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Language Assessment: Don't Forget the Language Sample

In the time of ever increasing caseloads, time pressures and a focus on percentile scores the more informal assessments can sometimes be pushed aside.  I'm here to encourage you to continue (or start) to do language samples as part of your assessment plan.  There are many advantages to completing a language sample.

1. A language sample gives you an idea how children functionally use language.  Some kids we assess perform really really well on standardized assessments but, in fact, can have significant language delays.   That is because there are visual cues in the pictures,  and formats for most assessments follow a predictable pattern, which can help children be successful.  As well, some kids are very test savvy. Language samples take many of these elements away, and you can get a better idea of how they use language every day. While you won't get a percentile score, it can help make a case for those children who score high but are functionally are delayed. This may allow them to access services that they require.

2. You can gather lots of information from a language sample.  How long are their sentences? How often do they speak? What kinds of vocabulary do they use or don't use? What kinds of pragmatic functions do they use? How is their turn taking?  How is their grammar? Do they stay on topic? These are just a few of the many many ways to use a language sample. For the form I use, click here.

3. A language sample can help assess a child's articulation skills.  Again you can obtain a more complete picture of a child's pronunciation.  It can help you figure when children have trouble pronouncing certain sounds/words, in what context. How is their pronunciation beyond the sentence level?

4. Language samples can help you measure progress over time.  I'm lucky. I get to see the children I serve over an extended period of time. It's fun to sit down with parents and compare their child's language samples.  It is concrete evidence of their child's progress. It can also help parents see the areas where their child needs to focus.  I find that parents are more open to working on these areas of weakness and implementing strategies that I recommend.

Now I'm not saying to rely solely on language samples but that they serve an important function in your assessment tool belt and should be incorporated as much as possible in your assessment plan.

Bring Children's Lit into Therapy with "Two of Everything"

With Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) approaching, I thought I would share with you one of my favourite books. You will soon know I have LOTS of favourites.  This one is called Two of Everything retold and illustrated by Lily Toy Hong. This is a wonderful retelling of a Chinese folktale where a farmer finds a pot and whatever he puts in, two will come out. As with many folktales a little trouble soon ensues. This book has a little more text than I typically like when reading to kindergarteners with significant language delays but it keeps them on the edge of their seats. 

This story also lends itself well to language activities. Teachers like it because you can teach all sorts of math concepts. I typically use it to work on same and different.  I bring out my magic pot. I tell the children that my magic pot doesn't listen very well and sometimes it doesn't give me two of the same.  I will have pairs of different food, kitchen utensils,  farm animals etc.. with me. I have one set beside me and the other one inside the pot.  Then the children will take turns telling me what I should put in the pot (great for vocabulary building and sentence structure). The pot then does its "magic" and I will put one thing in and two will come out.  The children then identify whether the objects are the same or different. The children find it hilarious when my pot doesn't "listen" to me. 

This book is also a great for working on story structure, predicting, problem solving and as a conversation starter.  Children like to talk about what they would put in the pot (or not) and why.  One girl told me that she would put her mommy and daddy in the pot so that she could get twice as many treats.  One little guy said he would not put his baby brother in the pot because he cried too much. Another little one said he would put in his ball so that when he lost it, he would have another one.

What would you put in the pot?

Using Nursery Rhymes for Teaching the Preposition "Over"

Working with preschoolers, I try to use nursery rhymes as much as possible in therapy.  I use them for a couple of reasons. 
  1. They are quick and engaging. You can do lots of repetitions in a short time period.  
  2. There is more and more research out there saying that exposing young children to book and literacy activities are very important for later reading success. I read somewhere (I wish I could find it again) that the more nursery rhymes a child can recite by memory, the better their reading proficiency in later years.  Now, I'm not proposing that you sit down and make children memorize nursery rhymes.  It's more about exposing them to a variety of books and stories and all the exposure to important pre-reading skills (such as rhyming) that nursery rhymes provide.
Now back to talking about the preposition "over" and nursery rhymes. I use "Jack be Nimble" and "Hey Diddle Diddle."

I like for children to experience prepositions with their bodies.  I tend to use"Jack be Nimble" for that. I will have a "candlestick" that the children can jump over as I (or we) recite the rhyme, 

"Jack be nimble, 
Jack be quick, 
Jack jumps over the candlestick." 

It's fun to challenge the kids and have candlesticks of various heights and see how high the kids can jump (then you can also work on "tall" and "short").  The physiotherapists I work with also love this activity because it works on jumping skills and they seem to always be working on jumping. 

Once they have experienced jumping over the candlestick, I use "Hey Diddle Diddle." The rhyme goes, 

"Hey diddle diddle, 
the cat and the fiddle, 
the cow jumps over the moon,
  the little dog laughs to see such fun 
and the dish runs away with the spoon." 

I mainly use felt board activities or using the characters with a whiteboard and a magnet on the back such as what you see in the picture.  I then have the children use the characters to re-enact the whole rhyme. Later I also encourage the children to use their imagination and create stories with the characters. The children I work with love these activities and I hope you have an chance to try them.