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Free Download: Colourful Semantics Resource

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This pack of pictures makes the Black Sheep Verbs pack (reviewed on Monday this week) infinitely more useful. Included are individual, colour-coded pictures of all of the subjects, verbs, direct objects and locations in the example pictures, as well as some sentence frames for arranging the pictures into. I’ve used clip art from a range of sources on the internet for this (copyright free material as far as I could ascertain).

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By having the individual pictures to break down the sentences into their component parts, we can:

  • Support children who miss out grammatical words and morphemes such as ‘the’, ‘is’ and ‘-ing’.
  • Put the focus on the verb for children who have limited verb knowledge.
  • Show children how to systematically think about ‘who’,’ doing what’ and ‘what to’ as they go about describing an event.
  • Give children forced alternatives when they are stuck and unable to name an object or action.

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The resource comes in two parts:

  • A 20 page pdf file with the subject, verb, direct object and location pictures.
  • single page pdf file to be printed on A3 paper which has sentence frames that you can use with the pictures.

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Developing language processing skills (2)

neural-pathways-221719_960_720Last week I posted about developing processing skills when the focus is on enhancing the child’s semantic knowledge. This week I’ll look at the phonological side of the coin. There are certain things we know about word sorting / word learning / word finding which play into how we tend to go about boosting phonological form and metaphonological skills:

  • Words are ‘sorted’ in the brain by initial sound, giving us that tip-of-the-tongue feeling when we’re searching for a word. This means that we highlight initial sounds when we’re talking about words with learners, and we require them to do tasks such as ‘I spy’ and initial-sound odd-one-out.
  • Words which rhyme share phonological features. The words ‘hat’ and ‘mat’ have more in common with each other than not, and they therefore share some neural architecture (in terms of their production and in their recognition). Working on rhyme is one thing – showing the child how they can break the onset off from the rest of the word, and swap different onsets in and out. But the real trick is to get them to access their store of meanings as they go about such a task. This is what the task I have been developing is about.
  • Words can be long or short. Traces of word-length and syllable-structure do also seem to come into play in the tip-of-the-tongue feeling. We therefore work on children’s ability to count syllables, to complete words with missing syllables, and to delete syllables from words.
  • Words are composed of individual sounds, or phonemes [fəʊnimz]. Older children are encourage to identify medial sounds, final sounds, to append sounds, to delete sounds, robot talking, and so on.

These are tasks that are designed to support a child’s phonological awareness. Countless studies have proven the link between metaphonological knowledge and reading skills, and there is evidence that working on these kinds of tasks can pay into a child’s development of speech sounds as well.

My new task doesn’t seem particularly innovative, but it is working. Essentially I ask the child ‘think of a word that rhymes with bear which is a piece of furniture’. I also give the child a number of possible onsets to work through (i.e. s, gr, sp, ch, l). The idea is that the child will centre in on the correct answer from both directions at once – one part of the brain is thinking of different bits of furniture and checking them against ‘-air’, while the other is blindly spooling off ‘-air’ rhymes, guided by the onsets that are provided, and checking whether they are a member of the category furniture. I will share the resource just before Easter.

 

Babies talk and listen through their dummies

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The current state of the thinking around mirror neurons is a little up in the air, but anyone who works with children will have seen behaviour that points to the theory holding some truth. Children huffing and puffing during bubble-blowing, partially in request, and partially in sympathy; and children with phonological disorder who cannot hear distinctions that they cannot realise themselves are two examples that spring to mind.

There is no other way for a child to make a theory about how an adult is moving their articulators other than to refer to their own anatomy. And if a part of that anatomy is disabled (as anterior movement of the tongue is when a child is using a dummy), then the dummy-using child will basically assume that we are all speaking through dummies as well. This has always been my inkling, and it has recently been confirmed in the paper “Sensorimotor influences on speech perception in infancy” published in November’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“This study indicates that the freedom to make small gestures with their tongue and other articulators when they listen to speech may be an important factor in babies’ perception of the sounds” Prof. Janet Werker, senior author of the study.

The study adds to the evidence that we can point to when we talk to parents about their use of dummies. Although the evidence is somewhat mixed regarding the impact of dummy use on language development, there is at least evidence that extended use is a risk factor for multiple ear infections. I’ve never met a Speech Therapist who didn’t recommend ditching the dummy as early as possible.

Review – Black Sheep Press Verbs Pack

Colouring in. Page after page of black and white resources. This isn’t mindfulness, this is mindlessness. Luckily for speech therapists who don’t have access to SLTAs (or to teenage kids who need to get back in their good books), Black Sheep Press are going through their resources and colouring them in for us. One of the classic Black Sheep press resources is the 3rd edition of Verbs, which is available for download as a 33 MB pdf file for £15 (£18 including VAT).

LIP1_3Verbs-7In their choice of verbs, BSP have found a good mix between words that are acquired early, and those that are imageable. The pack features transitive, intransitive and ‘locative-type’ verbs, specifically: walking, running, standing, crying, waving, pushing, hiding, climbing, throwing, jumping, falling, kicking, cutting, washing, carrying, brushing, eating, reading, sleeping and sitting.

There are six pictures for each verb. The transitive verbs feature the same subject with different objects (so all pushing pictures feature a bear, pushing a pig, a car, a bed, and so on; all washing pictures feature the mum, washing the car, her face, her baby’s face, and so on). The transitive verbs, such as waving, sittingwalking and running, all have contrasting subjects.

LIP1_3Verbs-8Helen Rippon’s art is clear and fun. She chooses what to put in and what to leave out with the type of confidence that can only be found in someone who has presented a lot of picture material to children. On one hand, she puts things in that will stimulate discussion: the bear is running away from a fierce-looking lion, the people and the animals who are being washed and brushed have very cute sad looks on their faces. On the other hand, the pictures are free from the types of spurious, complicating details that tend to make the children get hung up when you use the pictures to stimulate language.

These pictures are so versatile. I use them to:

  • Develop vocabulary and phrase building. Ask the child ‘who is doing something?’, ‘what are they doing?’, ‘where are they doing it?’, ‘what are they doing it to?’
  • Develop use the pronouns he, she and it.
  • Develop use of the prepositions in, onunder and off.
  • Develop use of simple past tense. Simply ask / model ‘what did she do yesterday?’
  • Get the child to think about sequencing, picking up on clues / inferencing, thinking about ‘what might happen next?’

LIP1_3Verbs-6The pictures are introduced with a host of suggested activities such as lotto games and barrier games that can be played with the cards. I find the pictures useful for children aged upwards of about 3 and a half (as long as they have good attention skills). One thing I often do is to marry the pictures with corresponding toys and act out some of the scenarios, in a small group, modelling the language as I go.

Another big part of how I use these pictures is to mix in the Colourful Semantics approach to developing children’s phrase-building. To this end, I have created a resource which has separate, colour-coded pictures of all of the subjects, verbs and objects from these pictures. I’ll share that on Friday.

Minecraft and Minion Progress Charts

I was listening to Carrie’s Clark’s most recent Storm of the Brains podcast (about unresponsive children with ASD) this week. Carrie mentioned using Minecraft characters in a simple progress chart to be used to motivate a child to do something (request bubbles or follow an instruction, for example) more than once. This reminded me that I’d been meaning to make something like this for a little while, so I’ve put some together, featuring Minion Stuart and Steve from Minecraft. Obviously I don’t own any rights over Stuart and Steve, but it’s for the kids, right! You can download a pdf here for free.

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Developing language processing skills (1)

The Problem

If what we try to treat to develop children’s comprehension skills is anything to go by, then there are four main components to a child’s ability to understand what is said to them:

  1. The quality of their phonological form – how well they know the words, how well they listen and watch what you say to them, and the speed at which they are able to rifle through the ‘mental rolodex’ and select the word they heard.
  2. The depth or connectedness of their ‘semantic tree’ or lexicon. What is fired off when they hear a word? How deep is their knowledge of the concept that has been triggered? How sure are they that they know what they know? How good are they at integrating one concept along with the concept(s) that they have just heard? Furthermore, how much information from other associated concepts can feed into the concept that they’re dynamically pulling together, as far as is relevant, given the quality of the logical structure of their lexicon?
  3. The level of dynamism inherent in their language parser or ‘sentence-builder’; as it goes about slotting heard words in and out of the growing representation, scrubbing nonsensical interpretations, making judgements on shades of interpretation, inference and effect, and helpfully leaving semantically blurry holes for words that weren’t heard, or words that weren’t understood.
  4. Their working memory / limitations that arise from their ‘auditory scratchpad’. How many words / concepts are they able to recall and act upon at once?

Assessment often indicates that any one, or more, of these four areas is impacted. Of course, lots of other things play into a child’s understanding as well – their attention control, whether they are ‘on the same page’ as the speaker, their tiredness, and so on. But the areas listed above are the ones that are linguistically mediated.

My sense is that the ‘auditory scratchpad’ is not a thing in-and-of itself, but rather that limitations that stand out here actually follow from limitations with other aspects of the child’s phonological and semantic representation, as well as limitations that they might have building a whole from the pieces they hear.

Not that there is no such thing as working memory – famously our working memory for numbers is limited to 7, plus or minus 2, which is why we often struggle to recall a phone number that we have to hold in mind for a few seconds. Familiarity is everything though. A musician, asked to sing back a series of 7 entirely random notes would probably struggle greatly. However, write and play for them a well-structured melody, and they will be able to recall much longer phrases from the same kind of exposure.

A musician is not going to improve by spending time parroting back entirely atonal phrases. Neither is a language learner going to get better at understanding what is said to them by playing endless games of ‘I went to the shops and I bought…’.

And yet we do spend a lot of time on these kinds of games. Lots of resources exist to support working memory – for example Black Sheep Press have their Working Memory pack (25% off until the 12th of April), their Barrier Worksheets and their Barrier Concepts packs to tackle this area. I’ve worked on it quite a bit, and I will say this much – it’s not exactly fun for the adult or the child.

To me, exercising the brain, as if it were a muscle, using only fairly familiar concepts (big, red square, etc.), seems to miss the point. Gains made here are not going to mean anything when it comes to making interpretations of less familiar concepts, or under less ideal conditions. I would say instead that we need to boost the form, and then the ability to represent the form will improve.

The Task

This is why I have been trying to develop a task for children who struggle to listen to instructions in the classroom, and who have demonstrably poor processing and comprehension skills. This week I’ll be talking about the task I have been working on for children who have poor logical form. Next week I’ll talk about the parallel task I have been developing for children with poor phonological form.

I started off using pictures from the Black Sheep Press Categories pack. I wanted a two-step instruction that would challenge a child’s memory, while stretching their knowledge of features and categories. The idea was to emulate the type of classroom-based instruction where the children had to recall the second part of the instruction while they went about the first part.

For my first run at this, I placed five pictures, face down, and said something like ‘find me an animal [only one of the five was an animal], and if it’s a scary one, post it [it was to be posted 50% of the time]’; or ‘find me a toy, and if it belongs outside, post it’. The problem with this was, one child I was trying this out with (a year 1 child) started, very reasonably, to make predictions about what he was looking for (i.e. a lion, or a ball, in these cases) and this became the task for him. It stopped being a two-step instruction. Also the second part of the instruction was fairly obscure and meaningless.

I changed things around, putting six or seven pictures down, and asking questions such as ‘find me all the animals [there are always three] and put them in order of size’ and so on. This seems to be a much better task, it has some meaning in the end, and the children do genuinely forget what the second part of the task is. I work with children in pairs, and encourage them to prompt each other, and they do this in a very natural manner. Using the Black Sheep Categories pack, these are some of the distinctions I am using to get the children make as they classify and rank the objects.

Toys – how big, how expensive, how noisy, how heavy.
Animals – how big, how noisy, how scary, how good at climbing trees, how good they are at swimming, how useful they are, how easy they are to ride, how cute.
Clothes – in the order that you put them on / take them off, thickness / woolliness.
Food – how juicy, how big, how healthy, how good they are for breakfast.
Transport – how big, how fast, how high they go, how noisy, how many people use them at once.