August 28, 2012 News

Schools: Research Trends

Syllable-Timed Treatment for Children Who Stutter

Simple syllable-timed speech (STS) treatment shows promise for some school-age children who stutter, according to an Australian study. In a Phase I clinical trial, researchers trained 10 children (ages 6 to 11) who stuttered, and their parents, to use STS at near-normal speech rates. The fluency technique requires the client to speak rhythmically to a set beat on each syllable of an utterance (for example, one syllable each second). Participants practiced the technique in treatment and at home with the parent during everyday conversations.

There was considerable individual variation in response to the treatment, but after nine months of treatment, half of the children experienced at least a 50% reduction in stuttering; two children had stuttering reductions of 81% and 87%. Intention-to-treat analysis demonstrated a clinically and statistically significant reduction in stuttering for the group, even with the inclusion of a participant who withdrew from the study. The results were mostly confirmed by self-reported stuttering severity ratings, improved quality-of-life scores, and reduced incidences of avoiding certain speaking situations.

STS is easy to learn and to teach, and the children in this study appeared to enjoy the treatment. Researchers indicate that treatment efficacy could be improved with modifications.

The study appears in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools [doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2012/11-0038)].

Noise Hampers Expressive Word Learning

A recent study in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools indicates that noise limits school-age children's expressive vocabulary growth, but clear speech input can aid that growth, even in noise.

To determine the effects of noise and speech style on word learning in typically developing school-age children, researchers had 31 children (ages 9 to 11) attempt to learn two sets of eight novel words and their referents. The children heard all of the words 13 times each within meaningful narrative discourse. Half the children heard the new words in broad-band white noise and half in quiet; within those conditions, each child heard one set of words produced in a plain speech style and a second set in a clear speech style.

Findings indicate that children who trained in quiet learned to produce the word forms more accurately than children trained in noise. In both quiet and noisy conditions, clear speech resulted in more accurate word-form productions. Learning from clear speech in noise was comparable to learning plain speech in quiet. Researchers conclude that learning new words in noise reduces the quality of word form representation in the lexicon, but clear speech input can aid growth, even in noisy environments. Search doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2012/11-0053).

Analytic and Holistic Scoring of Writing

Research on written language uses analytic writing measures to assess students' writing, but high-stakes tests—like those required by the No Child Left Behind Act (2002)—use more holistic measures, such as the six-traits writing rubric. How do the deficits of students with language learning disabilities (LLD)—who demonstrate difficulties with written language, especially in the areas of productivity, complexity, and grammar—affect performance on high-stakes tests as compared to the traditional analytic measures?

To answer that question, Arizona State University researchers used the same writing samples to compare how students with and without LLD scored on analytic writing measures and on the six-traits writing rubric. In the study, 56 fourth- and fifth-graders with typical development (TD) or LLD produced one narrative and one expository writing sample. Researchers measured the participants' oral language ability and handwriting accuracy-speed, and scored the writing samples using five to six separate analytic measures and six separate traits on the writing rubric.

On narrative writing, the TD group scored significantly higher than the LLD group on five analytic measures and all six traits; similarly, the TD group outscored the LLD group on three analytic measures and all six traits on expository writing. The analytic scores of productivity, sentence complexity, and lexical diversity were correlated significantly with a higher overall score on the writing rubric for narrative writing samples only.

Results suggest that exclusive use of analytic scores to select treatment goals and to document writing progress may not translate into increased scores on writing rubrics, particularly for expository writing samples. The study appears in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools [doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2012/11-0018)].

Grammaticality Indicates Language Impairment

Percent grammatical utterances is an appropriate measure to screen for language impairment, according to a recent study in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools.

The study compared the diagnostic accuracy of a general grammaticality measure—percent grammatical utterances—to two less comprehensive measures of grammaticality in differentiating children with and without language impairment. One of the other measures excluded utterances without a subject and/or main verb (i.e., percent sentence point) and the other measure looked only at verb-tense errors (i.e., percent verb tense usage).

Two groups of 3-year-olds (17 with language impairment and 17 with typical language) participated in a picture description task. Percent grammatical utterance (PGU), percent sentence point (PSP), and percent verb-tense usage (PVT) were computed. All three measures demonstrated a sensitivity of 100%. PGU showed a specificity of 88%; PSP and PVT had a specificity of 82%. In addition, PGU showed a larger positive likelihood ratio than the other two measures.

Researchers conclude that all measures were sensitive to language impairment. However, PGU was less likely to misclassify typical children than PSP and PVT. Search doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2012/11-0089).


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