Research Tuesday – Narrative and Vocabulary Instruction in the Classroom

July 8, 2014 BY Kira Wright, CCC-SLP

This whole Research Tuesday thing really works for me in the summer! I have the space to be a little more reflective and theoretical, without feeling like I need to implement my findings with Johnny in tomorrow’s session. And the knowledge that fall is coming pushes me to think on a systems level, gathering evidence for anything new I’d like to try in the fall. 

With that in mind, I found this article on classroom-based instruction very interesting. There is not a lot of research on push-in support for students with language impairment from SLPs. Although it makes sense intuitively, the classroom is a complex environment and it is hard to isolate variables. This study is an “early-stage, non-randomized comparison study”, and it ends with the all too familiar refrain (Spoiler alert!) of “more extensive research on this topic is warranted”, but it is an important early step for SLPs collaborating with classroom teachers and administrators looking for more efficient and inclusive ways to support students with language impairment.

So, here we go, following Kelly Bawden’s cut-to-the-chase organizational rubric: 

The Details: Sandra Laing Gillam, Abbie Olszewski, Jamison Fargo, Ronald B. Gillam; Classroom-Based Narrative and Vocabulary Instruction: Results of an Early-Stage, Nonrandomized Comparison Study. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch 2014;45(3):204-219. doi: 10.1044/2014_LSHSS-13-0008.

The Question: Having developed an intervention program that teaches story grammar elements along with embedded vocabulary instruction, the team designed this study to assess the effects of the intervention. They wondered whether students who received this intervention would score differently on narrative and vocabulary measures from students who did not receive the intervention. As a part of the study, they examined the effects of the intervention on students both at high and low risk for academic failure. 

The Method: Researchers used students in two 1st-grade classrooms at a Title 1 elementary school. The classrooms were statistically similar in their make up, as well as pre-test scores for narrative and vocabulary. The students in each classroom were divided into high-risk (scores on the Test of Narrative Language below the 25th %ile) and low-risk groups. For 6 weeks, the students in one classroom participated in three 30-minute whole-class intervention sessions per week, led by an SLP. The narrative program taught story grammar elements, gave students students instruction in elaborating on a story, and provided opportunities for students to practice story-telling in a small group. Vocabulary instruction (8-10 tier 2 words/week) was embedded in the narrative intervention. The students in the other classroom received the traditional district curriculum throughout the 6 weeks. 

The Results: The students were assessed following the intervention period with a narrative probe, scored with the rubric Monitoring Indicators of Scholarly Language (MISL; Gillam & Gillam, 2013) and a vocabulary probe, also scored with a rubric. For both narrative and vocabulary measures, both high- and low-risk students in the experimental classroom had statistically greater gains than students from the comparison classroom. In both narrative and vocabulary skills, students in the high-risk subgroup had 2-3 times the gain than the high-risk subgroup, while students in the low-risk subgroup had 6-10 times the gain of their low-risk peers in the comparison classroom. 

The Take-Away: This feasibility study documents the potential value of SLP-led narrative intervention with embedded vocabulary instruction to both low- and high-risk students. As I plan for next fall in an elementary that is more data-driven and run by progress-monitoring and RTI, I am excited to be able to participate in the conversation! I hope to be able to add depth and detail to grade-level data team meetings with progress monitoring tools such as the MISL and the Test of Narrative Recall (TONR). I struggle to balance a focus on narrative with vocabulary instruction, especially when I’m talking to teachers about collaborating on whole-class instruction. It is exciting to see vocabulary instruction embedded into the narrative, and clear results in both areas! 

Here’s to another 6 weeks or so to revel in the reflective theoretical realm, before tackling the daunting task of scheduling all of my plans into real life! 

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