March 5, 2002 Feature

Successful Collaborations

Research in the Field

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For some time, professionals in the field of communication sciences and disorders have discussed the importance of collaborative partnerships between clinicians and researchers. The benefits are many—not the least of which is the advancement of the scientific basis of the discipline in clinically meaningful ways. When researchers and clinicians team on a research project, the results often guide them and the rest of the profession in modifying, strengthening, or even abandoning the clinical procedures typically used by practitioners.

Clinician-researcher partnerships may be initiated for a number of reasons. At times, clinicians may wish to gather more information about their assessment or intervention practices, and so they seek the guidance of a researcher with more experience in research design. Other times, researchers wish to investigate certain questions within clinical settings, and so they turn to clinicians who have the clinical experience and opportunity to conduct the new or innovative procedures. In either case, most partnerships are born of the mutual interests of the researcher and clinician.

Successful research partnerships may take different forms depending on the research question. Some studies may include large-scale numbers of subjects that are administered a specific research protocol, whereas others may focus on collecting data within the clinician’s typical everyday intervention setting. From the more traditional, experimental research project to case studies, all forms of investigation lend themselves to clinician-researcher partnerships.

The two partnerships featured here are the result of successful collaborations between school-based speech-language pathologists and university-based researchers. These collaborative efforts originally were described collectively in a panel discussion at the 2001 ASHA Convention, and the results of some studies have been published in ASHA journals.

Self-Esteem Issues in Students With Speech and Language Impairments

Kenn Apel, Wichita State University, KS, and Shawn Brown, Tumwater School District, Olympia, WA

As his graduate students enter the field as SLPs, Kenn Apel typically encourages them to consider becoming part of a collaborative, research partnership. During his second year of working in the schools, Shawn Brown, a school-based SLP and former graduate student, took Kenn up on this opportunity.

Kenn and Shawn had developed a friendship while working together on a variety of projects and this collaboration came from their mutual respect. After deciding to enter into a research partnership, the two began to brainstorm ideas for a study. Most of the brainstorming occurred through the use of the Internet. When the ideas were narrowed down to a few possible topics, Kenn and Shawn met in person to discuss the options and choose one particular topic. Kenn had been reading some work that discussed self-esteem of children with disabilities, and Shawn was seeing an increasing number of students who were withdrawn and using a significant amount of negative self-talk. Thus, the partners decided to investigate issues of self-esteem in children with speech and language impairments.

Current research suggests that children with learning disabilities have less positive self-esteem than their peers (Harter, 1999). Of interest was whether these findings were true for students with speech and language impairments and, if so, whether these students would respond positively to an integrated model of speech and language intervention and self-esteem-building activities. The study con sisted of students from two local schools who were asked to complete a self-perception survey (Harter, 1999). Approximately 25 students from each school participated. Analysis of the surveys suggested low self-esteem ratings similar to those of students with learning disabilities. Students at one school then received a self-esteem-building intervention that was integrated into their typical speech-language intervention.

The esteem-building intervention involved two components. First, students received comments and feedback specifically aimed at increasing their self-esteem. During each session, students were provided with at least one "I believe…" statement. For example, a member of the intervention group might say, "Terry, I believe you are really improving your ability to tell stories," or "John, I believe that you are a wonderful person." Initially, Shawn provided the "I believe…" statements; however, he quickly turned over this responsibility to children within his intervention groups, asking each student to provide an "I believe " statement to a peer. The second component of the intervention focused on teaching the concepts of success and failure. Portions of Pritchard-Dodge’s Communication Lab 1  (1998) were used to help create lessons that focused on these concepts. Audiotapes were made of the self-esteem-building intervention to ensure procedural fidelity. The students at the other school received their typical intervention.

At the end of the eight sessions (spread over approximately 10 weeks), all the students were re-administered the survey and the two groups were compared. Results suggested that, in comparison to the control students, the students receiving the self-esteem-building intervention improved significantly on the post-intervention survey.

Creating a collaborative research partnership during the busy lives of a university professor and a relatively new clinician had both its successes and challenges. Even though Kenn and Shawn are communication disorder specialists, communication was one of their greatest challenges. Over the past few years, they both had come to rely on email and Internet-related technologies to communicate in a fast and efficient manner. It became apparent that they could have avoided some difficulties if they had more face-to-face interactions. A second challenge was Shawn’s difficulty with his district’s administration. Previously, the administration had turned down a prospective research project, stating that the employees’ time would best be used focusing on working with the students rather than on conducting research. After convincing the administration that working with students should be viewed as a scientific endeavor, the administration allowed the project to move forward.

Shawn’s inexperience with running subjects and managing the study was another challenge encountered by the team. This is where the collaboration part of this project was necessary. Kenn had the experience needed to design the study, and Shawn had the drive to learn about design and the ability to implement it. Finally, time was a challenge. Both partners wanted more of it. School functions got in the way. Deadlines put on the pressure. Kenn’s and Shawn’s commitments made it hard for them to spend time together.

Although there were challenges to overcome, none of them was so great that it could not be overcome. For future projects, Kenn and Shawn plan to discuss and describe the plan of action more explicitly, creating a better understanding of each other’s responsibilities and expectations. They also intend to involve more people in the project. The collaboration was a rewarding experience that allowed each to gain a better insight into the other’ s professional responsibilities and daily activities as well as the importance of collaborative research projects.

Partnering to Evaluate Classroom-Based Intervention

Lynn Calvert, Eastern Illinois University; Pam Paul, Charleston Community School District #1, IL; and Rebecca N. Throneburg, Eastern Illinois University

The team of Lynn Calvert, Pam Paul, and Rebecca Throneburg was initiated four years ago when Pam contacted Lynn to request assistance from university student clinicians in preparing materials for in-class collaborative language lessons in the elementary school setting. Lynn agreed to coordinate this voluntary student assistance if Pam would consider participating in a research project to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of the collaborative classroom-based work. Lynn then asked Rebecca Throneburg to become a partner, and the team began brainstorming the research design possibilities.

One of the first steps was to assign responsibilities within the project. Lynn’s primary responsibilities involved the literature review, treatment validity, and administrative aspects of the projects. Pam took on the duties of establishing the educational site, including securing teacher and principal cooperation, obtaining permission for testing, and implementing the intervention conditions of the research design. Finally, Rebecca’s responsibilities included developing the research design, summarizing the data, and conducting the statistical analyses of the results.

Several projects emerged from the team’s brainstorming and work. Each study compared traditional, nonintegrated pull-out service delivery with collaborative classroom-based services for children in early elementary school. Specifically, the studies have compared progress within the two service delivery models for curricular skills of children with communication impairments, speech-language skills of children with communication impairments, the amount of practice on speech-language goals and feedback received from teacher/SLP, and curricular skills of children without speech-language deficits.

In their first study, the team found positive results for curricular vocabulary skill development for children with communication impairments, as well as children without speech-language deficits, using the collaborative model with a small pull-out component (a mixed service delivery model). During the project’s last year, surprising success was found when a collaborative classroom-based approach was implemented in comparison to the pull-out model for first- and second-grade children with functional articulation impairments. Pam used a visual cueing system together with occasional discrimination and phoneme pr oduction hints during weekly 30-minute, whole-class lessons. These lessons incorporated children’s literature and focused on articulation deficits, language deficits, and narrative curricular language arts goals.

Additionally, Pam provided 10 minutes of weekly classroom-based individual intervention using a one-teach, one-drift model for each child with speech or language deficits. Pam used class material during this period to provide children specific feedback and collect data regarding the child’s skills. Peers and teachers learned the type of cues and positive feedback Pam provided for articulation errors and were able to give reminders/practice throughout the week. This facilitated quicker generalization of skills for the children who received classroom-based treatment.

Mixed results were found for the children with language impairments who received classroom-based or pull-out intervention. Many of the children in the collaborative classroom-based condition had concomitant problems (ADD, LD, cognitive deficits) with only a small number of children participating in each group. Pam and the classroom teachers also targeted curricular narrative language arts goals for the whole class in addition to targeting children’s speech-language deficits during last year’s studies. The children in collaborative classrooms made larger gains than those in the non-collaborative classrooms in curricular narrative skills, but the difference was not statistically significant. Additional studies are needed to investigate numero us factors such as professionals’ training and attitudes, types and severities of children’s disorders, and time issues that may contribute to or inhibit success in collaborative classroom-based intervention.

The time commitment necessary to successfully complete research projects is often a challenge. However, because of consistent dedication to the projects, the partnership has had success in carrying out multiple projects over several years. The primary success has been collecting very functional data on a topic that had been previously unavailable in the field. The research team members have learned a great deal from each other’s expertise, and their knowledge and practices have grown and changed as a result of the projects. All the members feel that participating in the research projects has been a positive experience, and they plan to continue working together in the future.

cite as: Apel, K. , Brown, S. , Calvert, L. , Paul, P.  & Throneburg, R. N. (2002, March 05). Successful Collaborations : Research in the Field. The ASHA Leader.


Apel, K. (2001). Prologue: Developing evidence-based practices and research collaborations in school settings. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools  , 32, 149–152.

Fey, M. E., & Johnson, B. W. (1998). Research to practice (and back again) in speech-language intervention. Topics in Language Disorders  , 18(2), 23–34.

Harter, S. (1999). The construction of the self: A developmental perspective.  New York: The Guilford Press.

Ingram, D. (1998). Research-practice relationships in speech-language pathology. Topics in Language Disorders  , 18(2), 1–9.

Pritchard-Dodge, E. (1998). Communication Lab 1: A classroom communication program.  San Diego: Singular Publishing Group.

Throneburg, R. N., Calvert, L. K., Sturm, J. J., Paramboukas, A. A., & Paul, P. J. (2000). A comparison of service delivery models: Effects on curricular vocabulary skills in the school setting. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology: A Journal of Clinical Practice  , 9, 10 –20.


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