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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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Smart Speech Therapy Black Friday Sale!

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New Products for the 2017 Academic School Year for SLPs

Image result for back to schoolSeptember is quickly approaching and  school-based speech language pathologists (SLPs) are preparing to go back to work. Many of them are looking to update their arsenal of speech and language materials for the upcoming academic school year.

With that in mind, I wanted to update my readers regarding all the new products I have recently created with a focus on assessment and treatment in speech language pathology.

My most recent product Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology  is a 130-slide pdf download which discusses how to effectively select assessment materials in order to conduct comprehensive evaluations of adolescents with suspected language and literacy disorders. It contains embedded links to ALL the books and research articles used in the development of this product.

Effective Reading Instruction Strategies for Intellectually Impaired Students is a 50-slide downloadable presentation in pdf format which describes how speech-language pathologists (SLPs) trained in assessment and intervention of literacy disorders (reading, spelling, and writing) can teach phonological awareness, phonics, as well as reading fluency skills to children with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities. It reviews the research on reading interventions conducted with children with intellectual disabilities, lists components of effective reading instruction as well as explains how to incorporate components of reading instruction into language therapy sessions.

Dysgraphia Checklist for School-Aged Children helps to identify the students’ specific written language deficits who may require further assessment and treatment services to improve their written abilities.

Processing Disorders: Controversial Aspects of Diagnosis and Treatment is a 28-slide downloadable pdf presentation which provides an introduction to processing disorders.  It describes the diversity of ‘APD’ symptoms as well as explains the current controversies pertaining to the validity of the ‘APD’ diagnosis.  It also discusses how the label “processing difficulties” often masks true language and learning deficits in students which require appropriate language and literacy assessment and targeted intervention services.

Checklist for Identification of Speech Language Disorders in Bilingual and Multicultural Children was created to assist Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) and Teachers in the decision-making process of how to appropriately identify bilingual and multicultural children who present with speech-language delay/deficits (vs. a language difference), for the purpose of initiating a formal speech-language-literacy evaluation.  The goal is to ensure that educational professionals are appropriately identifying bilingual children for assessment and service provision due to legitimate speech language deficits/concerns, and are not over-identifying students because they speak multiple languages or because they come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Comprehensive Assessment and Treatment of Literacy Disorders in Speech-Language Pathology is a 125 slide presentation which describes how speech-language pathologists can effectively assess and treat children with literacy disorders, (reading, spelling, and writing deficits including dyslexia) from preschool through adolescence.  It explains the impact of language disorders on literacy development, lists formal and informal assessment instruments and procedures, as well as describes the importance of assessing higher order language skills for literacy purposes. It reviews components of effective reading instruction including phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, vocabulary awareness,  morphological awareness, as well as reading fluency and comprehension. Finally, it provides recommendations on how components of effective reading instruction can be cohesively integrated into speech-language therapy sessions in order to improve literacy abilities of children with language disorders and learning disabilities.

Improving critical thinking via picture booksImproving Critical Thinking Skills via Picture Books in Children with Language Disorders is a partial 30-slide presentation which discusses effective instructional strategies for teaching language disordered children critical thinking skills via the use of picture books utilizing both the Original (1956) and Revised (2001) Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the (R) categories of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.

from wordless books to reading From Wordless Picture Books to Reading Instruction: Effective Strategies for SLPs Working with Intellectually Impaired Students is a full 92 slide presentation which discusses how to address the development of critical thinking skills through a variety of picture books  utilizing the framework outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the categories of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in children with intellectual impairments. It shares a number of similarities with the above product as it also reviews components of effective reading instruction for children with language and intellectual disabilities as well as provides recommendations on how to integrate reading instruction effectively into speech-language therapy sessions.

Best Practices in Bilingual LiteracyBest Practices in Bilingual Literacy Assessments and Interventions is a 105 slide presentation which focuses on how bilingual speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can effectively assess and intervene with simultaneously bilingual and multicultural children (with stronger academic English language skills) diagnosed with linguistically-based literacy impairments. Topics include components of effective literacy assessments for simultaneously bilingual children (with stronger English abilities), best instructional literacy practices, translanguaging support strategies, critical questions relevant to the provision of effective interventions, as well as use of accommodations, modifications and compensatory strategies for improvement of bilingual students’ performance in social and academic settings.

Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children was created to assist Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) in the decision-making process of how to identify deficit areas and select assessment instruments to prioritize a literacy assessment for school aged children. The goal is to eliminate administration of unnecessary or irrelevant tests and focus on the administration of instruments directly targeting the specific areas of difficulty that the student presents with.

You can find these and other products in my online store (HERE). Wishing all of you a highly successful and rewarding school year!

Image result for happy school year

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A Focus on Literacy

Image result for literacyIn recent months, I have been focusing more and more on speaking engagements as well as the development of products with an explicit focus on assessment and intervention of literacy in speech-language pathology. Today I’d like to introduce 4 of my recently developed products pertinent to assessment and treatment of literacy in speech-language pathology.

First up is the Comprehensive Assessment and Treatment of Literacy Disorders in Speech-Language Pathology

which describes how speech-language pathologists can effectively assess and treat children with literacy disorders, (reading, spelling, and writing deficits including dyslexia) from preschool through adolescence.  It explains the impact of language disorders on literacy development, lists formal and informal assessment instruments and procedures, as well as describes the importance of assessing higher order language skills for literacy purposes. It reviews components of effective reading instruction including phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, vocabulary awareness,  morphological awareness, as well as reading fluency and comprehension. Finally, it provides recommendations on how components of effective reading instruction can be cohesively integrated into speech-language therapy sessions in order to improve literacy abilities of children with language disorders and learning disabilities.

from wordless books to readingNext up is a product entitled From Wordless Picture Books to Reading Instruction: Effective Strategies for SLPs Working with Intellectually Impaired StudentsThis product discusses how to address the development of critical thinking skills through a variety of picture books utilizing the framework outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the categories of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in children with intellectual impairments. It shares a number of similarities with the above product as it also reviews components of effective reading instruction for children with language and intellectual disabilities as well as provides recommendations on how to integrate reading instruction effectively into speech-language therapy sessions.

Improving critical thinking via picture booksThe product Improving Critical Thinking Skills via Picture Books in Children with Language Disorders is also available for sale on its own with a focus on only teaching critical thinking skills via the use of picture books.

Best Practices in Bilingual LiteracyFinally,   my last product Best Practices in Bilingual Literacy Assessments and Interventions focuses on how bilingual speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can effectively assess and intervene with simultaneously bilingual and multicultural children (with stronger academic English language skills) diagnosed with linguistically-based literacy impairments. Topics include components of effective literacy assessments for simultaneously bilingual children (with stronger English abilities), best instructional literacy practices, translanguaging support strategies, critical questions relevant to the provision of effective interventions, as well as use of accommodations, modifications and compensatory strategies for improvement of bilingual students’ performance in social and academic settings.

You can find these and other products in my online store (HERE).

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:

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New Product Giveaway: Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children

I wanted to start the new year right by giving away a few copies of a new checklist I recently created entitled: “Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children“.

It was created to assist Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) in the decision-making process of how to identify deficit areas and select assessment instruments to prioritize a literacy assessment for school aged children.

The goal is to eliminate administration of unnecessary or irrelevant tests and focus on the administration of instruments directly targeting the specific areas of difficulty that the student presents with.

*For the purpose of this product, the term “literacy checklist” rather than “dyslexia checklist” is used throughout this document to refer to any deficits in the areas of reading, writing, and spelling that the child may present with in order to identify any possible difficulties the child may present with, in the areas of literacy as well as language.

This checklist can be used for multiple purposes.

1. To identify areas of deficits the child presents with for targeted assessment purposes

2. To highlight areas of strengths (rather than deficits only) the child presents with pre or post intervention

3. To highlight residual deficits for intervention purpose in children already receiving therapy services without further reassessment

Checklist Contents:

  • Page 1 Title
  • Page 2 Directions
  • Pages 3-9 Checklist
  • Page 10 Select Tests of Reading, Spelling, and Writing for School-Aged Children
  • Pages 11-12 Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Materials

Checklist Areas:

  1. AT RISK FAMILY HISTORY
  2. AT RISK DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY
  3. BEHAVIORAL MANIFESTATIONS 
  4. LEARNING DEFICITS   
    1. Memory for Sequences
    2. Vocabulary Knowledge
    3. Narrative Production
    4. Phonological Awareness
    5. Phonics
    6. Morphological Awareness
    7. Reading Fluency
    8. Reading Comprehension
    9. Spelling
    10. Writing Conventions
    11. Writing Composition 
    12. Handwriting

You can find this product in my online store HERE.

Would you like to check it out in action? I’ll be giving away two copies of the checklist in a Rafflecopter Giveaway to two winners.  So enter today to win your own copy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Comprehensive Assessment of Adolescents with Suspected Language and Literacy Disorders

When many of us think of such labels as “language disorder” or “learning disability”, very infrequently do adolescents (students 13-18 years of age) come to mind. Even today, much of the research in the field of pediatric speech pathology involves preschool and school-aged children under 12 years of age.

The prevalence and incidence of language disorders in adolescents is very difficult to estimate due to which some authors even referred to them as a Neglected Group with Significant Problems having an “invisible disability“.

Far fewer speech language therapists work with middle-schoolers vs. preschoolers and elementary aged kids, while the numbers of SLPs working with high-school aged students is frequently in single digits in some districts while being completely absent in others. In fact, I am frequently told (and often see it firsthand) that some administrators try to cut costs by attempting to dictate a discontinuation of speech-language services on the grounds that adolescents “are far too old for services” or can “no longer benefit from services”.  

But of course the above is blatantly false. Undetected language deficits don’t resolve with age! They simply exacerbate and turn into learning disabilities. Similarly, lack of necessary and appropriate service provision to children with diagnosed language impairments  at the middle-school and high-school levels will strongly affect their academic functioning and hinder their future vocational outcomes.

A cursory look at the Speech Pathology Related  Facebook Groups as well as ASHA forums reveals numerous SLPs in a continual search for best methods of assessment and treatment of older students (~12-18 years of age).  

Consequently, today I wanted to dedicate this post to a review of standardized assessments options available for students 12-18 years of age with suspected language and literacy deficits.

Most comprehensive standardized assessments, “typically focus on semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology, as these are the performance areas in which specific skill development can be most objectively measured” (Hill & Coufal, 2005, p 35). Very few of them actually incorporate aspects of literacy into its subtests in a meaningful way.  Yet by the time students reach adolescence literacy begins to play an incredibly critical role not just in all the aspects of academics but also social communication.

So when it comes to comprehensive general language testing I highly recommended that SLPs select  standardized measures with a focus on not  language but also literacy.  Presently of all the comprehensive assessment tools   I highly prefer the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS) for students up to 18 years of age, (see a comprehensive review HERE),  which covers such literacy areas as phonological awareness, reading fluency, reading comprehension, writing and spelling in addition to traditional language areas as as vocabulary awareness, following directions, story recall, etc. However,  while comprehensive tests have  numerous  uses,  their sole  administration will not constitute an adequate assessment.

So what areas should be assessed during language and literacy testing?  Below are  a few suggestions of standardized testing measures (and informal procedures) aimed at exploring the student abilities in particular areas pertaining to language and literacy.

TESTS OF LANGUAGE

TESTS OF LITERACYscreen-shot-2016-10-09-at-2-29-57-pm

It is understandable  how given the sheer amount of assessment choices some clinicians may feel overwhelmed and be unsure regarding the starting point of an adolescent evaluation.   Consequently, the use the checklist prior to the initiation of assessment may be highly useful in order to identify potential language weaknesses/deficits the students might experience. It will also allow clinicians to prioritize  the hierarchy of testing instruments to use during the assessment.  

While clinicians are encouraged to develop such checklists for their personal use,  those who lack time and opportunity can locate a number of already available checklists on the market. 

For example, the comprehensive 6-page Speech Language Assessment Checklist for Adolescents (below) can be given to caregivers, classroom teachers, and even older students in order to check off the most pressing difficulties the student is experiencing in an academic setting. 

adolescent checklist

It is important for several individuals to fill out this checklist to ensure consistency of deficits, prior to determining whether an assessment is warranted in the first place and if so, which assessment areas need to be targeted.

Checklist Categories:

  1. Receptive Language
  2. Memory, Attention and Cognition
  3. Expressive Language
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Discourse
  6. Speech
  7. Voice
  8. Prosody
  9. Resonance
  10. Reading
  11. Writing
  12. Problem Solving
  13. Pragmatic Language Skills
  14. Social Emotional Development
  15. Executive Functioning

alolescent pages sample

Based on the checklist administration SLPs can  reliably pinpoint the student’s areas of deficits without needless administration of unrelated/unnecessary testing instruments.  For example, if a student presents with deficits in the areas of problem solving and social pragmatic functioning the administration of a general language test such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals® – Fifth Edition (CELF-5) would NOT be functional (especially if the previous administration of educational testing did not reveal any red flags). In contrast, the administration of such tests as Test Of Problem Solving 2 Adolescent and Social Language Development Test Adolescent would be better reflective of the student’s deficits in the above areas. (Checklist HERE; checklist sample HERE). 

It is very important to understand that students presenting with language and literacy deficits will not outgrow these deficits on their own. While there may be “a time period when the students with early language disorders seem to catch up with their typically developing peers” (e.g., illusory recovery) by undergoing a “spurt” in language learning”(Sun & Wallach, 2014). These spurts are typically followed by a “post-spurt plateau”. This is because due to the ongoing challenges and an increase in academic demands “many children with early language disorders fail to “outgrow” these difficulties or catch up with their typically developing peers”(Sun & Wallach, 2014).  As such many adolescents “may not show academic or language-related learning difficulties until linguistic and cognitive demands of the task increase and exceed their limited abilities” (Sun & Wallach, 2014).  Consequently, SLPs must consider the “underlying deficits that may be masked by early oral language development” and “evaluate a child’s language abilities in all modalities, including pre-literacy, literacy, and metalinguistic skills” (Sun & Wallach, 2014).

References:

  1. Hill, J. W., & Coufal, K. L. (2005). Emotional/behavioral disorders: A retrospective examination of social skills, linguistics, and student outcomes. Communication Disorders Quarterly27(1), 33–46.
  2. Sun, L & Wallach G (2014) Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities: Challenges on the Divergent and Diverse Paths to Language Learning Disability. Topics in Language Disorders, Vol. 34; (1), pp 25–38.

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources 

  1. Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology 
  2. Assessment and Treatment Bundles 
  3. Social Communication Materials
  4. Multicultural Materials 

 

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Review of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS)

The Test of Integrated Language & Literacy Skills (TILLS) is an assessment of oral and written language abilities in students 6–18 years of age. Published in the Fall 2015, it is  unique in the way that it is aimed to thoroughly assess skills  such as reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonological awareness,  spelling, as well as writing  in school age children.   As I have been using this test since the time it was published,  I wanted to take an opportunity today to share just a few of my impressions of this assessment.

               

First, a little background on why I chose to purchase this test  so shortly after I had purchased the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5 (CELF-5).   Soon after I started using the CELF-5  I noticed that  it tended to considerably overinflate my students’ scores  on a variety of its subtests.  In fact,  I noticed that unless a student had a fairly severe degree of impairment,  the majority of his/her scores  came out either low/slightly below average (click for more info on why this was happening HERE, HEREor HERE). Consequently,  I was excited to hear regarding TILLS development, almost simultaneously through ASHA as well as SPELL-Links ListServe.   I was particularly happy  because I knew some of this test’s developers (e.g., Dr. Elena Plante, Dr. Nickola Nelson) have published solid research in the areas of  psychometrics and literacy respectively.

According to the TILLS developers it has been standardized for 3 purposes:

  • to identify language and literacy disorders
  • to document patterns of relative strengths and weaknesses
  • to track changes in language and literacy skills over time

The testing subtests can be administered in isolation (with the exception of a few) or in its entirety.  The administration of all the 15 subtests may take approximately an hour and a half, while the administration of the core subtests typically takes ~45 mins).

Please note that there are 5 subtests that should not be administered to students 6;0-6;5 years of age because many typically developing students are still mastering the required skills.

  • Subtest 5 – Nonword Spelling
  • Subtest 7 – Reading Comprehension
  • Subtest 10 – Nonword Reading
  • Subtest 11 – Reading Fluency
  • Subtest 12 – Written Expression

However,  if needed, there are several tests of early reading and writing abilities which are available for assessment of children under 6:5 years of age with suspected literacy deficits (e.g., TERA-3: Test of Early Reading Ability–Third Edition; Test of Early Written Language, Third Edition-TEWL-3, etc.).

Let’s move on to take a deeper look at its subtests. Please note that for the purposes of this review all images came directly from and are the property of Brookes Publishing Co (clicking on each of the below images will take you directly to their source).

TILLS-subtest-1-vocabulary-awareness1. Vocabulary Awareness (VA) (description above) requires students to display considerable linguistic and cognitive flexibility in order to earn an average score.    It works great in teasing out students with weak vocabulary knowledge and use,   as well as students who are unable to  quickly and effectively analyze  words  for deeper meaning and come up with effective definitions of all possible word associations. Be mindful of the fact that  even though the words are presented to the students in written format in the stimulus book, the examiner is still expected to read  all the words to the students. Consequently,  students with good vocabulary knowledge  and strong oral language abilities  can still pass this subtest  despite the presence of significant reading weaknesses. Recommendation:  I suggest informally  checking the student’s  word reading abilities  by asking them to read of all the words, before reading all the word choices to them.   This way  you can informally document any word misreadings  made by the student even in the presence of an average subtest score.

TIILLS-subtest-2-phonemic-awareness

2. The Phonemic Awareness (PA) subtest (description above) requires students to  isolate and delete initial sounds in words of increasing complexity.  While this subtest does not require sound isolation and deletion in various word positions, similar to tests such as the CTOPP-2: Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing–Second Edition  or the The Phonological Awareness Test 2 (PAT 2)  it is still a highly useful and reliable measure of  phonemic awareness (as one of many precursors to reading fluency success).  This is especially because after the initial directions are given, the student is expected to remember to isolate the initial sounds in words without any prompting from the examiner.  Thus,  this task also  indirectly tests the students’ executive function abilities in addition to their phonemic awareness skills.

TILLS-subtest-3-story-retelling

3. The Story Retelling (SR) subtest (description above) requires students to do just that retell a story. Be mindful of the fact that the presented stories have reduced complexity. Thus, unless the students possess  significant retelling deficits, the above subtest  may not capture their true retelling abilities. Recommendation:  Consider supplementing this subtest  with informal narrative measures. For younger children (kindergarten and first grade) I recommend using wordless picture books to perform a dynamic assessment of their retelling abilities following a clinician’s narrative model (e.g., HERE).  For early elementary aged children (grades 2 and up), I recommend using picture books, which are first read to and then retold by the students with the benefit of pictorial but not written support. Finally, for upper elementary aged children (grades 4 and up), it may be helpful for the students to retell a book or a movie seen recently (or liked significantly) by them without the benefit of visual support all together (e.g., HERE).

TILLS-subtest-4-nonword-repetition

4. The Nonword Repetition (NR) subtest (description above) requires students to repeat nonsense words of increasing length and complexity. Weaknesses in the area of nonword repetition have consistently been associated with language impairments and learning disabilities due to the task’s heavy reliance on phonological segmentation as well as phonological and lexical knowledge (Leclercq, Maillart, Majerus, 2013). Thus, both monolingual and simultaneously bilingual children with language and literacy impairments will be observed to present with patterns of segment substitutions (subtle substitutions of sounds and syllables in presented nonsense words) as well as segment deletions of nonword sequences more than 2-3 or 3-4 syllables in length (depending on the child’s age).

TILLS-subtest-5-nonword-spelling

5. The Nonword Spelling (NS) subtest (description above) requires the students to spell nonwords from the Nonword Repetition (NR) subtest. Consequently, the Nonword Repetition (NR) subtest needs to be administered prior to the administration of this subtest in the same assessment session.  In contrast to the real-word spelling tasks,  students cannot memorize the spelling  of the presented words,  which are still bound by  orthographic and phonotactic constraints of the English language.   While this is a highly useful subtest,  is important to note that simultaneously bilingual children may present with decreased scores due to vowel errors.   Consequently,  it is important to analyze subtest results in order to determine whether dialectal differences rather than a presence of an actual disorder is responsible for the error patterns.

TILLS-subtest-6-listening-comprehension

6. The  Listening Comprehension (LC) subtest (description above) requires the students to listen to short stories  and then definitively answer story questions via available answer choices, which include: “Yes”, “No’, and “Maybe”. This subtest also indirectly measures the students’ metalinguistic awareness skills as they are needed to detect when the text does not provide sufficient information to answer a particular question definitively (e.g., “Maybe” response may be called for).  Be mindful of the fact that because the students are not expected to provide sentential responses  to questions it may be important to supplement subtest administration with another listening comprehension assessment. Tests such as the Listening Comprehension Test-2 (LCT-2), the Listening Comprehension Test-Adolescent (LCT-A),  or the Executive Function Test-Elementary (EFT-E)  may be useful  if  language processing and listening comprehension deficits are suspected or reported by parents or teachers. This is particularly important  to do with students who may be ‘good guessers’ but who are also reported to present with word-finding difficulties at sentence and discourse levels. 

TILLS-subtest-7-reading-comprehension

7. The Reading Comprehension (RC) subtest (description above) requires the students to  read short story and answer story questions in “Yes”, “No’, and “Maybe”  format.   This subtest is not stand alone and must be administered immediately following the administration the Listening Comprehension subtest. The student is asked to read the first story out loud in order to determine whether s/he can proceed with taking this subtest or discontinue due to being an emergent reader. The criterion for administration of the subtest is making 7 errors during the reading of the first story and its accompanying questions. Unfortunately,  in my clinical experience this subtest  is not always accurate at identifying children with reading-based deficits.

While I find it terrific for students with severe-profound reading deficits and/or below average IQ, a number of my students with average IQ and moderately impaired reading skills managed to pass it via a combination of guessing and luck despite being observed to misread aloud between 40-60% of the presented words. Be mindful of the fact that typically  such students may have up to 5-6  errors during the reading of the first story. Thus, according to administration guidelines these students will be allowed to proceed and take this subtest.  They will then continue to make text misreadings  during each story presentation (you will know that by asking them to read each story aloud vs. silently).   However,  because the response mode is in definitive (“Yes”, “No’, and “Maybe”) vs. open ended question format,  a number of these students  will earn average scores by being successful guessers. Recommendation:  I highly recommend supplementing the administration of this subtest with grade level (or below grade level) texts (see HERE and/or HERE),  to assess the student’s reading comprehension informally.

I present a full  one page text to the students and ask them to read it to me in its entirety.   I audio/video record  the student’s reading for further analysis (see Reading Fluency section below).   After the  completion of the story I ask  the student questions with a focus on main idea comprehension and vocabulary definitions.   I also ask questions pertaining to story details.   Depending on the student’s age  I may ask them  abstract/ factual text questions with and without text access.  Overall, I find that informal administration of grade level (or even below grade-level) texts coupled with the administration of standardized reading tests provides me with a significantly better understanding of the student’s reading comprehension abilities rather than administration of standardized reading tests alone.

TILLS-subtest-8-following-directions

8. The Following Directions (FD) subtest (description above) measures the student’s ability to execute directions of increasing length and complexity.  It measures the student’s short-term, immediate and working memory, as well as their language comprehension.  What is interesting about the administration of this subtest is that the graphic symbols (e.g., objects, shapes, letter and numbers etc.) the student is asked to modify remain covered as the instructions are given (to prevent visual rehearsal). After being presented with the oral instruction the students are expected to move the card covering the stimuli and then to executive the visual-spatial, directional, sequential, and logical if–then the instructions  by marking them on the response form.  The fact that the visual stimuli remains covered until the last moment increases the demands on the student’s memory and comprehension.  The subtest was created to simulate teacher’s use of procedural language (giving directions) in classroom setting (as per developers).

TILLS-subtest-9-delayed-story-retelling

9. The Delayed Story Retelling (DSR) subtest (description above) needs to be administered to the students during the same session as the Story Retelling (SR) subtest, approximately 20 minutes after the SR subtest administration.  Despite the relatively short passage of time between both subtests, it is considered to be a measure of long-term memory as related to narrative retelling of reduced complexity. Here, the examiner can compare student’s performance to determine whether the student did better or worse on either of these measures (e.g., recalled more information after a period of time passed vs. immediately after being read the story).  However, as mentioned previously, some students may recall this previously presented story fairly accurately and as a result may obtain an average score despite a history of teacher/parent reported  long-term memory limitations.  Consequently, it may be important for the examiner to supplement the administration of this subtest with a recall of a movie/book recently seen/read by the student (a few days ago) in order to compare both performances and note any weaknesses/limitations.

TILLS-subtest-10-nonword-reading

10. The Nonword Reading (NR) subtest (description above) requires students to decode nonsense words of increasing length and complexity. What I love about this subtest is that the students are unable to effectively guess words (as many tend to routinely do when presented with real words). Consequently, the presentation of this subtest will tease out which students have good letter/sound correspondence abilities as well as solid orthographic, morphological and phonological awareness skills and which ones only memorized sight words and are now having difficulty decoding unfamiliar words as a result.      TILLS-subtest-11-reading-fluency

11. The Reading Fluency (RF) subtest (description above) requires students to efficiently read facts which make up simple stories fluently and correctly.  Here are the key to attaining an average score is accuracy and automaticity.  In contrast to the previous subtest, the words are now presented in meaningful simple syntactic contexts.

It is important to note that the Reading Fluency subtest of the TILLS has a negatively skewed distribution. As per authors, “a large number of typically developing students do extremely well on this subtest and a much smaller number of students do quite poorly.”

Thus, “the mean is to the left of the mode” (see publisher’s image below). This is why a student could earn an average standard score (near the mean) and a low percentile rank when true percentiles are used rather than NCE percentiles (Normal Curve Equivalent). Tills Q&A – Negative Skew

Consequently under certain conditions (See HERE) the percentile rank (vs. the NCE percentile) will be a more accurate representation of the student’s ability on this subtest.

Indeed, due to the reduced complexity of the presented words some students (especially younger elementary aged) may obtain average scores and still present with serious reading fluency deficits.  

I frequently see that in students with average IQ and go to long-term memory, who by second and third grades have managed to memorize an admirable number of sight words due to which their deficits in the areas of reading appeared to be minimized.  Recommendation: If you suspect that your student belongs to the above category I highly recommend supplementing this subtest with an informal measure of reading fluency.  This can be done by presenting to the student a grade level text (I find science and social studies texts particularly useful for this purpose) and asking them to read several paragraphs from it (see HERE and/or HERE).

As the students are reading  I calculate their reading fluency by counting the number of words they read per minute.  I find it very useful as it allows me to better understand their reading profile (e.g, fast/inaccurate reader, slow/inaccurate reader, slow accurate reader, fast/accurate reader).   As the student is reading I note their pauses, misreadings, word-attack skills and the like. Then, I write a summary comparing the students reading fluency on both standardized and informal assessment measures in order to document students strengths and limitations.

TILLS-subtest-12-written-expression

12. The Written Expression (WE) subtest (description above) needs to be administered to the students immediately after the administration of the Reading Fluency (RF) subtest because the student is expected to integrate a series of facts presented in the RF subtest into their writing sample. There are 4 stories in total for the 4 different age groups.

The examiner needs to show the student a different story which integrates simple facts into a coherent narrative. After the examiner reads that simple story to the students s/he is expected to tell the students that the story is  okay, but “sounds kind of “choppy.” They then need to show the student an example of how they could put the facts together in a way that sounds more interesting and less choppy  by combining sentences (see below). Finally, the examiner will ask the students to rewrite the story presented to them in a similar manner (e.g, “less choppy and more interesting.”)

tills

After the student finishes his/her story, the examiner will analyze it and generate the following scores: a discourse score, a sentence score, and a word score. Detailed instructions as well as the Examiner’s Practice Workbook are provided to assist with scoring as it takes a bit of training as well as trial and error to complete it, especially if the examiners are not familiar with certain procedures (e.g., calculating T-units).

Full disclosure: Because the above subtest is still essentially sentence combining, I have only used this subtest a handful of times with my students. Typically when I’ve used it in the past, most of my students fell in two categories: those who failed it completely by either copying text word  for word, failing to generate any written output etc. or those who passed it with flying colors but still presented with notable written output deficits. Consequently, I’ve replaced Written Expression subtest administration with the administration of written standardized tests, which I supplement with an informal grade level expository, persuasive, or narrative writing samples.

Having said that many clinicians may not have the access to other standardized written assessments, or lack the time to administer entire standardized written measures (which may frequently take between 60 to 90 minutes of administration time). Consequently, in the absence of other standardized writing assessments, this subtest can be effectively used to gauge the student’s basic writing abilities, and if needed effectively supplemented by informal writing measures (mentioned above).

TILLS-subtest-13-social-communication

13. The Social Communication (SC) subtest (description above) assesses the students’ ability to understand vocabulary associated with communicative intentions in social situations. It requires students to comprehend how people with certain characteristics might respond in social situations by formulating responses which fit the social contexts of those situations. Essentially students become actors who need to act out particular scenes while viewing select words presented to them.

Full disclosure: Similar to my infrequent administration of the Written Expression subtest, I have also administered this subtest very infrequently to students.  Here is why.

I am an SLP who works full-time in a psychiatric hospital with children diagnosed with significant psychiatric impairments and concomitant language and literacy deficits.  As a result, a significant portion of my job involves comprehensive social communication assessments to catalog my students’ significant deficits in this area. Yet, past administration of this subtest showed me that number of my students can pass this subtest quite easily despite presenting with notable and easily evidenced social communication deficits. Consequently, I prefer the administration of comprehensive social communication testing when working with children in my hospital based program or in my private practice, where I perform independent comprehensive evaluations of language and literacy (IEEs).

Again, as I’ve previously mentioned many clinicians may not have the access to other standardized social communication assessments, or lack the time to administer entire standardized written measures. Consequently, in the absence of other social communication assessments, this subtest can be used to get a baseline of the student’s basic social communication abilities, and then be supplemented with informal social communication measures such as the Informal Social Thinking Dynamic Assessment Protocol (ISTDAP) or observational social pragmatic checklists

TILLS-subtest-14-digit-span-forward

14.  The Digit Span Forward (DSF) subtest (description above) is a relatively isolated  measure  of short term and verbal working memory ( it minimizes demands on other aspects of language such as syntax or vocabulary).

TILLS-subtest-15-digit-span-backward

15.  The Digit Span Backward (DSB) subtest (description above) assesses the student’s working memory and requires the student to mentally manipulate the presented stimuli in reverse order. It allows examiner to observe the strategies (e.g. verbal rehearsal, visual imagery, etc.) the students are using to aid themselves in the process.  Please note that the Digit Span Forward subtest must be administered immediately before the administration of this subtest.

SLPs who have used tests such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5 (CELF-5) or the Test of Auditory Processing Skills – Third Edition (TAPS-3) should be highly familiar with both subtests as they are fairly standard measures of certain aspects of memory across the board.

To continue, in addition to the presence of subtests which assess the students literacy abilities, the TILLS also possesses a number of interesting features.

For starters, the TILLS Easy Score, which allows the examiners to use their scoring online. It is incredibly easy and effective. After clicking on the link and filling out the preliminary demographic information, all the examiner needs to do is to plug in this subtest raw scores, the system does the rest. After the raw scores are plugged in, the system will generate a PDF document with all the data which includes (but is not limited to) standard scores, percentile ranks, as well as a variety of composite and core scores. The examiner can then save the PDF on their device (laptop, PC, tablet etc.) for further analysis.

The there is the quadrant model. According to the TILLS sampler (HERE)  “it allows the examiners to assess and compare students’ language-literacy skills at the sound/word level and the sentence/ discourse level across the four oral and written modalities—listening, speaking, reading, and writing” and then create “meaningful profiles of oral and written language skills that will help you understand the strengths and needs of individual students and communicate about them in a meaningful way with teachers, parents, and students. (pg. 21)”

tills quadrant model

Then there is the Student Language Scale (SLS) which is a one page checklist parents,  teachers (and even students) can fill out to informally identify language and literacy based strengths and weaknesses. It  allows for meaningful input from multiple sources regarding the students performance (as per IDEA 2004) and can be used not just with TILLS but with other tests or in even isolation (as per developers).

Furthermore according to the developers, because the normative sample included several special needs populations, the TILLS can be used with students diagnosed with ASD,  deaf or hard of hearing (see caveat), as well as intellectual disabilities (as long as they are functioning age 6 and above developmentally).

According to the developers the TILLS is aligned with Common Core Standards and can be administered as frequently as two times a year for progress monitoring (min of 6 mos post 1st administration).

With respect to bilingualism examiners can use it with caution with simultaneous English learners but not with sequential English learners (see further explanations HERE).   Translations of TILLS are definitely not allowed as they will undermine test validity and reliability.

So there you have it these are just some of my very few impressions regarding this test.  Now to some of you may notice that I spend a significant amount of time pointing out some of the tests limitations. However, it is very important to note that we have research that indicates that there is no such thing as a “perfect standardized test” (see HERE for more information).   All standardized tests have their limitations

Having said that, I think that TILLS is a PHENOMENAL addition to the standardized testing market, as it TRULY appears to assess not just language but also literacy abilities of the students on our caseloads.

That’s all from me; however, before signing off I’d like to provide you with more resources and information, which can be reviewed in reference to TILLS.  For starters, take a look at Brookes Publishing TILLS resources.  These include (but are not limited to) TILLS FAQ, TILLS Easy-Score, TILLS Correction Document, as well as 3 FREE TILLS Webinars.   There’s also a Facebook Page dedicated exclusively to TILLS updates (HERE).

But that’s not all. Dr. Nelson and her colleagues have been tirelessly lecturing about the TILLS for a number of years, and many of their past lectures and presentations are available on the ASHA website as well as on the web (e.g., HERE, HERE, HERE, etc). Take a look at them as they contain far more in-depth information regarding the development and implementation of this groundbreaking assessment.

Disclaimer:  I did not receive a complimentary copy of this assessment for review nor have I received any encouragement or compensation from either Brookes Publishing  or any of the TILLS developers to write it.  All images of this test are direct property of Brookes Publishing (when clicked on all the images direct the user to the Brookes Publishing website) and were used in this post for illustrative purposes only.

References: 

Leclercq A, Maillart C, Majerus S. (2013) Nonword repetition problems in children with SLI: A deficit in accessing long-term linguistic representations? Topics in Language Disorders. 33 (3) 238-254.

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Teaching Punctuation for Writing Success

Child, Kid, Play, Tranquil, Study, Color, Write, LearnLast week  I wrote a blog post entitled: “Teaching Metalinguistic Vocabulary for Reading Success” in which I described the importance of explicitly teaching students basic metalinguistic vocabulary terms as elementary building blocks needed for reading success (HERE).  This week I wanted to write a brief blog post regarding terminology related to one particular, often ignored aspect of writing, punctuation.

Punctuation brings written words to life. As we have seen from countless of grammar memes, an error in punctuation results in conveying a completely different meaning.

In my experience administering the Test of Written Language – 4 (TOWL – 4) as well as analyzing informal writing samples I frequently see an almost complete absence of any and all punctuation marks in the presented writing samples.  These are not the samples of 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th graders that I am referring to. Sadly, I’m referring to written samples of students in middle school and even high school, which frequently lack basic punctuation and capitalization.

This explicit instruction of punctuation terminology does significantly improve my students understanding of sentence formation. Even my students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities significantly benefit from understanding how to use periods, commas and question marks in sentences.

I even created a basic handout to facilitate my students comprehension of usage of punctuation marks (FREE HERE) in sentences.

Similarly to my metalinguistic vocabulary handout, I ask my older elementary aged students with average IQ, to look up online and write down rules of usage for each of the provided terms (e.g., colon, hyphen, etc,.), under therapist supervision.

This in turns becomes a critical thinking and an executive functions activity. Students need sift through quite a bit of information to find a website which provides the clearest answers regarding the usage of specific punctuation marks. Here, it’s important for students to locate kid friendly websites which will provide them with simple but accurate descriptions of punctuation marks usage.  One example of such website is Enchanted Learning which also provides free worksheets related to practicing punctuation usage.

In contrast to the above, I use structured worksheets and punctuation related workbooks for younger elementary age students (e.g., 1st – 5th grades) as well as older students with intellectual impairments (click on each grade number above to see the workbooks).

I find that even after several sessions of explicitly teaching punctuation usage to my students, their written sentences significantly improve in clarity and cohesion.

One of the best parts about this seemingly simple activity, is that due to the sheer volume of provided punctuation mark vocabulary (20 items in total), a creative clinician/parent can stretch this activity into multiple therapy sessions. This is because careful rule identification for each punctuation mark will in turn involve a number of related vocabulary definition tasks.  Furthermore, correct usage of each punctuation mark in a sentence for internalization purposes (rather mere memorization) will also take-up a significant period of time.

How about you? Do you explicitly work on teaching punctuation?

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Test Review: Test of Written Language-4 (TOWL-4)

TOWL-4_EM-147Today due to popular demand I am reviewing the The Test of Written Language-4 or TOWL-4. TOWL-4 assesses the basic writing readiness skills of students 9:00-17:11 years of age. The tests consists of two forms – A and B, (which contain different subtest content).

According to the manual, the entire test takes approximately between 60-90 minutes to administer and examines 7 skill areas. Only the “Story Composition” subtest is officially timed (the student is given 15 minutes to write it and 5 minutes previous to that, to draft it). However, in my experience each subtest administration, even with students presenting with mild-moderately impaired writing abilities, takes approximately 10 minutes to complete with average results (can you see where I am going with this yet?) 

For detailed information regarding the TOWL-4 development and standardization, validity and reliability, please see HERE.

Below are my impressions (to date) of using this assessment with students between 11-14 years of age with (known) mild-moderate writing impairments.

Subtests:

1. Vocabulary – The student is asked to write a sentence that incorporates a stimulus word. E.g.: For ‘ran’, a student may write, “I ran up the hill.”  The student is not allowed to change the word in any way, such as write ‘running’ instead of run’. If this occurs, an automatic loss of points takes place. Ceiling is reached when the student makes 3 errors in a row. 

To continue, while some of the subtest vocabulary words are perfectly appropriate for younger children (~9), the majority are too simplistic to assess the written vocabulary of middle and high schoolers. For example, other words included in the ‘Vocabulary’ subtest include:

  1. Form A (#1-20): eat, tree, house, circus, walk, bird, edge, laugh, donate, faithful, aboard, humble, though, confusion, lethal, deny, pulp, verge, revive, intact, etc.
  2. Form B (#1-20): see, help, prize, sky, stove, cry, enormous, chimney, avoid, nonsense, snout, wept, exotic, cycle, deb, specify, debatable, pastel, rugged, studious, etc.

These words may work well to test the knowledge of younger children but they do not take into the account the challenging academic standards set forth for older students. As a result, students 11+ years of age may pass this subtest with flying colors but still present with a fair amount of difficulty usingsophisticated vocabulary words in written compositions.

2/3.   Spelling and Punctuation (subtests 2 and 3). These two subtests are administered jointly but scored separately. Here, the student is asked to write sentences dictated by the examiner using appropriate rules for spelling and punctuation and capitalization. Ceiling for each subtest is reached separately. It  occurs when the student makes 3 errors in a row in each of the subtests.   In other words if a student uses correct punctuation but incorrect spelling, his/her ceiling on the ‘Spelling’ subtest will be reached sooner then on the ‘Punctuation’ subtest and vise versa.

Similar to the ‘Vocabulary‘ subtest I feel that the sentences the students are asked to write are far too simplistic to showcase their “true” grade level abilities. Below are some examples of sentences from both forms:

  1. Form A: (2) Run away.; (3) Birds fly.; (9) Who ate the food? (17) The electricity failed in Dallas, Texas.; (22) Because of the confusion, she sought legal help.
  2. Form B: (3) Am I going?; (18) Bring back three items: milk, crackers, and butter.; (23) After the door was closed, the sound was barely audible. 

As you can see from the above, the requirements of these subtest are also not too stringent.  The spelling words are simple and the punctuation requirements are very basic: a question mark here, an exclamation mark there, with a few commas in between. But I was particularly disappointed with the ‘Spelling‘ subtest.

Here’s why. I have a 6th grade client on my caseload with significant well-documented spelling difficulties. When this subtest was administered to him he scored within the average range (Scaled Score of 8 and Percentile Rank of 25).  However, an administration of Spelling Performance Evaluation for Language and Literacy – SPELL-2yielded 3 assessment pages of spelling errors, as well as 7 pages of recommendations on how to remediate those errors.  Had he received this assessment as part of an independent evaluation from a different examiner, nothing more would have been done regarding his spelling difficulties, since the TOWL-4 revealed an average spelling performance due to it’s focus on overly simplistic vocabulary.

4. Logical Sentences – The student is asked to edit an illogical sentence so that it makes better sense. E.g.:  “John blinked his nose” is changed to “John blinked his eye.”  Ceiling is reached when the student makes 3 errors in a row. Again I’m not too thrilled with this subtest. Rather than truly attempting to ascertain the student’s grammatical and syntactic knowledge at sentence level a large portion of this subtest deals with easily recognizable semantic incongruities such as the one above.

5. Sentence Combining – The student integrates the meaning of several short sentences into one grammatically correct written sentence. E.g.:  “John drives fast” is combined with “John has a red car,” making “John drives his red car fast.”  Ceiling is reached when the student makes 3 errors in a row.  The first few items contain only two sentences which can be combined by adding the conjunction “and” .

Remaining items are a bit more difficult due to the a. addition of more sentences and b. increase in the complexity of language needed to efficiently combine them. This is a nice subtest to administer to students who present with difficulty effectively and efficiently expressing their written thoughts on paper. It is particularly useful with students who write down  a lot of extraneous information in their compositions/essays and frequently overuse run-on sentences. 

6. Contextual Conventions – The student is asked to write a story in response to a stimulus picture. S/he earn points for satisfying specific requirements (identified below) relative to combined orthographic (E.g.: punctuation, spelling) and grammatical conventions (E.g.: sentence construction, noun-verb agreement).  The student’s written composition needs to contain more than 40 words in order for the effective analysis to take place.

The scoring criteria ranges from no credit or a score of 0 ( based on 3 or more mistakes), to partial credit, a score of 1 (based on 1-2 mistakes) to full a credit – a score of 3 (no mistakes).

Scoring Parameters:

  1. Sentences begin with a capital letter
  2. Paragraphs
  3. Use of quotations marks
  4. Use of comma to set off direct quotes
  5. Correct use of apostrophe
  6. Use of a question mark
  7. Use of exlamation point
  8. Capitalization of proper nouns (including story title)
  9. Number of non-duplicated misspelled words
  10. Other use of punctuation (hyphen, parentheses, etc.)
  11. Use of fragments
  12. Use of run-on/rambling sentences
  13. Use of compound sentences
  14. Use of specific coordinating conjunction
  15. use of introductory phrases/clauses
  16. Noun-verb disagreement
  17. Sentences in paragraphs
  18. Sentence composition
  19. Number of correctly spelled words with 7 or more letters
  20. Number of correctly spelled words with 3 syllables or more
  21. Appropriate use of articles

While the above criteria is highly useful for younger elementary-aged students who may exhibit significant difficulties in the domain of writing, older middle school and high-school aged students as well as elementary aged students with moderate writing difficulties may attain average scoring on this subtest but still present with significant difficulties in this area as compared to typically developing grade level peers. As a result, in addition to this assessment it is recommended that a functional assessment of grade level writing also be performed in order to accurately identify the student’s writing needs.

7. Story Composition – The student’s story is evaluated relative to the quality of its composition (E.g.: vocabulary, plot, prose, development of characters, and interest to the reader).

The examiner first provides the student with an example of a good story by reading one written by another student.  Then, the examiner provides the student with an appropriate picture card and tell them that they need to take time to plan their story and make an outline on the (also provided) scratch paper.  The student has 5 minutes to plan before writing the actual story.  After the 5 minutes, elapses they 15 minutes to write the story.  It is important to note that story composition is the very first subtest administered to the student. Once they complete it they are ready to move on to the Vocabulary subtest.

Scoring Parameters:

  1. Story beginning
  2. Reference to a specific event (occurring before or after the picture)
  3. Story sequence
  4. Plot
  5. Characters show emotions
  6. Story action
  7. Story ending
  8. Writing style
  9. Story (overall)
  10. Specific (listed) story vocabulary
  11. Overall vocabulary

With respect to this subtest it was significantly more useful for me to use with younger students as well as significantly impaired students vs. older students or students with mild-moderate writing difficulties. Again if your aim is to get an accurate picture of the older students writing abilities I definitely recommend usage of informal writing assessment rubrics based on the student’s grade level in order to have an accurate picture of  their abilities.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:

Strengths:

  • Thorough assessment of basic writing areas
  • Flexible subtest administration (can be done on multiple occasions with students who fatigue easily)

Limitations:

  • Untimed testing administration (with the exception of story composition subtests) may not be very functional with students who present with significant processing difficulties. One 12 year old student actually took ~40 minutes complete each subtest
  • Primarily  useful for students with severe deficits in the area of written expression
  • Lack of computer scoring
  • Lack of remediation suggestions based on subtest deficits

Overall, I do find TOWL-4 a very useful testing measure to have in my toolbox as it is terrific for ruling out weaknesses in the student’s basic writing abilities, with respect to simple vocabulary, sentence construction, writing mechanics, punctuation, etc.  If I identify previously unidentified gaps in basic writing skills I can then readily intervene, where needed, if needed.

However, it is important to understand that the TOWL-4 is only a starting point for most of our students with complex literacy needs whose writing abilities are above severe level of functioning. Most students with mild-moderate writing difficulties will pass this test with flying colors but still present with significant writing needs. As a result I highly recommend a functional grade level writing assessment as a supplement to the above standardized testing.

References: 

Hammill, D. D., & Larson, S. C. (2009). Test of Written Language—Fourth Edition. (TOWL-4). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are the personal impressions of the author. This author is not affiliated with PRO-ED in any way and was NOT provided by them with any complimentary products or compensation for the review of this product.