More Connections of the SGM® to the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessm - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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More Connections of the SGM® to the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment)

by Maryellen Rooney Moreau October 05, 2016 5 min read

This follows the original DRA Blog.

We had a question posed recently about the relationship between the DRA and the Story Grammar Marker® approach drew much interest as far as sharing and private messages to the author. Several people suggested the names of other “reading tests” and their relationships to the SGM®. States and local school districts have mandated testing as well.

Maryellen will respond using the pronoun “I” for convenience.

As noted in the previous blog about the DRA, there are many ways to assess the ability to retell a story. A rubric, such as that used on the DRA, is one of them. Other comprehension assessments tap the Wh Questions or general story rubrics to guide assessment. In my experience, there are students who can answer these questions but are not able to retell what they read. Although the causes may be different, the problem is similar, they are unable to express what was comprehended. There are others who are unable to answer questions unless there is focused scaffolding and then only minimal responses are noted. Still, there are others who are “word callers” and have mastered the decoding process but do not comprehend what they are reading. Finally, there are students with language problems who have working memory or word retrieval problems and have difficulty expressing what they comprehend. Students who are learning English or those along the autism spectrum are also at risk.

It is interesting to note that Michael Pressley wrote in the concluding chapter of one of my favorite books on comprehension (Block, Gambrell, Pressley, 2002) that ‘comprehension gets tested more than students get taught how to comprehend!’

The approach fostered by MindWing Concepts, Inc. using the Story Grammar Marker® taps the research of a broader spectrum of skills known as narrative development for instruction and intervention. The work of Vygotsky (Zone of Proximal Development) and Bruner (Landscape of Action/Consciousness)have influenced my work in developing this approach.

Narrative formulation should be viewed as “one of the most complex language acts” (Justice, 2004). In “producing a good narrative children must conform to customary organizational schemes for narratives (episodic structure: beginning, middle, end) and weave the smaller units of the narrative (vocabulary, sentence structures) together in a cohesive sequence” (Justice, 2004).

In short, narrative development underpins literacy and begins long before the child enters preschool. The child begins to construct his world as a personal story with characters, settings and initiating events causing feelings and thoughts. Reflecting on feelings and thoughts provides the child with a vehicle to look at character motivation. However, children need supports. In the best cases, adults ask and answer questions and encourage conversation. However, many children do not receive the scaffolding necessary in formulating narratives for social success.

As far as its application to academics, narrative development is best depicted in the diagram below. This diagram shows the components of oral language as the foundation of literacy. Notice that narrative is contained in the building block labeled “Discourse”. This building block also contains conversation and exposition (information).”

Please note that oral language is the foundation of literacy in terms of listening and reading comprehension, as well as oral and written expression of what was comprehended. This Building Blocks of Literacy Diagram shows both the “lower” and “higher” levels of language needed for these literacy processes. Vocabulary, cited in the Hart and Risley study on poverty, along with syntactic understanding and expression, are critical components and are predictors of success in literacy endeavors. Both vocabulary and sentence structure competence are essential foundations. There is another level that is necessary for comprehension and oral/written expression: the Discourse level.

The Discourse level of oral language is essential because it is where vocabulary and sentences are integrated to form a structure, such as a story. At the same time inferences are generated and students learn, over time, to monitor their own comprehension and expression. Both this ‘higher level’ and the ‘lower level’ interact to form a story, as well as information text (Oakhill, Berenhaus, & Cain, 2015).

The Story Grammar Marker® is an iconic -based tool designed to visually, tactilely and kinesthetically scaffold and facilitate this linguistic interaction. Interaction among vocabulary, sentence and discourse development is modeled and released to the student through explicit instruction and guided practice. The seven stages of narrative development (Stein & Glenn; Roth and Spekman; Westby in Simon) are the guide posts to assist the teacher, SLP or special educator in dynamic assessment and intervention. The Story Grammar Marker® approach was not designed to function in isolation. It was always meant provide a systematic way to integrate explicit instruction of oral language competence into your existing reading/writing program.

Whether there is a comprehension problem, or a problem expressing what was comprehended, noted in a screening, a rubric or more formal measure of reading assessment, there is a need to model and explicitly teach oral language competence: vocabulary, sentence and discourse levels.

Circle Arrows with SGM IconsLook at the child’s retelling through the lens of the developmental sequence of narrative beginning with the Characters and Setting and progressing through the temporal sequencing of Actions to the causal chain identifying the challenge or Kick-Off (Initiating Event) to generating inference of Feelings and Mental States to the outcome (Direct Consequence) and lesson learned (Resolution). In time, expository text structures “tie in” to this narrative sequence. (Please see our The Core of the Core manual for more detail.) It is the combination of these components that enables the child to comprehend and retell at a Complete Episode discourse level and focus on motivations of Characters and the outcomes of Plans that these Characters make.”

Please see the orginal SGM and the DRA blog

Please see The Story Grammar Marker® Manual, Braidy the StoryBraid® and/or the Data Collection tools available through this website. We have several webinars for you to view as well. Finally, we also provide professional development. In the past few months, we have provided Professional Development in Baltimore City Schools, Pinellas County (Florida) Schools, Grant Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids Iowa, ASHA Connect in Minneapolis and Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada!


The following is a selected group of references. Some of them are from the 1980s when the SGM® was first developed. Others are more recent. All are applicable in the application of theory to current practice.

Block, C., Gambrell, C., Pressley, M. (Eds.) (2002). Improving comprehension instruction: Rethinking research, theory, and classroom practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cain, K., & Oakhill, J. (Eds). (2007) Children’s comprehension problems in oral and written language: A cognitive perspective. NY: Guilford Press.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the early experience of young American children. Baltimore: Brookes.

Justice, L. (2004). Connection between oral narratives and reading problems: What’s the story? Curry School: Tempo Weekly Reader.

Merritt, D. & Liles, B. (1987). Story grammar ability in children with and without language disorder: Story generation, story retelling, and story comprehension. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 30.

Oakhill, K., Berenhaus, M. & Cain, K. (2015). Children’s reading comprehension and comprehension difficulties. In A. Pollatsek & R. Treiman (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of reading. NY: Oxford University Press.

Roth, F. & Spekman, N. (1986). Narrative discourse: Spontaneously generated stories of learning-disabled and normally achieving students. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 51.

Sabatini, J. et al. (2012). Measuring up: Advances in how to assess reading ability. NY: Rowman and Littlefield Education.

Stein, N. & Glenn, C. (1979). An analysis of story comprehension in elementary school children. In R.O. Freedle (Ed.), New directions in discourse processing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Westby, C. (1985). Learning to talk—Talking to learn: Oral-literate language differences. In C. Simon (Ed.), Communication skills and classroom success: Therapy methodologies for language-learning disabled students. San Diego: College-Hill Press.

Maryellen Rooney Moreau
Maryellen Rooney Moreau

Maryellen Rooney Moreau, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, is the founder of MindWing Concepts. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Disorders at University of Massachusetts at Amherst as a Commonwealth Honors Scholar, and a Masters of Education in Communication Disorders at Pennsylvania State University. Her forty-year professional career includes school-based SLP, college professor, diagnostician, and Coordinator of Intervention Curriculum and Professional Development for children with language learning disabilities. She designed the Story Grammar Marker® and has been awarded two United States Patents. She has written more than 15 publications and developed more than 60 hands-on tools based on the SGM® methodology. Maryellen was awarded the 2014 Alice H. Garside Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Dyslexia Association, Massachusetts Branch.

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