October 9, 2001 Feature

A Clinician-Researcher Partnership

Working Together to Improve Academic Services in Middle School

Across-discipline collaborations in school settings have existed for years. It's been 20 years, in fact, since the introduction of the Regular Education Initiative began support for such work. Nevertheless, building partnerships between clinicians and researchers is a relatively new initiative within the ASHA community.

Like the collaboration between clinician Judith Porter and researcher Barbara Hodson outlined in the July issue of Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools , the ideas for the current project were generated by a clinician. Our project differed from Porter and Hodson's work, however, in its target population, goals, and scope. Our focus was Galvez Middle School, a public school located in rural Louisiana. The goals were to replace a traditional pull-out model of service with a collaborative model that involved teachers from regular and special education and a speech-language pathologist; to collect an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the collaborative services; and, if successful, to motivate others to change their methods of practice.

Strong academic services are particularly needed during the middle school years because this is a time when truancy, juvenile delinquency, and drop-out become major problems. To strengthen the academic services at Galvez, the clinician designed the Collaborative Language-Literacy Laboratory, which bombards special needs students with multi-sensory learning strategies in small group settings with "hands-on" activities.

In 2000-2001, the lab was held in a classroom partitioned into five work centers: a computer area, an auditory area, a reading/visual area, a writing area, and a manipulative/role play area. The lab ran on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. All of the special needs students at Galvez Middle (approximately 50-60 students) were seen three hours per week in the lab. Students with language impairments were seen with their grade level group, and articulation/fluency/voice students working at the conversational level attended the lab as peer tutors with their grade level. Other students with speech impairments were seen on Mondays and Fridays, and screenings/evaluations also were done on these days. For each lab session, children were jointly served by one SLP, 1-2 special education teachers, and a para-educator. Once or twice a week, a graduate student from Louisiana State University (LSU) also participated.

The special education staff met weekly to determine lesson plans and activities for the lab, and regular education teachers provided lesson plans and study guides. As an SLP and the special education contact person for the school, the clinician was able to act as a liaison between the administration and special education staff, use schedule flexibility to conference with regular education teachers, and brainstorm with all teachers on language issues.

All of the information gathered through this collaboration was utilized at the special education meetings to improve and/or adjust students' weekly objectives. Each student had a personal binder to log in attendance at each center. The binder also included a daily writing journal, worksheets, performance percentages on IEP objectives, homework and class assignments, and quarter grades.

Here, we provide accounts of the development of the Galvez Middle School project from our individual perspectives.

The Clinician's View

As a public school SLP and the mother of a child with a language disorder, I am acutely aware of the impact of language on literacy skills and academic success. I have found that many of my middle school students lack the basic language foundation needed for reading and math skills, causing their academic gap to widen each year and their frustration with school to increase. I have always used a variety of interventions to improve these students' language skills, pulling from the strategies I have used with my own child throughout the years. These strategies include providing strong visual cues for concepts addressed, utilizing music and rhymes for memorization, role playing stories from history and literature, combining movies with the written story, utilizing computers when possible, and providing experience-based activities to aid in conceptualization.

My intervention approaches frequently involved using multi-sensory activities, such as making goop for science, line dancing to learn basic language concepts, or shopping to learn math skills. These activities targeted oral and written communication skills, basic study skills, and active problem solving. The various teaching strategies were often successful because the students enjoyed learning math through rap music, building a volcano to learn science concepts, or illustrating their own books while telling a story. More often than not, the children did not feel "pressured" to learn, although they were in fact learning very well.

I realized that, as an SLP, I was uniquely qualified to recognize the language demands of the regular curriculum, identify gaps between the language requirements of the curriculum and the abilities/needs of children, and implement a variety of intervention approaches to help children bridge these gaps.

I approached my principal, assistant principal, and special education staff with a proposal to set up the Collaborative Language-Literacy Laboratory. They loved the idea and wholeheartedly offered their support. I then requested a portable or a classroom and came up with a list of equipment I would need. To my astonishment, the school administration said they would get the class and equipment.

Realizing that maybe I had gotten myself in over my head, I called on Dr. Janna Oetting at LSU to help me with pre- and post-test ideas to evaluate the program. Janna happened to have a grant call from the Louisiana Department of Education on her desk and convinced me that the project I was proposing fit the call's objectives and that the grant proposal would be easy to write. Even though Janna's definition of easy differed from mine, I applied for and received the grant, renewable for three years, to set up a language-literacy lab at my middle school.

Things were now moving fast and I kept forging ahead. The grant allowed me to hire a wonderful para-educator and buy supplies. School administrators and local businesses supplied further materials, computers, Internet TV systems, tables, chairs, and access to a copy machine.

This past year, one of the students' favorite lab activities was a haunted house that the students designed, advertised, and ran. They also completed a unit on the rainforest with the TAG students and wrote an E-book with their peer tutors. Most impressively, every student read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and scored 80% or higher on every chapter test. Many of my students had never read a complete book, so this was a true milestone for them.

The lab is a constant work in progress and continuous adjustments must be made to accommodate the schedules of both the students and teachers. We also have to make adjustments to meet the students' various academic levels. Planning activities that can accommodate everyone can be difficult and frustrating, but when we hit scheduling and/or curricular bumps, we convene as a special education department to brainstorm a solution. We did have one problem last year that was never solved. When the students were creating and illustrating their E-books, they didn't want to leave school when the dismissal bell rang. This was a major change for the students who generally disliked school. Even though we were pleased with their newfound interest in school, as a faculty, we could not be convinced to remain at school overnight with the students!

Through this lab setting, I have learned an enormous amount from the wonderful special education staff and the regular education teachers, and they have learned about language intervention from me. When asked what was the most visible benefit of the lab last year, the school faculty overwhelmingly agreed that it was the camaraderie evident between students and peer tutors outside of the classroom, increased student motivation, and continuous collaboration between members of the faculty on the students' behalf.

In addition, the students' performance on end-of-the-year standardized testing provided the most obvious benefit. Eighth-grade students' performance on the LEAP test improved from a 50% pass rate on language arts in 2000 to a 70% pass rate on language arts in 2001. Of the 15 fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students with available two-year IOWA test results, 12 showed overall improvement in their scores.

--Susan Faucheux

The Researcher's View

Susan Faucheux was one of those graduate students who makes working at a university a great career choice. After having Susan in my research design class and other master's classes in the '90s, how could I not join in her efforts to make real change at her school, especially since many of her ideas reflected methods that I considered to be best practice?

The first step in my participation in the project was to define my role. As a language researcher, my expertise did not extend to the middle school years. In fact, most of my past research had been with children under the age of 8. Nevertheless, basic research design principles apply to any project, regardless of age or content. I also knew that I could provide Susan mentoring in writing, program management, and data collection/analysis.

Next, Susan and I had to determine a set of research questions that could be used to guide the project. We identified three questions:

  1. Does the presence of the lab in the school increase the number of collaborative service delivery hours offered to the children?
  2. Does the presence of the lab in the school improve the regular academic grades and standardized test scores of the children it serves?
  3. How do children with a history of and who are currently classified with a speech/language impairment differ from those on the special education caseload that do not receive this educational classification?

For the first two questions, we knew from the beginning that any changes we found were going to be impossible to contribute to a particular intervention or to the lab itself, because we lacked an equivalent comparison group and could not control for the Hawthorne Effect (i.e., participants--both students and teachers--performing better than normal because of increased attention). Nevertheless, by comparing the services and the students' grades from the year before to the year with the lab, we could at least examine whether the school's overall efforts were moving in a positive or negative direction. Question 3 was asked because basic descriptive data on children with different learning profiles are desperately needed to improve the academic services of all children in our schools.

Preliminary analyses of the data are positive. Average GPAs of the children who participated in the lab rose from 1.63 in 1999-2000 to 2.00 in 2000-2001. These numerical grades were based on a scale of 1-4, with 4 reflecting an A. Sixth graders showed the greatest gains compared to the others, and gains were greatest for English and science as compared to math, reading, and social studies. Eighty-five percent of the students who attended the lab indicated through an anonymous questionnaire that they benefited from the lab and that the lab should be offered in future years. Differences across children with a history of speech and language impairment as compared to those without were much more subtle than we expected. Nevertheless, analyses of oral and written samples showed linguistic strengths and weaknesses of each group.

As a researcher, I found that the most difficult aspect of this collaboration is the lack of control I had over the project. In my other studies, I can control who participates and I can control the scheduling of all events. Whenever I worry about control, though, I try to remember that scientific endeavor takes many forms. Recognizing the limitations of a project and/or situation and helping Susan and her colleagues work around these limitations is what makes this project an interesting challenge.

As we enter the second year of the project, we can test the replication of the first year results as well as begin to manipulate variables within the lab to evaluate different intervention methods. As a university teacher, I can use the lab to demonstrate to graduate students research principles that have been applied to a real clinical setting.

-- Janna Oetting

The authors would like to recognize and thank the following people, listed alphabetically, for making the Galvez Middle School collaboration a success: Jay Benoit, assistant principal; Donna Borne, special education teacher; Donna Chauvin, TAG teacher; Skip Goldstein, special education teacher; Derenda King, para-educator; Jenny Rogers, special education teacher; Twyler Williams, special education teacher; Linda Wilson, principal; and the following graduate students--Vessa Cartmill, Alicia Doyle, Karla Prestridge, Whitney Posey, Samantha Simpson, and Christy Wynn. 

cite as: Faucheux, S.  & Oetting, J. (2001, October 09). A Clinician-Researcher Partnership : Working Together to Improve Academic Services in Middle School. The ASHA Leader.

  

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