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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Moving Stories Along

I’m talking some more today about narrative skills in students, including those who do not speak. I can’t stress enough the importance of developing narrative skills in children.
Narratives are important because they allow us to move away from the “here and now,” and to focus less on our personal experiences, while allowing students to talk about what is not immediate, but rather the decontextualized language of the classroom.


Narrative skills begin to develop in young children and are mediated by parental support.  These early interactions build the foundation upon which children build their narrative and academic skills (Boudreau 2008).  The narrative skills of preschoolers are predictive of academic success in school, as well as social success.  As students with narrative language deficits continue having difficulties in academic and social success, we are reminded of the importance of intervention at the narrative levels.

Shared Reading :

These early interactions [between parent and child] build the foundation upon which children build their narrative and academic skills (Boudreau 2008).  The narrative skills of preschoolers are predictive of academic success in school, as well as social success.  As students with narrative language deficits continue having difficulties in academic and social success, we are reminded of the importance of intervention at the narrative levels

One of the most ubiquitous and powerful discourse forms in human communication is narrative.”  (Bruner 1990).  Narrative is crucial in human interactions, yet often receives the least attention.  Bruner went on to name the 4 areas of grammar critical to narrative production:


  1. A means for emphasizing actions towards obtaining a goal,
  2. A sequential order should be established and maintained; so that events are stated in a linear way
  3. Sensitivity to what forms and patterns of language are acceptable
  4. Containing a narrator’s perspective or ‘voice.’

     

Narrative has been found (Nelson et al 1989) to capture not only the events of daily interactions, but to encourage interpretation, imagination, and use of self-talk to solve problems. 

One factor that is shown to have an influence on students’ skills in narrative discourse is early interactions around books and experiences.  The interactions with parents or other adults that provide scaffolding of story telling/ experience retelling, that co-construct narratives with children and gradually decrease that support, are critical.  By providing opportunities to interact with partners who provide quality exchanges students develop the narrative skills that they need.

There are 3 basic types of narrative scripts: personal experiences, scripts, and fictional stories (Hudson & Shapiro, 1991). Personal narratives are the easiest place to begin in intervention with children.  And they are the most often used types of narrative.

 “By focusing on narratives in our language intervention, we can explore processing limitations, create opportunities for using decontextualized language, facilitate social relationships, provide practice in constructive listening, improve reading comprehension, and identify language learning strengths and weaknesses.” (Johnston 2008)


For AAC users, focusing on the use of core words and important fringe, and moving from single symbols to sequences of symbols for generating novel utterances (SNUG), we need to keep our AAC users moving on the "oral" - literate continuum.  This means teaching AAC users to construct messages and sequence ideas in order to engage in meaningful conversations.





Boudreau, D. (2008) Forword. Topics in Language Disorders, 28 (2), 91-92

Catts,H et al (1999). Language basis of reading and reading disabilities: Evidence from a longitudinal investigation. Scientific Studies of Reading, 3(4), 331-361.

Gillam, R, & Pearson, N. (2003)The Test of Narrative Language. Austin, Tx: Pro-Ed.

Johnston, J. (1982). Narratives: A new look at communication problems in older language-disordered children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools, 13, 144-155.


Johnston, J. (2008). Narratives: Twenty-five years later. Topics in Language Disorders, 28 (2), 93-98

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Can You Tell Me About It? More Evidence for Narratives

I have frequently performed assessments on kids who seem to do ok on standardized tests, which mostly assess at the word or sentence levels.  But when asked to formulate entire paragraphs; to tell about an experience or re-tell a story or make up a store, their difficulties really stand out.

This problem is exacerbated in AAC users, whose language skills are often impaired or delayed, often from a lack of appropriate instruction.

This inability to organize language into meaningful narratives impacts children in social and academic contexts alike.  Narratives are at the heart of our conversations, our classroom performance, and our ability to tell others about…. well, anything.



There have been numerous studies of children’s abilities to construct narratives, and researchers like Carol Westby, Nickola Wolf Nelson, Ron and Sandra Gillam, and Maryellen Rooney Moreau, among others, have given us a wealth of information about how children develop this skill and the steps they need to take.

Narrative discourse is defined as, “at least two utterances produced in a temporal order about an event or experience (Hughes, et al, 1997).  Students with language disorders tend to miss the ability to integrate background knowledge with pragmatics - or social language - to formulate an organized recounting. 
Moreau has defined narrative as a story that involves telling or re-telling events and experiences (Lafontaine & Moreau 2014).
And Jerome Bruner (1990) called narrative skills “One of the most ubiquitous and powerful discourse forms in human communication…”  He went on to name the 4 areas of grammar critical to narrative production:

  1. A means for emphasizing actions towards obtaining a goal,
  2. A sequential order should be established and maintained; so that events are stated in a linear way
  3. Sensitivity to what forms and patterns of language are acceptable
  4. Containing a narrator’s perspective or ‘voice.’

One study (D. Boudreau, 2008) looked at narrative skills in academic settings and cited studies showing that 

  • students whose narrative skills are greater than their syntax skills performed better than those who had age-appropriate syntactic skills but poorer narrative abilities or tasks for story comprehension and re-telling,
  • the single best predictor of students’ future need for remediation or special education or retention was their earlier performance on tasks of narrative abilities,
  • that narrative abilities in Kindergarten predict students’ vocabulary and reading comprehension skills in 7th grade  
  • that there is a correlation between students’ narrative skills using wordless picture books and their Math skills in school,
  • and more evidence for the role of narrative discourse skills.

The bottom line, says Boudreau, is that discourse abilities are crucial in academic success, and, in order to make students with this profile successful, we need to provide remediation in both comprehension and production of narratives.

If you want to learn more about narrative skills assessment and development, Gillam and Gillam have written some terrific articles and presentations. You can grab some amazing CEUs through MedBridge’s courses on narratives by Sandra Gillam here.


As well as this great course offering from Sean Sweeney:                                         Tell me a story: Targeting narrative skills through the alignment of methodology and technology


And if you’re looking for some resources to help you work with narrative skills, try these I’ve created:
    


Boudreau, D. (2008) Forword. Topics in Language Disorders, 28 (2), 91-92

Catts,H et al (1999). Language basis of reading and reading disabilities: Evidence from a longitudinal investigation. Scientific Studies of Reading, 3(4), 331-361.

Gillam, R, & Pearson, N. (2003)The Test of Narrative Language. Austin, Tx: Pro-Ed.

Johnston, J. (1982). Narratives: A new look at communication problems in older language-disordered children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools, 13, 144-155.


Johnston, J. (2008). Narratives: Twenty-five years later. Topics in Language Disorders, 28 (2), 93-98




Sunday, September 8, 2019

What a Difference a Morpheme Makes

You know what a morpheme is, don’t you?  It is defined as the smallest unit of speech that carries meaning.  According to dictionary.com, it is “any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited.”

So when I say I want to talk about facilitating communication today, don’t mistake my message for ‘facilitated communication.’  There is a very big difference between those two, determined by the ending morphemes.



Facilitated communication is supported typing, using hand-over-hand to help the nonspeaking individual type their message.  This technique has been discredited many times over in the literature and is not at all what I’m referring to.

Facilitating communication, on the other hand, is what we do daily with our AAC users to help them acquire language and communication skills.  In order to facilitate communication, we:

  1.    Provide access to the aac system - it needs to be available all of the time. This is how this child “talks” and (s)he needs to know that communication is valued enough to be there whenever it is needed 
  2.    Provide AAC models - use aided language stimulation as much as possible. When asking questions during an activity, highlight key words by using the aac system
  3.    Provide opportunities for the child to take a turn - i.e. by pausing after each turn you take. Don’t be the only one “talking”
  4.    Pause/expectant delay - give the child time to process, time to formulate a response. Looking expectant while pausing lets the child know you expect a response
  5.    Ask open-ended questions - and wait for the answer before you provide it; if necessary, you can answer the question then provide a prompt for the child to imitate the answer. Asking Wh-questions instead of yes/no questions allows the child to learn higher-level responses.
  6.    Prompt those responses - providing verbal prompts lets the child know what they are supposed to do.

 Begin with routine activities. Many routine activities have a set beginning - middle - end that are predictable, use words that are predictable. This makes it easier for the child.
Other activities are a little less predictable but can easily provide communication opportunities.

Start using ALgS (Aided Language Stimulation) with one activity. When you’re comfortable, add another activity/time.  Keep adding activities throughout the day until the strategies are used all of the time.  This helps keep the overwhelmed feeling down. Just take one step at a time.  Soon, you’ll be off and running.

In case you don't already have a copy, grab my free Being a Good Partner to an AAC User handout here.

In the meantime, keep on talking!





Sunday, August 18, 2019

Why Bother with Stories?

One factor that is shown to have influence on students’ skills in narrative discourse is early interactions around books and experiences.  The interactions with parents or other adults that provide scaffolding of story telling / experience retelling, that co-construct narratives with children and gradually decrease that support, are critical.  By providing opportunities to interact with partners who provide quality exchanges students develop the narrative skills that they need.


If you read this blog regularly, you know that shared reading is another favorite topic of mine
These early interactions [between parent and child] build the foundation upon which children build their narrative and academic skills (Boudreau 2008).  The narrative skills of preschoolers are predictive of academic success in school, as well as social success.  As students with narrative language deficits continue having difficulties in academic and social success, we are reminded of the importance of intervention at the narrative levels.


I’ll circle around and talk some more about narrative skills and shared reading opportunities in subsequent posts.  In the meantime, if you’re interested in increasing the narrative skills of students, take a look at this resource I have on increasing narrative skills. As well as this one for increasing narrative skills in AAC users.




And, for a superb discussion of narrative skills, check out Sandra Gillam’s CEU courses at Medbridge. I've heard Sandra and her husband speak on the topic and they are superb.  Medbridge charges just one annual fee for as many courses as you have time for!











Sunday, August 11, 2019

Your Next Great Read is Here!

I recently responded to a request for interesting and educational picture books for children.  The article was published recently, and I think it's worth taking a look at.



Mine were not the only recommendations, of course, and some of the books listed I hadn't heard of.
So, in the interest of good read-aloud time, here is a link to the article and the list.
Each book has a brief description.  

Can you tell which books I recommended? 
 Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One was one
The Snowy Day was another

and Tommy at the Grocery Store (one of my own kids' favorites! and perfect for an SLP).  



The article itself contains links to the books, as well as my affiliate links here.

I love each of these for different reasons.

Aunt Isabel tells her niece and nephew a wonderful story while in the process teaching them how a story is created. I've taught many children about story elements with this one.

The Snowy Day is a classic. It's deceptively simple and good for talking about sequences in a story.  Not only is there the overall sequence of events in the whole story, but you can break the boy's day into 2 distinct parts: in the snow and in the house.  I used to work this book into my seasons theme in therapy.

And Tommy.... I can't say enough about this book that will tickle your funny bone.  Tommy's mother accidentally leaves him at the grocery store.  A procession of other customers move him about the store, each explaining why he belongs in a different department; "He has ears" so he must belong with the corn.  "He has legs" so he should go with the tables and chairs.
Poor Tommy finally is rescued by his mother.  Wonderful for part and whole discussions.

Enjoy!
And if you're looking for some guidance during your read aloud time to get the best language impact, take a look at my shared reading strategies and templates resource.

Keep on reading, and.... keep on talking (about books).




Sunday, August 4, 2019

Back to School Time Already?!

Thinking about a new school year already?  Here in Southern California, it is already that time for some districts.  So, to get the year started off the right way, I am reprising a post about the top 10 traits of an AAC classroom.



1. All students who do not have sufficient verbal language skills to meet all of their communication needs have an aac system that others them at least basic core vocabulary.

2. Staff are consistently using Aided Language Stimulation and modeling, and are familiar enough with the students’ systems to do so effectively.

3. Staff redirects students to their aac systems if they are not understood, or if they are relying on gesture and body actions when they are able to use more standard modes.

4. Staff model and require communication for a variety of functions - not just requesting.

5. AAC users are being taught literacy skills using effective teaching strategies.

6. Staff repeat, affirm, and then elaborate student responses.

7. AAC skills are taught and reinforced in natural, contextual activities, not drill formats.

8. Core vocabulary is taught, reinforced, and expanded continuously and topical materials for the classroom are modified to use core words.  Teachers are teaching descriptively, not referentially.

9. Student narrative skills are a focus of classroom activities.

10. Conversational interactions are a focus of classroom activities.

How does your room or school measure up?

If you're looking for some resources to help staff keep up with AAC this school year, try these: The AAC Implementation Plan Handbook and The AAC Core Word Modeling Plan Posters and Information for Staff (and Home).



Keep on talking - with pictures.





Sunday, July 28, 2019

What Have You Got to Say for Yourself?

Teaching a child to use AAC requires a level of familiarity and comfort with the AAC system itself.  Using the pictures while simultaneously speaking to the child provides a level of direct modeling that verbal children receive from birth.  And just as we provide verbal input 1 or 2 or 3 words at a time, we also model use of 1 or 2 or 3 symbols, keeping our models just 1 step ahead of where the child's expression is currently.

This Aided Language Stimulation - also called Partner Aided Input - is crucial to the child learning to use their aac system.
Language is learned through models. Children learn spoken language by listening to others using it. A child using picture-based communication is learning an entirely different language. They need to see models of people using it effectively. And models provided in response to their communication are most powerful.

What else can we do? 
  •  create a positive communication environment
  •  respond to all communication attempts



There is a positive communication environment when we respond to all of a child’s communication attempts, provide support as needed, focus on positive results, and find solutions to challenges. Even when you respond to an undesirable behavior, if you do so while also modeling how to use the correct message in the AAC system you take advantage of a communication opportunity.

As much as possible, do NOT ask yes/no questions, do NOT ask closed-ended questions

DO ask Wh-questions or other open-ended questions. If necessary, ask multiple choice questions.

Strategies to create opportunities to communicate include:
     providing choices, 
     sabotaging the environment, 
     giving small amounts of desired item/activity, 
     briefly delaying access, 
     using pause time, 
     using fill-in-the- blank activities.


Respond to all Communication Partner’s Attempts:

All children communicate. They don’t all communicate symbolically - that is, with pictures, words, text. And some of their nonsymbolic communication is undesirable.

Think about how this child responds to his/her own name; what (s)he does when a routine is interrupted; what (s)he does when wanting an item, action, attention, or help; or tells you when something is wrong. What we’re talking about is how this child communicates to reject/protest, request, comment. Those are some of the main, early functions of communication. The earliest communication behaviors are social regulatory - regulating another’s actions.  What we need to do is to respond to those other communication behaviors, while shaping them into more acceptable or understandable forms.

The more you practice using the aac system during real contexts, and increase the number of those contexts in which you use the aac system, the more automatically the child will learn to use the system.  

More to come.....
Keep on talking!