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Speech, Language, and Literacy Fun with Helen Lester’s Picture Books

Picture books are absolutely wonderful for both assessment and treatment purposes! They are terrific as narrative elicitation aids for children of various ages, ranging from pre-K through fourth grade.  They are amazing treatment aids for addressing a variety of speech, language, and literacy goals that extend far beyond narrative production.

There are numerous children books authors whom I absolutely adore (e.g., Karma Wilson, Keiko Kasza, Jez Alborough, M. Christina Butler, etc.). Today I wanted to describe how I implement books by Helen Lester into my treatment sessions with elementary aged children. (For information on how I use her books: “Pookins Gets Her Way” and “A Porcupine Named Fluffy” for narrative elicitation purposes click HERE.)

It is important to note that while Ms. Lester’s books are intended for younger children (4-7 years; pre-K-3rd grade), older children (~10 years of age) with significant language and learning difficulties and/or intellectual disabilities have enjoyed working with them and have significantly benefited from reading/listening to them.

Two reasons why I love using Ms. Lester’s books are versatility and wealth of social themes. To illustrate, “Hooway for Wodney Wat” and “Wodney Wat’s Wobot” are two books about a shy rat who cannot pronounce his ‘r’ sounds. Wodney is hugely embarrassed by that fact, and since there are no speech-language pathologists in Rodentia-land, Wodney spends his recess, hiding inside his jacket, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. The arrival of a bullying, Miss-know-it-all, Camilla Capybara, brings some unexpected changes into the school’s dynamic, as well as provides Wodney with a very welcome opportunity to shine socially.

Image result for wodney wobotSpeech Production: Not only is there a phenomenal opportunity to use this book with children struggling with /r/ sound production, but it’s also heavily laden with a plethora of /r/ words in a variety of word positions (e.g., rodeo, robot, contraption, barrel, terrific, fur, prickled, bigger, fear, classroom, smarter, sure, etc.).

Language: There are numerous language goals that could be formulated based on Helen Lester’s books including answering concrete and abstract listening comprehension questions, defining story-embedded vocabulary words, producing word associations, synonyms, antonyms, and multiple meaning words (semantic awareness), formulating compound and complex sentences (syntax), answering predicting and inferencing questions (critical thinking), gauging moods and identifying emotional reactions of characters (social communication), assuming characters’ perspectives and frame of reference (social cognition, theory of mind, etc.), identifying main ideas in text (Gestalt processing) and much, much more.

  • Select Highlights:
    • VocabularyFor the ages/grades that there’ve written for (4-7 years; pre-K-3rd grade), Ms. Lester’s books are laden with a wealth of sophisticated vocabulary words such a: curtsy, contraption, trembled, dreary, shudder, varmint, fashionable, rodent, rattled, shenanigans, chanting, surgical, plunked, occasion, exception, etc.
    • Word Play:  Ms. Lester infuses a great deal of humor and wit in her books. Just look at the names of her characters in “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”, which are: Ewetopia, Ewecalyptus, Ewetensil, Heyewe, Rambunctious, Ramshackle, and Ramplestiltskin.  Her ovine characters live in Pastureland and attend Woolyones’ Costume Balls while her porcine characters eat in a trough-a-teria.  
    • Social Communication: Many of Ms. Lester’s book themes focus on the celebration of neurodiversity (e.g., “Tacky the Penguin”), learning valuable life lessons (e.g., “Me First”), addressing one’s fears (e.g., “Something Might Happen”) and feeling uncomfortable in own skin (e.g., “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”), etc.

Literacy: Similar to the above, numerous literacy goals can be formulated based on these books. These include but are not limited to, goals targeting phonological (e.g., rhyming words, counting syllables in words, etc.) and phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and comprehension, spelling, as well as the composition of written responses to story questions.

  • Image result for princess penelope's parrotSelect Highlights:
    • Phonics: Students can practice reading words containing a variety of syllable shapes as well as decode low-frequency words containing a variety of consonantal clusters (Examples from “Princess Penelope’s Parrot” are:  hissed, parrot, buzzard, horribly, flicked, plucked, field,  flapped, silence, Percival, velvet, cloak, caviar, clippy-clopped, poofiest, impressed, expensive, galloping, gulped, bouquet, squawked, etc.)
    • Morphology: There’s a terrific opportunity to introduce a discussion on roots and affixes when using Ms. Lester’s books to discuss how select prefixes and suffixes (e.g., ante-, -able, -ive, -ion, etc.) can significantly increase word sophistication of numerous root words (e.g., impressive, exception, etc.)
    • Spelling: There is a terrific opportunity for children to practice spelling numerous spelling patterns to solidify their spelling abilities, including -ee-, -ea-, -ou-,-oo-, -oa-, -ui-, -ck, -tt-, -rr-, -ss-, -cc-, etc.

When working with picture books, I typically spend numerous sessions working with the same book. That is because research indicates that language disordered children require 36 exposures  (as compared with 12 exposures for typically developing children) to learn new words via interactive book reading (Storkel et al, 2016). As such, I discuss vocabulary words before, during, and after the book reading, by asking the children to both repeatedly define and then use selected words in sentences so the students can solidify their knowledge of these words.

I also spent quite a bit of time on macrostructure, particularly on the identification and definitions of story grammar elements as well as having the student match the story grammar picture cards to various portions of the book.

When working with picture books, here are some verbal prompts that I provide to the students with a focus on story Characters and Setting

  • Who are the characters in this story?
  • Where is the setting in this story?
  • Are there multiple settings in this story?
  • What are some emotions the characters experience throughout this story?
  • When did they experience these emotions in the story?
  • How do you think this character is feeling when ____?
    • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • What do you think this character is thinking?
    • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • What are some actions the characters performed throughout the story?
  • What were the results of some of those actions?

Here is a sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on story Sequencing 

  • What happened at the beginning of the story?
    • What words can we use to start a story?
  • What happened next?
  • What happened after that?
  • What happened last?
  • How do we end a story?
  • What was the problem in the story?
  • Was there more than one problem?
    • What happened?
    • Who solved it?
    • How did s/he solve it?
  • Was there adventure in the story?
    • If yes, how did it start and end?

Here is a sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on Critical Thinking 

  • How are these two characters alike/different? (compare/contrast)
  • What do you think will happen next? (predicting)
  •  Why/How do you think ___ happened (inferencing)
  • Why shouldn’t you, couldn’t s/he ____ ? (answering negative questions)
  • What do you thing s/he must do to ______? (problem-solving)
  • How would you solve his problem? (determining solutions)
  • Why is your solution ______ a good solution? (providing justifications)

Image result for tacky penguinHere is a small sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on Social Communication and Social Cognition 

  • How would you feel if ____?
  • What is his/her mood at ____ point in the story?
    • How do you know?
  • What is his/her reaction to the ____?
    • How do you know?
  • How does it make you feel that s/he are _____?
  • Can you tell me two completely different results of this character’s actions?
  • What could you say to this character to make him/her feel better?
    • Why?
  • What would you think if?

At times, I also use Ms. Lester’s guide for the following books: ‘It Wasn’t My Fault’, ‘Listen, Buddy’, ‘Me First’, and ‘A Porcupine Named Fluffy‘ to supplement my therapy sessions goals. It provides additional helpful ideas and suggestions on how her books can be further used in both therapy room as well as the classroom.

Finally, one of the major reasons why I really like Ms. Lester’s books is because some of them are ‘art imitating life’ and do not necessarily end up in a ‘traditional’ happily ever after. To, illustrate, “Princess Penelope’s Parrot” is a book about a spoiled princess who cannot get her new parrot to talk, even after threatening it and calling it insulting names. When Prince Percival comes courting, the parrot takes his hilarious revenge on Princess Penelope, and the parrot and Prince Percival do end up living happily ever after. However, Princess Penelope quickly gets over her embarrassment and goes back to her unrepentantly spoiled way of acting.

There you have it! Just a few of my many reasons why I adore using Helen Lester’s books for language and literacy treatment purposes. How about you? Do you use any of her books for assessment and treatment purposes? If yes, comment below which ones you use and why do you use them?

References:

Helpful Related Smart Speech Therapy Resources: 

 

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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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Identifying Word Finding Deficits in Narrative Retelling of School-Aged Children

Image result for word-finding In the past, I have written several posts on the topic of word finding difficulties (HERE and HERE) as well as narrative assessments (HERE and HERE) of school-aged children. Today I am combining these posts  together by offering suggestions on how SLPs can identify word finding difficulties in narrative samples of school-aged children.

Word finding difficulties can manifest via a variety of ways, including pauses, semantic (e.g., ‘wolf’ for ‘fox’) and phonological substitutions of words (e.g., ‘dicar’ for ‘guitar’), use the fillers (e.g., ‘um’, ‘like’), use of mazes (nonspecific vocabulary, circumlocutions, or revisions), iconic gestures (e.g., miming a word) as well as gestures of frustration (e.g., hand on head in frustration, hand waving, etc.), etc (German, 2005).  Furthermore, for many children, word finding difficulties may not be very apparent at the word level, when only a retrieval of one vocabulary word is required during confrontational naming tasks. However, their word-finding difficulties may become very glaring when these children have to engage in discourse as well as produce a variety of narratives.

Students may also display a significant variability in their word-finding profiles. They could present with both slow and inaccurate retrieval of words (take more processing time to produce language and produce it imprecisely). They could also be fast and inaccurate retrievers (speak without pauses but use an imprecise choice of words).  Finally, they could be slow but accurate retrievers (take more processing time to produce language but produce it precisely) (German, 2005).

Below is a narrative reassessment of a 4th-grade student who was read a book by William Steig entitled: “Dr. De Soto” (Plot Summary). He was then asked to retell the story without the benefit of visual support.  The following was the narrative produced by him:

Image result for dr de sotoAnalysis: This student’s narrative retelling was judged to be significantly impaired for his age. With respect to macrostructure, his narrative lacked a number of story grammar elements including a definitive introduction, a problem, as well as a definitive conclusion which is significantly below age-level. While the student’s story followed a semblance of chronological order, it was also significantly decontextualized.  Furthermore, the student displayed very limited use of perspective taking vocabulary. He was able to reference several emotional reactions (e.g., ‘pain’, hurts’, ‘smiled’), but was unable to demonstrate consistent perspective taking (insight into the characters’ feelings, beliefs, and thoughts) throughout his narrative as is commensurate with age.

The student’s microstructure was also significantly adversely affected and was characterized by numerous syntactic errors (e.g., poorly constructed sentences, mazes, etc.), limited use of cohesive ties (e.g., and), as well as a lack of temporal markers denoting the sequence of narrative events  (e.g., first, next, then, finally). His vocabulary was judged to be immature as evidenced by usage of reduced number and variety of words throughout his narrative.

Finally, this student demonstrated severe word finding deficits characterized by fast but inaccurate word-retrieval marked by excessive presence of metacognitive comments (“what was it” produced 21 times during a 2-minute retelling sample), overuse of select phrases (e.g., ‘And they um’), fillers (e.g. uh), false starts (‘sm-help’), word repetitions (e.g. it, it,) as well as form-related word substitutions (‘Dr. Ricotto’/ ‘Dr. Risotto’ vs. ‘Dr. De Soto’ ).

It is also noteworthy to mention that the present testing was actually a reassessment. Interestingly, this particular student had always presented with significant expressive language formulation difficulties.  However, the nature of his difficulties differed between assessments. When assessed previously several years before, this student presented with significantly incoherent and disorganized discourse. However, at that time his narrative abilities were tested via the usage of another book (‘Pookins Gets Her Way’ by Helen Lester) with the benefit of visual support. As a result, his word-finding deficits in narratives were not as glaring as they were during the present retesting. In contrast, the production of narratives in the absence of visual support is far more complex and contextually demanding, as a result of which this student’s narrative was marked by a significant increase in word-finding errors. 

A student of this chronological age (10-0) is expected to produce Second Level True Narratives (Hegberg and Wesby (1993), characterized by subjective and/or objective summarization and categorization of stories.    Continuation of therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to continue improving the student’s as well as addressing his word-finding deficits in discourse and narratives. 

I hope you found the above narrative example useful for your word-finding assessment purposes. Please feel free to share in the comments section of this post, how you perform word-finding assessments and what materials you use for this purpose.

References:

  • 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, AZCommunication Skill Builders.
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Analyzing Narratives of School-Aged Children

Related imageIn 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

Frog Where Are You IntroAs 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.     Image result for frog where are youAnalysis: 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’).

Image result for frog where are youThroughout 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.

References:

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources: 

 

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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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Clinical Assessment of Elementary-Aged Students Writing Abilities : Suggestions for SLPs

Image result for child writingRecently I wrote a blog post regarding how SLPs can qualitatively assess writing abilities of adolescent learners. Today due to popular demand, I am offering suggestions regarding how SLPs can assess writing abilities of early-elementary-aged students with suspected learning and literacy deficits. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on assessing writing of second-grade students since by second-grade students are expected to begin producing simple written compositions several sentences in length (CCSS).

So how can we analyze the writing samples of young learners? For starters, it is important to know what the typical writing expectations look like for 2nd-grade students. Here’s is a sampling of typical expectations for second graders as per several sources (e.g., CCSS, Reading Rockets, Time4Writing, etc.)

  • With respect to penmanship, students are expected to write legibly.
  • With respect to grammar, students are expected to identify and correctly use basic parts of speech such as nouns and verbs.
  • With respect to sentence structure students are expected to distinguish between complete and incomplete sentences as well as use correct subject/verb/noun/pronoun agreements and correct verb tenses in simple and compound sentences.
  • With respect to punctuation, students are expected to use periods correctly at the end of sentences. They are expected to use commas in sentences with dates and items in a series.
  • With respect to capitalization, students are expected to capitalize proper nouns, words at the beginning of sentences, letter salutations, months and days of the week, as well as titles and initials of people.
  • With respect to spelling, students are expected to spell CVC (e.g., tap), CVCe (e.g., tape), as well as CCVC words (e.g., trap), high frequency regular and irregular spelled words (e.g., were, said, why, etc),  basic inflectional endings (e.g., –ed, -ing, -s, etc), as well as to recognize select orthographic patterns and rules (e.g., when to spell /k/ or /c/ in CVC and CVCe word, how to drop one vowel (e.g., /y/) and replace it with another /i/, etc.)

Now let’s apply the above expectations to a writing sample of a 2nd-grade student whose parents are concerned with her writing abilities in addition to other language and learning concerns. This student was provided with a  typical second grade writing prompt: “Imagine you are going to the North Pole. How are you going to get there? What would you bring with you? You have 15 minutes to write your story. Please make your story at least 4 sentences long.

The following is the transcribed story produced by her. “I am going in the north pole. I am going to bring food my mom toy’s stoft (stuffed) animals. I am so icsited (excited). So we are going in a box. We are going to go done (down) the stars (stairs) with the box and wate (wait) intile (until) the male (mail) is hear (here).”

Analysis: The student’s written composition content (thought formulation and elaboration) was judged to be impaired for her grade level.  According to the CCSS, 2d grade students are expected to ‘”write narratives in which recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.” However, the above narrative sample by no means satisfies this requirement.  The student’s writing was excessively misspelled, as well as lacked organization and clarity of message.  While portions of her narrative appropriately addressed the question with respect to whom and what she was going to bring on her travels, her narrative quickly lost coherence by her 4th sentence, when she wrote: “So we are going in a box” with further elaborations regarding what she meant by that sentence.  Second-grade students are expected to engage in basic editing and revision of their work. This student only took four minutes to compose the above-written sample and as such had more than adequate amount of time to review the question as well as her response for spelling and punctuation errors as well as for clarity of message, which she did not do. Furthermore, despite being provided with a written prompt which contained the correct capitalization of a place: “North Pole”, the student was not observed to capitalize it in her writing, which indicates ongoing executive function difficulties with the respect to proofreading and attention to details.  

Impressions: Clinical assessment of the student’s writing revealed difficulties in the areas of spelling, capitalization, message clarity as well as lack of basic proofreading and editing, which require therapeutic intervention.   

Now let us select a few writing goals for this student.

Long-Term Goals:  Student will improve her writing abilities for academic purposes.

  • Short-Term Goals
  1. Student will label parts of speech (e.g., adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc.)  in compound sentences.
  2. Student will use declarative and interrogative sentence types for story composition purposes
  3. Student will correctly use past, present, and future verb tenses during writing tasks.
  4. Student will use basic punctuation at the sentence level (e.g., commas, periods, and apostrophes in singular possessives, etc.).
  5. Student will use basic capitalization at the sentence level (e.g., capitalize proper nouns, words at the beginning of sentences, months and days of the week, etc.).
  6. Student will proofread her work via reading aloud for clarity
  7. Student will edit her work for correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization

Notice the above does not contain any spelling goals. That is because given the complexity of her spelling profile I prefer to tackle her spelling needs in a separate post, which discusses spelling development, assessment, as well as intervention recommendations for students with spelling deficits.

There you have it. A quick and easy qualitative writing assessment for elementary-aged students which can help determine the extent of the student’s writing difficulties as well as establish a few 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.

 

 

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Help, My Student has a Huge Score Discrepancy Between Tests and I Don’t Know Why?

Here’s a  familiar scenario to many SLPs. You’ve administered several standardized language tests to your student (e.g., CELF-5 & TILLS). You expected to see roughly similar scores across tests. Much to your surprise, you find that while your student attained somewhat average scores on one assessment, s/he had completely bombed the second assessment, and you have no idea why that happened.

So you go on social media and start crowdsourcing for information from a variety of SLPs located in a variety of states and countries in order to figure out what has happened and what you should do about this. Of course, the problem in such situations is that while some responses will be spot on, many will be utterly inappropriate. Luckily, the answer lies much closer than you think, in the actual technical manual of the administered tests.

So what is responsible for such as drastic discrepancy?  A few things actually. For starters, unless both tests were co-normed (used the same sample of test takers) be prepared to see disparate scores due to the ability levels of children in the normative groups of each test.  Another important factor involved in the score discrepancy is how accurately does the test differentiate disordered children from typical functioning ones.

Let’s compare two actual language tests to learn more. For the purpose of this exercise let us select The Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-5 (CELF-5) and the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS).   The former is a very familiar entity to numerous SLPs, while the latter is just coming into its own, having been released in the market only several years ago.

Both tests share a number of similarities. Both were created to assess the language abilities of children and adolescents with suspected language disorders. Both assess aspects of language and literacy (albeit not to the same degree nor with the same level of thoroughness).  Both can be used for language disorder classification purposes, or can they?

Actually, my last statement is rather debatable.  A careful perusal of the CELF – 5 reveals that its normative sample of 3000 children included a whopping 23% of children with language-related disabilities. In fact, the folks from the Leaders Project did such an excellent and thorough job reviewing its psychometric properties rather than repeating that information, the readers can simply click here to review the limitations of the CELF – 5 straight on the Leaders Project website.  Furthermore, even the CELF – 5 developers themselves have stated that: “Based on CELF-5 sensitivity and specificity values, the optimal cut score to achieve the best balance is -1.33 (standard score of 80). Using a standard score of 80 as a cut score yields sensitivity and specificity values of .97.

In other words, obtaining a standard score of 80 on the CELF – 5 indicates that a child presents with a language disorder. Of course, as many SLPs already know, the eligibility criteria in the schools requires language scores far below that in order for the student to qualify to receive language therapy services.

In fact, the test’s authors are fully aware of that and acknowledge that in the same document. “Keep in mind that students who have language deficits may not obtain scores that qualify him or her for placement based on the program’s criteria for eligibility. You’ll need to plan how to address the student’s needs within the framework established by your program.”

But here is another issue – the CELF-5 sensitivity group included only a very small number of: “67 children ranging from 5;0 to 15;11”, whose only requirement was to score 1.5SDs < mean “on any standardized language test”.  As the Leaders Project reviewers point out: “This means that the 67 children in the sensitivity group could all have had severe disabilities. They might have multiple disabilities in addition to severe language disorders including severe intellectual disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder making it easy for a language disorder test to identify this group as having language disorders with extremely high accuracy. ” (pgs. 7-8)

Of course, this begs the question,  why would anyone continue to administer any test to students, if its administration A. Does not guarantee disorder identification B. Will not make the student eligible for language therapy despite demonstrated need?

The problem is that even though SLPs are mandated to use a variety of quantitative clinical observations and procedures in order to reliably qualify students for services, standardized tests still carry more value then they should.  Consequently,  it is important for SLPs to select the right test to make their job easier.

The TILLS is a far less known assessment than the CELF-5 yet in the few years it has been out on the market it really made its presence felt by being a solid assessment tool due to its valid and reliable psychometric properties. Again, the venerable Dr. Carol Westby had already done such an excellent job reviewing its psychometric properties that I will refer the readers to her review here, rather than repeating this information as it will not add anything new on this topic. The upshot of her review as follows: “The TILLS does not include children and adolescents with language/literacy impairments (LLIs) in the norming sample. Since the 1990s, nearly all language assessments have included children with LLIs in the norming sample. Doing so lowers overall scores, making it more difficult to use the assessment to identify students with LLIs. (pg. 11)”

Now, here many proponents of inclusion of children with language disorders in the normative sample will make a variation of the following claim: “You CANNOT diagnose a language impairment if children with language impairment were not included in the normative sample of that assessment!Here’s a major problem with such assertion. When a child is referred for a language assessment, we really have no way of knowing if this child has a language impairment until we actually finish testing them. We are in fact attempting to confirm or refute this fact, hopefully via the use of reliable and valid testing. However, if the normative sample includes many children with language and learning difficulties, this significantly affects the accuracy of our identification, since we are interested in comparing this child’s results to typically developing children and not the disordered ones, in order to learn if the child has a disorder in the first place.  As per Peña, Spaulding and Plante (2006), “the inclusion of children with disabilities may be at odds with the goal of classification, typically the primary function of the speech pathologist’s assessment. In fact, by including such children in the normative sample, we may be “shooting ourselves in the foot” in terms of testing for the purpose of identifying disorders.”(p. 248)

Then there’s a variation of this assertion, which I have seen in several Facebook groups: “Children with language disorders score at the low end of normal distribution“.  Once again such assertion is incorrect since Spaulding, Plante & Farinella (2006) have actually shown that on average, these kids will score at least 1.28 SDs below the mean, which is not the low average range of normal distribution by any means.  As per authors: “Specific data supporting the application of “low score” criteria for the identification of language impairment is not supported by the majority of current commercially available tests. However, alternate sources of data (sensitivity and specificity rates) that support accurate identification are available for a subset of the available tests.” (p. 61)

Now, let us get back to your child in question, who performed so differently on both of the administered tests. Given his clinically observed difficulties, you fully expected your testing to confirm it. But you are now more confused than before. Don’t be! Search the technical manual for information on the particular test’s sensitivity and specificity to look up the numbers.   Vance and Plante (1994) put forth the following criteria for accurate identification of a disorder (discriminant accuracy): “90% should be considered good discriminant accuracy; 80% to 89% should be considered fair. Below 80%, misidentifications occur at unacceptably high rates” and leading to “serious social consequences” of misidentified children. (p. 21)

Review the sensitivity and specificity of your test/s, take a look at the normative samples, see if anything unusual jumps out at you, which leads you to believe that the administered test may have some issues with assessing what it purports to assess. Then, after supplementing your standardized testing results with good quality clinical data (e.g., narrative samples, dynamic assessment tasks, etc.), consider creating a solidly referenced purchasing pitch to your administration to invest in more valid and reliable standardized tests.

Hope you find this information helpful in your quest to better serve the clients on your caseload. If you are interested in learning more regarding evidence-based assessment practices as well as psychometric properties of various standardized speech-language tests visit the SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice  group on Facebook learn more.

References:

 

 

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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.

 

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Introducing New Product Service: Comprehensive Report Tutorials

Today I am writing about my, long overdue, line of products on the topic of: “Comprehensive Report Tutorials“.  Due to popular demand over the next several months, I will be adding to my online store a number of editable comprehensive report templates.

These templates summarize popular speech-language pathology tests with meticulous detail. Each editable template will contain:

  • Formal testing results breakdown in the form of a table
  • A detailed overview of each subtest including a variety of hypotheses behind the student errors
  • Summary of the students perceived deficits on the test and their correlation with language/literacy based deficits
  • Long-term goals and detailed short-term’s objectives

Image result for Speech language Test manualsBelow is a select list of the tests which will be offered:

  • Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills
  • Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5: Metalinguistics 
  • Listening Comprehension Tests (Elementary and adolescent versions)
  • WORD Tests (Elementary and adolescent versions)
  • Tests of Problem Solving (Elementary and Adolescent versions)
  • Social Language Development Tests (Elementary and Adolescent versions)
  • Executive Functions Test- Elementary 
  • Tests of Reading Comprehension
  • Tests of Written Expression
  • Comprehensive Tests of Phonological Processing

Related imageAvailable templates to date:

 

 

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FREE Resources for Working with Russian Speaking Clients: Part III Introduction to “Dyslexia”

Image result for дислексияGiven the rising interest in recent years in the role of SLPs in the treatment of reading disorders, today I wanted to share with parents and professionals several reputable  FREE resources on the subject of “dyslexia” in Russian-speaking children.

Now if you already knew that there was a dearth of resources on the topic of treating Russian speaking children with language disorders then it will not come as a complete shock to you that very few legitimate sources exist on this subject.

Related imageFirst up is the Report on the Russian Language for the World Dyslexia Forum 2010 by Dr. Grigorenko, the coauthor of the Dyslexia Debate. This 25-page report contains important information including Reading/Writing Acquisition of Russian in the Context of Typical and Atypical Development as well as on the state of Individuals with Dyslexia in Russia.

Related imageNext up is this delightful presentation entitled: “If John were Ivan: Would he fail in reading? Dyslexia & dysgraphia in Russian“. It is a veritable treasure trove of useful information on the topics of:

  • The Russian language
  • Literacy in Russia (Russian Federation)
  • Dyslexia in Russia
    • Definition
    • Identification
    • Policy
  • Examples of good practice
    • Teaching reading/language arts
      • In regular schools
      • In specialized settings
    • Encouraging children to learn

Image result for orthographyNow let us move on to the “The Role of Phonology, Morphology, and Orthography in English and Russian Spelling” which discusses that “phonology and morphology contribute more for spelling of English words while orthography and morphology contribute more to the spelling of Russian words“. It also provides clinicians with access to the stimuli from the orthographic awareness and spelling tests in both English and Russian, listed in its appendices.

Finally, for parents and Russian speaking professionals, there’s an excellent article entitled, “Дислексия” in which Dr. Grigorenko comprehensively discusses the state of the field in Russian including information on its causes, rehabilitation, etc.

Related Helpful Resources:

  1. Анализ Нарративов У Детей С Недоразвитием Речи (Narrative Discourse Analysis in Children With Speech Underdevelopment)
  2. Narrative production weakness in Russian dyslexics: Linguistic or procedural limitations?