Category Archives: Language Teaching

A Comprehensive List of Autism Therapies (Part One of Three)

I’ve been meaning to do this post for years.  A while back I started a list of short summaries of all the autism treatments I’ve heard of, which just kept growing as I kept hearing of more.  My purpose was, and is, to provide some listing for parents and professionals to get a general, but comprehensive, idea of what’s out there.  What started as a simple endeavor, however, has blossomed into a huge amount of information much too big for one sitting.  My more in-depth research for the following approaches honestly depressed me.  Most of us know that there are a lot of snake oil salesmen on the autism gravy train, but it is just extremely difficult parsing through the scads of information (including the piles of dubious and/or refuted claims) not just with these combined, but even with each individual approach.  To make this as comprehensive as possible, I’ve included any therapy, including those designed more for reading or language,  whose proponents claim the therapy to be beneficial for people with autism.

My first part of this three part post will alphabetically cover approximately half of the most commonly used autism treatment programs.  My second part will cover the second half, along with my general opinion on these approaches.  In part three, I intend to provide a comprehensive list of the specific language interventions, or techniques, found throughout these programs – as well as many additional ones not found in any them, despite their effectiveness with language intervention.  At that time I also intend to provide all parts combined in a handy PDF file, for convenient reference.  So, here goes…

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – uses methods of behaviorism, such as classical conditioning, rewards and punishments – intensive – popularly used with autism, but is designed for any severe language disability – there are different ABA based interventions, such as Lovaas Method, and Early Start Denver Model – extensively researched, generally positive, but not conclusive, and seems more effective with certain subgroups – has reputations for both being successful and for creating “robotic,” emotionless children

Applied Verbal Behavior (AVB) – a form of ABA that uses principles of behaviorism focusing on teaching the child to realize that language can get him what he wants – uses terms directly from B.F. Skinner, such as mands and tacts

Animal Therapy – mainly includes dog therapy or horse therapy (so far) – It seems that dogs can be helpful in creating some motivation for socialization. However, the type of dog, the incredible cost for a trained dog, and the lack of research should all be considered. – Horse Therapy, AKA Equine Therapy, seems to be gaining in popularity especially in autism – appears to be beneficial, but, as with many of these therapies, should not ignore directly addressing specific communication disorders that involve disabled people communicating with other people

Auditory Integration Therapy (AIT) – popular ones are the Tomatis and Berard methods – aims to reduce hypersensitivities to sound through systematic desensitization process using music – the use of AIT to treat all sorts of cognitive ailments, from communication disorders to ADHD to preparation for childbirth has continued despite organizations such as the American Speech Language Pathology Association (ASHA) issuing position statements against it – may be mildly helpful, but these practitioners have a history of making huge claims that are unsupported

Biomedical Treatments – there are many of these, too many for me to adequately cover in a short synopsis – a good short review of the research can be found in this link – these include vitamins B6 and C, melatonin, amino acids, folic acids, antifungal agents, gastrointestinal medications, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, immune therapies, chelatin, and more – to this point, for these “alternative” therapies, the jury is way out on any of them that may consistently work for large groups of people with autism

CogMed – commercial software specifically designed to treat working memory in ADHD and other cognitive deficits – 25 sessions cost approximately $2,000 – there seem to be some benefits, but more research needed – gains may be short term and not generalizable to deficits outside of working, or short term, memory

DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) – created by Autism Research Institute, which owns the domain, so often first place people happen upon for information – DAN! as a program label has been discontinued, but the ARI seems to still be promoting its foundations that autism as a biomedical disorder should be treated primarily as a combination of lowered immune response, external toxins from vaccines and other sources, and problems caused by certain foods – DAN! and ARI have been the subject of much controversy, but has been extremely influential for many years – advocates ABA, and Theory of Mind, but with no specific language therapy

DIR/ Floor Time – by Dr. Stanley Greenspan – DIR stands for Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based – it includes following the child’s lead, and using things that already interest the child. It assumes six milestones of typical emotional and communicative development and attempts, through intensive play and interaction, to guide children through each of these stages – has some very good parts, but the program itself can be grueling and expensive

Elimination diets (casein/gluten free diets) – The current thinking is that there is at least some evidence showing that a casein-free diet, when combined with a gluten-free diet, can help improve the behavior of some children with autism. Although the casein-free diet combined with a gluten-free diet is popular, there is little evidence in the current scientific literature to support or refute this intervention. Scientists have concluded that there are currently not enough published studies to draw a meaningful conclusion. Strong caution should be taken when modifying diets of autistic children, who are often finicky eaters anyway, to ensure that they are getting adequate nutrition.

Fast ForWord – Educational software produced by the Scientific Learning Corporation, with emphasis on phonological awareness. Suggested to help auditory comprehension, memory, attention, and other cognitive skills, as well as reading. Expensive and time consuming. Has been extensively researched, with debatable (and often debated) results

Hanen Program – includes other regimented programs, such as “More Than Words,” and “It Takes Two to Talk” – designed for younger kids, and attempts to intensively involve parents – Speech-language pathologists attend workshops to learn to train parents to learn to become interventionists – expensive and intensive -includes strategies for modeling, expansion, extension, following child’s lead, etc.

Interactive Metronome – according to their site – used by SLPs (among many other groups) for TBI, autism, ADD, Sensory Integration Disorder (and many other etiologies) for things such as focus, coordination, tuning out distractions, and many more – research seems sketchy, and perhaps unethical

Jungle Memory – Dr. Tracy Alloway – computer software for working memory in older kids – progressively difficult games, similar to CogMed – again, research limited, but suggests that gains are short term and not as generalizable as adherents indicate

Language Experiences – also LEA, or learning experience approach – has been used for decades with various populations and disorders, such as hearing impaired, English language learners, reading disorders and poverty – attempts to use student’s own vocabulary, backgrounds, and specific language patterns to create reading texts specific to that child – as usual with these approaches, results seem generally positive, but mixed

Lindamood-Bell (LiPS (Lindamood Phonemic Sequencing)) – this company also has other programs, such as Seeing Stars and Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking – often is extremely expensive – has been popular since 1986, mainly for phonemic awareness, oral motor coordination, and overall multi-sensory, though it has branched out into comprehension, math, and more – though it has many advocates, it also seems to have very incomplete research – according to this article, of 31 studies that had been submitted by LMB to the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) division of the U.S. Department of Education Institution of Education Sciences, only one was approved for review

Music Therapy – may be also known as neurological music therapy – some supportive research exists – seems great as an adjunct, but not to shift focus from treating specific language deficits (As an analogy: It can be imagined that research would suggest that “music therapy” could be effective in helping depression. It could cheer a client up after all. But it would obviously not be best practices for somebody to primarily use music therapy to treat depression rather than treating the more complex (and more difficult to treat) root psychological and life situations.)

Magnetic Resonance Therapy (MRT) – seems to use primarily Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS, of course), along with other forms of neuro-feedback – TMS is a cutting edge modality, which may offer some hope for treating depression, migraines, and some other brain based disorders (and it is very useful in areas such as the study of language and the brain) – research on its effectiveness with autism is extremely limited, and still in very early experimental stages – appears to be very expensive and with dubious effectiveness

Narrative Based Language Intervention (NBLI) – hybrid language intervention approach that combines naturalistic activities such as storytelling with skill-based activities to address language and communication goals – research seems positive, but mainly for older kids

Piaget’s Constructivism

As a pioneering psychologist in the merging studies of cognition and learning, Jean Piaget helped change the common assumption that as thinkers, children are merely less complex versions of adults.  His twentieth century work built upon the classical roots of Socrates, and more recent work of Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and others who believed learning to be a process facilitated, rather than caused, by teachers.  At the forefront of constructivist assumptions are the notions that the most effective learning takes place when learners are active and motivated participants in the process.

Visual of assimilation - accommodation cabinet

Visual of assimilation – accommodation cabinet

While constructivism as a system has been criticized as being too subjective and difficult to manage, as with so many complex systems it has several components that stand out as applicable outside of the larger theory as a whole.  The notions of assimilation and accommodation are two of my favorites.  Assimilation occurs when a learner adds new information, basically layering it on top of the old.  Accommodation occurs when a learner must change previously learned information before placement of new information is possible.  Assimilation is like placing files in a file cabinet, while accommodation is like needing to add new folders, or rearrange existing ones.  Because of this, learning is said to get more difficult as we age, with the tendency of older people to get what has been deemed, “hardening of the categories.”

Piaget and the constructivists also coined all kinds of terms, such as schema and equilibrium, not to mention those associated with the famed stages of development, such as the sensorimotor, concrete operational, and preoperational stages.  Piaget’s ballyhooed notion of object permanence (the understanding that an object exists even when out of sight) has been extensively studied and debated.

As with seemingly all mind related theories, the popularity of constructivism has followed the pendulum of favorability.  There are many specific aspects of constructivism, though, that should stand the test of time.  Some additional good information can be found hereThis, also is kind of cool.

A Few Facts About…Second Language Acquisition

There are many different terms and abbreviations used in discussing the topic of second language acquisition.   Just some of these include second language learning, L2 acquisition, ELL (English language learners), and ESL (English as a Second Language).  ESL and ELL are sometimes used interchangeably, and sometimes argued to be completely different things.  ESL seems to be an older term that, depending upon the source, is either being phased out, or is continuing to be used to distinguish a specific pull-out program, as opposed to somebody in the general education environment who happens to not speak English.  Some claim that ELL is more politically and technically correct, since English could be a third or fourth language.  In all my years I’ve never experienced any language issues with a student learning English as a third or fourth language, but I suppose it is technically possible.  Also, use of these terms seems to be different in different places.  There is a good little description of ESL and ELL issues in this link.

One of the preeminent researchers in second language acquisition is Stephen Krashen.  According to Krashen, learning is less important than acquisition.  His theory includes five main hypotheses, which he’s labeled the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis, the Monitor hypothesis, the Natural Order hypothesis, the Input hypothesis, and the Affective Filter hypothesis.  His Affective Filter hypothesis embodies one of his main views that  a number of affective variables play a facilitative, but non- causal, role in second language acquisition.  These variables include: motivation, self – confidence, and anxiety.  You can find a lot of his stuff at his site.

Sphere Flags Clip Art

Second language acquisition presents some interesting challenges for those who teach language.  In school settings, speech-language pathologists are supposed to only work with students with disabilities.  For students whose primary language then is something other than English, this means that a language disability should exist in that student’s first language in order to qualify for services.  Theoretically and legally, the disability should have nothing to do with the fact that the student has learned another language prior to English.  In the real world, it gets complicated.  Some kids do all right with their first language in preschool, and then face problems as parents may attempt to use more English at home.  Maybe one parent speaks more English.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, etc. all bring their own language preferences and abilities to the mix.  Then there are things like code-switching, the switching between languages in a conversation or with different conversation partners.  Commonly, these kids also display a silent period, in which they are so focused on comprehension that they don’t speak much.  Also, there can be language loss of the first language if it is not continuously reinforced.  There have been controversies over the extent to which academics should be taught in one language over the other, as well as the extent to which English must be learned, and who is responsible.  I think most experts agree that bilingualism is an awesome attribute.  More info can be had here.

As an interesting aside, this recent study suggested that second language learners may have an advantage in learning to read compared to native language speakers.  The study’s authors suggested that this may be due to an increased awareness in language overall – metalinguistic awareness.

Achievement Based Teaching

Although the title of this post sure looks like a set up for some boring educational acronym, it really describes making learning fun.  More significantly, it describes using fun to teach.  The purpose of the bureaucratic looking title is to please the administrative types that sometimes try to understand why it is often in the best interest of our students to use teaching methods that are actually fun.  I could have called it “Goal Directed Teaching,” or “Learning for a Reason,” or “Why’s Before Whats,” but these other possibilities simply don’t seem to fit as well. 

Achievement oriented instruction is when a teacher provides a goal that requires the student to use a targeted skill to accomplish something.  This is not quite functional teaching, and its almost the opposite of drill.  The goal itself provides the motivation, and for this reason the choice of the goal is critical.  It is perhaps as or more important than any teaching method that may be used.  And this is how achievement oriented instruction most differs from traditional teaching. 

Here are some examples that may best serve to illustrate my overall point:


Traditional Teaching

Achievement Based Teaching

simple addition

teacher instruction/ text book/ worksheets

using jelly beans, pennies, etc. and asking motivating questions, such as “Would you like two more, or six all together?”, etc.

labeling prepositions

discussing prepositions/ worksheets

asking preposition laden questions while playing hide and seek, hidden pictures, Simon Says, etc.

parts of speech

sentence diagrams/ teacher instruction/ worksheets

Mad Lib style activities, separate students into different parts of speech teams and score points when correctly identifying parts of speech, etc.



internet typing games, practice typing labels, letters, etc.

As you can see, the achievement based teaching column contains more possibilities, and an “etc.”  The only limit to one can go in the final column is the teacher’s imagination.  The more creative and varied the activities, the more salient is the learning.  This should not in any way disparage traditional teaching, however.  Another way to put it is that traditional teaching relies on expectations.  In achievement based teaching the learning is elicited.  The student constructs his own expectations, and uses specific targets to achieve these expectations.  Expectations and elicitations are both critical when teaching.

So when an administrator comes in and sees you playing a game with your kids, if you did this kind of teaching, you could say:  “You caught me on my ABT day.  Some days I do drill, some days I do direct instruction, some days worksheets, and about half of the days I do activities specifically designed to elicit my students’ target skills.  It just so happens that fun motivates.”

A Few Facts About… Conjunctions

Conjunctions are an important method of extending sentence length and complexity, because they are a common method of joining words or parts of sentences together.  Coordinating conjunctions join independent clauses (as well as words and phrases), while subordinating conjunctions can join both dependent and independent clauses (as well as words and phrases).

The acquisition and frequency of conjunctions have both been studied extensively.  Among the findings are that the word and often initially takes the role of other conjunctions  (Bloom et al., 1980; Scott, 1988; cited by Owens, 1996).  The conjunctions but, so, or, and if soon are acquired in typically developing children to serve functions that and isn’t as easily able to achieve.  Conjunctions like because then develop to express not only a relationship between sentence elements, but additionally a temporal sequence.  According to one estimate, by the time a normal child’s mean length of utterances reach 5.0 (at an average age of 4 to 5 years), 20% of the sentences they use in spontaneous speech contain embedded or conjoined clauses (Paul, 1981).

Language itself doesn’t require conjunctions, but effectively communicating advanced ideas usually does.  As with other language modalities, conjunctions exist because they assist.  We use them to achieve a goal.  Just try giving a reason for something without using the word because, or try describing the time relationship between two completed events without using conjunctions such as before, after, or then.  It can be done, but much less effectively.

Generally, developmental order of conjunctions is determined by the complexity of the relationship the conjunction serves.  Conjunctions appear frequently in assessments such as the CELF, CASL, OWLS, and SPELT.  Also, Conjunction Junction is a timeless piece of art.

Explanations Help Teach Language

That’s the gist of a new study by Lizbeth Finestack and Marc Fey from the University of Kansas, published in the August ’09 American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.  Their study compared 6-8 year olds assigned to either a deductive training group, or an inductive training group.  A computer program was used to teach a specific aspect of an invented alien language.   The deductive training group received explanations, i.e. a brief description of the target.  Both groups were made aware that the alien – “Tiki” – used many of the same words that we use, but this alien language also contained something different.  In this case that was different word endings for male and female verbs.  The kids in the deductive group were told that when it’s a boy you add -po to the end, and when it’s a girl you add -pa to the end.  The kids in the inductive group were just supposed to figure it out on their own, another way of saying they were required to use inductive reasoning.

Finestack and Fey’s results showed that significantly more kids in the deductive group acquired the target.   They concluded by asserting that generally, the most efficacious treatment may be one that combines natural language approaches with explanations.  For those with access, here’s the link.

Jerome Bruner – Research Rehash

As a psychologist, Jerome Bruner has led much of modern thought among those labeled interactionists, constructionists, and cognitivists.  As a professor and researcher, Bruner has taught and researched for over sixty years at Harvard, Oxford, and at his current position at New York University.  He has been looked at as one of the instrumental inciters of the so called cognitive revolution, and his ideas have had great influence over the current states of psychology, education, and language.

One frequently cited idea of Bruner’s is the LASS, or Language Acquisition Support System, a term coined in response to Chomsky’s LAD, or Language Acquisition Device.  The LASS refers to the importance of a child’s social support network, which works in conjunction with innate mechanisms to encourage or suppress language development.  Every child has one, and particularly during the years of the language explosion (roughly ages 2 to 5), differences in the LASS significantly explain differences in language acquisition, according to Bruner’s model.

In a spiral curriculum simple subject matter is introduced at the bottom, and made gradually complex with each revisit

In a spiral curriculum simple subject matter is introduced at the bottom, and made increasingly complex with each revisit

Part of the LASS is another key component of Bruner’s explanation of how the most effective learning occurs – the “spiral curriculum.”  Bruner used the spiral curriculum to argue against the modes of teaching that deem some subjects too difficult for learners to grasp before they’re ready, which was partially in response to Piaget’s strict stages of cogntive development.  Many have come to accept Bruner’s view that learning is more successful with early exposure and subsequent scaffolding of more complex concepts that occurs over earlier developing ones.

So how does a spiral curriculum differ from a traditional one?  Traditionally subjects are taught in big chunks to everyone at the same time.  Spiral curriculums are broken up into smaller chunks which are revisited, moving from exposure to more in-depth understanding with each revisit.  Optimally,this gives greater flexibility for learner’s individual differences, while providing the more opportunities for challenge, creativity, and advanced mastery of subjects.

And, it mimics how we naturally learn language.  A child doesn’t learn his first words in one day sections devoted to each word.  A “Today we’re going to learn the word, doggy.” day would not be as effective as how kids naturally learn the word doggy.  Initial exposures are added to with repeated revisits, increasing a word’s understanding with each revisit.  The most effective learning of subsequent words occurs in the same manner.

Bruner went on to write more on the significance of cultural influences in education.  For more on Bruner and his work, click here or here.  A good article on the spiral curriculum can be found here.

Categories and Teaching

Information that can be organized in some manner is most easily retrieved (Nippold, 1998).  The organization of words into categories provides effective neural “hooks” for retrieval and an effective “filing cabinet” for storage.  Many words fall neatly into categories that help this storage and retrieval, while many other words require more linguistic manipulation to find category relatives.  The philosopher Immanuel Kant’s claim that categories are essential in understanding the world has both influenced and withstood generations of philosophical debate.  The notion that things exist independently of human categories which are then imposed upon those things in order to better understand them has deeply influenced metaphysics, language, psychology, and education.

Examples are the opposite of categories.  For example, spring and summer are examples of the category of seasons.  The term “superordinate” is frequently used in linguistic circles to refer to categories.  “Subordinates” is used to refer to category members.  For example, trumpets and flutes are subordinate members of the superordinate class of instruments.

The use of categories is especially relevant to memory  (McCormick and Schiefelbusch, 1990).  Short term memory relies on techniques such as chunking, while association is key to long term memory.  Chunking and association both use categories.  The use of categories also aids us in describing related words, allowing us to more effectively communicate our knowledge of these words.  One of the most widely seen features of semantic language impairment is the deficient use and understanding of categories.

As with any word, or word group, some categories tend to be learned before others.  Below is an abbreviated list that I’ve used in my language teaching.


On the Use of Foils

In teaching and assessment a foil is simply an incorrect alternative.  Any time a choice is given the foil itself can make or break a response’s accuracy.  As an example, consider this picture:


What is this?

Now, here are four questions designed to determine your knowledge of the picture’s subject.

    1)  What is this?

    2)  Is this uranium, pyroxite, or feldspar?

    3)  Is this plagioclastic-orthonograph feldspar or uranium? 

    4)  Is this a type of fruit or uranium?

Much can be ascertained about one’s uranium knowledge depending upon which questions can or can’t be answered.  We can learn that somebody that can answer the question without foils (labeling, in this case) knows his rocks.  Conversely, when using bad foils nothing may be discovered at all.  Most second graders could answer the fourth question correctly which, of course, tells more about the child’s knowledge of fruit than uranium.  The third question’s foil is almost as bad.  If someone answers “uranium,” how do you know it’s not simply because the foil was so hard to pronounce?  While these examples may be extreme, they illustrate the significance that seemingly simple framing and foils can have on good assessment.

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The Click Factor

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. Continue reading →

Some Significant “Effects”

The Matthew Effect - Named after a parable in The New Testament in which Jesus speaks (in fancier biblical words) of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  While the term has been bandied about in multiple fields, it’s special significance to special education was expounded by psychologist Keith Stanovich.  Because those who learn linguistic foundations, such as phonology, grammar, and reading, have the things they’ve learned, they then learn more.  Those without these foundations fall further behind.  A strong body of evidence supports The Matthew Effect’s common sense notion that the gap that exists in early language learning widens in part because of the very existence of the gap itself.

The Flynn Effect  – The research of James Flynn and others like him has demonstrated that IQs have gone up between 5 and 25 points among those in the general population during the past century.  While some have stated that this is proof positive of our ever increasing intelligence, explanatory opinions have ranged from more expansive schooling, to better nutrition, to better problem solving abilities due to the greater accessibility of puzzles and video games, as well as the greater complexity of society overall.  While a general consensus has remained out of reach, Flynn’s own hypothesis is that IQ testing correlates with intelligence more than it actually tests it.  Click here for a well balanced explanation.

Built by the mob?  Or partial reinforcement?

Built by the mob? Or partial reinforcement?

The Partial Reinforcement Effect - This is the one that keeps building those large Las Vegas hotels.  Responses acquired after intermittent reinforcement (such as gambling wins) last longer than those acquired after continuous reinforcement.  Simply put, spacing rewards is the best way to reinforce desired behavior.  Despite it’s power, this one seems underutilized in education and teaching.  I think it just needs a catchier name.

The Spacing Effect - Repeated spaced presentations naturally aid our memory in learning, much more than presentations that occur bunched together.  If you read my earlier post, the spacing effect may be helping you learn about the spacing effect.

The Mozart Effect - Does listening to classical music actually improve intelligence?  Probably not, but click here to read about why this effect has been so easy to believe.

The Perceptual Magnet Effect – According to this theory, this enables us to more easily learn differences between sounds that exist in learned language.  We perceive a sound as its intended exemplar, even when not produced exactly as that exemplar.  Here’s more info.

On Teaching Vocabulary

Estimates exist that vocabularies can consist of 60,000 to 80,000 words or more by graduation from high school (Bloom, 2005; Miller and Gildea, 1987).  We can’t possibly teach this number of words.   Fortunately we don’t have to.  This is due to the fact that teaching vocabulary relies on three equally important modes.  1)  Discovering which of the words that are considered appropriate for a child’s age and abilities have not been learned;  2)  Meaningful exposure;  3)  Providing opportunity for meaningful use.  Formal language testing may uncover some words within specific areas that are problematic, but criterion testing is important to determine a significant quantity of these words.  Discovering these words may be more important, if not equally important, as actually teaching these words.  This is because of the sheer quantity of words that children are expected to learn.  We can’t teach them all, but we can provide exposure, opportunity, and critically – acceptable expectations.

For use in my own teaching, I’ve compiled lists of words for each of various language areas that SLPs typically address.  The words that I’ve chosen are considered high impact and foundational for further learning.  The key “curriculum” vocabulary words are almost entirely nouns and  verbs.  Other words are usually addressed when specific language deficits are addressed.  The order comes from developmental data, state goals, benchmarks, and often educated guesswork.  There is a variable developemental order for each linguistic unit.  A preponderance of unknown words equals a deficit area.  A preponderance of known words equals an area thay is likely not considered deficient.  Many language categories are divided into basic, early elementary, later elementary, and advanced.  Here is how this looks with adjectives, as one example:

     Basic:  ahead, alike, afraid, bad, behind, big, fat, funny, good, great, etc.

     Early Elementary:  angry, better, best, beautiful, bright, closed, covered, dizzy, etc.

     Later Elementary:  crooked, dull, equal, exact, gorgeous, grumpy, handsome, level, etc.

     Advanced:  backward, precise, rectangular, slanted vast, etc.

Division into linguistic units such as adjectives is done merely to facilitate teaching.  This facilitation is possible because of tendencies in children’s unassisted learning.  Without help, a child with a few errors in one area tends to have errors concentrated in that area.   Because there’s a potentially infinite number of adjectives, the grammatical class of adjectives is considered open-ended, which is the reason for each division’s “etc.” ending.  Once it is discovered which words a child doesn’t, but should, know, this information can be passed on to parents, teachers, and to the students themselves.

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Which Language Development Theory Best Helps Us Teach?

The current knowledge of language development includes a large amount of theory, research, and debate from a variety of fields.  These include linguistics, psychology, philosophy, sociology, medicine, computers, biology, neurology, speech and language pathology, and education.  What is known about language has come far in recent decades due to a recent flurry of activity in these disciplines, and as a result of the interdisciplinary sharing of information between the groups.  Still, there are many questions.  The nature-nurture debate rages, as do arguments regarding the pros and cons of specific theories of language acquisition.  The search for autism’s elusive cure has gained unprecedented heights of popularity.  And, how has language evolved?  Or has it?  To what extent, if any, does language precede thought?  These and similar quests have sparked considerable debate but little consensus.  And one large question still looms:  Is it possible to devise a systematic way to teach language?


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