We often seem to teach something for a long time before progress is made. Then, it all seems to click, and suddenly the target is achieved. In language, after this “click,” there is usually no need to continue teaching the structure. The click factor encompasses two frequently observed phenomena: 1) a student will use a target structure at a low percentage for some time, then suddenly use it at a high percentage. 2) a student will not use a target structure at all, until being taught, after which time the student will suddenly use it at a high percentage. There seem to be two reasons that this occurs. One is that children may go awhile without a real world need for a target structure. For example, Joe has been exposed to the word “she” in speech therapy, but with no sisters, and inconsistent correction from his parent on other occasions when the word “she” has been needed, he has continued to use “he” time and time again. One day he refers to his grandmother as “he,” and is corrected by his grandfather. Suddenly, it all clicks! He realizes the reason for previous frustration, he knows how to eliminate this frustration, and he begins using “she” correctly. If we’re all lucky, there’s quick generalization to other structures, and the goal of pronoun usage can be soon crossed off the SLP’s list.
Another possible contributor to this phenomenon is the measurement of progress that omits imperceptible increments. Initially Joe may produce pronouns with no cueing at 20%, and may require extensive cueing to do anything beyond this. With work, he soon may require less cueing, although his number correct without cueing may still be at 20%. This sort of thing happens all the time. It’s not necessarily problematic, though it can be if Joe moves or his SLP forgets exactly what Joe was previously working on. For this reason, the more specific information a data sheet can provide, the more it can help describe exactly where Joe is at. Forming good habits in criterion testing, such as testing often (such as with weekly quizzes), using structured data sheets, and including all relevant information can assist us in providing the best language teaching possible.
Accurate and frequent criterion referenced assessment can be the language teacher’s friend. To accurately measure language progress several things are needed: the method of elicitation, actual data, an accurate description of what’s being measured and the type and amount of cueing required. The method of elicitation is what type of language is required from the student. Data is a description of what the student has done. Cueing describes what the teacher did to facilitate production. Different types of each of these are listed below.
Aspects of Criterion Testing Examples of Types
Method of elicitation identification, choice, label, use
Data type 5 out of 5 sentences, 70% of choices with 2 foils
Cueing modality verbal, visual, tactile, multimodality
Amount of Cueing minimal, moderate, extensive, none
Statements of progress which omit any of these areas can not reliably be representative of a student’s actual skills. Descriptions of cueing are often the most difficult to phrase. It should be noted that classroom teachers do not include cueing information on their tests because the hindrances of the classroom setting preclude this. A teacher is simply not able to give cues to large groups of students taking a classroom test. It’s often not as essential in areas not as dependent upon social interaction as is oral language. Information regarding cueing can be critical however to the language teacher that is able to administer and manipulate specific test items to specific students. Consider the following examples, where nos. 1 and 3 are describing the exact same Joe, and nos. 2 and 4 are describing the exact same Sarah:
1) Joe labeled subject pronouns (with no cues) with 20% accuracy.
2) Sarah labeled subject pronouns (with no cues) with 20% accuracy.
3) Joe labeled subject pronouns (with extensive verbal and visual cues) with 20 % accuracy.
4) Sarah labeled subject pronouns (with extensive cueing) with 20% accuracy.
Without information regarding cueing, our knowledge of students usually looks like the first two examples above. In these examples, Joe and Sarah seem to be at similar levels, while the last two examples tell something completely different. Often we may know or feel that there is progress being made, but when we don’t attend to how much help is required, we miss a critical element of this progress. For this reason, progress notes without measurements of cueing tend to contain weeks upon weeks of statements similar to the first two with seemingly little progress being made over large periods of time. Ignoring the help required to elicit language requires the social dependencies fostering language acquisition. This also ignores what many therapists know as the “click factor.”