Monday, April 24, 2017

Processing Complex Sentences Can Impact Speaking, Listening, and Reading Development

 Sentences (Part 2 of 3):  Processing Sentences

“Sentence” is the third unit (sound-word-sentence-discourse) of oral language described as a primary basis for learning to read and reading to learn.  Developmentally, the “average” child begins to put words together to form “sentences” by age 2.   They don’t know the “parts of speech” names, but they do learn that there are certain kinds of words that go together (nouns and verbs, nouns and adjectives, verbs and adverbs) to achieve a certain purpose.  As they continue to develop, their sentences grow longer and more complex. 

I write about sentences in terms of three dimensions:  structure, process(ing) and function.  I began with structure because structure (form/grammar) is often the way sentences are talked about by adults and are addressed in school curriculum. 

Sentence Processing
There is more to sentence development than its form or structure (syntax). Equally important for the development of literacy (reading) skills are processing of sentences and using sentences for communication—function.

Processing complex sentences
From a developmental perspective Loban’s research with 211 students followed from K to grade 12 shows the following about students’ skills at processing language at the sentence level:

*Those superior in oral language in kindergarten and grade one before they learn to read and write are the very ones who excel in reading and writing by the time they are in grade 6.

^In sentences in oral language, the high group in the 1st grade demonstrates a proficiency in elaboration attained by the low group only at grades 5 or 6.

^Although all subjects knew and used all the basic structural patterns of English sentence, the high group had a much greater flexibility and repertoire within the pattern of a sentence: that is, they had more ways to fill slots like the subject, the modifiers, and the objects.

^The members of the high group used more subordination, combining communication units in complex fashion

^The high group showed
            *longer communication units
            *greater elaboration of subject and predicate
            *more embedding in transformational grammar
            *greater use of adjectival dependent clauses

Difficulties in attending to or producing long and/or complex sentences impacts reading in a number of ways.

For example, in her text on Teaching Reading Comprehension Processes (1991), Judith Westphal Irwin describes three kinds of comprehension skills: metaprocesses, macroprocesses and microprocesses.  Under microprocesses, Irwin describes the importance of chunking words into meaningful phrases, selecting what is most important from the sentence to keep in short term memory for interpretation of upcoming sentences (that is, microselection); and then using that information across sentence boundaries (integrative processes).

            “Integrative processes” she defined as the processes involved in understanding and inferring the relationships between clauses and sentences.  Three main types of integrative processes are understanding anaphora, understanding connective relationships, and making “slot filling” inference.” (Irwin, page 38).  In the following pages, she offers several suggestions for teaching these skills.  (pp. 38-49)

* * *  
Cheryl M. Scott, Chapter 16: Syntax in Stone, et. al. (Eds.), Handbook of Language and Literacy:  Development and Disorders, (2005)

Scott lists three things that make sentences complex:
1)      Features of open class words (nouns, verbs); reversible passive sentences
2)      Number and type of syntactic operations (usually reflected in sentence length)
3)      Types of syntactic operations (reversible order, subordination, ambiguity, parsing, etc.)

So, just as is the case in Words/Vocabulary, the complexity of sentence and the operations required to process them, (anaphora, connectives, inferences, for example) influences how easily a child can process sentences.

This reminds us of the quote from the work of Amanda C. Brandone, Sara J. Salkind, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, U. of Delaware and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek:

  “… Although most grammatical structures are in place by the age of 5, children continue to acquire more complex forms and rules of grammar in the school setting….”

Although the “average” child has mastered the basic structures of sentences by age 5, children still need to learn the more complex structures that will require more demanding processing.  The question we need to ask is how they will learn these sentence structures in order to process them efficiently and effectively.  This does not mean that we should focus on directly teaching “grammar” to young children as a basis for reading.  Young children (preschool through primary grades) learn language skill through meaningful contexts.   Sentences become meaningful to children when we focus on the “functions” of sentences, part 3 of our “sentence” topic.


* * *  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Let's Try "Sentence" Structure Again

From the original blogpost about  Sentnences - Sentence Structure
"Dialogue About Language, Literacy, and Learning" Blog for April 17, 2014   Part 1 of 3

Sentences (Part 1 of 3)

“Sentence” is the next unit (Sound-Word-Sentence-Discourse) of oral language that provides a basis for learning to read and reading to learn.  Developmentally, the “average” child begins to put words together to form “sentences” by age 2.  What do children know about sentences as they begin to put them together?  They don’t know the names of the parts of speech that make up sentences (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc., or the role of those in sentences as subjects, objects…etc.), but they do learn that there are certain kinds of words that go together (nouns and verbs, nouns and adjectives, verbs and adverbs).  As they continue to develop, their sentences grow longer and more complex. 

I am going to write about sentences in terms of three dimensions:  structure, process(ing) and function.  I’m going to begin with structure because structure (form/grammar) is often the way sentences are approached in school. 


A few sites are helpful.  First is a chapter on Language Development by Amanda C. Brandone, Sara J. Salkind, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, U. of Delaware and  Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University
On Language Development.  (It was not clear from the link which book contained this chapter)   In this chapter, the authors use content, form, and use as their framework for discussing language development.  They write:

To better address typical and atypical language development as well as strategies of prevention and intervention, the five structural components of language-- phonology, semantics, syntax, morphology, and pragmatics--. may be simplified into three essential aspects of communication: content, form, and use (Bloom & Lahey, 1978). Content refers to the semantics of language—the concepts and ideas that are encoded in words. Form is the way in which meaning is represented, including speech, sign language, and writing. In the context of spoken language, form encompasses phonology, morphology, and syntax. Finally, use refers to the function of language in context. Although each of these aspects of language can be identified separately, they are inherently interconnected elements in communication (Bloom & Lahey). Language problems may arise when there is a disruption within anyone component of the model or in their integration. The following sections consider the typical development of each of these aspects of language.”

Language Development
This link shows overall language development, but there are several references to the development of sentences:

“The next crucial milestone in the development of language form occurs when the child discovers that rule-based combinations of words actually express more than the meaning of any of the individual words. For example,
by 17 months children are able to discriminate between ‘‘Cookie Monster is tickling Big Bird’’ and ‘‘Big Bird is tickling Cookie Monster’’ (Hirsh-Pasek  & Golinkoff,1996). Comprehension of these rule-based combinations comes prior to production using these rules. Children begin to combine words into two-word utterances (e.g., ‘‘car go’’ and ‘‘more juice’’) between 18 and 24 months. These early word combinations express meaningful relationships yet tend to be missing function words (the, a), auxiliary verbs (am, is, has), and the bound morphemes that mark plural (s), possessive (-’s), or tense (-ing,-ed). As children learn to combine words into longer sequences, they add the function words and bound morphemes that were absent from their first…”

Their Milestone charts show language development of content, form, and use.  Note here the reference to syntax/sentence development across charts.
12-18 mos.
Semantic roles are expressed in one-word speech, including agent, action, object, location, possession, rejection, disappearance, nonexistence, denial.
Words are understood outside of routine games; still need contextual support for lexical comprehension.
18–24 mos.
Average expressive vocabulary size: 200–300 words at 24 mos.
Prevalent relations expressed: agent–action, agent–object, action–object, action–location, entity–location, possessor–possession, demonstrative–entity, attribute-entity.
^Understands basic semantic roles and relations; two word utterances and two syllable words emerge
^Utterances are telegraphic with few grammatical markers
24–30 mos.
Understanding and use of questions about objects (What?), people (Who?), and basic events (What is x doing? Where is x going?
^Use of no, not, don’t as negation between subject and verb; Use of sentences with semi-auxiliaries—gonna, wanna).
30–36 mos.
Use and understand Why? questions.
36–42 mos.
Use and understand semantic relationship between adjacent and conjoined sentences, including additive, temporal, causal, contrastive.
^Present tense auxiliaries appear; be verbs used inconsistently
42–48 mos.
Use and understand ‘‘when’’ and ‘‘how’’ questions.
Use conjunctions and as well as because to conjoin sentences.
^Early emerging complex sentences types, including full prepositional clauses, hi clauses, simple infinitives
48–60 mos.
Use conjunctions when, so, because ,and if

“… Although most grammatical structures are in place by the age of 5, children continue to acquire more complex forms and rules of grammar in the school setting….”

…” For most children, the development of language proceeds without difficulty.  By the age of 5, typically developing children have mastered the building blocks of the system and are left only to refine and integrate their skills in order to use language in an increasingly complex range of tasks. During the course of the development of  language, there is a tremendous range of what can be considered normal.” [Use of bold print mine.]
…” Through interaction with family, peers, teachers, and caregivers, children learn communicative competence, or how to use language appropriately and strategically in social situations (Hymes, 1967). Because we use language for so many purposes, many skills are involved in communicative competence (see Becker-Bryant, 2001)…”

Children need to learn to ask questions, make requests, give orders, express agreement or disagreement, apologize, refuse, joke, praise, and tell stories. They must learn social routines (such as saying ‘‘Trick or treat’’ on
Halloween), terms of politeness, and ways to address others. Children must also understand how to initiate, maintain, and conclude conversations, as well as take turns, provide and respond effectively to feedback, and stay on-topic. Crucially, they must learn to be sensitive to their audience and to the situations in which they are communicating. Sophistication in pragmatics continues to develop throughout childhood and into adulthood. [bold mine]

Some additional references for sentence form/syntax:
 Some resources posted on the Brandone et. al. link:
The public page of the website for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers resources to help all audiences better understand communication and communication disorders. It also provides links to early intervention references and professional referral services for access to qualified care.
The Bamford-Lahey Children’s Foundation is a foundation dedicated to conducting and supporting programs that will enhance the linguistic, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children. The Foundation’s current focus is improving the language development of children with language difficulties.
This website provides a thorough list of references on language disorders as well as information relevant to the goal of developing guidelines on evidence-based practices in child language disorders

And two other google search links:
Language Development; short; commercial

Images for syntax development

Part 2 of the Sentence Series is on sentence processing.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Vocabulary Development: Part 5 Instruction Age 3 to Grade 3

Vocabulary Instruction begins early in the form of parent or adult-child conversation, as noted in the last posting.  There is also more “intentional ” vocabulary instruction at the preschool-primary grade levels. *
I would start by suggesting a few sources:
Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Third Grade by Lauren B. Resnick and Catherine B. Snow, published in 2008 by the International Reading Association.  In this booklet (with video) they list 3 strands of Standards: (1) Habits, (2) Kinds of Talk and Resulting Genres, and (3) Language Use and Conventions.  The focus on vocabulary happens under Standard 3.3: Vocabulary and Word Choice.

Another resources: (*I haven't tried to copy a slideshare link, so I'm not sure how well it will show.)
Please note that this was a 2 hour workshop with time for interacting with the materials/handouts.

Handouts from this Workshop.  For complete handout, contact
Powerful Vocabulary, NAEYC Conference, October 2016, Fran Toomey (  Handout 1 – Frameworks (CHOOSE ONE)
Thirty Million Words
Dana Suskind, M.D.,  0-3 Years
Bridging the Gap, Christ & Wang (Young Children, 2010)
Beginning Literacy with Language, (age 3-5+) Dickinson & Tabors
Speaking & Listening for Preschool Through 3rd Grade Resnick & Snow
Toomey Synthesis
Tune In: Follow the child’s lead: notice what child is doing and join in, using “motherese,” responding  to child’s response (behavioral and verbal), use repetition (same stories, same words), get on the same physical level.
Provide purposeful exposure to new words
*Teach thematically to provide multiple exposures to words throughout the day through read-alouds, conversation, centers and projects. *Select books in which illustrations and text provide clues to word meanings
*Use interactive read-aloud style to engage children in cognitively challenging talk about books
*Create media center where children view DVDs, electronic books and  interactive read alouds
Conversation & Dialogic Reading
In the Home--Book Reading: Immediate Talk (about the book) and Non-immediate Talk (recollection of personal experiences, comments/qs about general knowledge (P. 49)
*Choose a variety of book types
*Discuss some aspect of the book before and after reading
*Use Intonation, gestures and point to illustration … without interrupting flow of text.
*Make the book experience overflow into other areas of life.
^Add words to familiar knowledge domains (KD)(people, animals, foods, households)
^Sort relationships among words in KD
^Add new domains from subjects and topics being studied.

Words that are developmentally* appropriate (See Handout 2)
Opportunities to use words in a meaningful way across time and place, beginning with the immediate time and place and expanding to other times and places
Representing/recording words in a form that encourages
remembering and retrieving
Dialogue is at the heart of word learning (Books and Conversation)
Stories are the starting place!

Powerful Vocabulary, NAEYC Conference, October 2016, Fran Toomey (}  Handout 2: CHOOSING WORDS
Small Kids, Big Words
Laura Pappano Harvard, 2008 PreK-Gr 3
Creative Curriculum
Steps Before The Study:
Choosing a Topic For Learning
TYC Vol 9 NO. 3     Download PDF 
OWL: Making Every Word Count
 (Page 27)
See Word Lists (pp 302-341)