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Assessments and Data Culture Language

Comprehension Knowledge

April 13, 2017

As a School Psychologist I spend a lot of my time administering standardized tests, writing up the results in a report, and explaining the results to others.  Often times there are just so many different processing areas to review that I have to briefly summarize them rather than going into more depth on each one.  My hope is to share a different processing area with you each month in an effort to increase your background knowledge and make psychoeducational evaluations more meaningful to you and your students.

Comprehension Knowledge

One of my favorite processing areas can be referred to as Comprehension Knowledge or Crystalized Intelligence.  This is basically the knowledge you get from your culture, life experiences, and what you have been exposed to in your life.  If you have been to museums, had your parents read a book to you, been exposed to vocabulary through conversations, or sat in a classroom, all of these experiences would be linked with your comprehension knowledge.

This knowledge differs from culture to culture because it is based on the information and skills that a particular culture values.  Thus, this knowledge is how well an individual has learned this content and mastered important skills.  Back to why it is one of my favorite processing areas is because you can actually increase this area!  This area grows over time as you are exposed to new life experiences and lessons in school.  As you will find out later, many cognitive processing areas cannot be taught or manipulated. They have to be accommodated for or a student has to learn a coping strategy.

 “This area grows over time as you are exposed to new life experiences and lessons in school.”

It’s important to think about your students and how much exposure or enriching experiences they may have had, especially for children with lower social-economic statuses.  If a student is worried about where their next meal may come from or they are being raised by a single parent working three jobs, they may not have the energy, time, or means to be exposed to culturally diverse learning environments.

Crystalized Intelligence

If a student has weak crystalized intelligence, it may negatively impact their ability to understand math word problems due to poor vocabulary.  They may also struggle to learn math processes due to difficulty listening and following sequential instructions.  In writing, their lack of vocabulary, background knowledge, and poor language development will hinder their ability to adequately express themselves.

A weakness in comprehension knowledge can harm a student’s ability to understand what they read independently.  Their lack of life experiences, poor background knowledge, and limited vocabulary make it difficult for them to gain meaning from written text.  This can even impact understanding directions.

How can you support students with weak comprehension knowledge?

These students will benefit from instruction semantics and vocabulary.  Using pictures and visuals paired with vocabulary words to make it more meaningful.  These students need concrete examples to build their knowledge base.  Strategically placing these students in the classroom so their comprehension can be closely monitored.  A peer tutor can also serve to support them.  If you are unsure if they understand the directions or task have them paraphrase the directions back to you to ensure understanding.  Help these students learn to advocate for themselves by asking for clarification if needed.  The student can have a glossary of pre-taught vocabulary and important terms to use as a reference.  A word bank can be used to help support written expression.  You can expand their vocabulary by restating their statement with a more sophisticated word or explanation; thus, you are modeling this skill for them.  Students can use a thesaurus to expand their spoken and written vocabulary.

These strategies are supported by research.  I want to hear from you as the experts in the classroom dealing with real life schedules, curriculum, standards, and students on what strategies you have found to be the most beneficial in working with the students who struggle in this area!

Featured Language Reading

Say What?

February 22, 2017

The Case for Oral Language Development

I had a friend outside of the education profession recently ask me how much time in schools is dedicated to students learning to say new words and what those words mean. I replied, “All day every day, every subject area.” This is not a completely true statement, but perhaps it should be. Being able to communicate through speaking and listening is the earliest link to literacy development that we have as humans. I find in classrooms that oral language is something that can be developed haphazardly or very intentionally. Oral language instruction should be on the intentional end of the spectrum in every classroom!

Why should you be intentional about fostering oral language in your students?

Many times oral language is something that is reinforced and expected only during the early years of education. Why? This is because our youngest learners cannot read yet (at least not very well) so they have to learn primarily through speaking and listening. Plus the little ones have the most to learn when it comes to acquiring a good command of any language. Nevertheless, the reality is that ALL students in every grade level Pre-K through college need to be engaged in using new words daily and in all subject areas. Tenspire’s recent math post called for adding literacy to the math block- and oral language instruction is a wonderful method for doing just that. My first graders may not have known how to read or spell commutative property- but they sure knew what it was and how to say it!

Getting Students to Own New Words

A good rule of thumb is that oral language vocabulary words are typically ones that students cannot decode on their own yet. Even when students can read the word, they will not “own” the new vocabulary until they can transfer it themselves into conversations and eventually into their writing. Comprehension of a new word begins when students understand what is being said to them, known as receptive language. The tough hurdle you have to cross is getting the students to correctly use the words you introduce, which is known as expressive language. The two most important factors in students actually being able to fully absorb new words that you introduce are: repetition and use in meaningful contexts.

Aim high when introducing new words to students.

Give them the actual terms for more advanced learning and scaffold up as needed to support their learning. They can handle it! Sometimes it is the teachers who limit students’ knowledge building by adopting the mindset that their students cannot “handle” complex words yet. Remember that even as adults we are lifelong learners of our first language. Take opportunities to model this to your students by looking up words in front of them, getting excited about new vocabulary, etc. I find that basal textbooks are getting better at giving teachers ideas for oral language vocabulary words to use with their students, but this is typically just a jumping off point. Take it to the next level with your students’ lexicon because the sky’s the limit. I mean the atmosphere is the limit.