Author: Brenda K. Gorman

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.

Halloween and Health Literacy Month

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

October is one of my kids’ favorite months, for Halloween, you know. Well, October is one of my favorite “professional” months, for Health Literacy Month. Okay, I suppose that as a person who is passionate about promoting literacy, every month is literacy month in my book. But in any case, it is so important that professionals spread information about the critical relationship between language and literacy.

We know that language learning starts at birth. Therefore, the idea that children learn to read in school needs to change to reflect the reality that both language and literacy develop from birth.

Recently, I supervised a graduate student who taught a parent to use dialogic book reading strategies with a young child who reportedly disliked sitting down to read with his parents. Dialogic reading is a concept based on the work of Dr. Grover Whitehurst and the Stony Brook Reading and Language Project. According to Dr. Whitehurst, “In dialogic reading, the adult helps the child become the teller of the story. The adult becomes the listener, the questioner, the audience for the child.” We were, of course, taking data on the child’s vocabulary and language growth, but the data simply did not capture the full impact of treatment. Watching the child sit on his parent’s lap while sharing a book, both smiling and so cozy together, it was marvelous. Dialogic reading was just one component of the broader speech and language therapy plan, but with the transformation in their interaction, it may have been the most powerful component. And although the young child had not yet formally learned to read, he was already developing a love of reading.

I talk a lot about a remarkable program called Reach Out and Read in which medical providers support healthy reading practices in the home with children as young as six months old. I have had the privilege of presenting at the Reach Out and Read-Wisconsin annual conference, and I encourage everyone to spread the word about this phenomenal program.  Check out and share this video that the founders developed, available on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRq2qDT2HHg.

Hmmm, maybe I should give out books with a piece of candy inside this year for Halloween. Now that would be a real treat!


Whitehurst, G. J. (1992). Dialogic reading: An effective way to read to preschoolers. Retrieved: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/400?theme=print

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.

Late talking and the impact of bilingualism

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

A very common question that I receive from speech-language pathologists and parents is whether or not growing up with two languages can cause late-talking. When SLPs say “late-talking,” we are generally referring to children who are producing approximately 50 words or fewer by two years of age. Children with normal language development are generally producing between 200 and 300 words at that age, and of course, they are understanding many more.

Many other professors who specialize in dual-language issues often receive the same inquiry. Therefore, to help address this common question, Dr. Alejandro Brice and I created a short online video relevant to the topic which you can view and share at http://youtu.be/zT0x-EqanGg. In this video, I discuss the incidence of late-talking and summarize the research, which, in a nutshell, does not indicate that early bilingual exposure causes late-talking. Finally, I share a memorable experience with one of my own children.

We hope you find the video helpful!

Could you give therapy with a penny?

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

Spending time abroad must be about the best educational experience there is. I am fortunate that I have been travelling to different countries since I was sixteen. Even now, many (okay, many, many, many) years later, I value the experience just as much, perhaps even more.

This summer, I had the fabulous experience of spending a month with a host family in a small city in Costa Rica. As you probably already know, the country is stunningly beautiful, rich green, so plush. Of course, we went on many excursions, hiking to waterfalls and volcanoes, enjoying the beach, horseback riding, rappelling, zip-lining (my younger son’s favorite), and walking across hanging bridges (my older son’s favorite). We all had an amazing time.

No matter where I go, however, I cannot help but want to do something related to the profession. There seemed to be very few speech-language pathologists in Costa Rica, from what I could find. So, while my kids took classes in the mornings, I explored places where I could volunteer. I found a retirement home in a beautiful spot on the outskirts of the city. There, I worked with several wonderful individuals who had suffered strokes and with a dear woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They received physical therapy from a lovely and loving therapist, but speech-language therapy was simply not available there. My mornings there were a truly incredible part of the trip.   I did not come prepared to give speech-language therapy, so it was a really neat experience finding creative ways and materials to use. And I made a lot of improvement in playing dominoes – what an excellent memory game!

Here, back home, it is incredible how many speech-language resources are available to clinicians. We are very fortunate. Even so, I’d have to agree with one of my professors from graduate school who used to say, “A good clinician could give good therapy with just a penny.” I loved the challenge to think outside the box.

The life-long learning and diversity in experiences are two of my favorite things about speech-language pathology. I cannot wait to go back to Costa Rica, and hopefully, with students in speech-language pathology!

Are we reporting standardized scores appropriately?

Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
-Henry Louis Mencken

This quote reminds me very much of speech and language assessment practices for linguistically diverse children. SLPs may look for simple solutions to complex problems, such as relying primarily on standardized tests to evaluate the skills of English language learners. However, oversimplification of the process is likely to yield an inaccurate diagnosis.

In the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an important procedural safeguard indicates that testing and evaluation materials “will be selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory. Such materials or procedures shall be provided and administered in the child’s native language or mode of communication, unless it clearly is not feasible to do so. In 2006, regulations further specified that evaluation materials should be administered “in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally.”

Despite these safeguards, we are still seeing an overreliance on standardized assessments in English, even when test norms are not adequately representative of children’s cultural and linguistic background. Years ago, I remember evaluating an English speaking child from the Virgin Islands. The only English measures to which I had access were normed predominately on English speakers from the U.S. According to the test manual, a miniscule number of children in the normative sample lived outside the U.S. Therefore, I could not consider the norms adequately representative of my student.

What I would like to see in all reports is a description of the assessment measure that the clinician used with a statement about the normative sample.

For example, if I have a bilingual student and choose to administer the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-Spanish Bilingual version, I provide a statement indicating that the test was normed on children growing up in bilingual (Spanish/English) environments in the U.S.

Likewise, is an SLP is conducting an assessment of an English language learner and finds benefit to administering an English assessment that was normed predominately on monolingual English speakers, the SLP should be clear about this in their report. Such specification helps clinicians explain why it is not always appropriate to report the standardized scores. In the report for this English language learner, the evaluator could write “This test was normed primarily on monolingual English speakers; therefore, in accordance with IDEA’s policy on appropriate testing, results are discussed in descriptive format.

Again, I would like to see a description of the normative sample in all reports. Many clinicians are already doing this. I think this is a critical piece of our reporting practices.