Spanish and English in the classroom: Does it matter?

In this study of nearly 2000 dual-language learners (almost all Latinx) ages 18 months to age 5, in Educare/Headstart programs across the U.S., the researchers asked—does classroom language matter?

The language of children in three classroom types were compared:

  • English w/ No Spanish

  • English w/ Some Spanish

  • English & Spanish

The researchers found that all three classrooms supported English growth, but the English + Spanish classroom best supported Spanish growth.

The authors state, “… DLL children learn English at equal (and advanced) rates regardless of L2 classroom exposure, when in high-quality classrooms”, and thus “… Spanish use in the classroom at varying levels does not impede English acquisition.” And, basically, to support Spanish growth, we may need more balanced bilingual instruction.

Surprising to most Informed SLPs? Probably not. But this is a great article to share with others if you’re trying to explain the impact of dual language instruction.

 

Raikes, H. H., White, L., Green, S., Burchinal, M., Kainz, K., Horm, D., ... Esteraich, J. (2019). Use of the home language in preschool classrooms and first- and second-language development among dual-language learners. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.06.012

And more

Hwa-Froelich & Matsuo found that children who were adopted internationally had pragmatic skills within the average range, yet their scores were lower than their non-adopted, typically-developing peers. Understanding the language skill profiles of children adopted internationally is important so that we don’t over-refer or misdiagnose these kids. P.S. We’ve reviewed this team’s research with this same population before here.

In the largest study of its kind to date, Potter, Nievergelt, & VanDam found that children with speech sound disorders have similar tongue strength as their typically-developing peers. This study adds to the evidence base that disputes the use of non-speech oral motor exercises in speech therapy.

Rivera Pérez et al. wondered whether monolingual SLPs could use audio prompting (i.e., pre-recorded stimuli in the home language) to facilitate vocabulary learning in Spanish–English bilingual preschoolers with typical language abilities. Children were taught vocabulary in either English only or in both English and audio prompt-delivered Spanish. All children learned English vocabulary, and only the group receiving audio prompting improved on Spanish vocabulary measures, suggesting audio prompting may help improvement in the home language. We should note that their design didn’t compare the English-only and English-plus-audio-prompting conditions and participants were typically developing children taught by SLPs. Still, more research like this could help identify ways SLPs can better serve their bilingual students. Exciting! 

Roberts et al. found positive effects of teaching preschoolers (including some dual language learners) letter name and letter–sound correspondence. No surprise there—we know how important that skill is! It is interesting that they found no advantage for teaching letter names before letter sounds: the jury’s still out on whether one should be taught before the other.

A study by Sue et al. reminds us to consider generalization not only across contexts but across receptive–expressive language modalities. In a single case design on vocabulary training in children with ASD, where children were taught a set of words either receptively or expressively, they found that some but not all of those words taught were acquired in the untrained modality. More expressive-to-receptive transfer was noted—which makes a lot of sense. There are still open questions about the optimal teaching order (if there is one) and what the implications are for dosage.

 

Hwa-Froelich, D. A., & Matsuo, H. (2019). Pragmatic language performance of children adopted internationally. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0075

Potter, N. L., Nievergelt, Y., & VanDam, M. (2019). Tongue strength in children with and without speech sound disorders. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0023

Rivera Pérez, J. F., Creaghead, N. A., Washington, K., Guo, Y., Raisor-Becker, L., & Combs, S. (2019). Using Audio Prompting to Assist Monolingual Speech–Language Pathologists to Teach English–Spanish Vocabulary to English Learners. Communication Disorders Quarterly. doi:10.1177/2F1525740118819659

Roberts, T. A., Vadasy, P. F., & Sanders, E. A. (2019). Preschoolers’ alphabet learning: Cognitive, teaching sequence, and English proficiency influences. Reading Research Quarterly. doi:10.1002/rrq.242

Su, P. L., Castle, G., & Camarata, S. (2019). Cross-modal generalization of receptive and expressive vocabulary in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments. doi:10.1177/2F2396941518824495

Iconicity of AAC symbols—Does it matter for learning?

If you work in AAC, you’ve encountered the AAC symbol hierarchy. You know—the idea that some symbols, like photographs, may be easier for kids to learn because they are more iconic. There’s a lot of chatter out there about this concept. Does a hierarchy exist? Is it just a myth? Guess what—the answer’s not so straightforward.

In this study, 13 school-aged students with both developmental and language delays participated in an observational symbol-learning task on the computer. They were shown 6 “iconic” Blissymbols and 6 “arbitrary” lexigrams. The Blissymbols looked like their referents (the one for clock looked like a clock), while the lexigrams had no relationship to their referents.

The task was simple: the students touched the symbols on the screen and a color photograph of the corresponding vocabulary popped up. The students did this repeatedly for 30 minutes, for a maximum of 12 sessions, and were then tested for their symbol-learning.

Turns out there was a very small advantage for the iconic symbols (they learned one more symbol), but only when the students knew the vocabulary beforehand. So if a student knew the concept DOG, they were a bit more likely to learn the iconic symbol for DOG, rather than the arbitrary symbol. 

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But, what if students didn’t know the vocabulary (an oh-so-common occurrence)?  There was no difference in the students’ ability to learn an iconic symbol versus an arbitrary symbol, when the vocabulary was previously unknown. So if a student didn’t know the concept GORILLA, they were just as likely to learn the iconic symbol as the arbitrary symbol.

This is not a black-and-white situation! Yes, iconic symbols may have a slight advantage in some situations. But—if you’re teaching new vocabulary, it’s probably not worth getting hung up on iconicity, since how closely a symbol looks like its referent doesn’t seem to make or break the learning process.

 

Sevcik, R. A., Barton-Hulsey, A., Romski, M., & Hyatt Fonseca, A. (2018). Visual-graphic symbol acquisition in school age children with developmental and language delays. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 34(4), 265–275.

A one–two punch for assessing young Spanish–English learners

Do you serve pre-K or kindergarten-aged kids? Are some/lots/all of them from Hispanic backgrounds and learning Spanish AND English? Mandatory reading right here, friends!

So—a major issue for young, dual-language learners? Appropriate language assessments. We talk about it a lot (plus here, here, here, and here, to name a few). In this new study, the authors compared a handful of assessments to see which could most accurately classify 4- and 5-year-olds (all Mexican–American and dual-language learners) as having typical vs. disordered language.

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The single measure with the best diagnostic accuracy was two subtests of the Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment (BESA)—Morphosyntax and Semantics (the third subtest is phonology, which they didn’t use here). But to get even more accurate? Like, sensitivity of 100% and specificity of about 93%? Add in a story retell task (they used Frog, Where Are You?). Sample both Spanish and English, and take the better MLUw of the two. This BESA + MLU assessment battery outperformed other options in the mix (English and Spanish CELF-P2, plus a composite of the two, a parent interview, and a dynamic vocab assessment).

Not familiar with the BESA? It’s a newer test, designed—as the name implies—specifically for children who are bilingual, with different versions (not translated) of subtests in each language. If you give a subtest in both languages, you use the one with the highest score. And before you ask—yes, the test authors believe that monolingual SLPs can administer the BESA, given preparation and a trained assistant.

Now, the researchers here don’t include specific cut scores to work with on these assessments, but you can look at Table 2 in the paper and see the score ranges for the typical vs. disordered language groups. They also note that an MLUw of 4 or less can be a red flag for this group.

The major issue with this study, affecting our ability to generalize what it tells us, is that the sample size was really small—just 30 kids total. So, take these new results on board, but don’t override all that other smart stuff you know about assessing dual-language learners (see our links above for some refreshers if needed). And keep an eye out for more diagnostic studies down the road—you know we’ll point them out when they come!

 

Lazewnik, R., Creaghead, N. A., Smith, A. B., Prendeville, J.-A., Raisor-Becker, L., & Silbert, N. (2018). Identifiers of Language Impairment for Spanish-English Dual Language Learners. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. Advance online publication.  https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0046

And more...

  • Briley & Ellis found that 52% of children who stutter (CWS; ages 3–17) also had at least one additional developmental disability, compared to just 15% of children who do not stutter (CWNS), per parent report gathered in a large-scale survey. Specifically, CWS had significantly higher odds of having intellectual disability, learning disability, ADHD/ADD, ASD, or another delay than CWNS.

  • Deevy and Leonard found that preschoolers with DLD were less sensitive to number information (i.e. is vs. are) in sentences with fronted auxiliary verbs than younger, typically developing children. “Is the nice little boy running?” is an example of this form (note the auxiliary “is” at the front of the sentence). The authors suggest children with DLD might need explicit instruction to understand tense and agreement markers—in other words, it might not be enough to just practice producing them correctly.

  • Duncan & Lederberg examined the ways that teachers of K–2nd grade deaf/hard of hearing children communicated in the classroom and related it to the students’ language outcomes. They found that explicitly teaching vocabulary predicted improvements in both vocabulary and morphosyntax over the school year, and that reformulating/recasting children’s statements also predicted vocabulary growth.

  • Kelly et al. interviewed teenagers with high-functioning autism, who reported their perceptions of their own social communication skills. They shared individual experiences with challenges with verbal and nonverbal communication, managing challenging feelings during communication with peers, and feelings of isolation and rejection.

  • Mandak et al.* added to the evidence on Transition to Literacy (T2L) features in AAC software with visual scene displays (VSDs). They found that when digital books were programmed with these features—hotspots that, when touched, would speak the target word and display it dynamically—and used in therapy for preschool-aged children with autism, the children made gains in the ability to read targeted sight words.

  • Goodrich et al. administered three subtests of the Test of Preschool Early Literacy (TOPEL) to 1,221 preschool children, including 751 who were Spanish-speaking language-minority children. Despite the TOPEL being written in English, they found that it provided reliable and valid measures of Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ early literacy skills in English.

*Disclosure: Kelsey Mandak is a writer for The Informed SLP. She was not involved in the selection or review of this article.  

Briley, P. M., & Ellis, C., Jr. (2018). The Coexistence of Disabling Conditions in Children Who Stutter: Evidence From the National Health Interview Survey. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-S-17-0378

Deevy, P., & Leonard, L. (2018). Sensitivity to morphosyntactic information in preschool children with and without developmental language disorder: A follow-up study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0038

Duncan, M. K., & Lederberg, A. R. (2018). Relations Between Teacher Talk Characteristics and Child Language in Spoken-Language Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Classrooms. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-17-0475

Goodrich, J. M., Lonigan, C. J., & Alfonso, S. V. (2019). Measurement of early literacy skills among monolingual English-speaking and Spanish-speaking language-minority children: A differential item functioning analysis. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.10.007

Kelly, R., O’Malley, M., Antonijevic, S. (2018). ‘Just trying to talk to people… it’s the hardest’: Perspectives of adolescents with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder on their social communication skills. Child Language Teaching and Therapy. doi:10.1177/0265659018806754

Mandak, K., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2018). Digital Books with Dynamic Text and Speech Output: Effects on Sight Word Reading for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10803-018-3817-1

Assessing language with diverse preschoolers? Go for dynamic assessment

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Making the right call when assessing language skills of children with cultural or language backgrounds that don’t match our own is hard. Using our go-to assessment methods, we risk labeling normal language variation as signs of a disorder. Standardized test norms may over-identify children from non-mainstream language backgrounds as having language impairment.  

Enter dynamic assessment, which involves testing a child, providing teaching and support, and then retesting to see what the child can do with help. In a new study, Henderson et al. used dynamic assessment to assess language skills of Navajo preschoolers with narrative retell tasks from the Predictive Early Assessment of Reading and Language (PEARL, from the same acronym aficionados that brought us the DYMOND).

Dynamic assessment takes longer than static (one-time) assessment. The PEARL accounts for this—you give the pretest, look at the score, and then administer the teaching and retest only if it’s below a cutoff. Henderson et al. found that the reported cutoff score for the PEARL pretest didn’t work well for Navajo children; sensitivity and specificity were better with a cutoff score of 7 rather than 9. Looking at the whole test, scores on the retest (following teaching) were even better at diagnosing children, and examiners’ “modifiability” ratings (how the child responded to teaching) diagnosed children with 100% accuracy. These findings suggest that the PEARL is a valid test for assessing language in children from non-mainstream language or cultural backgrounds.   

 

Henderson, D. E., Restrepo, M. A., & Aiken, L. S. (2018). Dynamic assessment of narratives among Navajo preschoolers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 61(10), 2547–2560.

Dynamic assessment = Crystal ball for reading skills?

Helping kids become proficient readers is a big deal. Schools often screen children’s decoding skills (the ability to sound out words) to figure out who needs help. But what do screening results mean for children’s future reading ability? Petersen et al. followed a diverse group of children from kindergarten to fifth grade to find out.

The authors administered a quick dynamic assessment task at the beginning of kindergarten. Children were asked to decode four nonsense words, taught how to decode them, and asked to decode them again. Examiners scored children’s accuracy and how easily they responded to teaching. The task took only three minutes to administer on average. (The task is described more in this article, and it’s similar to the decoding tasks on the PEARL.) The children’s schools also screened their ability to name letters and sounds at the beginning of kindergarten and their oral reading fluency at the end of each year.

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Performance on the dynamic task in kindergarten classified children into average vs. struggling reader categories in fifth grade with 75–80% accuracy. The 3-minute dynamic task was better at predicting reading skill than the traditional static (one-time) screening, especially for the Hispanic students in the sample, many of whom were English language learners.

The task wasn’t perfect at predicting fifth grade reading skill, but it was pretty good, especially considering how fast it was to administer. These findings suggest that, compared to the static measures, dynamic assessment of decoding could save a ton of intervention time. Dynamic tasks are less likely to pick up children who just lack reading exposure, saving us time for working with the kids who will continue to need help with reading (AKA, making RTI less of a massive undertaking).

 

Petersen, D. B., Gragg, S. L., & Spencer, T. D. (2018). Predicting reading problems 6 years into the future: Dynamic assessment reduces bias and increases classification accuracy. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools, 49(4), 875–888.

And more...

Brinton et al. found that five elementary-age children with DLD rarely described characters’ mental states (responses, plans, emotions) when generating stories and struggled to answer direct questions about characters’ mental states. The authors suggest that children with DLD may have difficulty with social and emotional concepts. 

Chenausky et al. found that baseline phonetic inventory and ADOS scores were most predictive of speech target approximations post-speech therapy in minimally verbal children with autism (more than IQ, language, age). And that’s not terribly surprising (except the age part—cool that they made good speech gains in older elementary children!). Perhaps the more interesting thing about this study, though, is what they did in speech therapy. It’s called “auditory motor map training”, and is basically the addition of rhythm (tapping drums) and intonation (singing the speech targets) to speech therapy. The researchers are finding that adding these tactile and auditory cues is better than not having them; so worth trying! 

Cooke and Millard asked school-aged children who stutter what they considered to be the most important therapy outcomes. The children reported increased fluency, independence, and confidence, as well as others knowing how to support them and how to make communication situations feel easier. This study serves as a good reminder that stuttering is more than dysfluent speech. The cognitive (thoughts and attitudes) and affective (feelings) components should also play a role in how we evaluate therapy outcomes.  

Dyson et al. taught 20 vocabulary words to elementary-age children with low vocabulary scores using examples, games, and worksheets. After 10 weeks of 20-minute small-group sessions, children learned five new words on average; significantly more than children in a control group. (Email the authors for free materials!)

Giusto and Ehri found that third-graders with poor decoding and average listening comprehension benefitted from a partial-read aloud test accommodation with pacing (PRAP). When examiners read aloud only directions, proper nouns, and multiple choice questions, the students improved their reading comprehension of the test passages. Although you may not be directly assessing these students, these findings may be helpful if you’re ever in the position to recommend accommodations for this subset of children.

Gough Kenyon et al. found that, compared to typical peers, 10- to 11-year-olds with developmental language disorder (DLD) struggled with making elaborative inferences (drawing on background knowledge not stated) but not cohesive inferences (linking information given) after reading a passage. They suggest targeting elaborative inferencing to boost reading comprehension for children with DLD.

Millard et al. add to the evidence base for Palin Parent–Child Interaction Therapy for young children who stutter, finding a reduction in stuttering severity and improvements in both parent and child attitudes and confidence following a year of participation in the program.

Sabri & Fabiano-Smith analyzed a case study and found that, given early implantation and support in both languages, a bilingual child with cochlear implants can acquire two phonological systems, although likely at a slower rate than other bilingual children.

Using (and maybe struggling with) the Lidcombe Program with your young clients who stutter? Van Eerdenbrugh et al. studied the challenges clinicians have with implementing the program and surveyed experts to come up with solutions.

 

Brinton, B., Fujiki, M., & Asai, N. (2018). The ability of five children with developmental language disorder to describe mental states in stories. Communication Disorders Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1525740118779767.

Chenausky, K., Norton, A., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Schlaug, G. (2018). Behavioral predictors of improved speech output in minimally verbal children with autism. Autism Research. Advance Online Publication. doi: 10.1002/aur.2006.

Cooke, K., & Millard, S. K. (2018). The most important therapy outcomes for school-aged children who stutter: An exploratory study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(3S), 1152.

Dyson, H. , Solity, J. , Best, W. and Hulme, C. (2018), Effectiveness of a small‐group vocabulary intervention programme: evidence from a regression discontinuity design. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 53: 947-958. doi:10.1111/1460-6984.12404

Giusto, M., & Ehri, L. C. (2018). Effectiveness of a partial read-aloud test accommodation to assess reading comprehension in students with a reading disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0022219418789377

Gough Kenyon, S. M., Palikara, O., & Lucas, R. M. (2018). Explaining reading comprehension in children with developmental language disorder: The importance of elaborative inferencing. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 61(10), 2517–2531. 

Millard, S. K., Zebrowski, P., & Kelman, E. (2018). Palin Parent–Child Interaction Therapy: The Bigger Picture. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology, 27(3S), 1211–1223.

Sabri, M. & Fabiano-Smith, L. (2018). Phonological Development in a Bilingual Arabic–English-Speaking Child With Bilateral Cochlear Implants: A Longitudinal Case Study. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0162.

Van Eerdenbrugh, S., Packman, A., O'Brian, S., & Onslow, M. (2018). Challenges and Strategies for Speech-Language Pathologists Using the Lidcombe Program for Early Stuttering. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology, 27(3S), 1259–1272.

Grammar instruction for students with complex needs

When you think about therapy with students with complex needs, you might be thinking about prepping materials… lots of materials. But it doesn’t need to be that way! If you’re in the business of targeting grammatical structures with these types of students, read on to learn more about an intervention that includes simple visual supports that will keep your instruction explicit and consistent.

This pilot study used Shape Coding to target copula and auxiliary “be,” including plural and past tense marking. Shape Coding instruction uses shapes, colors, and arrows to make grammatical structures more salient. Want to see what we mean? You can get an overview of Shape Coding system here or check out our review of an oldie-but-goodie throwback article on Shape Coding here. The participants were 11 young teen students with Down syndrome or developmental delays. Some had secondary diagnoses such as hearing impairment or ADHD or spoke English as an additional language.

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After just eight 20-minute group sessions led by their school-based SLPs, most of the students (8/11) made gains that could be attributed to the treatment. For a diverse group of complex students, and a pretty short course of realistic-looking intervention? That is big news!

We highly recommend reading this full article. For one, you’ll get familiar with the ins and outs of Shape Coding. A full list of the intervention steps and materials needed is included as an Appendix. Also? It’ll fire up your inner advocate when the authors discuss the importance of including people with complex needs in research. They remind us that heterogeneity among this population “does not negate the need for more research in this area”—and we couldn’t agree more!

Tobin, L. M., & Ebbels, S. H. (2018). Effectiveness of intervention with visual templates targeting tense and plural agreement in copula and auxiliary structures in school-aged children with complex needs: A pilot study. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080.02699206.2018.1501608.

TIP: If you don’t have access to the original article, above, try here.