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This Week’s Episode: Informal Assessments for Narratives

So far in this month’s podcast series, we’ve reviewed a few of our favorite formal assessments and the importance of narratives in everyday life.

So, we’ve got a standard score potentially with a normative sample that is appropriate for our students and all the other factors we want to consider. This week we get to dive in and take a closer look at the different language structures with informal assessments.

Let’s get to it!

Informal Assessment Options for Narratives

The Index of Narrative Microstructure (INMIS, Justice et al 2006): This study investigated measures and developed a tool for analyzing narrative microstructure.
SLAM Cards: These language elicitation cards and questions are designed as a tool to be used in assessing language for mid-elementary and high school-aged students.
DYMOND (Peterson & Spencer, 2021): This is a dynamic assessment for narratives, grades one through six. It’s currently in a pilot version to get normed. This is really great for all age groups.
Dynamic Assessment: This is used when we are trying to determine a language difference or language disorder. By having a measure from the pretest and the post-test, you’re measuring the skill that they have to learn new information as well as learning what types of supports they benefit from.
Parent and Teacher Report

Links Mentioned 

Leaders Project Website
Matt and Molly
– Check out our other blog posts on Parent/Teacher Communication!

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Marisha: Hello there and welcome to the SLP Now podcast, where we share practical therapy, tips and ideas for busy speech-language pathologists. Grab your favorite beverage and sit back as we dive into this week's episode.

Marisha: Hello there, and welcome come to the SLP Now podcast. I am your host Marisha and this month we are diving into all things narratives. So if you head back to episode 90, you can hear a little bit about how Monica and I tackle narrative assessment and just our framework for it. And then the rest of the episodes throughout the month for 91, 92, 93, we'll dive into specific aspects of assessment and just things that we want to consider when we're getting ready to target narratives in therapy. And without further ado, let's dive right in.

Marisha: So now let's dive into some informal assessments. We've got a standard score potentially with a normative sample that is appropriate for our students and all the other factors we want to consider. And now we get to dive in and take a closer look at the different language structures. So one of the tools that we can use is the Index of Narrative Microstructure. So the INMIS, I-N-M-I-S, developed by Justice et al in 2006. And this is a tool that helps us break down language samples, and I'll include a link to one of the articles that breaks it down even more. And it just helps us look at, they look at all of the T-units and all of that. They have some really great resources on their site as well that helps break it down as well. But that's just one to look into. One that I have more experience with myself is the School-age Language Assessment Measures.

Marisha: They're also called SLAM cards and they were developed by Crowley in 2014. But I found this on her Leaders Project website. And again, we'll link to this in the show notes as well. It's right at the top of the site though. So it's easy to find. I really like these cards. They even have some Japanese ones, which is really cool and they have guidelines for analysis. They give you lots of resources and they've got them in different languages and all of that. They have a couple of series. So one of them is a set of cards about a bunny going to school. And then there's another one about a dog coming home, a dog that got lost. And it ranges because there's one about losing a cell phone and there's a variety of sets of cards that we can use for a variety of students.

Marisha: And they're very colorful and just really nicely done. When I started working in the schools, I just printed these out and had them laminated and I would just pull them whenever I needed a good language sample. And I could use that across my caseload. Yeah, they're just really easy to use. And like I said, the site has different resources to help us break that down. So that is one of my favorites when it comes to collecting language samples.

Marisha: Monica.

Monica: Yeah. And those are free, right?

Marisha: Yeah, they're totally free. The Leaders Project website, if you haven't heard of it, or if you haven't been on there, they have test reviews. They probably have a test review of inaudible I haven't looked at that in a while, but they have disability modules for preschool and school-aged children. It's a wealth of knowledge. They do a really great job and it's all free.

Monica: Yeah. And inaudible too. I was like, "I totally forgot to mention that." So the ones that I like, again, from Peterson and Spencer is called The DYMOND, which I was like, "I don't know if there's a longer name for these. I should look that up." This one came out in 2017. So this is kind of similar. This actually looks pretty similar to the cards that they have. So it's the same illustration, but it's a dynamic assessment for narratives. So it's for grades one through six. It's currently in a pilot to get inaudible. So if you want to be part of that, I can get on that and you can send in your data for that and be part of that. So that's kind of cool. So since it's a dynamic assessment, if you're not familiar with what that means is you give a pretest. So you have a retell and you do that and then there is a portion in between where you teach them about story grammar. It's all laid out on the test and then you give a post-test and you compare those scores.

Monica: And it's fantastic for all populations, especially for bilingual populations or those diverse populations where you need something that's a little more dynamic. So that's super awesome for that. And this one, you can do that just for the retell~ and language complexity compared to the cubed, which has the comprehension and personal generation inaudible. So if you're trying to decide between the cubed and the diamond, those are the differences besides the age groups.

Marisha: And can you tell us a little bit more about dynamic assessment and why we might want to use that or how that could be helpful?

Monica: For sure. So I think dynamic assessment, when we think about it the most it's when we are trying to determine a language difference or language disorder.

Monica: So by having a measure of how they're doing from the pre-test, and then after teaching and the post test, you're really measuring that skill that they have. So you're not necessarily measuring their understanding of all of the vocabulary in that, especially if they're a second language learner. You're measuring that skill that they have to learn new information when it's taught and then to be able to use that new information. So you're measuring that skill of learning, So it's like relating back to the classroom. If their teacher is going to give them instructions and then they have an assignment, you're kind of that transference measuring that skill. So it's really a fantastic thing to do for that.

Marisha: Yeah. So it's helping us get at that difference versus disorder. It also gives us information about what types of support do they benefit from what helps them, which can be really helpful when we get into treatment.

Marisha: And also, just thinking if we even need treatment, if just after a little bit of teaching they're good to go, then maybe they don't need it. So it's really helpful. And it would be a shame to put them in that least restrictive environment, like go through the whole IEP process to find out that they don't really have a disability.

Monica: That's such a great way for you to be able to tell their teacher, "I just added this, this and this port and then they did so much better." Where a teacher in a classroom of 30 might not have the time to sit there and go through different supports and see what that student needs. So you're absolutely right. You could be that bridge right there.

Marisha: Awesome. Anything else on the diamond?

Monica: Nothing else on the DYMOND, but that does kind of make me think about other ways that I do informal assessments.

Monica: So if some of these tests, the language is going to be a barrier for me to assess those skills. Like maybe the vocabulary isn't in that child's vocabulary skills, then I'll use something that I have. So I have like Matt and Molly stories that I always have around that have simple pictures and then I can put the sentences that I want to test with and bring it down to their level to really, really look at what level they need support with. And kind of like we talked about like what supports I can add, because it's informal testing. You can add as many visuals as you want. You can add as many verbal prompts as you want. A lot of times I'll put that in my report, like, the student benefited from this, this and this, and then you have your baseline for goals and you're making your goals while you're doing assessments and rolling it all into one.

Monica: So I think that also makes it a lot easier. For my district, we have to do benchmarks under our goals. So if I can test a student and the first benchmark has this many visuals and this many prompts, and then the next one maybe I add another part of a story and I take away the support, I can test it while I'm doing the assessment and it saves me a little bit of time later because it's all kind of a bundled together thing. That's usually how I do it.

Marisha: No, that makes a lot of sense. That's perfect. Then it looks like you got one other resource for us.

Monica: My favorite. Yes. So the other one, which might be one of the most important things, which I know it's hard to squeeze in there, but it's parent and teacher reports. So when you're asking the teacher, you're really looking at common core standards and how they're functioning in the classroom. So some things that I asked teachers are like, "Can they put together a couple of sentences when they have a picture prompt?" Kind of like thinking about how much they support they need there. And also thinking about initiation, do they need a graphic organizer to get started? Do they need directions repeated a lot? Do they need a full example? That gets into executive functioning which is a whole nother conversation, but it's a good measure because when you're working on narratives, you're working on a lot of that executive functioning and students have that structure of what the story is in their mind.

Monica: So you're able to get out where they're at. They may not even have a schema. Do they have a little bit of it? And that kind of helps you with the levels of support because especially if it's an initial and you will only have that kid in your room for testing the one time, it's important to talk to the teacher to see what their real functioning levels are at. The other one is parents. I feel like one of the most frequent questions I get is, "When they come back from recess or lunch at school, can they tell you what happened? Because when they get home from school, they can't tell me what's happened." And so that's a great indication because that's retell too. So sometimes what I'll do is I'll send home a little visual schedule thing, just like pictures that they can cut out.

Monica: And I have them put it on adhesive magnet things that they can put on the fridge. So then when they get home, they can take the pictures from what they didn't at school and then be able to retell their day. So if that helps, then that also gives me a clue of where that student is at and what level of support they need. So it only takes 5 or 10 minutes and I feel like when parents have that little bit of input, it just makes everything go a lot smoother too.

Marisha: It helps with that generalization, if they understand what they're working on, if they're buying in, then the student will make that much more progress just by the fact that they're getting a little bit of extra practice. And parents are so busy, everyone's busy, but maybe they only do it once a week, but if they know their strategies, if they're in the car on the way to soccer practice, then they'll find themselves just using those types of strategies and supporting narratives, which I think is super powerful.

Marisha: What about Matt and Molly? Should we talk about that?

Monica: Sure, sure. So Matt and Molly, if you are listening and you don't know what that is, it's not a curriculum, but it's like a material bundle and they are stick figures just to be really simple. And it comes in four parts stories, like really simple four part stories and you get a little booklet. And each four part story has a story already written. But I don't always use it, I'll modify it. And then it has a set of questions that you can ask with it, but it's just to have something quick and easy, and that's always really similar each time. So the students then know what to expect. So what I'll do too, is sometimes I'll put the four and I'll mix them up and see if they can unmix them. Are they able to do that?

Monica: That might be where I start. And then I might tell them a simple three part story. I might take one out to make it more simple and then see if they can retell that. And if they can't, then I might try it where they repeat after the first one. So I'll do a sentence for the first one and then they'll repeat it. And then I'll repeat for the second and the third one, and then see if that extra modeling helps. That way I am able to listen to their sentences after I model, because I can tell you a lot about where they are with grammar and syntax as well, because they're not going to repeat something that they don't have super solid.

Monica: So it's like you're getting all of these super natural things from their language while you're doing narratives. And it's so quick, it's so quick. You just put out three pictures and you do it and you've got an informal assessment that you can do in eight minutes. If you're worried that this sounds super overwhelming to do informal assessment on top of your formal assessment, it doesn't have to take a lot of time and you get so much information out of it I feel like.

Marisha: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And I love the ideas that you shared because sometimes we might try and administer the TNL. It's a high level language assessment and a lot of these require a lot of language. And I've had students maybe say one word. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have even administered the TNL in those cases, but you live and learn and we figure things out.

Marisha: But I especially love these because the pictures are super simple. Monica shared amazing ideas to adjust the task so that it works well. We can modify it. And just the nature of how it's set up. It has four simple pictures. We can decrease inaudible simplify the story if we need to. It has the sentence strips that can support some students if they are readers. I typically don't use these when I'm using it for assessment. I laminated my picture cards and then we can write on them and give visual supports and just try all sorts of different things and just really see what helps the student and what level of support helps us to get a narrative.

Marisha: And I left her idea for the sequencing activity too. That can be really helpful as well. So good step. So I think that's a wrap for our informal assessment, like blitz of different assessment tools that we can use. You can access the SLAM cards for free, and then the diamond is free as well. So there's something that you can use. If you don't have a printer, you can pull this up on your computer, or if you're lucky enough to have an iPad. So it's totally accessible. There's something in here that you can use. And even if you're not able to do any of that, you could just draw up some pictures and make a story about it. And this fancy set of Matt and Molly materials uses stick figures. So we can draw stick figures too. Just go for it. Yeah. We got this.

Marisha: Thanks for listening to the SLP Now podcast, this podcast is part of a course offered for continuing education through SpeechTherapyPD. So yes, you can earn ASHA CEUs for listening to this podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your SLP friends and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episodes sent directly to you. See you next time.


Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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