Pondering the dynamics of “what children really need”

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

I am hearing so much discussion and debate about the impact of standardized testing that takes place in schools throughout the year. Naturally, I’ve studied this issue from an academic perspective for a long time. More recently, I’ve been exposed to family perspectives, and this makes me wonder about speech-language objectives, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Parents want to know how their children are performing and progressing, which test scores can show very objectively, yet many are increasingly concerned with stress associated with testing and that the heavy test emphasis on two specific areas, reading and math, may be narrowing the scope of academic instruction to benefit results on paper. Therefore, to paraphrase what I am often hearing, many are concerned that kids are not learning “what they really need.” Clearly, the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in life, personally, professionally, economically, and so forth, are extremely broad.

So of course, because language is a critical foundation for success, I see parallels between the issues and concerns related to education and what we as speech-language pathologists do in language intervention. Specific goals and objectives are important for accountability and for evaluating our clients’ progress in language intervention. Yet, similarly, I wonder if the specificity of our objectives may also limit our focus on teaching the child “what they really need” to succeed. Are some kids in the therapy group kept busy by coloring for a few moments while the clinician targets a specific discrete skill with another child? I think many of us have seen that. Is a child who meets that objective of 90% accuracy on past tense –ed ready to graduate from speech-language therapy? Does marking that objective as “achieved” mean that we have “fixed” the child’s impaired language system? Are we focusing primarily on discrete skills or are we integrating skills into relevant activities such as discourse? Just as I see the benefits of discussing the dynamics of “what children really need” to learn in school, I also encourage SLPs to discuss with each other the dynamics of what language skills children really need to be successful socially and academically, and to talk about how our goals and objectives truly help “fix” an impaired language system.

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About Brenda K. Gorman

Dr. Gorman is an Associate Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois. She completed her Master’s and Doctorate with a multicultural/bilingual specialization in Communication Sciences and Disorders at The University of Texas at Austin. Brenda worked for many years as a bilingual (Spanish-English) speech-language pathologist serving diverse caseloads for public school districts, early intervention agencies, and a company which she co-founded in 2001. She has an extensive background in working with ELLs and providing professional development to teachers who work with ELLs, and she serves as a clinical advisor to Lingua Health and Grupo Lingua. Brenda has conducted research, published, and presented on topics related to speech and language assessment and intervention in bilingual populations and language and literacy development and disorders. She has taught courses in numerous topic areas ranging from assessment and intervention in bilingual populations, child language and literacy disorders, speech sound disorders, fluency, to adult language disorders and AAC. She co-directed the Reading Acquisition for Spanish Speakers Program (RASPA) and an Early Reading First (ERF) project funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education while at Marquette University, where she earned tenure in 2013. Brenda is now at Elmhurst College, where she is investigating language and literacy assessment and intervention in bilinguals and co-developing a dual-language (Spanish-English) language and literacy curriculum for preschoolers.

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