2, TOSWRF-2, etc, for an objective tracking of student progress.

The above is just a very basic list of questions that I like to ask the reading specialists during the initial interview process. There are many more that I like to ask in my determination of their preparation for assessment and treatment of struggling learners, which are tailored to the particular program for which I work and as such are not relevant to this particular post.

When choosing a relevant professional for working with their child it is very important for parents to understand that rigid adherence to a particular instructional method is not necessarily a good thing. Rather, qualified and competent reading specialists may use a variety of approaches when teaching reading, spelling, and writing.  It is not a particular approach which matters per se, but rather the principles behind a particular approach NEED to be scientifically sound and supported by proven research practices.  Overreliance on a particular methodology at the exclusion of all others fails to produce well-rounded, competent, and erudite readers.

Helpful Select Resources:

Related Posts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Speech, Language, & Literacy Disorders in School Aged Children with Psychiatric Impairments

Recently I did a presentation for Rutgers University on the subject of  “Speech, Language, & Literacy Disorders in School-Aged Children with Psychiatric Impairments“. The learning objectives for this presentation were as follows:  

  • Explain the comorbidity between language impairments and psychiatric disturbances of school-aged children
  • Describe language and literacy deficits of school-aged children with psychiatric impairments
  • List warning signs of language and literacy deficits in school-aged children that warrant a referral to speech-language pathologists for a potential assessment

It focused on the fact that health professionals need to be aware of a significant comorbidity between psychiatric impairments and language disorders, in order to appropriately refer relevant children for potential assessment and treatment services to improve their social and academic outcomes.

This presentation was video recorded and can be accessed in its entirety below as we as on Youtube. You can also access the handouts which accompany the video HERE

References:

  • Angus, L. E., & McLeod, J. (Eds.) (2004). The handbook of narrative and psychotherapy. London, UK: Sage Publications
  • Aram, D.M., Ekelman, B.E., & Nation, J.E. (1984). Preschoolers with language disorders: 10 years later. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 27, 232-244.
  • Baltaxe,  C.  A. M., & Simmons,  J.  Q. (1988b).  Pragmatic deficits in  emotionally  disturbed  children  and  adolescents.  In  R. Schiefelbusch & L. Lloyd  (Eds.), Language perspectives (2nd ed.,  pp. 223-253).  Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
  • Baker,  L.,  & Cantwell,  D. P. (1987b).  A prospective psychiatric  follow-up  of children  with  speech/language  disorders. Journal of the American Academy  of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 26, 546-553.
  • Beitchman, J., Cohen, N., Konstantareas, M., & Tannock, R. (Eds.) (1996). Language, learning and behaviour disorders: Developmental, biological and clinical perspectives. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Benner, G.J., Nelson, R., & Epstein, M.H. (2002). Language skills of children with EBD: a literature review-emotional and behavioral disorders- statistical data included. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 10, 43-59.
  • Bishop, D. V., & Baird, G. (2001). Parent and teacher report of pragmatic aspects of communication: Use of the Children’s Communication Checklist in a clinical setting. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 43(12), 809–818.
  • Brosnan, M.J. et al. (2004) Gestalt processing in autism: failure to process perceptual relationships and the implications for contextual understanding. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 459–469
  • Bryan, T. (1991). Social problems and learning disabilities. In B. Y. L. Wong (Ed.), Learning about learning disabilities (pp. 195-229). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Cohen, N. & Barwick, M. (1996) Comorbidity of Language and Social-Emotional Disorders: Comparison of Psychiatric Outpatients and Their Siblings. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 25(2), 192-200.
  • Cohen, N., Barwick, M., Horodezky, N., Vallance, D., & Im, N. (1998). Language, achievement, and cognitive processing in psychiatrically disturbed children with previously identified and unsuspected language impairments. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39, 865–877.
  • Cohen, N., & Horodezky, N. (1998). Prevalence of language impairments in psychiatrically referred children at different ages: Preschool to adolescence [Letter to the editor]. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 461–262.
  • Emde, R., Wolf, D., & Oppenheim, D. (Eds.) (2003). Revealing the inner worlds of young children—The MacArthur story stem battery. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • —Gallagher, T. M. (1999). Interrelationships  among children’s language, behavior,  and emotional problems. Topics in  Language Disorders, 19, 1–15.
  • Gardner, R. (1993). Storytelling in psychotherapy with children. London, UK: Jason Aronson.
  • —Gilmour J, et al (2004). Social communication deficits in conduct disorder: a clinical and community study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry45: 967– 78.
  • Goldman, L. G. (1987). Social implications of learning disorders. Reading, Writing and Learning Disabilities, 3, 119-130.
  • —Gurney, D., Gersten, R., Dimino, J. & Carnine, D. (1990). Story grammar: Effective literature instruction for high school students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23, 335-348.
  • Happé, F. G. E. (1994). An Advanced Test of Theory of Mind: Understanding of Story Characters’ Thoughts and Feelings by Able Autistic, Mentally Handicapped and Normal Children and Adults. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 129-154.
  • Hill, J. W., & Coufal, K. L. (2005). Emotional/behavioral disorders: A retrospective examination of social skills, linguistics, and student outcomes. Communication Disorders Quarterly27(1), 33–46.
  • Hollo, A., Wehby, J. H., & Oliver, R. O.  (2014). Unsuspected language deficits in children with emotional and behavioral disorders: A meta-analysis. Exceptional Children, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 169-186.
  • Hummel, L. J., & Prizant, B. M. (1993) A socioemotional perspective for understanding social difficulties of school-age children with language disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 24, 216–224
  • Hyter, Y. D. (2003). Language intervention  for children with emotional or behavioral disorders. Behavioral  Disorders, 29, 65–76.
  • —Hyter, Y. D., et al (2001). Pragmatic language intervention for children with language and emotional/behavioral disorders. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 23(1), 4–16.—
  • Langton,S et al, (2000) Do the eyes have it? Cues to the direction of social attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4 (2) 50-59.
  • Losh, M., & Capps, L. (2003). Narrative ability in high-functioning children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 239–251.
  • Nelson, J. R., Benner, G. J., & Cheney, D. (2005).An investigation of the language skills of students with emotional disturbance served in public school settings. Journal of Special Education39, 97–105.
  • Pearce, P. et al. (2014). Use of narratives to assess language disorders in an inpatient pediatric psychiatric population. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry, 19(2) 244-259.—
  • Prizant, B.M., et al. (1990). Communication disorders and emotional/behavioral disorders in children and adolescents. The Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 55, 179-192.
  • —Semrud-Clikeman, M., & Glass, K. (2010).  The Relation of Humor and Child Development: Social, Adaptive, and Emotional Aspects.  Journal of Child Neurology, 25, 1248-1260.
  • Sanger, D., Maag, J. W., & Shapera, N. R. (1994). Language problems among students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic30(2), 103–108.
  • —Tallal, P., Dukette, D,. and Curtiss, S (1989) Behavioral Emotional Profiles of Preschool language impaired children. Development and Psychopathology (1) 51-67.
  • Toppelberg, C., & Shapiro, T. (2000). Language disorders: A 10-year research update review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 143–152.
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Analyzing Discourse Abilities of Adolescents via Peer Conflict Resolution (PCR) Tasks

A substantial portion of my caseload is comprised of adolescent learners. Since standardized assessments possess significant limitations for that age group (as well as in general), I am frequently on the lookout for qualitative clinical measures that can accurately capture their abilities in the areas of discourse, critical thinking, and social communication.

One type of an assessment that I find particularly valuable for this age group is a set of two Peer Conflict Resolution Tasks. First described in a 2007 article by Dr. Marylin Nippold and her colleagues, they assess expository discourse of adolescent learners.

Expository discourse is the use of language to convey information (Bliss, 2002). As per Nippold and colleagues, “expository discourse occurs, when a speaker describes the steps and outcome of a biology experiment, explains how to operate the equipment at a medical lab, or gives directions on how to travel by train from one city to another.” (Nippold, Mansfield, & Billow, 2007, p. 180).  Not only does expository discourse require the “facility with complex syntax”, it also taps into the speaker’s social communication and critical thinking abilities, which is why I employ these tasks on a regular basis when assessing adolescent students.

Here is what these tasks entail. First, the tasks are introduced to the student: “People are always running into problems with others at school, at work, and at home. Everyone has to work out ways to solve these problems. I am going to read you two different stories that illustrate these types of problems. I would like you to listen carefully and be ready to tell each story back to me, in your own words. Then I will ask you some questions about the story. There are no penalties for incorrect answers. I just want to know what you think about the issues and how they should be handled.” (adapted from  Selman et al., 1986, p. 459)—

Below are the descriptions of actual tasks straight from the article.

Image result for model airplane clipartStory A: “The Science Fair” John’s (Debbie’s) teacher assigned him (her) to work with three other boys (girls) on a project for the science fair. The boys (girls) decided to build a model airplane that could actually fly. All of the boys (girls) except one, a boy (girl) named Bob (Melanie), worked hard on the project. Bob (Melanie) refused to do anything and just let the others do all the work. This bothered John (Debbie) very much. Now I’d like you to tell the story back to me, in your own words. Try to tell me everything you can remember about the story… Now I’d like to ask you some questions about the story:

  1. What is the main problem here?
  2. Why is that a problem?
  3. What is a good way for John (Debbie) to deal with Bob (Melanie)?
  4. Why is that a good way for John (Debbie) to deal with Bob (Melanie)?
  5. What do you think will happen if John (Debbie) does that?
  6. How do you think they both will feel if John (Debbie) does that?

Image result for fast food restaurant clipartStory B: “The Fast-Food Restaurant” Mike and Peter (Jane and Kathy) work at a fast-food restaurant together. It is Mike’s (Jane’s) turn to work on the grill, which he (she) really likes to do, and it is Peter’s (Kathy’s) turn to do the garbage. Peter (Kathy) says his (her) arm is sore and asks Mike (Jane) to switch jobs with him (her), but Mike (Jane) doesn’t want to lose his (her) chance on the grill. Now I’d like you to tell the story back to me, in your own words. Try to tell me everything you can remember about the story… Now I’d like to ask you some questions about the story:

  1. What is the main problem here?
  2. Why is that a problem?
  3. What is a good way for Mike (Jane) to deal with Peter (Kathy)?
  4. Why is that a good way for Mike (Jane) to deal with Peter (Kathy)?
  5. What do you think will happen if Mike (Jane) does that?
  6. How do you think they both will feel if Mike (Jane) does that?”(Nippold, Mansfield, & Billow, 2007, p. 187)

When presenting each task, the authors recommend that clinicians use male names with male students and female names with female students, as this may increase the chance that the students will better relate to the “characters’ actions, challenges, and emotions“. (187)

Let’s take a look at the analysis of one of the PCR tasks in action. Below are the responses of a 15-4-year-old student with suspected social communication impairment who was presented with the above mentioned Fast Food Restaurant prompt. He was asked to retell the situation in his own words and then answer a set of questions which incorporated aspects of peer interaction, as well as interpersonal conflict and resolution. 

Below is the student’s retelling of the “The Fast-Food Restaurant” story in his own words: “One guy wants works on grill the other guy wants takes out the trash. Guy breaks… has a sore arm and asks another guy to do do his job but other guy didn’t want other guy didn’t want to do lose the job”       

Here’s how this student answered the accompanying questions:

Image result for analysisAnalysis of ‘The Fast Food Restaurant’: The student’s discourse abilities were judged to be impaired for his age/grade level. His retelling was vague and nonspecific and was punctuated by frequent false starts characteristic of word retrieval difficulties.  To illustrate, he first began to state that one of the boys had a broken arm but then self-corrected and was able to explain that the arm was merely sore.  Rather than displaying appropriate anaphoric referencing and referring to both boys by names, he nonspecifically referred to both of them as “one guy” and “another guy”.

The student also did not adequately delve into the complexity of the social scenario. Rather than adequately explaining that one boy’s chance at a preferred activity at his job is jeopardized by his friend’s supposed injury, he imprecisely responded “One’s one’s ah Mike is not you know he’s (unintelligible) he is not being very generous. Also, also the other one is getting all wound up over a sore arm”, which is an inadequate explanation of the problem in the presented scenario.

The student’s answers were nonspecific as he did not appropriately identify the problem in the scenario nor offer an effective solution to it. His response in reference to the lack of cooperation between the two boys lacked concrete details, and his solution: “bargain” and “talk” was too vague to qualify as an adequate response to the scenario.

The student presented with difficulty assuming perspectives of both characters in the scenario (Mike and Peter) and had difficulty explaining what type of a mutually agreeable solution both boys could possibly reach.  The student’s sentence structure lacked adequate syntactic complexity and contained a number of awkwardly phrased sentences marked by significant word retrieval difficulties in the form of word phrase revisions, repetitions as well as pauses.

Impressions: Informal discourse analysis revealed deficits in the areas of semantics, syntax, word finding, problem-solving, perspective taking as well as social communication. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve these abilities for social and academic purposes.

As you can see from the above sample, the PCR tasks possess terrific versatility and can reveal a great deal of information about adolescent students’ discourse, problem-solving, social communication abilities. Consequently, I highly recommend them as part of the adolescent language and literacy assessments.

References:

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Social Communication and Describing Skills: What is the Connection?

When it comes to the identification of social communication deficits, SLPs are in a perpetual search for quick and reliable strategies that can assist us in our quest of valid and reliable confirmation of social communication difficulties. The problem is that in some situations, it is not always functional to conduct a standardized assessment, while in others a standardized assessment may have limited value (e.g., if the test doesn’t assess or limitedly assesses social communication abilities).

So what type of tasks are sensitive to social communication deficits? Quite a few, actually. For starters, various types of narratives are quite sensitive to social communication impairment. From fictional to expository, narrative analysis can go a long way in determining whether the student presents with appropriate sequencing skills, adequate working memory, age-level grammar, and syntax, adequate vocabulary, pragmatics, perspective taking abilities, critical thinking skills, etc. But what if one doesn’t have the time to record and transcribe a narrative retelling, what then? Actually, a modified version of a narrative assessment task can still reveal a great deal about the student’s social communication abilities.

For the purpose of this particular task, I like to use photos depicting complex social communication scenarios. Then I simply ask the student: “Please describe  what is happening in this photo.”  Wait a second you may say: “That’s it? This is way too simple! You can’t possibly determine if someone has social communication deficits based on a single photo description!”

I beg to differ. Here’s an interesting fact about students with social communication deficits. Even the ones with FSIQ in the superior range of functioning (>130) with exceptionally large lexicons, still present with massive deficits when it comes to providing coherent and cohesive descriptions and summaries.

Here are just a few reasons why this happens. Research indicates that students with social communication difficulties present with Gestalt Processing deficits or difficulty “seeing/grasping the big picture”(Happe & Frith, 2006). Rather than focusing on the main idea, they tend to focus on isolated details due to which they have a tendency to provide an incomplete/partial information about visual scenes, books, passages, stories, or movies. As such, despite possessing an impressive lexicon, such students may say about the above picture: “She is drawing” or “They are outside” and omit a number of relevant to the picture details.

Research also confirms that another difficulty that students with impaired social communication abilities present with is assuming perspectives of others (e.g., relating to others, understanding/interpreting their beliefs, thoughts, feelings, etc.) (Kaland et al, 2007). As such they may miss relevant visual clues pertaining to how the boy and girl are feeling, what they are thinking, etc.

Students with social communication deficits also present with anaphoric referencing difficulties.  Rather than referring to individuals in books and pictures by name or gender, they may nonspecifically utilize personal pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’ to refer to them. Consequently, they may describe the individuals in the above photo as follows: “She is drawing and the boy is looking”; or “They are sitting at the table outside.”

Finally, students with social communication deficits may produce poorly constructed run-on (exceedingly verbose) or fragmented utterances (very brief) lacking in coherence and cohesion to describe the main idea in the above scenario (Frith, 1989).

Of course, by now many of you want to know regarding what constitutes as pragmatically appropriate descriptions for students of varying ages. For that, you can visit a thread in the SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice Group on Facebook entitled: GIANT POST WITH FREE LINKS AND RESOURCES ON THE TOPIC OF TYPICAL SPEECH AND LANGUAGE MILESTONES OF CHILDREN 0-21 YEARS OF AGE  to locate the relevant milestones by age.

Interested in seeing these assessment strategies in action? Download a FREEBIE HERE and see for yourselves.

References:

  • Frith, U., (1989). Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Happe, F. & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36 (1), 5-25.
  • Kaland, N., Callesen, K., Moller-Nielsen, A., Mortensen, E. L., & Smith, L. (2007). Performance of children and adolescents with Asperger Syndrome or High-functioning Autism on advanced theory of mind tasks. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 38, 1112-1123.

 

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Components of Qualitative Writing Assessments: What Exactly are We Trying to Measure?

Writing! The one assessment area that challenges many SLPs on daily basis! If one polls 10 SLPs on the topic of writing, one will get 10 completely different responses ranging from agreement and rejection to the diverse opinions regarding what should actually be assessed and how exactly it should be accomplished.

Consequently, today I wanted to focus on the basics involved in the assessment of adolescent writing. Why adolescents you may ask? Well, frankly because many SLPs (myself included) are far more likely to assess the writing abilities of adolescents rather than elementary-aged children.

Often, when the students are younger and their literacy abilities are weaker, the SLPs may not get to the assessment of writing abilities due to the students presenting with so many other deficits which require precedence intervention-wise. However, as the students get older and the academic requirements increase exponentially, SLPs may be more frequently asked to assess the students’ writing abilities because difficulties in this area significantly affect them in a variety of classes on a variety of subjects.

So what can we assess when it comes to writing? In the words of Helen Lester’s character ‘Pookins’: “Lots!”  There are various types of writing that can be assessed, the most common of which include: expository, persuasive, and fictional. Each of these can be used for assessment purposes in a variety of ways.

To illustrate, if we chose to analyze the student’s written production of fictional narratives then we may broadly choose to analyze the following aspects of the student’s writing: contextual conventions and writing composition.

The former looks at such writing aspects as the use of correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, paragraph formation, etc.

The latter looks at the nitty-gritty elements involved in plot development. These include effective use of literate vocabulary, plotline twists, character development,  use of dialogue, etc.

Perhaps we want to analyze the student’s persuasive writing abilities. After all, high school students are expected to utilize this type of writing frequently for essay writing purposes.  Actually, persuasive writing is a complex genre which is particularly difficult for students with language-learning difficulties who struggle to produce essays that are clear, logical, convincing, appropriately sequenced, and take into consideration opposing points of view. It is exactly for that reason that persuasive writing tasks are perfect for assessment purposes.

But what exactly are we looking for analysis wise? What should a typical 15 year old’s persuasive essays contain?

With respect to syntax, a typical student that age is expected to write complex sentences possessing nominal, adverbial, as well as relative clauses.

With the respect to semantics, effective persuasive essays require the use of literate vocabulary words of low frequency such as later developing connectors (e.g., first of all, next, for this reason, on the other hand, consequently, finally, in conclusion) as well as metalinguistic and metacognitive verbs (“metaverbs”) that refer to acts of speaking (e.g., assert, concede, predict, argue, imply) and thinking (e.g., hypothesize, remember, doubt, assume, infer).

With respect to pragmatics, as students  mature, their sensitivity to the perspectives of others improves, as a result, their persuasive essays increase in length (i.e., total number of words produced) and they are able to offer a greater number of different reasons to support their own opinions (Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, & Fanning, 2005).

Now let’s apply our knowledge by analyzing a writing sample of a 15-year-old with suspected literacy deficits. Below 10th-grade student was provided with a written prompt first described in the Nippold, et al, 2005 study, entitled: “The Circus Controversy”.   “People have different views on animals performing in circuses. For example, some people think it is a great idea because it provides lots of entertainment for the public. Also, it gives parents and children something to do together, and the people who train the animals can make some money. However, other people think having animals in circuses is a bad idea because the animals are often locked in small cages and are not fed well. They also believe it is cruel to force a dog, tiger, or elephant to perform certain tricks that might be dangerous. I am interested in learning what you think about this controversy, and whether or not you think circuses with trained animals should be allowed to perform for the public. I would like you to spend the next 20 minutes writing an essay. Tell me exactly what you think about the controversy. Give me lots of good reasons for your opinion. Please use your best writing style, with correct grammar and spelling. If you aren’t sure how to spell a word, just take a guess.”(Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, & Fanning, 2005)

He produced the following written sample during the allotted 20 minutes.

Analysis: This student was able to generate a short, 3-paragraph, composition containing an introduction and a body without a definitive conclusion. His persuasive essay was judged to be very immature for his grade level due to significant disorganization, limited ability to support his point of view as well as the presence of tangential information in the introduction of his composition, which was significantly compromised by many writing mechanics errors (punctuation, capitalization, as well as spelling) that further impacted the coherence and cohesiveness of his written output.

The student’s introduction began with an inventive dialogue, which was irrelevant to the body of his persuasive essay. He did have three important points relevant to the body of the essay: animal cruelty, danger to the animals, and potential for the animals to harm humans. However, he was unable to adequately develop those points into full paragraphs. The notable absence of proofreading and editing of the composition further contributed to its lack of clarity. The above coupled with a lack of a conclusion was not commensurate grade-level expectations.

Based on the above-written sample, the student’s persuasive composition content (thought formulation and elaboration) was judged to be significantly immature for his grade level and is commensurate with the abilities of a much younger student.  The student’s composition contained several emerging claims that suggested a vague position. However, though the student attempted to back up his opinion and support his position (animals should not be performing in circuses), ultimately he was unable to do so in a coherent and cohesive manner.

Now that we know what the student’s written difficulties look like, the following goals will be applicable with respect to his writing remediation:

Long-Term Goals:  Student will improve his written abilities for academic purposes.

  • Short-Term Goals
  1. Student will appropriately utilize parts of speech (e.g., adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc.)  in compound and complex sentences.
  2. Student will use a variety of sentence types for story composition purposes (e.g., declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences).
  3. Student will correctly use past, present, and future verb tenses during writing tasks.
  4. Student will utilize appropriate punctuation at the sentence level (e.g., apostrophes, periods, commas, colons, quotation marks in dialogue, and apostrophes in singular possessives, etc.).
  5. Student will utilize appropriate capitalization at the sentence level (e.g., capitalize proper nouns, holidays, product names, titles with names, initials, geographic locations, historical periods, special events, etc.).
  6. Student will use prewriting techniques to generate writing ideas (e.g., list keywords, state key ideas, etc.).
  7. Student will determine the purpose of his writing and his intended audience in order to establish the tone of his writing as well as outline the main idea of his writing.
  8. Student will generate a draft in which information is organized in chronological order via use of temporal markers (e.g., “meanwhile,” “immediately”) as well as cohesive ties (e.g., ‘but’, ‘yet’, ‘so’, ‘nor’) and cause/effect transitions (e.g., “therefore,” “as a result”).
  9. Student will improve coherence and logical organization of his written output via the use of revision strategies (e.g., modify supporting details, use sentence variety, employ literary devices).
  10. Student will edit his draft for appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

There you have it. A quick and easy qualitative writing assessment which can assist SLPs to determine the extent of the student’s writing difficulties as well as establish writing remediation targets for intervention purposes.

Using a different type of writing assessment with your students? Please share the details below so we can all benefit from each others knowledge of assessment strategies.

References:

  • Nippold, M., Ward-Lonergan, J., & Fanning, J. (2005). Persuasive writing in children, adolescents, and adults: a study of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic development. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 125-138.