Tech Tuesday/Summer Study Series: Because and So Science

For July’s entry in the “Summer Study Series,” we’ll be looking at some cool connections to the science curriculum in addressing the macrostructure and microstructure of language. Our posts this summer are summarizing recent research related to narrative and expository language and Story Grammar Marker®/ThemeMaker® to give you some scientific thought for summer.

TinyBop screenshot image
TinyBop logo  Screenshot from TinyBop's States of Matter App

To set the tone, there are some natural connections between the SGM® and ThemeMaker® methodologies and using science content with students. Narrative and expository elements give a framework for summarizing story and information, elaborating, focusing on main ideas and reducing the load on working memory by providing a scaffolded structure.

SGM cover imageThe scientific method itself, moving from observation (Character/Setting), planning and hypothesizing, following experimental steps, and developing a conclusion, can be reframed using the Story Grammar Marker® as is demonstrated in the original SGM® manual.

ThemeMaker cover imageAdditionally, ThemeMaker®’s expository language maps tie into the disciplinary literacy inherent in science, which is filled with lists, sequences, and cause-effect relationships, as well as other structures.

A relevant study provides great information, chiefly on targeting microstructure and cohesive ties in science contexts, but with implications for macrostructure as well (e.g., presenting science information with the use of SGM®/ThemeMaker® visual supports). The ASHA Journals website, for all of you members, will lead you to the full text of “Use of Recast Intervention to Teach Causal Adverbials to Young Children With Developmental Language Disorder Within a Science Curriculum: A Single Case Design Study” (Curran & VanHorne, 2019).

Some summarized points from the study are as follows:

  • “Both scientists and young children spend a great deal of time trying to find out why things happen.” Describing the why of things involves the clausal adverbial conjunctions because, often used to formulate a prediction, and so, useful in the interpretation of events. These forms, e.g., “The rock will sink because it is heavy,” are early-emerging among complex syntax forms, appearing and increasing between ages 3-5. They are trickier for all students when the clause order is reversed from real-world events, as in “The puddle happened because it rained.” In either case, production of multi-clausal utterances is more difficult for students with language disorders, who exhibit more errors and less frequency of production.
  • This study sought to focus on adverbials, a singular focus that has not been necessarily been studied before outside of “package interventions” such as SGM that target both microstructure and macrostructure skills with supports such as graphic organizers (note: the study did not specifically mention SGM). The chief intervention tool within the study would be the use of recasts as scaffolding: “For example, if a child said, ‘The kite goed up. Wind pushed it,’ an adult may respond, ‘The kite went up because wind pushed it.’”
  • The study used a specific science curriculum and texts, along with experiments, framing this context as such: “We know from the literature that the act of verbally explaining experimental findings can shape a child’s understanding of the results of an experiment or the relationship of an individual experiment to prior experiments and general knowledge.” So, the goals of the study were to determine the effects of the recast intervention but also to assess the gaining of scientific knowledge.
  • This was a smaller study of 7 preschool and kindergarten age students within a condition the researchers called “Science Plus”; rather than following just the science curriculum plans, they infused language-based strategies, as follows:
    • Text-edited to include four causal adverbial models
    • Recast child utterances into causal adverbial structure
    • Science question of the day identified
    • Discuss past experience/knowledge on topic, with prompts to elicit platform utterances (e.g., examiner use of why questions)
    • Develop a plan, or put together materials; recast and model causal adverbials
    • Examiner comments about causal relationships used causal adverbials
    • Child-guided through experiment/observation of the day
    • Examiner questions and comments focused on science content and elicitation of platform utterances
    • Examiner recast child utterances into causal adverbial structures
  • Results overall demonstrated that recast-based intervention increased children’s use of clausal adverbials, chiefly in the case of because (attributed to increased difficulty of so clauses, semantic factors, and interference of because). The study noted that most previous recast intervention research has focused on simpler sentences and morphology, so results here are notable, related to more complex syntax and cohesive ties/conjunctions.

Framing all this in the most helpful context for us, we should be considering that: a) working within science content and activities can be effective language intervention, b) what we say in response to what students say, i.e., recasting, is an important therapeutic technique, and c) it stands to reason that doing so while also addressing macrostructure, using narrative or expository icons, will improve those skills as well.

A few tech suggestions, particularly if, like me, you find the prospect of gathering materials for science integration and experimentation a bit daunting:

  • Epic header image
  • Epic! Books for Kids, which provides free educator accounts, has visual science “books” at many levels!
  • Literary Science subjects image
  • LearningScience.org is a fantastic compendium of interactive science websites, many of which function as “experiments” you can align with the topic of a book from Epic! and a graphic organizer used to summarize one aspect of the language (e.g., story, list, sequence, cause-effect). Note that many of the activities here are flash-based, so must be accessed on a laptop or Chromebook.
  • TinyBop header image
  • For an iPad resource, check out the terrific science-based apps from Tinybop. Each of these, such as the recent States of Matter ($3.99), function as wordless “experiments” with the elements of the topic. I find their handbooks helpful in navigating the apps and also as a printable following-directions activity for students; you can also access all handbooks free and use as an overview of each app to decide which you might like to purchase.

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Author

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and consults with local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at sean@speechtechie.com.



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