Dynamic Assessment of Narratives: Which Language Should I Choose?

Dynamic assessment (DA) is a powerful approach that we can employ as part of diagnostic decision making. There are a number of advantages to DA, especially for children whose experiences don’t meet mainstream expectations including dual language learners. A number of DA approaches have been validated and show good sensitivity and specificity. DA of narratives and word learning are two of examples of these approaches.

An important aspect of DA is examination of modifiability. We and other researchers have shown that modifiability is a very good predictor of developmental language disorder (DLD). We also have been looking at whether DA in English for dual language learners can differentiate DLD from typical development. Findings show that we can do a very good job, as long as we pay attention to modifiability.

In a newish study (2018), we looked at whether the language of intervention during the teaching portion of dynamic assessment makes a difference in how much pretest to posttest gain we see. We also looked at whether this affects observations of modifiability.

We had three groups of typical first and second grade kids. Those who received 2 short term interventions in English; a group who received their intervention in Spanish; and a no-treatment control group.

Both groups of children who received treatment showed gains on narrative story telling in both languages regardless of what language they had treatment in. They were, as a group, dominant in Spanish so their Spanish scores were higher pretest and posttest, the the amount they gained in both languages was similar. This is evidence that bilinguals can transfer what they learn about story structure between their two languages.

An interesting finding was that children’s modifiability scores were better when they received intervention in Spanish (their better language) than when they received intervention in English. We think that this is because they were more responsive in their better language, they had the language to talk about what they were doing, and they could better display metacognitive skills in their better language. This may have implications for how we interpret children’s modifiability when we do intervention in their weaker language. Previous studies show that we can get really good classification using MLE in the second language but I think we may need to be really alert to children’s responsivity and not let their lack of fluency in the weaker language distract us from observing potential.

The good news here is that macrostructure skills seem to transfer between children’s two languages in typically developing children. We think this holds promise for doing narrative intervention with dual langauge learners.


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  1. Designing Intervention for Between-Language Transfer | 2 Languages 2 Worlds
  2. Intervention in Spanish leads to gains in Spanish & English | 2 Languages 2 Worlds

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