Sunday, January 31, 2016

Taking and Analyzing Language Samples

We’ve made it halfway through the school year! At this point, students and teachers have settled into routines, we’re working hard to meet those IEP objectives and some teams are even starting to think about upcoming spring evaluations and transitions.
With progress reports on the horizon, language samples can provide valuable data to include in a student’s evaluation. Language sampling is a great way to analyze the structures that students are using spontaneously, as well as to determine which structures they omit outside of structured activities. I like to compare language samples three times each year: Starting in the fall, midway through winter and a final formal evaluation at the end of the school year.
While there are many ways to obtain language samples, I prefer to use my iPad to record the sample that I will analyze—rather than depending on my ear alone. This way I have what my student actually said, in terms of both the actual language used, and the speech sounds they used, omitted, or substituted. In order to get an accurate representation of the language structures my student uses, I generally record a casual conversation, during which I ask my student open-ended questions. For instance, I’ll ask them to retell a familiar story or to narrate a personal experience. Additionally, I provide materials of interest (such as dolls, Legos or a magnet board with a variety of magnets) and ask my student to create and narrate a story, which I also record.
After recording and transcribing the language sample, analysis begins. A tool like the Cottage Acquisition Scales for Listening Language and Speech (CASLLS) helps break down language in a way that makes it easy to see where our students lack skills, and assess language from Pre-Verbal through Complex Sentences. 

Determining the Mean Length Utterance (MLU)—the average number of words used in a sentence—is important for understanding how our students with hearing loss compare with their peers with typical hearing. The goal over time is for our students to speak in the long, complex sentences that their peers with typical hearing tend to use, rather than in shorter, simpler sentences. 
Additionally, a Type Token Analysis allows for an objective look at the type of words our students are using, not just the number of words per sentence. Students with hearing loss often tune into nouns and verbs, subsequently using just these types of words in their connected language. It is important to be sure we are helping them use various types of words—not just nouns and verbs. Charts such as the one below allow to analyze the words they’re using. From a transcribed language sample, it is easy to count the nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives, etc. and write the number of each word type in each column. Over time, we can chart growth by recording how our students use a wider variety of words and higher number of more complex, rich words. 

         Language sampling takes some time to complete and analyze, but it is the most comprehensive and objective way to really know the type of language our students use.

How do you use language samples to inform your own work?