Thursday, August 6, 2015

Monitoring Progress Across 4 Levels of Oral Language Development

On the most recent Thursday (7/31/15) blog, I ended the post with the following questions:

What tools are there for monitoring language development across all 4 levels—sounds, words, sentences, discourse?
How often should we monitor progress?
What do we do with the information we gain from monitoring?


Our choice of tools, frequency of monitoring, and what to do with monitoring data should depend on the skill being assessed and our understanding of the individual child and his/her development.


Monitoring:  The Developmental Perspective

There is an abundance of research tracing and establishing typical ranges for oral language development across the sound, word, sentence and discourse levels.  Once we have an understanding of the developmental norms, we can begin to trace the course of development for individual children in a range of contexts as they engage in a variety of tasks.  I will focus this post on monitoring the development of “sound” skills.

The Sound Level

At the sound level, there are “norms” for when children are typically able to discriminate and produce specific sounds.  There are also norms for discriminating those sounds in words and producing those sounds in different “positions” of words (beginning-“middle”-end or release and arresting positions). 

Since sounds are such small units and even infants produce sounds, why is developing “sound” knowledge and skills a challenge?  For us as readers and adult listeners, we can easily recognize which sounds are in a word (in our own native language, of course).  But the toddler has the important job of separating words out of the long chains—sentences--he or she hears and then separating out the sounds within a word, a skill that becomes increasing important if you want to learn to read.

 In discussing the “developmental trajectory in children’s acquisition of phonological processing skill, Christie (2008 in Achieving Success in Preschool Literacy edited by Justice and Vukelich, p.32) references the work of Marilyn Adams who tell us “that before young children can become aware of phonemes—the individual sounds that make up spoken words—they must first become aware of the larger units of oral language.  Thus, children must first realize that spoken language is composed of words syllables and sound.  For example, they need to learn to recognize when words end with the same sound (i.e., rhyme) and begin with the same sound (i.e., alliteration).  They also need to be able to segment sentences into words and words into syllables….

And then they have the tasks of phoneme isolation, phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation and phoneme manipulation (deletion, addition and manipulation.”

There are “norms” for phonological processing skills critical for learning to read and for subsequent phonemic awareness, phonics, morphology, and spelling skills.  All of these skills constitute a fairly discrete set (“constrained” skills to use the Hoffman, Piagle, Teale term—

“In discussing the Common Core State Standards, Hoffman, Paciga and Teale point out that some literacy standards (“Foundational Skills” which they call “constrained” skills) are relatively easily conceptualized in terms of component parts that follow a fairly linear trajectory.  ….

 Here are some links with more detailed information about the development of “sound” skills.

The Development of Phonological Skills By: Louisa Moats, Carol Tolman

Basic listening skills and "word awareness" are critical precursors to phonological awareness. Learn the milestones for acquiring phonological skills.
Teaching Phonemic Awareness and Phonics by L. C. Ehri, National Reading Panel Meta-Analysis
IRA Position Statement

Monitoring with Naturalistic Observations

I believe using a naturalistic observation is the first step in monitoring progress unless there is a particular concern about the rate at which the skill is developing or there is a specific intervention plan in place.  Because this is a “constrained” set of skill where the sequence of skills is specifically identified and there is a well-developed trajectory, the curriculum should indicate which skills are the current focuses of monitoring.

Monitoring with Formalized Checklist

See Mather and Welding, Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention for an “Informal Assessment of Phonological Awareness “Checklist” that involves an adult interviewing the child based on a development progression of skill.  (pp.87-88)

Monitoring with Standardized Tests

There are a range of tests for example, CTOPP, PALS Pre-K.  Many of these tests focus on children in the K level and above. (See Mather and Welding, pp. 85-86.)


When using knowledge of the developmental stages or formalized checklists, it is important to note the context (and, if relevant, the task) in which the monitoring occurs.


Timing: I propose that the timing for monitoring should depend on:

*concerns of teachers and parents about the “pace” or “rate” at which the skill is being developed by individual children,

*meeting the goals of the specific curriculum (assuming there is a specific curriculum),

*sensitivity to the predictive power of the skill (for subsequent development of other skills).


Using data to plan instruction and timely intervention. Yes!, we should use the data--assuming that we know what the monitoring tells us about what we need to change about the curriculum, the teaching/learning, the context, or our understanding of the child.  Even if we don’t see anything to change, having a record of the child’s development is useful for both teachers and parents.

The next set of questions:
Should we approach monitoring of progress at each level of oral language development (sound, word, sentence, discourse) in the same way?
How much knowledge, skill or training is required to monitor progress?
Are there other factors that influence monitoring progress?
How well do we use the data from monitoring progress?



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