A common gripe for a long time with research of language disorders is that much of it has often been irrelevant to the actual teaching of language. And by often, I mean nearly always. A lot of the research seems geared toward one isolated characteristic of one subset of one small segment of people, and only to that particular population. The similarity of the following fake titles to actual titles may help demonstrate my point…
– “Toward Understanding Morphologic Tendencies in Left Handed Nicaraguan Preschoolers.” or
– “Past Tense Comprehension in Bilingual Adopted Children; A Conceptual Framework.”
It just has long seemed that these are the sorts of research titles that usually exist in the most commonly read sources of language research. And that’s when these journals even decide to address language at all, which has long seemed to be much less common then research addressing say, hearing, or voice, or stuttering. And this is too bad. Because there are many, many language related questions out there that can be addressed scientifically that would actually be useful in teaching language. So what might these “practical” studies look like? Here are some ideas I’ve had.
Question: Do twins often have one member with more language deficits than the other?
Implication: This often seems to be the case. Anecdotally, it seems as though one twin often speaks for the other, almost creating deficits in the less talkative twin. If the research would support this hypothesis, then we could prepare for this with extra early intervention, and assistance for twin parents.
Earlier, I was tutoring some speech kids working on reading. I just happened to have some comprehension flash cards targeting comprehension – oral or reading – of specific targets. These kids needed help with reading more than oral language, and so because I don’t have a lot of materials targeting reading, I decided to use the cards. One deck had about 12 cards with negative contractions (can’t, aren’t, isn’t, etc.), and the other deck had regular plurals.
Bottom line – this activity rocked. The kids missed the first couple. I told them to focus on “those tricky word endings,” (you know the kind that so many speech and language kids miss in oral language), and after struggling with the next few cards, by the end, they were getting it with no problems. They’d improved right then and there.
That got me thinking. These kids didn’t have deficits with plurals and contractions in oral language. But they did in reading. And I bet they did in writing too. They used to have these kind of errors in oral language, and we know from the research that young kids with speech and language deficits often turn into kids with reading deficits. I’ve never seen anybody targeting specific language structures like these in reading, but I’m pretty sure it would be a good idea.
Goals for following directions are commonly seen in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) of language disordered kids. Anecdotally speaking, they’re probably the most common language goal. Most of them tend to have some serious problems though, which perhaps we can illuminate from a quick analysis of one or two examples. And there’s one thing that’s really conspicuous by its absence. We’ll see if we can use these examples to figure it out.
Example 1: “Paul will follow two step directions in the classroom for three consecutive days.” What’s wrong with this? Plenty, actually, but one thing especially. Let’s say that for three straight days Paul is handed some trash, and after receiving the directions, “Paul, take this to the trash can and throw it away,” he does it. Goal achieved, right? There’s two steps and three days in the classroom, after all.
But what if Paul is twelve years old? What if Paul has been throwing away trash like this for years? Maybe he has done it so often, he knows what to do merely by giving him trash. He may not have even been listening to the directions. In this case, Paul has not been taught, nor has he accomplished anything that he wasn’t already able to do, despite having “achieved his goal.” The goal did not include something measurable that he wasn’t already able to do. And there still is that one thing that’s seriously missing.
Example 2: Mary will follow multi-step directions in the classroom or wherever at some percentage. Okay, this admittedly is a softball example, but it’s one I’ve seen plenty. What’s wrong? It’s not specific enough. I’m assuming it means more than two, but it doesn’t really say. Again too we run across the difficulty of the fact that no two directions tend to be equal in difficulty. “Get the ball and give it to me!” and “Please walk to the board and write the answer below the date,” are both notably two step directions. But they’re vastly different in difficulty. Which leads us to the one biggie that’s missing in these goals, and almost all following directions goals that I’ve ever seen. It’s the language itself.
parallel talk – a great method for motivating children to talk without the frustration of high demand – the child is given opportunities to engage in activities that he finds interesting, while the caregiver talks about what the child is doing -the caregiver uses language that is at or just above the child’s level – often used in collaboration with self-talk
examples: for a child playing with a plane, say things such as, “You’re flying the plane. The plane is high. The plane is low. You gave the plane to me.”
play therapy – very useful for initiation, social language, turn-taking, sharing – can involve moving child from lower levels of play (such as banging or shaking toys) to higher (such as self directed play, play directed toward others, relational play, and symbolic play) – strategies are taught to caregivers, often involving allowing child to lead play, with adult redirection as necessary
priming – introducing topics beforehand – can involve stories, index cards, explanations, or anything that can quickly familiarize student with upcoming material – can occur immediately preceding the lesson, the prior morning, or the prior evening – especially effective when part of a routine
example: an autistic child’s anxiety increases in response to certain things, such as handwriting, so the morning activities are briefly explained to the child ahead of time each morning, including handwriting
(note: this is another installment in an ongoing series on various language therapies)
Graphic Organizers/ Semantic Mapping – I usually think of Venn diagrams, main ideas, and/or details when I think of these, but graphic organizers actually come in tons of different forms. As opposed to many language therapies, graphic organizers are often for older students. These can be useful for organizing, learning, and/or remembering a variety of language skills, as well as writing, reading, math, etc. Many great examples of graphic organizers can be found on the Internet, on sites such as http://www.dailyteachingtools.com/language-arts-graphic-organizers.html and http://www.educationoasis.com/curriculum/graphic_organizers.htm.
Semantic mapping is basically using graphic charts to enhance vocabulary or semantic skills. It helps with word associations, categorization, characteristics, describing, and defining.
False Assertions – These may be considered a type of communication temptation. False assertions are (often) obviously incorrect statements made with the intent to encourage the child to correct. They’re great for negation, and also underutilized for expanded negation.
example: “Look at the elephant!” when joint attention is on a cow, encouraging child to say “That’s a cow!,” and/or “That’s not an elephant!”
example of expanded negation: “I could have lifted that truck.” encouraging something like, “You couldn’t have lifted that truck.”
Following the Child’s Lead – This occurs when the teacher comments on things a child is looking at, and/or imitates play behaviors. Following the child’s lead involves observing and listening to the child, and waiting for the child to talk – great for working on initiation.
examples: an autistic child looks at his hands, so you make comments about his hands – a child makes a play noise (such as a car zooming) and you imitate.
Focused Stimulation -The teacher picks a target and attempts to use it over and over again. In focused stimulation you can use children’s books, songs, blocks, pretend play. It encourages, but does not necessarily expect child’s production. Several target words may be combined in a single activity.
example: the target structures, “off” and “on” may be repeated by the clinician fifty times in a Mr. Potato Head activity in an attempt to elicit the words from the child, such as… “The eye goes on his face. The hat goes on his head. I’ll put a different hat on his head. I’ll take this off his head.”
Expansion and extension are two of the main types of conversational recasting. Recasting, which is sometimes called, “responsive modeling,” is used to describe a larger category of techniques used to add or correct a child’s utterance without interrupting the flow of conversation. Imitation and targeted questions are other types of recasting.
Expansion – Expansion takes what the child says, and adds grammar and semantics to turn into a comparable adult utterance. The point is to keep the communication flow going smoothly, while not making the child realize that he is being corrected.
example: “doggy house” may become “That is the dog’s house.”
Extension – Extension takes what the child says and adds information. Extension is typically used in conjunction with expansions.
example: “doggy house,” may become “That is the dog’s house. He is a large dog.”
Expansion and extension are extensively confused. It helps for me to think of when a balloon expands, it stays the same. It does not add anything as would, say, an extension on a deadline.
Cycles Approach – The cycles approach is more a way of structuring overall therapy rather than a specific strategy. The therapist works on one or more specific skills for one or two sessions. Then she works on different skills the next sessions, and then goes back through each skill “cycling” through them, gradually increasing expectations. Goals are added or subtracted as needed for each cycle. The cycles approach typically requires more intensity, and is good for treating multiple deficits, ensuring that no skills are missed.
Discrete Trials – Discrete trials is a method of intervention common to ABA therapy. Discrete trials intervention breaks up objectives into small repeated steps. This is useful for skills such as attending, imitation, and following basic directions. There are five distinct parts: (1) antecedent/ the set up and/or presentation; (2) the trainer’s prompt, or assistance; (3) the child’s response, (4) the consequence, and (5) a short pause between the consequence and the next instruction
example: Adult shows two cards, one for happy and one for sad. Adult says, “Who’s happy?” Child does nothing. Adult points to the correct card, and provides hand over hand assistance to the child to point to the correct card. If child points to the correct card, adult gives small piece of candy. Adult pauses and repeats and moves on when child no longer needs assistance.