Earlier I composed a short commentary on what I called the “Language Fingerprint” – each person’s unique language profile. It went like this: Each child demonstrates a unique “fingerprint” when it comes to the units in their language repertoire. Just as no two fingerprints are alike, no two language profiles are alike. Kids learn words, word parts, and word combinations that they’ve realized are important in their own lives, and so there are as many different language fingerprints, or language profiles, as there are word learning environments: approximately 300 million in the United States alone. The emphasis is that each one is unique. The implication is that the most effective language teaching paradigm would account for this individuality.
The notion of a language fingerprint supports why language therapists continue to use pull-out therapy in the face of mounting opposition and pressure to go into the classroom. Pull-out works because this is the only time in school that many of kids with language problems feel compelled to speak. When one person is speaking to twenty or thirty children feedback is hard enough to come by anyway. When one of those children has difficulty speaking feeback from that child becomes near impossible. Language impaired children often compensate for weak language by developing excellent skills of quietly blending into their environment.
The fewer kids there are in any given teaching situation, the greater is the possible feedback for each kid. Because kids don’t have the same language fingerprint, the more individually tailored the feedback, the greater the potential that specific needs are being addressed.
Studies have been done comparing pull-out versus classroom based models of speech and language therapy. While many of these studies have been inconclusive or incomplete (McGinty and Justice, 2006)*, the trend has been toward greater use of classroom based intervention. Justification for this trend has been supported by increased carryover, providing a natural environment for learning goals, and increased teacher involvement. (Al-Sa’bi, 2004). *
Two points seem to be missing, however. 1) While the classroom is a natural environment when compared to other classrooms, this sort of situation is relatively rare outside of school. And the setting where one leader encourages constant feedback and participation from a group under her care is uncommon even as classroom populations advance into secondary school and college. 2) Language impaired children have few times for one on one interactions with a language professional as it is. Compare the 30 or 60 minutes weekly usually given for language therapy to the thousand or more minutes during the week that the child is in class. Classroom intervention may have it’s merits, but why should it come out of the 30 or 60 minutes rather than the other large chunk of time?
Many normally developing kids have their own personal language therapist – their parents. That some parents are so effective in this role should fit right into the notion of a language fingerprint. Attentive parents know at just the right time when a word that appears in the life of their child is one not well known. These parents automatically know when a word is new to their child because they are around their children much more than teachers or any other adult. There is no better time to learn new words than in the course of everyday life. For instance a child may play hide and seek and when found (after closing the always open bathroom door) may ask “How did you find me?” An attentive parent may instinctively say, “You left evidence,” knowing that he will have to ask what evidence is in order to understand the answer. Examples like this add up exponentially over time.
Individual attention doesn’t just work well at home. What should be obvious, though, is often disregarded for reasons other than the best welfare of children.