Assessing students’ discourse abilities can be a confusing process, but technology and recent tools within our literature can help.
Why Look at Stories?
Research in our field has established that both narrative (storytelling) and expository (informational) language are critical to students’ school functioning.
Students are expected to produce stories and explain their ideas and understanding of curriculum content all day long. Students with language disorders struggle with these tasks, which encompass a nexus of vocabulary, syntax, and organization into narrative and expository forms. SLPs have many classroom contexts that afford opportunities to address the structure or language underpinnings of narrative and expository language in curriculum areas, such as stories and books that are related to curriculum topics.
Interventionists should keep in mind that narrative language also affects children’s social competence. Students with narrative language difficulties are often at risk for developing social and behavioral problems related to conversation skills, problem solving, and perspective taking.1
Tech Up Your Process
Technology can ease our access to tools that can augment our assessment protocol and facilitate management of the resulting data. Hadley, for example, provides a user-friendly conversational procedure for eliciting several types of narrative samples.2 One strategy suggested by Hadley is conversational mapping or “give a story to get a story.” Sharing a story with a student in order to elicit a similar narrative adds a pragmatically felicitous element to the assessment and also provides a model. A tech strategy I often use is to show a digital photo that relates to my story as a visual support. Taking photos of various problems you encounter can prepare you for opportunities that arise.
Another good protocol is outlined by Heilmann and Malone (you can watch the video discussion here), in which students are asked to explain the “rules of a game,” tapping expository language.3 Again, a model and perhaps a digital photo of a game would provide a good scaffold within this procedure. In this case, Google Images is your friend!
Story retelling samples are also valuable, especially when students struggle to formulate personal narrative. Wordless videos are widely available on YouTube. Try out a series such as Simon’s Cat for examples of complete episode narratives—meaning those with a clear character, setting, initiating event, feeling, plan, actions, and conclusion—which can be used in narrative assessment.
Whatever procedures you choose for your students, transcription of a language sample will be important. Using the built-in voice memo application on your phone or tablet can be your first step. We generally always have these devices with us, and they come with auto-rewind and forward options that can make it much easier to transcribe a sample. SUGAR (Sampling Utterances and Grammatical Analysis-Revised) is a cost-free set of resources for eliciting, transcribing, and using simple word processing tools to obtain data from samples. For example, following transcription, a clinician can turn on “line numbering” to see a total number of utterances, sentences, or T-units. Word count and other measures can be similarly obtained.
Technology can also provide some engaging tools when moving to the intervention phase. For example, check out Kidspiration (free to try, $10 for the full app) to create story or expository graphic organizers in therapy activities.
Google Slides, utilized in many school districts as part of Google Apps, also provides a great venue for creating graphic organizers. Insert a graphic organizer on a slide as an image, and use the shapes tool to create typable shapes to organize ideas.
To learn more about incorporating technology into your sessions, be sure to check out the following MedBridge courses:
- Noel, K. K. & Westby, C. (2014). Applying theory of mind concepts when designing interventions targeting social cognition among youth offenders. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 344–361.
- Hadley, P. A. (1998). Language sampling protocols for eliciting text-level discourse. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 29(3), 132–147.
- Heilmann, J. & Malone, T. O. (2014). The rules of the game: properties of a database of expository language samples. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45(4), 277–290.