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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5Personification? Oh, yes, plenty of sources!

6Onomatopoeia?  Ono mono, no problem! 

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

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

Some basic questions to ask the students:

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

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

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

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

What makes it __________?

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

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

Helpful FREE Online Resources:

Helpful FREE TPT Worksheets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helpful Select Resources:

Related Posts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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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On the Disadvantages of Parents Ceasing to Speak the Birth Language with Bilingual Language Impaired Children

ChildrenDespite significant advances in the fields of education and speech pathology, many harmful myths pertaining to multilingualism continue to persist. One particularly infuriating and patently incorrect recommendation to parents is the advice to stop speaking the birth language with their bilingual children with language disorders.

There is a plethora of evidence available regarding how bilingualism facilitates, increases, and improves language gains in children with developmental language disorders (DLD) as well as genetic conditions and syndromes (e.g., ASD, DS, FXS, etc.) Numerous researchers have released results of studies indicating the advantages of being bilingual for language impaired children (see this issue of Journal of Communication Disorders for starters for some studies on this subject).

But today in addition to briefly reiterating these advantages, I’d like to also explicitly discuss the disadvantages, which can result when parents are told to stop speaking the birth language with their language impaired children and switch to English-only interactions.

Cognitive advantages of maintaining the birth language for bilingual children with language impairments  (whose parents are able to provide them with that opportunity in the home) include increased attentional control and working memory, as well as perspective taking abilities. Linguistic advantages include increased awareness of vocabulary and grammar. Even social skills of these children have been reported to be more advanced as compared to monolingual only peers (See Pena, 2016, pp. 88-89 for a review of pertinent studies)

But what happens when parents decide to speak English only to their language impaired bilingual child? In the words of Helen Lester’s ‘Pookins’, lots! And I don’t mean it in a good way!

—Research indicates that children with language disorders will have language deficits in all the languages that they speak. As such, no matter which language is being used, the child will still present with some difficulty acquiring it and will do so at a much slower pace (Kohnert, 2010).

The problem is that NOT using the native language, can limit language and early literacy practices at home during sensitive periods of language acquisition. This will result in poorer language outcomes as compared to bilingual language impaired peers whose birth language continued to be supported at home. (Ijalba, 2010)

“There is also evidence to show that young minority L1 learners with impaired language systems are even more vulnerable than unaffected bilingual peers to loss or early plateaus in the home language if it is not supported ().” (Kohnert, 2010, p. 8)

“Minority-language families are especially affected since English is usually recommended as the target language.”  (Yu, 2016, p. 424) Some studies have reported that: “parents expressed personal loss and sadness (Fernandez y Garcia et al., 2012) if they chose to speak only English to their child with ASD.” Other studies have reported that “some [parents] also expressed discomfort and difficulty when speaking a non-native language with their child (Yu, 2013) or said they talked less frequently to their child when they used the majority language because it felt less natural.” (Bird, Genesee, Verhoeven, 2016. p. 5)

Perhaps the most disturbing findings are the studies that show that eliminating speaking birth language at home causes an emotional disconnect between immediate and extended family members and the child in question (Kouritzin, 1999; Tseng & Fuligni, 2000; Wharton et al 2000). Wharton and colleagues found that immigrant parents were more affective and engaging with their autistic children when they used their native language Wharton et al (2000).  Contrastingly, Kremer-Sadlik (2005) found that parents are less likely to engage their children in conversation when they cannot use their native language and that it further isolates a child who needs help with interactive skills.

“The advice to stick with a language that the family doesn’t speak well only intensifies the alienation experienced by these children.”  “You’re taking a child who is already socially isolated and you’re making them even more isolated”. Consequently, “development of heritage languages and bilingual competencies may be especially important for children with ASD given their core challenges in socialization, communication, and relational development.” (Yu, 2016, p. 434)

Given the combined results of the above studies, it is hugely important for professionals to appropriately support the parents of bilingual children with language and learning needs when it comes to offering them relevant recommendations on the topic of language use in the home. This can be accomplished by sharing with them the synthesis of currently available studies on the topic of bilingualism and language disorders, as well as encouraging them to speak the birth language in the home if they are willing and able to, rather than embracing English only practices, which may result in significant detrimental effects for both bilingual children and their families.

FOR A PDF HANDOUT FOR PARENTS AND PROFESSIONALS PLEASE CLICK HERE

Select Parent-Friendly Resources:

 References:

  1. Fernandez y Garcia, E., Brelau, J., Hansen, R., & Miller, E. (2012). Unintended consequences: An ethnographic narrative case series exploring language recommendations for bilingual families of children with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology, 20, 10–16.
  2. Hakansson G, Salameh E, Nettelbladt U. (2003) Measuring language development in bilingual children: Swedish-Arabic children with and without language impairmentLinguistics. 41:255–288.
  3. Ijalba, E (2010) Supporting early-literacy and language acquisition among bilingual children in HeadStart ASHA Convention Handout: Philadelphia, PA.
  4. Kay-Raining Bird, E, Genesee, F & Verhoeven, L (2016) Bilingualism in children with developmental disorders: A narrative review.  Journal of Communication Disorders, (63), pp. 1-14.
  5. Kohnert, K. (2010). Bilingual children with primary language impairment: Issues, evidence and implications for clinical actions. Journal of Communication Disorders43, 465–473.
  6. Kouritzin, S (1999) Face[t]s of First Language Loss. Routledge.
  7. Kremer-Sadlik, T. (2005). To be or not to be bilingual: Autistic children from multilingual families. Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, ed. James Cohen, Kara T. McAlister, Kellie Rolstad, and Jeff MacSwan, 1225-1234.
  8. Peña, E (2016) Supporting the home language of bilingual children with developmental disabilities: From knowing to doing. Journal of Communication Disorders, (63), pp. 85-92.
  9. Restrepo MA, Kruth K. (2001) Grammatical characteristics of a Spanish-English bilingual child with specific language impairment. Communication Disorders Quarterly. 21:66–76.
  10. Salameh E, Hakansson G, Nettelbladt U. (2004) Developmental perspectives on bilingual Swedish-Arabic children with and without language impairment: A longitudinal study. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders. 39:65–91
  11. Tseng, Vivian. & Fuligni, Andrew J.(2000). Parent-adolescent language use and relationships among immigrant families with east Asian, Filipino and Latin American background. Journal of Marriage & Family, Vol. 62, No. 2,
  12. Wharton, R et al. (2000). Children with special need in bilingual families: A developmental approach to language recommendations. ICDL Clinical Practice Guidelines. The Unicorn Children’s Foundation: ICDL Press, Ch. 7. Pp 141-151.
  13. Yu, B. (2013). Issues in bilingualism and heritage language maintenance: Perspectives of minority-language mothers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 22, 10–24.
  14. Yu, B. (2016). Bilingualism as conceptualized and bilingualism as lived: A critical examination of the monolingual socialization of a child with autism in a bilingual family. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 424-435.

For more information on Evidence-Based Practices in Speech-Language Pathologists, SLPs can check out SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice 

For more Smart Speech LLC bilingual resources and topics click HERE

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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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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.

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