Some researchers think that up to 15% of young school kids don’t have the language comprehension skills to cope fully with the demands of school (Hart & Fielding-Barnsley, 2009). Many of these kids struggle – some for their whole lives.
General advice is sometimes not enough
Advice like “put down the devices and talk with your child more”, or “encourage your child to speak in full sentences”, or “read books with your child every day” can seem a bit general to be of practical help on a day-to-day basis – especially if you are doing all of these things and your child or student is still struggling.
Getting practical: tackling the mystery of language comprehension with a framework
Oral language comprehension – also called listening comprehension or receptive language – is deeply mysterious for the simple reason that we can’t know exactly what goes on inside someone else’s head. It can also seem very abstract to non-experts – language comprehension includes comprehension of language content (vocabulary and semantic knowledge), language forms (e.g. phonology, morphology, and syntax), and use (pragmatics).
So where to begin?
Well, it helps to have a plan. And good plans are based on tried and tested frameworks.
For language comprehension, one of the most influential frameworks was developed way back in the late 1970s by Dr Marion Blank, a developmental psychologist. Despite its vintage, we use Dr Blank’s model almost every day in our clinic to inform our approach to the assessment and treatment of children, teenagers and adults with language difficulties. And we’re not alone – many researchers have reported that Blank’s framework provides a good mechanism for child educators and others to enhance children’s learning (e.g. Elias et al., 2006; Hay et al., 2010). And lots of other speech pathologists use the framework, too.
I wish more parents, early educators and teachers knew about Blank’s wonderful work.
Blank’s Levels of Questioning
Dr Blank’s framework is based on the simple idea that young children’s early language and reasoning skills – while separate things – develop interactively to their mutual benefit. As a child’s understanding of words and the meanings of words improves, so does their ability to think and reason in words, which then further enhances their ability to understand and use words in more complex situations. In other words, stimulating language development can improve verbal reasoning, which, in turn can help more advanced language development: a virtuous cycle.
Dr Blank proposed that children learn language through social interaction, including through the way they listen to and speak with others while engaged in activities together. She thought that parents, early child educators, speech pathologists and others can improve preschoolers’ language and reasoning skills by changing the way they interact with kids, and, in particular, the way in which they ask kids questions, and respond to their answers.
The model is based on the idea that language exists on a “continuum of perceptual-language distance”. Kids first learn to understand and use language in very concrete ways based on what they see, hear and touch, etc.. As they develop, kids learn to use language to understand and express more abstract ideas (e.g. to make predictions, draw inferences, and to explain ideas and events that you can’t see, smell or touch).
The Blank's Language Levels Resource Library - available for instant access
This Resource Library contains everything you need to start implementing Blank's framework to help preschoolers, young school-aged children and children with language and other learning disorders. Featuring Plain English research overviews of Blank's Framework, Inferencing, Theory of Mind, and Dialogic Reading, as well as 22 fully scripted, no-preparation resources aligned with Blanks Language Levels 2-4, this library can be downloaded or presented on electronic devices. More than 700 pages of resources!
No subscription needed! The whole library is yours for an affordable, one off payment of US$60 - less than US$3 a resource!
In our busy speech pathology clinic, we use these tried and tested resources every day.
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Known to many as Speech Bloke, David is a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist, Lawyer, Author and Father. He is based in Sydney, Australia, where he helps adults and children with communication issues to speak for themselves.
David manages a busy private speech pathology clinic, and a publishing company for speech pathologists in private practice. He is the founder of Banter Speech & Language, and Speechies in Business. He is passionate about ethical practices and consumer rights and regularly guest lectures to speech pathology students and others on legal issues affecting the profession.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean's Scholar, ranking first in his graduating year. He is admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the High Court of Hong Kong, and lived for 8 years in Hong Kong. David is a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification. He is a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the PreLit early literacy preparation program by MultiLit, the Spalding Method for literacy, and Voicecraft for voice issues.
Prior to becoming a speech pathologist, David was a senior lawyer at a US Investment Bank and, before then, worked for global law firms in Hong Kong and Sydney. He knows what it takes to communicate professionally and to compete in a globalised workforce.