The Story Grammar Marker® is twenty-five years old this year, created in 1991. 2016 will be a year of celebrations that highlight our methodology as well as tools for instruction and intervention. To kick off the year, please use this new “SGM® New Year’s Resolution Worksheet” (click here to download and print) with your students.
Now, on to our focus for the New Year! As most of you know, I am a speech/language pathologist with experience dating from 1971 when I was the first “language disabilities clinician” in the Hartford, CT Public Schools. Perhaps you don’t know that “child language development” was new to our field at the time. Margaret Kennedy, a native of Iowa and a skilled clinician, was the Director of Communication Disorders in Hartford. She wanted to put research into practice in the district. Accordingly, at my interview, she asked me if I would “teach” a class of language-disabled students as my first job out of graduate school. After much thought, I accepted the challenge, having some background from a Summer Institute on Child Language Disorders while a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University.
Ms. Kennedy told me that I would never regret accepting this challenge! And I never did regret it. Teaching this class allowed me to actually see how an oral language impairment affected academics (literacy) and also to directly interact with classroom teachers, special educators, parents and grandparents. These interactions were instrumental in my development as an SLP. I realized that little was known about language impairment and about the children I served. I knew that much communication was needed on my part to provide such information. Actually, I have spent my career doing just that.
My career led me to American international College in Springfield, Massachusetts, where I taught a class entitled Speech and Language Development for educators desiring certification in Massachusetts as a teacher, special educator, reading specialist, etc. There was no Communication Disorders major at the college. I also became the SLP on the diagnostic team at the Curtis Blake Center for Learning Disabilities, situated at that time, on the AIC campus. The building and program was underwritten by Curtis Blake, the founder of Friendly Ice Cream Corporation. Ultimately, I became the Director of Intervention Curriculum at the Curtis Blake Day School for children with dyslexia and language learning disabilities, also run by the college.
These two positions were the reason for the Story Grammar Marker® and the resultant creation of MindWing Concepts, Inc. (meaning: the mind taking flight). They are also the reason for my “research to practice” mindset as I continue to learn and to create child friendly academic and social communication tools for instruction and intervention. What is now known as “discourse” language development (conversation, narrative, exposition) was my primary focus.
In working with children with a language impairment, I observed that many—in fact most—of my students could answer Wh Questions and questions such as “list,” “find,” “identify,” “contrast,” but needed my direct scaffolding to do so. While answers to questions are vital, I realized, as I worked with these students, that even though they answered questions in scaffolded discussion with me, they were not able to formulate oral retellings of the information or organize their writing of such content. Furthermore, when given a traditional “three box” graphic organizer, they were unable to figure out “what to do with the boxes”! Discourse development, beginning with narrative intervention and adding expository discourse structures, became, for me, the missing link in the literacy chain!
Our theme for 2016 is this “missing link in the literacy chain”: formulation of discourse beyond, but including, conversation. Our tools teach a concept rather than simply a procedure. We will center the year on our new Discourse and Thought Development Chart (shown below), showing the relationship between discourse development for thinking and the question forms necessary for academic success. The chart and reversible wheel showing Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels as well as Bloom’s Taxonomy, and carefully selected narrative and expository texts will demonstrate the development of language and thought.
This year, we also will be highlighting our information (expository) text materials and how to integrate them with the knowledge base of the Story Grammar Marker®. We have had information text iconic maps and lessons since 1998 under the title “ThemeMaker®.” This year will see an elaboration of our present materials to better address the needs of young children as well as middle and high school students. As always, we will highlight the interaction of narrative and information discourse, knowledge acquisition and language development in an ever changing educational environment!
Happy New Year!