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Why “good grades” do not automatically rule out “adverse educational impact”

Image result for good grades?As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) working with school-age children, I frequently assess students whose language and literacy abilities adversely impact their academic functioning.   For the parents of school-aged children with suspected language and literacy deficits as well as for the SLPs tasked with screening and evaluating them, the concept of ‘academic impact’ comes up on daily basis. In fact, not a day goes by when I do not see a variation of the following question: “Is there evidence of academic impact?”, being discussed in a variety of Facebook groups dedicated to speech pathology issues.

At first glance, the issue of academic impact appears to be rather straightforward. For example, many SLPs will readily assert that if a child is receiving good grades (A’s and B’s) in the school setting and is not exhibiting any “significant” maladaptive and challenging behaviors, then there is no evidence of adverse academic impact, and screening/evaluation/intervention services are unnecessary.

Unfortunately, things are not as “crystal clear” as they appear. That is because of the relative subjectivity pertaining to the grading practices of the students’ work in the school setting. Now, before you accuse me of inventing a problem where there is none, please hear me out.

In this post, I would like to illustrate how the subjectivity of grading practices can obfuscate the issue of academic impact to such an extent that students with significant language and learning needs may not be identified as being in need of help until it’s far too late – if identified at all.

Related imageLet’s begin with reading, an incredibly complex and deeply misunderstood process, especially in settings which do not utilize scientifically informed practices (e.g., synthetic phonics) when teaching young children to read.  When it comes to the teaching and assessment of reading, it is an absolute Wild West out there! And no one is more familiar with it, than parents of reading impaired children.

One of the first things these parents notice about their children in the early grades is that their reading abilities are highly inconsistent and are not commensurate with those of their peers.  These parents will notice that it takes their kids an extraordinary amount of time to master the alphabetic principle (remember the letters of the alphabet, match letters to sounds, etc.). They will notice that their children have an extraordinarily difficult time blending simple three letter words involving initial and final consonants with a medial vowel (e.g., “nob”). They will complain that their children display inconsistent knowledge of “sight words” from day to day, as well as misread and skip words when reading.

Here is the problem though, unless objective measures are used to test their children’s phonemic awareness and phonics abilities, there is a very strong possibility that these issues will persist well into upper elementary years, completely unnoticed in the school system, given the subjectivity involved in assessing reading mastery.

Indeed, numerous studies highlight the lack of efficacy of build-in assessments in programs such as Fountas and Pinnell, Reading Recovery, as well as the utility of utilizing Running Records, for reading assessment purposes.  My clinical observations of struggling readers in a variety of school settings, as part of the independent evaluation process, certainly support and corroborate available research on the subject. Namely, in many educational disputes, there’s a significant mismatch between teacher claims “S/he is reading at grade level as per (insert subjective method here)”  and observed student’s abilities (child is functionally illiterate) during reading tasks in the classroom. 

Related imageNow, let’s move on to discuss the subjectivity of the weekly spelling test. A number of scientific studies on this subject have shown that spelling instruction needs to be direct, explicit and systematic in order to be effective for struggling learners. When teaching spelling, best instruction practices involve consistently addressing and grouping words according to specific spelling patterns rather than teaching random “grade level” or topically related words. However, in the vast majority of instances, the weekly spelling test continues to consist of random words which are expected to be memorized by students. As a result of these memorization practices, numerous students will attain high marks on spelling tests but will be absolutely unable to correctly spell these words in a variety of writing assignments even a week later.

Image result for children taking a testThe practice of teaching to the test is certainly not restricted to spelling.  I have also seen similar practices pertaining to the subjects of science and social studies, whereas children are provided with specific handouts pertaining to a particular topic to memorize for the test. While this allows these children to perform well on such tests, unfortunately, their topic knowledge remains minimal to nonexistent given the fact that the memorized information will be long forgotten in a period of just a few weeks, if not sooner.

Similarly, science projects and social studies book reports may not even be necessarily completed by the children themselves. Many parents of struggling learners will readily acknowledge the mammoth work they had contributed to such projects just so their children could attain good marks which were worth a significant percentage of the overall class grade.

Many parents of struggling learners will also readily admit their significant involvement in the homework process and how stressful and frustrating it is on the students. They report spending numerous hours each day explaining information, their children’s tears of frustration and rage, significant tantrum behavior, and in some extreme cases even visits to a hospital, subsequent to accidental injuries stemming from challenging behaviors.

Finally, the subjectivity of grading written assignments is another important factor that needs to be explicitly acknowledged. Many parents and professionals tasked with the evaluation of the students’ spontaneous written work will readily confirm that oftentimes the grades some struggling learners receive on written assignments appear to be almost ridiculously overinflated.  Despite seemingly clear rubrics provided to the students explaining the breakdown of points for a particular written composition, many students end up receiving much higher marks than they deserve.  I myself have observed this phenomenon firsthand by reviewing the written work of my clients in private practice following parental complaints of grade inflation.

Related imageWe’re talking essays, blatantly lacking in coherence and cohesion, peppered with run-on and fragmented sentences, lacking subject-verb agreement, and full of grammatical errors, given A- and B+ grades, when the grading rubrics which came with the assignment, clearly indicate that the work is at the best deserving of a C- or a D+ grade.

These are just some of the many reasons why students of all ages with very noticeable language and learning needs, may end up being denied much-needed language and literacy assessments to determine the extent of their difficulties in order to receive targeted assistance.

Further complicating this issue is the fact that even when these students are finally tested in the school setting, due to the relative “mildness”  of their deficits,  coupled with the use of general (vs. targeted), often psychometrically weak tests, a lack of or under-identification of their deficit areas often occurs.

So what can parents and professionals do with this information? For starters, all are encouraged to examine the available information through a critical lens, albeit in different ways. Parents are encouraged to collect the samples of the child’s work (independent writing and spelling, audio samples of their reading, etc.) highlighting the discrepancies between the grades they receive and their actual abilities. They should absolutely request child study team assessments and if they are unsatisfied with the results of those tests they can seek out independent evaluations pertaining to the child’s areas of concern.

Image result for high sensitivity high specificitySimilarly, SLPs are encouraged to review their testing practices to ensure that they accurately reflect the students’ deficit areas. They are also strongly encouraged to review the psychometric properties of the tests they are using to better understand the sensitivity and specificity of these instruments with respect to the appropriate identification of language disorders. Finally, SLPs are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with the language and literacy expectations of older students and utilize clinical assessment procedures which reflect more sensitive assessment practices.

Image result for falling dominoesSo the next time someone has concerns regarding the language and literacy abilities of students with seemingly good grades, do not be so hasty in dismissing their worries due to a “lack of academic impact”. Depending on the setting and testing in question,  that impact may be far greater than we know!

Helpful Related Posts: 

  1. Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know
  2. What Makes an Independent Speech-Language-Literacy Evaluation a GOOD Evaluation?
  3. What Research Shows About the Functional Relevance of Standardized Language Tests
  4. Part II: Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing – Phonological Awareness and Word Fluency Assessment
  5. On the Limitations of Using Vocabulary Tests with School-Aged Students
  6. It’s All Due to …Language: How Subtle Symptoms Can Cause Serious Academic Deficits
  7. Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions?
  8. Help, My Student has a Huge Score Discrepancy Between Tests and I Don’t Know Why?
  9.  The Reign of the Problematic PLS-5 and the Rise of the Hyperintelligent Potato
  10. Components of Qualitative Writing Assessments: What Exactly are We Trying to Measure?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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What Makes an Independent Speech-Language-Literacy Evaluation a GOOD Evaluation?

Image result for Independent Educational EvaluationThree years ago I wrote a blog post entitled: “Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know“. In it, I used  4 very different scenarios to illustrate the importance of comprehensive language evaluations for children with subtle language and learning needs.  Today I would like to expound more on that post in order to explain, what actually constitutes a good independent comprehensive assessment.

Independent evaluations, whether educational, psychological, speech and language, etc., are typically performed with a particular purpose in mind. That purpose is not to simply document the student’s strengths and needs but also to explicitly advise on solid goals and objectives or a strong treatment plan so the child could improve abilities in the affected areas of functioning.

Image result for all children can learnFor example, psychological evaluations do not simply determine the child’s full-scale IQ. Depending on the breakdown of the child’s scores, they help educators with planning for the child’s educational needs. To illustrate, let’s say that an IQ testing determined that the child is functioning in the below average range with significantly lower scores in the areas of working memory and processing speed.  Given this information professionals working with the child in the classroom and in the therapy room can plan accordingly in terms of designing an appropriate intervention which takes into the consideration the child’s cognitive challenges.

Image result for functionalSimilarly, let’s say an educational/learning testing had determined that the child exhibits difficulties in the areas of phonics, word reading, reading fluency, etc.   Such information is hugely helpful in assisting the child to receive additional reading intervention services with a focus on improving the affected areas of difficulty.

In other words, it is not nearly enough to state in the body of the report, what is wrong with the child, rather it is important to make functional recommendations on what can be done with a child in order to make the child better.

Now here it is very important to understand that accommodations and modifications, while extremely helpful for all children with learning needs, are simply not going to be as functional as actual targeted intervention goals in the affected areas, be it reading, writing, listening comprehension, etc.

Independent evaluations need to make concrete recommendation suggestions regarding best remediation practices for the child. They need to contain goals that other professionals can follow. Without this component, independent evaluations have highly limited value. Here is an example which illustrates a limited value of one such report.

Several years ago I was asked to do a comprehensive language and literacy evaluation on a fifth-grade student who was functionally illiterate. The student had already underway and a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, which surprisingly enough did not draw any conclusion regarding the student’s abilities.

The neuropsychologist found that the student had an average IQ and learning difficulties across the board in numerous tested areas. Because of these findings, the neuropsychologist chose to ‘blame’ the student’s deficits on ADHD and stated that he is unable to diagnose a student with a learning disability because there were no score discrepancies on educational testing (not a scientifically backed argument).

Image result for valueNow, what is the value of such an assessment? This child’s parents have spent thousands of dollars on this assessment but in the end, they had absolutely nothing to show for it! The assessment had literally found nothing useful because the submission of such an assessment to the school setting would not have resulted in an altered and beneficial program placement for this child.

So what are the components of a good comprehensive independent evaluation? For the purpose of this particular question, I’ll stick to the subject of language and literacy evaluations, which are in my purview.

Here are the sections I include in a typical independent comprehensive language and literacy report for school-age clients. Make sure to click on the multicolored/highlighted words to learn more details via relevant past posts pertaining to this topic.

Formal Testing Results

  • This section includes the tables of all the standardized testing administered to the child

Background Information

  • This section comprehensively discusses the child’s history to date. It summarizes in meticulous detail prenatal perinatal and postnatal histories, developmental milestones acquisition, relevant medical and psychiatric histories, as well as a compilation of information regarding all previous assessments and interventions to date. This is particularly important for cases involving a change in school placement. After all, if the child had received extensive interventions in a particular school setting which were found to be ineffective to date, it is a strong indication that a different school placement may be warranted.

School Visit

  • This section is hugely important for the determination of the child’s functioning in school setting. It documents an observation one hour in length, preformed to determine whether the child is receiving free and appropriate education in school setting (whether the child is appropriately receiving relevant therapies/schooling).
    • School Visit Impressions
      • All school visits need to include a report section which discusses the observers impressions of the program, as well as their suitability to the child’s educational needs.

Adaptive Behavior

  • This section documents the child’s social communication abilities as displayed throughout testing. Was the child calm or distractible, but did the child display any socially awkward behaviors, did the child display any refusal behaviors, was there any odd conversational exchanges, did it take the child too long to answer questions, with the child displaying any word finding difficulties when speaking? All of these observations are documented in that section as a precursor to both formal as well as clinical social communication testing (see below)

Peripheral Oral Motor Exam

  • Here any orofacial anomalies get documented if needed

Voice, Fluency, Resonance and Prosody

  • This section discusses any deviations in the above, and/or documents the presence of typical functioning as commensurate with age.

Articulation and Phonology

  • Here I document the presence of typical or atypical speech patterns

Auditory Function

  • This is a section which discusses previous audiological findings, history of hearing deficits (if present), as well as overall impressions of child’s hearing throughout the assessment.

Methods of Assessment

Testing Protocols 

  • A list of all the formal tests used during the assessment

Language Processing and Listening Comprehension:

  • Detailed findings of both formal and clinical testing pertaining to the child’s ability to process and comprehend language

Expressive Language and Metalinguistic Abilities:

  • Detailed findings of both formal and clinical testing pertaining to the child’s ability to verbally express self via the effective/ineffective ability to manipulate words and sentences

Discourse Analysis

  • Detailed findings of clinical testing pertaining to the child’s ability to produce age level narratives

Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Verbal Reasoning:

  • This section documents formal testing results of problem-solving testing

Social Communication Abilities

Reading Assessment

  • This extensive section includes the details of both formal as well as clinical reading testing including information on the child’s phonemic awareness abilities, decoding abilities, reading fluency and reading comprehension, summarization of read information, etc.

Written Assessment

  • This section contains results of formal and clinical writing assessments including spelling as well as writing composition

IMPRESSIONS

  • At this juncture I am ready to summarize the results of my assessment findings in detail. Here I discuss the severity of the impairment as well as list the areas in which deficits have been noted.

ICD-10 Diagnoses

  • Here I list relevant to the assessment diagnoses which were revealed by the conclusion of testing

CLASSROOM PLACEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • If necessary, this section discusses recommendations for alternative classroom placement. Here I include information regarding the class size, what additional therapies the child may need to receive, the need for additional classification/services, etc.

Instructional Accommodations to Improve Information Processing

  • Here I discuss my observations pertaining to accommodations which may be beneficial to the child in the school setting

ACCOMMODATIONS VS. REMEDIATION:

  • Here, I discuss the importance of providing direct remediation services versus mere accommodations and modifications alone

Knowledge Retention Recommendations:

  • This section may also be merited at times especially with severely impaired children who may not be able to process information presented to them in longer sentences

Adaptive Recommendations:

  • This section requires what adaptive modifications with respect to the child’s physical space, session materials, etc. may be needed in order for the child to succeed

Maintaining Factors (factors contributing to the maintenance of linguistic deficits)Image result for worse

  • Cognitive
  • Sensorimotor
  • Psychosocial
  • Linguistic

SUGGESTED THERAPY GOALS

  • As mentioned before this is a hugely important section which details the students long term as well as short-term goals which were derived based on the presence of deficit areas as documented throughout the assessment report

Reward system and rationale:

  • This may be a particularly important section for students with the greater degree of impairment as here we may be able to document what type of reward/reinforcements (intrinsic/extrinsic) work to for the student to motivate him/her to complete the assessment
  • If possible, an internal and social system of reward for targeted skill achievement (fostering, intrinsic motivation to take pride in own accomplishments) is strongly recommended

Goal Termination

  • Here I discuss the expectations for goal termination. I typically recommend a contingency of 90% or above accuracy marker over a period of 3 consecutive sessions

Expected duration of treatment

  • While it is often impossible to predict the duration of treatment, certain educated guesses may be taken to determine therapy length. This is frequently determined based on how rapidly the student progresses in therapy, the extent of parental involvement as evidenced or homework as well as carryover activities and exercises at home, any additional private therapy services as well as any additional school therapy services and support (e.g., reading instruction)

Image result for prognosisPrognosis

  • Here, once again depending on the extent of severity of the students deficits, a statement of prognosis may be made (e.g., “Good but cautious due to the above maintaining factors”)

Therapy Discharge:

  • Contingent on a successful reassessment of target deficit areas.

Appendices

  • This is a section where I provide any pertinent to the assessment documents such as the results of the prescriptive spelling test (e.g., SPELL-2) or a synopsis of a particular narrative (e.g., Dr. De Soto by William Steig) so that assessment readers could compare the student’s narrative production with expected production

So now that you know, what sections I include in my independent comprehensive language and literacy evaluations, I’d love to know if there are other sections/areas that you including yours? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below

Related Posts:

  1. Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know
  2. On the Limitations of Using Vocabulary Tests with School-Aged Students
  3. Updated: What Does “Their Social Skills Are Just Fine” Really Means When it Comes to Children with Language Impairment
  4. Why Developmental History Matters: On the Importance of Background Information in Speech-Language Assessments
  5. The Importance of Narrative Assessments in Speech-Language Pathology (Revised)
  6. Analyzing Discourse Abilities of Adolescents via Peer Conflict Resolution (PCR) tasks
  7. What do Auditory Memory Deficits Indicate in the Presence of Average General Language Scores?
  8. Analyzing Narratives of School-Aged Children
  9. Adolescent Assessments in Action: Informal Reading Evaluation
  10. Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions? 
  11. Test Review of CELF-5 Metalinguistics: What SLPs Need to Know
  12. Do Our Therapy Goals Make Sense or How to Create Functional Language Intervention Targets
  13. Social Communication and Describing Skills: What is the Connection? 
  14. Recommendations for Assessing Language Abilities of Verbal Children with Down Syndrome (DS)
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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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Free Literacy Resources for Parents and Professionals

SLPs are constantly on the lookout for good quality affordable materials in the area of literacy. However, what many clinicians may not realize is that there are massive amounts of FREE evidence-based literacy-related resources available online for their use.  These materials can be easily adapted or implemented as is, by parents, teachers, speech-language pathologists, as well as other literacy-focused professionals (e.g., tutors, etc.).

Below, I have compiled a rather modest list of my preferred resources (including a few articles) for children aged Pre-K-12 grade pertaining to the following literacy-related areas:

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Vocabulary acquisition and semantic knowledge
  • Morphological Awareness
  • Reading fluency
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Writing

Cognitive foundation for learning to read is a website which compiled numerous research citations pertaining to how children learn to read.

A Curriculum Guide for Reading Mentors is a 184-page guide for reading mentors which contains valuable resources, research, as well as lesson plans with the name of teaching children to read.

Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert  is an open-access article which provides a “comprehensive tutorial review of the science of learning to read, spanning from children’s earliest alphabetic skills through to the fluent word recognition and skilled text comprehension characteristic of expert readers.”

Teaching Reading is Rocket Science is a seminal 1999 article by Louisa Moates for the American Federation of Teachers explaining that teaching reading to children effectively is much harder than people think.

What the Research Says We Should Really be Teaching in Reading  is a 60-page handout which describes components integral to reading success.

Effective Instruction For Adolescent Struggling Readers  is a guide which explains how professionals can intervene with adolescent learners with significant reading needs.

NJ Dyslexia Handbook  is a free guide from the state of New Jersey which provides “information to educators, students, families, and community members about dyslexia, early literacy development, and the best practices for identification, instruction, and accommodation of students who have reading difficulties.”

Useful Literacy Related Videos

*M. A Rooney Foundation provides professional learning support that focuses on increasing student achievement. Their resource library contains an enormous amount of information including complete Orton-Gillingham training manuals, lesson plans, card decks, etc.

The Literacy Bug Website is a great site, dedicated to, you guessed it, all things literacy. It has an amazing wealth of resources on such topics as Five Stages of Reading Development, Stages of Literacy Developmentas well as the following compilation of newly released materials:

FLORIDA CENTER FOR READING RESEARCH   has a vast collection of materials for Grades K-5 on the topics of

  • Alphabet Knowledge
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Language and Vocabulary  
  • Comprehension 

Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy (SEEL) website provides easy to use lesson plans for grades Pre-K-1

FREE Phonics Books for Parents and Teachers by Stephen Parker provide helpful step by step information for parents and teachers on how to teach synthetic phonics to children 2-10 years of age 

Free Phonics Books and Lessons  

Free Morphology Resources

Free Reading Comprehension Resources

Free Writing Resources

There you have it! My rather modest list of literacy-related FREE resources TO DATE, which I use with my clients on daily basis. Please note that I will continue to update this post periodically, as I gain knowledge of other relevant to literacy websites containing links to FREE EBP materials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tips on Reducing ‘Summer Learning Loss’ in Children with Language/Literacy Disorders

Related imageThe end of the school year is almost near. Soon many of our clients with language and literacy difficulties will be going on summer vacation and enjoying their time outside of school. However, summer is not all fun and games.  For children with learning needs, this is also a time of “learning loss”, or the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer break.  Students diagnosed with language and learning disabilities are at a particularly significant risk of greater learning loss than typically developing students.

 However, there are a number of things that parents can do in an attempt to address this problem. Firstly, consistency is important, so is that there is an opportunity for the students to attend an extended school year it should definitely be taken. Similarly, while all students deserve a hard-earned break, taking an extended break (e.g., two months) from private therapies is not recommended. In the absence of an opportunity to attend an extended school year program, attendance at a summer camp with a good educational component may be the next best option (if financially viable for the parents).

However, in the absence of these options, parents can still do a great deal with the children at home in order to promote learning as well as mitigate the effects of summer learning loss. Consider creating a learning schedule for the week.  Sit down with your child and determine how many minutes a day s/he would be willing to engage in learning.  Rather than doing everything in one day, create a schedule of dates and times when reading, math, as well as science and social studies may be tackled in manageable quantities.

There are a number of fun educational outings for families to embark on in the summer.  While attendance of museums, zoos, or fairs, is often paid, there are still many free events accessible to parents out of which one could potentially create wonderful learning opportunities.

Image result for free admissionDenizens of major cities such as Washington DC or New York have a plethora of free educational events accessible to them. The Washington Mall offers free admission while numerous New York museums offer free admission on selected days of the week. However, a quick search also reveals that many US states, offer wonderful free educational attractions. Here’s a list of major free educational attractions in the state of NJ, which includes an art museum, a living farm, a center for contemporary art, a naval museum, and a 9/11 memorial, just to name a few.  All of these locations could be turned into wonderful learning opportunities replete with novel vocabulary words with science and social study themes.

In addition to these outings is strongly recommended that parents encourage their children to read for pleasure.   There are numerous lists of books available by grade level for the purpose of summer reading.  Furthermore, it is strongly recommended that parents read aloud to their kids, (link to read aloud book recommendations HERE) especially those who are still emergent readers to facilitate vocabulary growth and “introduce young ears to complex and nuanced syntax“.

But it’s not all books and direct learning. A lot of learning can actually be accomplished indirectly via educational summer games as well.   Games such as A to Z Jr, Tribond Jr, Fib or Not, etc., are terrific for working on word finding, verbal reasoning, problem-solving, storytelling, etc. Furthermore, games such as Hedbanz are fantastic for improving executive function skills in the areas of emotional control, self-monitoring, organization, task initiation, etc.

Summer may be a time when learning slows down, but it doesn’t have to stop! Children can still accomplish a great deal of learning through read alouds, educational outings, fun language promoting games, and much, much more!

FOR A PDF HANDOUT FOR PARENTS PLEASE CLICK HERE

References:

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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?

 

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It’s All Due to …Language: How Subtle Symptoms Can Cause Serious Academic Deficits

Scenario: Len is a 7-2-year-old, 2nd-grade student who struggles with reading and writing in the classroom. He is very bright and has a high average IQ, yet when he is speaking he frequently can’t get his point across to others due to excessive linguistic reformulations and word-finding difficulties. The problem is that Len passed all the typical educational and language testing with flying colors, receiving average scores across the board on various tests including the Woodcock-Johnson Fourth Edition (WJ-IV) and the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-5 (CELF-5). Stranger still is the fact that he aced Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Second Edition (CTOPP-2), with flying colors, so he is not even eligible for a “dyslexia” diagnosis. Len is clearly struggling in the classroom with coherently expressing self, telling stories, understanding what he is reading, as well as putting his thoughts on paper. His parents have compiled impressively huge folders containing examples of his struggles. Yet because of his performance on the basic standardized assessment batteries, Len does not qualify for any functional assistance in the school setting, despite being virtually functionally illiterate in second grade.

The truth is that Len is quite a familiar figure to many SLPs, who at one time or another have encountered such a student and asked for guidance regarding the appropriate accommodations and services for him on various SLP-geared social media forums. But what makes Len such an enigma, one may inquire? Surely if the child had tangible deficits, wouldn’t standardized testing at least partially reveal them?

Well, it all depends really, on what type of testing was administered to Len in the first place. A few years ago I wrote a post entitled: “What Research Shows About the Functional Relevance of Standardized Language Tests“.  What researchers found is that there is a “lack of a correlation between frequency of test use and test accuracy, measured both in terms of sensitivity/specificity and mean difference scores” (Betz et al, 2012, 141). Furthermore, they also found that the most frequently used tests were the comprehensive assessments including the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals and the Preschool Language Scale as well as one-word vocabulary tests such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test”. Most damaging finding was the fact that: “frequently SLPs did not follow up the comprehensive standardized testing with domain-specific assessments (critical thinking, social communication, etc.) but instead used the vocabulary testing as a second measure”.(Betz et al, 2012, 140)

In other words, many SLPs only use the tests at hand rather than the RIGHT tests aimed at identifying the student’s specific deficits. But the problem doesn’t actually stop there. Due to the variation in psychometric properties of various tests, many children with language impairment are overlooked by standardized tests by receiving scores within the average range or not receiving low enough scores to qualify for services.

Thus, “the clinical consequence is that a child who truly has a language impairment has a roughly equal chance of being correctly or incorrectly identified, depending on the test that he or she is given.” Furthermore, “even if a child is diagnosed accurately as language impaired at one point in time, future diagnoses may lead to the false perception that the child has recovered, depending on the test(s) that he or she has been given (Spaulding, Plante & Farinella, 2006, 69).”

There’s of course yet another factor affecting our hypothetical client and that is his relatively young age. This is especially evident with many educational and language testing for children in the 5-7 age group. Because the bar is set so low, concept-wise for these age-groups, many children with moderate language and literacy deficits can pass these tests with flying colors, only to be flagged by them literally two years later and be identified with deficits, far too late in the game.  Coupled with the fact that many SLPs do not utilize non-standardized measures to supplement their assessments, Len is in a pretty serious predicament.

But what if there was a do-over? What could we do differently for Len to rectify this situation? For starters, we need to pay careful attention to his deficits profile in order to choose appropriate tests to evaluate his areas of needs. The above can be accomplished via a number of ways. The SLP can interview Len’s teacher and his caregiver/s in order to obtain a summary of his pressing deficits. Depending on the extent of the reported deficits the SLP can also provide them with a referral checklist to mark off the most significant areas of need.

In Len’s case, we already have a pretty good idea regarding what’s going on. We know that he passed basic language and educational testing, so in the words of Dr. Geraldine Wallach, we need to keep “peeling the onion” via the administration of more sensitive tests to tap into Len’s reported areas of deficits which include: word-retrieval, narrative production, as well as reading and writing.

For that purpose, Len is a good candidate for the administration of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS), which was developed to identify language and literacy disorders, has good psychometric properties, and contains subtests for assessment of relevant skills such as reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonological awareness,  spelling, as well as writing  in school-age children.

Given Len’s reported history of narrative production deficits, Len is also a good candidate for the administration of the Social Language Development Test Elementary (SLDTE). Here’s why. Research indicates that narrative weaknesses significantly correlate with social communication deficits (Norbury, Gemmell & Paul, 2014). As such, it’s not just children with Autism Spectrum Disorders who present with impaired narrative abilities. Many children with developmental language impairment (DLD) (#devlangdis) can present with significant narrative deficits affecting their social and academic functioning, which means that their social communication abilities need to be tested to confirm/rule out presence of these difficulties.

However, standardized tests are not enough, since even the best-standardized tests have significant limitations. As such, several non-standardized assessments in the areas of narrative production, reading, and writing, may be recommended for Len to meaningfully supplement his testing.

Let’s begin with an informal narrative assessment which provides detailed information regarding microstructural and macrostructural aspects of storytelling as well as child’s thought processes and socio-emotional functioning. My nonstandardized narrative assessments are based on the book elicitation recommendations from the SALT website. For 2nd graders, I use the book by Helen Lester entitled Pookins Gets Her Way. I first read the story to the child, then cover up the words and ask the child to retell the story based on pictures. I read the story first because: “the model narrative presents the events, plot structure, and words that the narrator is to retell, which allows more reliable scoring than a generated story that can go in many directions” (Allen et al, 2012, p. 207).

As the child is retelling his story I digitally record him using the Voice Memos application on my iPhone, for a later transcription and thorough analysis.  During storytelling, I only use the prompts: ‘What else can you tell me?’ and ‘Can you tell me more?’ to elicit additional information. I try not to prompt the child excessively since I am interested in cataloging all of his narrative-based deficits. After I transcribe the sample, I analyze it and make sure that I include the transcription and a detailed write-up in the body of my report, so parents and professionals can see and understand the nature of the child’s errors/weaknesses.

Now we are ready to move on to a brief nonstandardized reading assessment. For this purpose, I often use the books from the Continental Press series entitled: Reading for Comprehension, which contains books for grades 1-8.  After I confirm with either the parent or the child’s teacher that the selected passage is reflective of the complexity of work presented in the classroom for his grade level, I ask the child to read the text.  As the child is reading, I calculate the correct number of words he reads per minute as well as what type of errors the child is exhibiting during reading.  Then I ask the child to state the main idea of the text, summarize its key points as well as define select text embedded vocabulary words and answer a few, verbally presented reading comprehension questions. After that, I provide the child with accompanying 5 multiple choice question worksheet and ask the child to complete it. I analyze my results in order to determine whether I have accurately captured the child’s reading profile.

Finally, if any additional information is needed, I administer a nonstandardized writing assessment, which I base on the Common Core State Standards for 2nd grade. For this task, I provide a student with a writing prompt common for second grade and give him a period of 15-20 minutes to generate a writing sample. I then analyze the writing sample with respect to contextual conventions (punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and syntax) as well as story composition (overall coherence and cohesion of the written sample).

The above relatively short assessment battery (2 standardized tests and 3 informal assessment tasks) which takes approximately 2-2.5 hours to administer, allows me to create a comprehensive profile of the child’s language and literacy strengths and needs. It also allows me to generate targeted goals in order to begin effective and meaningful remediation of the child’s deficits.

Children like Len will, unfortunately, remain unidentified unless they are administered more sensitive tasks to better understand their subtle pattern of deficits. Consequently, to ensure that they do not fall through the cracks of our educational system due to misguided overreliance on a limited number of standardized assessments, it is very important that professionals select the right assessments, rather than the assessments at hand, in order to accurately determine the child’s areas of needs.

References:

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Making Our Interventions Count or What’s Research Got To Do With It?

Two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled: “What’s Memes Got To Do With It?” which summarized key points of Dr. Alan G. Kamhi’s 2004 article: “A Meme’s Eye View of Speech-Language Pathology“. It delved into answering the following question: “Why do some terms, labels, ideas, and constructs [in our field] prevail whereas others fail to gain acceptance?”.

Today I would like to reference another article by Dr. Kamhi written in 2014, entitled “Improving Clinical Practices for Children With Language and Learning Disorders“.

This article was written to address the gaps between research and clinical practice with respect to the implementation of EBP for intervention purposes.

Dr. Kamhi begins the article by posing 10 True or False questions for his readers:

  1. Learning is easier than generalization.
  2. Instruction that is constant and predictable is more effective than instruction that varies the conditions of learning and practice.
  3. Focused stimulation (massed practice) is a more effective teaching strategy than varied stimulation (distributed practice).
  4. The more feedback, the better.
  5. Repeated reading of passages is the best way to learn text information.
  6. More therapy is always better.
  7. The most effective language and literacy interventions target processing limitations rather than knowledge deficits.
  8. Telegraphic utterances (e.g., push ball, mommy sock) should not be provided as input for children with limited language.
  9. Appropriate language goals include increasing levels of mean length of utterance (MLU) and targeting Brown’s (1973) 14 grammatical morphemes.
  10. Sequencing is an important skill for narrative competence.

Guess what? Only statement 8 of the above quiz is True! Every other statement from the above is FALSE!

Now, let’s talk about why that is!

First up is the concept of learning vs. generalization. Here Dr. Kamhi discusses that some clinicians still possess an “outdated behavioral view of learning” in our field, which is not theoretically and clinically useful. He explains that when we are talking about generalization – what children truly have a difficulty with is “transferring narrow limited rules to new situations“. “Children with language and learning problems will have difficulty acquiring broad-based rules and modifying these rules once acquired, and they also will be more vulnerable to performance demands on speech production and comprehension (Kamhi, 1988)” (93). After all, it is not “reasonable to expect children to use language targets consistently after a brief period of intervention” and while we hope that “language intervention [is] designed to lead children with language disorders to acquire broad-based language rules” it is a hugely difficult task to undertake and execute.

Next, Dr. Kamhi addresses the issue of instructional factors, specifically the importance of “varying conditions of instruction and practice“.  Here, he addresses the fact that while contextualized instruction is highly beneficial to learners unless we inject variability and modify various aspects of instruction including context, composition, duration, etc., we ran the risk of limiting our students’ long-term outcomes.

After that, Dr. Kamhi addresses the concept of distributed practice (spacing of intervention) and how important it is for teaching children with language disorders. He points out that a number of recent studies have found that “spacing and distribution of teaching episodes have more of an impact on treatment outcomes than treatment intensity” (94).

He also advocates reducing evaluative feedback to learners to “enhance long-term retention and generalization of motor skills“. While he cites research from studies pertaining to speech production, he adds that language learning could also benefit from this practice as it would reduce conversational disruptions and tunning out on the part of the student.

From there he addresses the limitations of repetition for specific tasks (e.g., text rereading). He emphasizes how important it is for students to recall and retrieve text rather than repeatedly reread it (even without correction), as the latter results in a lack of comprehension/retention of read information.

After that, he discusses treatment intensity. Here he emphasizes the fact that higher dose of instruction will not necessarily result in better therapy outcomes due to the research on the effects of “learning plateaus and threshold effects in language and literacy” (95). We have seen research on this with respect to joint book reading, vocabulary words exposure, etc. As such, at a certain point in time increased intensity may actually result in decreased treatment benefits.

His next point against processing interventions is very near and dear to my heart. Those of you familiar with my blog know that I have devoted a substantial number of posts pertaining to the lack of validity of CAPD diagnosis (as a standalone entity) and urged clinicians to provide language based vs. specific auditory interventions which lack treatment utility. Here, Dr. Kamhi makes a great point that: “Interventions that target processing skills are particularly appealing because they offer the promise of improving language and learning deficits without having to directly target the specific knowledge and skills required to be a proficient speaker, listener, reader, and writer.” (95) The problem is that we have numerous studies on the topic of improvement of isolated skills (e.g., auditory skills, working memory, slow processing, etc.) which clearly indicate lack of effectiveness of these interventions.  As such, “practitioners should be highly skeptical of interventions that promise quick fixes for language and learning disabilities” (96).

Now let us move on to language and particularly the models we provide to our clients to encourage greater verbal output. Research indicates that when clinicians are attempting to expand children’s utterances, they need to provide well-formed language models. Studies show that children select strong input when its surrounded by weaker input (the surrounding weaker syllables make stronger syllables stand out).  As such, clinicians should expand upon/comment on what clients are saying with grammatically complete models vs. telegraphic productions.

From there lets us take a look at Dr. Kamhi’s recommendations for grammar and syntax. Grammatical development goes much further than addressing Brown’s morphemes in therapy and calling it a day. As such, it is important to understand that children with developmental language disorders (DLD) (#DevLang) do not have difficulty acquiring all morphemes. Rather studies have shown that they have difficulty learning grammatical morphemes that reflect tense and agreement  (e.g., third-person singular, past tense, auxiliaries, copulas, etc.). As such, use of measures developed by (e.g., Tense Marker Total & Productivity Score) can yield helpful information regarding which grammatical structures to target in therapy.

With respect to syntax, Dr. Kamhi notes that many clinicians erroneously believe that complex syntax should be targeted when children are much older. The Common Core State Standards do not help this cause further, since according to the CCSS complex syntax should be targeted 2-3 grades, which is far too late. Typically developing children begin developing complex syntax around 2 years of age and begin readily producing it around 3 years of age. As such, clinicians should begin targeting complex syntax in preschool years and not wait until the children have mastered all morphemes and clauses (97)

Finally, Dr. Kamhi wraps up his article by offering suggestions regarding prioritizing intervention goals. Here, he explains that goal prioritization is affected by

  • clinician experience and competencies
  • the degree of collaboration with other professionals
  • type of service delivery model
  • client/student factors

He provides a hypothetical case scenario in which the teaching responsibilities are divvied up between three professionals, with SLP in charge of targeting narrative discourse. Here, he explains that targeting narratives does not involve targeting sequencing abilities. “The ability to understand and recall events in a story or script depends on conceptual understanding of the topic and attentional/memory abilities, not sequencing ability.”  He emphasizes that sequencing is not a distinct cognitive process that requires isolated treatment. Yet many SLPs “continue to believe that  sequencing is a distinct processing skill that needs to be assessed and treated.” (99)

Dr. Kamhi supports the above point by providing an example of two passages. One, which describes a random order of events, and another which follows a logical order of events. He then points out that the randomly ordered story relies exclusively on attention and memory in terms of “sequencing”, while the second story reduces demands on memory due to its logical flow of events. As such, he points out that retelling deficits seemingly related to sequencing, tend to be actually due to “limitations in attention, working memory, and/or conceptual knowledge“. Hence, instead of targeting sequencing abilities in therapy, SLPs should instead use contextualized language intervention to target aspects of narrative development (macro and microstructural elements).

Furthermore, here it is also important to note that the “sequencing fallacy” affects more than just narratives. It is very prevalent in the intervention process in the form of the ubiquitous “following directions” goal/s. Many clinicians readily create this goal for their clients due to their belief that it will result in functional therapeutic language gains. However, when one really begins to deconstruct this goal, one will realize that it involves a number of discrete abilities including: memory, attention, concept knowledge, inferencing, etc.  Consequently, targeting the above goal will not result in any functional gains for the students (their memory abilities will not magically improve as a result of it). Instead, targeting specific language and conceptual goals  (e.g., answering questions, producing complex sentences, etc.) and increasing the students’ overall listening comprehension and verbal expression will result in improvements in the areas of attention, memory, and processing, including their ability to follow complex directions.

There you have it! Ten practical suggestions from Dr. Kamhi ready for immediate implementation! And for more information, I highly recommend reading the other articles in the same clinical forum, all of which possess highly practical and relevant ideas for therapeutic implementation. They include:

References:

Kamhi, A. (2014). Improving clinical practices for children with language and learning disorders.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45(2), 92-103

Helpful Social Media Resources:

SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice

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