Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Individual Differences in Learning the Regularities Between Orthography, Phonology and Semantics Predict Early Reading Skills

Siegelman, N., Rueckl, J.G., Steacy, L.M., Frost, S.J., van den Bunt, M., Zevin, J.D., Seidenberg, M.S., Pugh, K.R., Compton, D.L., & Morris, R.D. (2020). Individual differences in learning the regularities between orthography, phonology and semantics predict early reading skills. Journal of Memory and Language, 114, 104145. 

Written language is made of many repeating patterns, or ‘regularities’. There are different types of regularities. Some are related to the connections between sounds (phonology) and letters (orthography), referred to in this study as orthographic-phonological consistency. Others are related to the connection between a word’s meaning (semantics) and written form. This orthographic-semantic consistency might be related to how easily a word can be pictured in your mind, that is, a word’s imageability. When reading words, orthographic-phonological regularities tend to be relatively systematic cues, whereas imageability is a relatively arbitrary cue. The authors of this study hypothesized that better readers were likely to display greater sensitivity to orthographic-phonological regularities while performing a word naming task (i.e., word reading), and rely less on other regularities such as imageability. 

In the first part of the study, the participants were 123 children aged 7-11 years old recruited from a larger study of children reading disability. As a result, 101 of these participants had been identified with reading disability. Children completed standardized measures of single word reading, nonword reading, reading fluency, and reading comprehension, as well as a word naming task in which children read single monosyllabic words aloud. The stimuli on the word naming task varied in their imageability, orthographic-phonological consistency, and frequency of occurrence in written language. The authors used logistic regression models to examine how orthographic-phonological regularity and imageability impacted each child’s accuracy on the word naming task, and how this relationship was related to individual differences in reading ability. They found that better reading abilities were associated with greater sensitivity to orthographic-phonological regularity and lower sensitivity to imageability, suggesting that better readers tend to rely more on orthographic-phonological regularities than imageability during word naming tasks. The authors also replicated these findings in a second sample of 282 children who represented a more normal distribution of reading ability, as well as in a third set of analyses in which they aggregated data from the two samples. 

Overall, these findings suggest better readers tend to be more sensitive to associations between print and speech during word naming, whereas poor readers tend to rely more on associations between print and meaning. Importantly, the authors note that this does not represent sensitivity to these regularities in general, rather, this is specific to the particular task being measured. In line with this, the authors suggest that early reading success relies on developing an efficient division of labour to different types of regularities based on which regularities are most useful to the task at hand. 

Blogger: Alex Cross is an M.Cl.Sc. and Ph.D. Candidate in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald and Dr. Marc Joanisse.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

“Tell Me About Your Child”: A Grounded Theory Study of Mothers' Understanding of Language Disorder

Ash, A. C., Christopulos, T. T., & Redmond, S. M. (2020). “Tell me about your child”: A grounded theory study of mothers' understanding of language disorder. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology29(2), 819-840.

A mother who is concerned about her child’s language development and consults a speech-language pathologist (SLP) might expect to find out if the child has a language disorder, the name of the language disorder, and gain a better understanding of language disorders. “Disclosure” refers to the first instance that a diagnosis is communicated to parents. Previous work with children with a variety of development disabilities indicates that parents are typically unhappy with disclosure conversations. The disclosure process for language disorder in particular, however, has yet to be studied. 

In this study, twelve mothers of children receiving SLP services for the study were engaged in a semi-structured interview about the diagnostic process. Interview transcripts were coded and checked, and saturation was reached. Data analysis revealed four main themes relating to (1) confusion regarding diagnosis, related to the use of unclear or irrelevant labels for language disorder, (2) maternal distress regarding the language problem, (3) lack of trust or understanding of SLP and (4) general satisfaction with SLP services received. 

There are a number of important clinical applications of this work, although more research is undoubtedly needed. These results add to the growing body of evidence to suggest that one widely used label for language disorder, such as “Developmental Language Disorder” as proposed by the CATALISE consortium, would prove helpful to parents in understanding their child’s diagnosis and seeking resources accordingly. This may also alleviate some of the mistrust and misunderstanding participants’ reference in regards to working with an SLP. Additionally, the distress described by mother’s in regards to their child’s language difficulties long after therapy was initially recommended suggests more research is needed to understand the factors that contribute to this distress and how SLPs could help to mitigate it.   

Blogger: Taylor Bardell is a combined MClSc/PhD student in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Verbal Working Memory as Emergent from Language Comprehension and Production

Steven C. Schwering, & Maryellen C. Macdonald. (2020). Verbal Working Memory as Emergent from Language Comprehension and Production. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 68. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00068
This review paper discusses current models of verbal working memory. Verbal working memory is the ability to temporarily hold aspects of language in mind (speech sounds, meaning-based information, grammar). Traditionally, verbal working memory is considered to be separate from long-term memory, that is, the information or knowledge stored in the brain over an extended period. The key issue considered in this paper is how long-term knowledge of the language influences verbal working memory.
There are two ways that long-term language knowledge might impact verbal working memory:
1.   Redintegration. Imagine you are asked to remember 3 words: ant, chair, birthday. A short time later you’re asked to recall the words and you realize you’ve forgotten the first word. You kind of remember that it was a short word for an insect, maybe starting with the “a” sound. After searching your long-term memory, you remember that the word was ant. In this way, you have used knowledge held in long-term memory to fill in the gaps in your verbal working memory. This is called redintegration.
2.   Integrated Language Model. According to more integrated accounts, verbal working memory is the temporary activation of long-term memory (rather than a separate memory store). It might be that when a word is encountered, full knowledge of the word is activated and available in working memory. This full activation is the rich emergent view. It could also be that only some of the information is activated from long-term memory whereas other information is held in working memory. This more restrictive view is the limited emergentaccount. 
There is growing evidence in favour of integrated language models. For instance, it is easier to repeat nonwords containing familiar sound sequences or familiar parts of words (e.g., -ing). Consider also the nature of language. In most sentences we say and hear, living things occur earlier than non-living things. This experience impacts the accuracy of word list recall both in terms of the likelihood of remembering a word and the order it appeared in the list. In line with the rich emergent account, memory for an item in a list and its order cannot be easily separated. Instead, it is important to understand how different aspects of a linguistic representation influence each other and are integrated during language processing.  
Viewing verbal working memory from an integrated perspective has implications for clinical tools and research moving forward. For instance, tools used to measure verbal working memory may be tapping higher language skills (encoding, maintenance, and ordering) beyond memory span or capacity. Language use (turn-taking) may draw on domain-general resources (attention, cognitive control), in addition to more language-based knowledge (understanding and planning speech). Finally, knowing that language production and comprehension involves interactions of all aspects of a linguistic representation will inform future research questions such as how interference among similar words affects verbal output or how language experience influences comprehension difficulty.

Blogger: Theresa Pham is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Efficacy of a Knowledge Translation Approach in Changing Allied Health Practitioner Use of Evidence-Based Practice with Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Before and After Longitudinal Study

Imms, C., Kerr, C., Bowe, S. J., Karlsson, P., Novak, I., Shields, N., Reddihough, D., & Best Service Best Time Author Group. (2020). Efficacy of a knowledge translation approach in changing allied health practitioner use of evidence-based practices with children with cerebral palsy: A before and after longitudinal study. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1-14.

Early intervention programs provide on-going evidence-based assessment and intervention to support children who born with developmental delays and disabilities, and their families. During the time of this research an early intervention assessment program was being implemented in Australia for children with cerebral palsy. The program involved on-going and comprehensive assessment and monitoring of musculoskeletal functioning, pain, sleep, and communication of children with cerebral palsy. The introduction of a new early intervention requires change in clinician and organizational behaviours which can be difficult to accomplish without the use of behaviour changing strategies. Knowledge translation (KT) approaches can be used to support the implementation of the early intervention and facilitate behaviour change. KT approaches incorporate activities that support the movement of research into practice.

The present study reported outcomes related to the KT strategies that were adopted to increase the use of evidence-based assessment behaviours by clinicians. Four KT strategies were implemented into 4 hospitals (commencing group) and outcomes were compared to a 5th hospital (comparison group) where the KT strategies and early intervention had already been implemented for 2 years. The strategies included: the introduction of knowledge brokers to identify barriers to implementation, targeted education to increase clinician knowledge, an online library to provide easy access to scholarly evidence, and an online database for clinicians to record assessment results. Researchers were interested in (1) whether these tailored KT strategies increased the number of children receiving routine assessments, (2) if clinicians’ knowledge of evidence-based interventions would increase, and (3) how the outcomes from the commencing group were related to the comparison group. Data were collected from knowledge quizzes and the online database of assessments. Results revealed that there was not a significant increase in the number of assessments completed over time for the commencing group. However, more assessments were completed as a result of the intervention, which narrowed the gap between the commencing group and the comparison group. Knowledge scores did not change over time for either group, however, the clinicians reported an increase in the frequency that they communicated evidence-based expectations.

These results underscore the challenge of changing clinical practice. Nevertheless, even without knowledge change, the use of KT strategies increased evidenced-based assessment behaviours among clinicians in a hospital setting. This research demonstrates the complexity of a KT intervention and suggests the need for a multicomponent KT intervention in supporting clinician and organizational behaviour change.

Blogger: Meghan Vollebregt is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program working under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Archibald.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Classwide Extensions of Vocabulary Intervention Improve Learning of Academic Vocabulary by Preschoolers

Seven, Y., Hull, K., Madsen, K., Ferron, J., Peters-Sanders, L., Soto, X., Kelley, E. A. & Goldstein, H. (2020). Classwide extensions of vocabulary intervention improve learning of academic vocabulary by preschoolers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 63(1), 173-189.

Recent research has demonstrated that explicit teaching about words is an important part of effective vocabulary intervention. One example of explicit vocabulary teaching comes from the Story Friends curriculum designed by Goldstein and colleagues (2016). In the Story Friends program, children listen to pre-recorded audio storybooks in which target vocabulary words are introduced. The introduction of a target word is immediately followed by explicit teaching of that word. Children are exposed to that word in different contexts and over one-week children hear the story book three times. The intervention is 11 weeks long, includes 8 story books and 4 target vocabulary words per book. This program has been shown to support vocabulary development in preschool children. The current research wanted to extend the use of this program and combine it with Classwide Vocabulary Review Strategies (CVRS). CVRS are strategies for teachers to use with their whole class to increase vocabulary learning in children who are receiving the small group, Story Friends intervention. CVRS strategies include repeating the word, restating the definition and engaging in activities that involve using the word.

The present study examined the influence and implementation of CVRS in a preschool classroom. Researchers were interested in (1) whether the CVRS benefitted vocabulary development above and beyond the traditional Story Friends program and (2) teachers’ opinion of implementing CVRS in their classrooms. Prior to the intervention, children completed measures of expressive and receptive language, and during the intervention children completed weekly probes which assessed if a child had understood and remembered the vocabulary words introduced in the stories. Results revealed that for children who participated in the Story Friends program with CVRS, their vocabulary gain was twice that of children who only received the Story Friends intervention. When examining a group of children who only received the CVRS from the classroom teachers, these children demonstrated significantly more vocabulary gains than children who did not receive the CVRS. Finally, teachers were motivated to implement the CRVS, felt that they could use the target vocabulary words in their classroom, and thought that the strategies could be implemented in a reasonable amount of time.

These results suggest that the classwide extension of the Story Friends program supports a child’s vocabulary development above and beyond the Story Friends program. These findings provide further evidence that children learn new vocabulary better when the words are explicitly taught, they hear the words multiple times in different contexts, and they can engage in activities using the words.

Blogger: Meghan Vollebregt is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program working under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Archibald.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Predicting Dyslexia in Children with Developmental Language Disorder

Alonzo, McIlraith, Catts, & Hogan (2019). Predicting dyslexia in children with developmental language disorder. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 63, 151-162.

This paper examines early predictors of reading ability in children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and children with typical language. Measures of phonological processing, including phonological awareness, are often used as predictors of later reading ability and dyslexia. However, children with DLD are known to have poor phonological processing in early school aged years, but not all children with DLD go on to have reading problems. Another early skill known to predict reading ability is letter identification. The aim of the present study was to examine how Grade 2 reading abilities in children with DLD and children with typical language are predicted by kindergarten phonological awareness and letter identification.

The study used a subset of data from 473 children, from a previous longitudinal study of 7218 children (cite). In kindergarten, the participants completed measures of expressive and receptive language, phonological awareness, and letter identification. In grade 2, children completed a measure of single word reading abilities. Participants were categorized into a DLD group and TD group based on their performance on the expressive and receptive language measures. Additionally, participants were categorized as having dyslexia if they scored below the 16th percentile on the reading task administered in grade 2. The authors used a number of regression analyses to examine how phonological awareness and letter identification predict dyslexia and reading ability in the DLD and typical language groups. In general, results for the DLD group showed that letter word identification was a strong predictor of grade 2 word reading and phonological awareness did not contribute to predicting unique variance. For the TD group, on the other hand, phonological awareness and letter identification predicted grade 2 reading, with the latter being a stronger predictor in poorer readers.

Overall, these findings suggest that letter identification is an early predictor in both children with DLD and children with typical language, however, the role of phonological awareness varies between the two groups. Although phonological awareness is a strong predictor of reading in children with typical language, it may not have the specificity or sensitivity to be used to predict reading and dyslexia in children with DLD, given their poor phonological processing abilities. Currently, most dyslexia screeners are focused on measures of phonological processing, which is likely to result in false positives in children with DLD. The authors suggest that screeners should include both phonological awareness and letter identification measures, as well as measures of early language skills such as sentence imitation, grammatical awareness, or comprehension for better early identification of DLD.

Blogger: Alex Cross is a M.Cl.Sc. and Ph.D. Candidate in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald and Dr. Marc Joanisse.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Digit Span in Dyslexia: Variations According to Language Comprehension and Mathematics Skills

Helland, T., & Asbjørnsen, A. (2004). Digit span in dyslexia: Variations according to language comprehension and mathematics skills. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 26(1), 31–42. https://doi.org/10.1076/jcen.

Working memory is the ability to hold and manipulate information in the current focus of attention. The ability to just hold information – to store it briefly in mind – has been referred to as short-term memory. We can assess the ability to briefly hold phonological (speech) sound information in mind by asking someone to immediately repeat a list of spoken digits in the correct order (digit span forward). We can assess the ability to both hold phonological information in mind and manipulate it by asking someone to immediately repeat a list of spoken digits in the reverse order from how they were presented (digit span backward task). In both the digit span forward and backward tasks, phonological short-term memory (i.e., the phonological loop) is assessed. In the digit span backward task, working memory is assessed by additionally requiring the manipulation of item order.

This study focused on digit span performance in children with dyslexia. It has been suggested that children with dyslexia have impairments in the phonological loop because they perform poorly on digit span tasks—they might struggle with holding the numbers in their mind in general, rehearsing the correct order, or have difficulty with increased cognitive load. This study also considers two other important factors: (1) other language and/or mathematical problems that could impact span performance, and (2) the use of compensatory strategies during digit span performance. The present study was therefore conducted to systematically investigate digit span performance across subgroups of children dyslexia (and other language/math problems) while controlling for strategy use.

Participants were 20 typically developing children and 37 children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia were further subgrouped into three groups: children with dyslexia only (n = 12), children with dyslexia and math impairments only (n = 9), and children with dyslexia and language impairments who may also be impaired in math skills (n = 16). All children completed a test of intelligence, and forward and backward digit span tasks without using strategies (e.g., no finger-counting or lip reading).

Results revealed that children with dyslexia only did well in the digit span forward task and poor in the digit span backward task. Children with dyslexia and math impairments did poor on both the digit span forward and digit span backward tasks. Notably, both groups were especially poor at the digit span backward task, and struggled to remember numbers in the latter part of the list, suggesting a difficulty with increased load. In contrast, children with dyslexia and language impairments were able to recall the earlier and latter parts of the list but recalled less digits overall. This suggested a joint language and storage problem.

Findings from this work demonstrates that differences in span performance in children with dyslexia may have clinical implications. It could help us speculate about effects on reading, writing, and math skills. For instance, for children with dyslexia and for those with additional math problems, difficulties with reading and writing may be especially apparent when the cognitive load is high. Children with dyslexia with impaired language skills, on the other hand, might have language comprehension and retention problems more generally.

Blogger: Theresa Pham is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Order Recall in Verbal Short-Term Memory: The Role of Semantic Networks

Poirier, M., Saint-Aubin, J., Mair, A., Tehan, G., & Tolan, A. (2015). Order recall in verbal short-term memory: The role of semantic networks. Memory and Cognition, 43(3), 489–499. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-014-0470-6

Let’s say you were asked to recall the word list, “cheese, steak, wine,”. Because you know all these words, your brain would likely process both the phonological (speech sound) form and the meaning of the word. But how would this unfold? Would you first activate the phonological representation of each and then you draw on semantic knowledge (meaning-based information)? Or would both types of information be activated at the same time?

Verbal short-term memory has often been viewed as operating in separate stores. That is, the phonological form is held in mind and rehearsed using what is called, ‘the phonological loop’. At the point of recall, if the phonological trace has been degraded, then semantic information stored in long-term memory is activated to help with reconstruction of the word, a process referred to as redintegration. According to this view, semantic knowledge held in long-term memory is activated and transferred to short-term memory at the point of recall, and only after phonological information is processed. Recently, this 2-step process has been called into question.

According to the language-based model, verbal short-term memory reflects the direct (and automatic) activation of your phonological, lexical, and semantic representations for each word. There is considerable overlap between verbal short-term memory and language processing from the moment of encounter, and not just at the point of recall. If an integrated network activates all linguistic knowledge related to a word on encounter, then semantic effects should be observed to influence one of the most well-described short-term memory findings: serial recall, the immediate recall of items lists in correct order.

Poirier et al. (2015) completed a series of studies manipulating the semantic relationship of words in the list to a particular target word. In Experiment 1, participants were presented with a 6-item word list wherein the first three items were or were not semantically related to the target word (item 5). Recall of the stimuli in Experiment 1 could have been influenced by a potential grouping strategy, that is, the participants could have grouped semantically related words in the condition where the words were related. Therefore, in Experiment 2, all items were from the same semantic category and were either studied in silence (2a) or under articulatory suppression (2b). Participants were asked to recall the word list in the order presented across all experiments.

Across the three studies, the target word migrated towards earlier positions at the point of recall when semantically related words were present, and this was not the result of a grouping strategy. The authors suggest that the migration occurred as a result of coding serial position (i.e., order information) as part of the semantic network that supports language representations. This provides a new perspective on the processes involved in verbal short-term memory: language processing in short-term memory is closely tied to semantic networks in long-term memory, and thereby, short-term and long-term memory may be more integrated than they are distinct. This may have important implications for word and language learning such as thinking about how phonological rehearsal and semantic processing should be integrated during the learning phase, rather than learned discretely, in order to optimize on retention.

Blogger: Theresa Pham is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Morphological Awareness and Word-Level Reading in Early and Middle Elementary School Years

Robertson, E.K. & Deacon, S.H. (2019). Morphological awareness and word-level reading in early and middle elementary school years. Applied Psycholinguistics, 40, 1051-1071.

Much of previous research on reading development has examined the contributions of phonological awareness, but the role of morphological awareness is not as well documented. Morphological awareness is defined as one’s ability to identify and manipulate units of meaning in language, called morphemes. The small body of previous literature examining morphological awareness and reading in elementary school years has yielded mixed findings, with some evidence that its role in reading increases over time, some evidence that its role is relatively stable, and some evidence that its role declines. The present study took a cross-sectional approach to examine how the relationship between morphological awareness, word reading, and pseudoword reading may change in early and middle elementary school years.

Participants in the present study were 375 children in Grades 1 to 4, grouped into two groups for analysis purposes: one group of students in Grades 1 and 2, and a second group of students in Grades 3 and 4. Participants all completed a real word reading task, a pseudoword reading task, and a morphological awareness task which assessed production of the past-tense inflectional morpheme -ed. In this task, participants listened to a sentence and then were asked to finish a second sentence, for example: “We play games. Yesterday, we did the same thing; we ____ (played) games.” To ensure the morphological awareness task was sufficiently difficult for the older participants, it also included pseudoword items, such as “Jill can blick. Yesterday, she did the same thing; she ____ (blicked).” Participants also completed measures of phonological awareness, phonological short-term memory, sentence-level oral language skills, and nonverbal cognition, to be used as control measures in the analyses.

The authors used hierarchical regression analyses to examine the unique contributions of morphological awareness to real word reading and to pseudoword reading. With respect to real word reading, morphological awareness accounted for 1.1% of additional unique variance beyond the control measures in the Grades 1 and 2 group, however, it did not significantly account for additional variance in the Grades 3 and 4 group. With respect to pseudoword reading, morphological awareness explained an additional 1% beyond what was accounted for by the control variables, and no interaction was found with grade group.

These findings suggest that the role of morphological awareness in real word reading declines from early elementary school years to middle elementary school years, whereas its role in pseudoword reading remains stable over these grades. The authors suggest that the reduced contributions of morphological awareness in middle elementary school years maybe be related to the increased role of sentence-level language skills when reading, as children shift from learning to read to reading to learn and are exposed to texts that are more rich in morphosyntactic complexity and vocabulary. These findings suggest that morphology may be an important component of early reading instruction in the classroom and reading intervention, although further research on instruction and intervention approaches is needed to better understand how this might benefit reading outcomes.

Blogger: Alex Cross is an M.Cl.Sc. and Ph.D. Candidate in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald and Dr. Marc Joanisse.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Executive Functioning and Narrative Language in Children with Dyslexia

Fisher, E. L., Barton-Hulsey, A., Walter, C., Sevcik, R. A., & Morris, R. (2019). Executive Functioning and Narrative Language in Children with Dyslexia. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 28, 1127-1138.

We can think about language skills in terms of its structure, the vocabulary and grammar used to make sentences and send messages. We can also think about language in terms of its function, that is, the meaning of words (semantics) or stories (narratives) in our messages. There are many cognitive processes that support language structure and function. Phonological processing refers to the ability to use speech sounds to support oral and written language, and it supports structural aspects of language. Children with a specific reading disability known as dyslexia have been found to have poor phonological processing, and in particular, poor phonological awareness, or the awareness of understanding the sound structure of one’s language, and phonological recoding, or the ability to map sounds onto the letters of a language. Executive function is a term used to describe the set of skills that allow individuals to establish goal-oriented behaviours such as initiating, planning, and organizing.  Executive functioning consists of three skills: shifting, inhibition and working memory updating, and they support functional aspects of language ability. Some children with dyslexia have been found to have impairments in executive function as well.

The present study examined the influence of executive function on language abilities at the structural and functional level in a sample of children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia completed measures of language structure and function, and measures of executive function. Results revealed a correlation between measures of inhibition and structural language abilities, and between measures of working memory and both structural and functional language. When examining groups based on both language and executive function, children with both low language and low executive function were found to have more difficulty with narrative language than the other groups. Additional analyses suggested that the working memory measure accounted for variance in the narrative language measures beyond what was accounted for by structural language.

These results suggest executive function skills support a child’s language ability. Specifically, working memory contributes to a child’s narrative retell abilities. This research adds to the evidence that there are a number of factors that support language ability and conducting assessments that look at multiple components of language and executive function will help a child’s language profile.

Blogger: Meghan Vollebregt is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program working under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Archibald.