I have a Portuguese-English bilingual evaluation tomorrow. It’s due next week. My interpreter just called to cancel! What am I going to do?
This really happened to me last week. Here’s how I dealt with it. First, I took a deep breath. Then I looked up information about the Portuguese language (tune in on November 14th for this information). I decided to keep my scheduled appointment with the student and gather as much information about his English skills as I could.
I administered an English test to my student, Pablo, 6 years; 6 months. I used it to gather qualitative information but I did not report his scores. They wouldn’t be meaningful because Pablo is a native speaker of Portuguese and is not represented in the normative sample of the English test I used.
Next, I gathered a language sample in English using one of the Mercer Mayer frog books. Here it is:
Um, um, um, a frog looking. Dog is looking um rabbit. Um, Um, a frog is looking. Dog is looking a frog. Oh no! [whispering] A frog [snoring noise pointing to boy in the bed]. A frog is gone, a frog him escape out. Helllooooo! Him say. Where my frog? Where is frog? In a jacket? And jump, no no, in a house and the boy so mad at dog. And dog say to bees. And him is doing up looking at a frog. Him is jump an owl. Him is screaming. Him is go punch the the the boy. Him is downed. Him is in the water. Him is jumping on the on the on the big, giant, um, tree. Him is jumping, looking a frog in the tree. And him is say, come here. The end.
I expected more complexity from a 6-and-a-half-year-old, so I modeled the story and then asked my student to retell it. He did:
The boy is looking a frog and um a frog escape. Him say, frog, where are you. Him is look in the jacket. Him is broke, uh, um, him is broke um, uh, um, a bucket. Him is say (slurp) I sorry. Him is say, “Frog, where are you? Him is, him is, him is have a bee. Him is look on the floor. The glass. Him is say, “Frog, where are you.?” Him is on jump on the floor. Him is say, “Frog, where are you?” Him is punch a animals. Him is jump in the floor. Him is say, him go in the water. Him is say, shhhh. Him is say, “Wow, have one of the frog.” Him say, Thank you.”
Next, I asked Pablo a bunch of questions about the story. He got all of the “Where” questions correct but he missed all of the “When” questions. That prompted me to do a dynamic assessment using visuals (arrows for where and a clock face for when) to teach what type of information we should give when a “When” question is asked and what type of information we should give when a “Where” questions is asked. We answered questions together and my student did well. Then I asked him to answer some “When” and “Where” questions independently. He got zero out of six correct. This tells me that he needs more instruction and more support to learn this information.
I analyzed his stories and made notes of the types of errors he made. I used the framework from the Difference or Disorder book. Errors that I could explain by an influence from Portuguese were marked in green. These were not considered to be a problem. Errors that I could not explain by typical development or language influence I marked in red. These are the errors that are indicative of language impairment. I also noticed that he used utterance of 3-to-6 words and almost all of his utterances were simple sentences. Not only that but many of his sentences had grammatical errors that I would not expect based on Portuguese influence. Here is what the language samples looked like after I analyzed them using RED to mark errors indicative of language impairment and GREEN to mark errors that could be explained by typical development or native language influence. Messy!
Wow, there is a lot of RED in there. I noticed he used object pronouns for subject pronouns throughout his language sample. I did another short teaching session on subject and object pronouns. I taught, then we worked together, and then I asked him to do the task independently. He got zero out of 5 correct. When he retold the story he continued to make this error. This type of Dynamic Assessment shows me that, in this case, it is not due to lack of exposure. It also tells me that this student needs more intensive intervention to gain the skills I am testing.
So when I finished with the English portion of my evaluation, here is what I knew about Pablo:
- He did not produce a language sample with the complexity of children his age in English.
- He did not demonstrate improvement on receptive or expressive language tasks following short teaching sessions with visual supports (Dynamic Assessment).
- He made a lot of errors in syntax and morphology.
- He made a lot of vocabulary errors.
- He made a lot of errors on his language samples that COULD NOT BE EXPLAINED by normal developmental errors or native language influence.
- His rate of RED errors (those that indicate language impairment) were just as high after he had a model of the story and teaching related to his errors.
Now, I’ve rescheduled my session with my interpreter but that visit will happen TWO DAYS before this students report is due. In the meantime, I decided I would pull Pablo’s family into the process. I had detailed discussions with his mother about what her concerns were. I asked her for specific examples. I went through the items Pablo missed on the test and asked her to test these concepts in Portuguese. I sent a Frog book home with Pablo and asked his mother to record a language sample in his native language. She did. Here it is with articulation errors marked in yellow and language errors marked in blue.
Now here is what I knew about Pablo after this portion of the bilingual speech language evaluation:
- His parents were first concerned with his language skills when he was 2 years old.
- He received speech therapy in Brazil prior to moving to the U.S.
- The errors he made on the English test are very similar to the types of errors he makes in Portuguese (verb omission, pronoun errors, article errors, article omission).
- His length of utterances and level of complexity in his Portuguese language sample was just like it was in his English sample.
- He made the same types of errors in his Portuguese language sample that he did in his English sample.
- His teachers are concerned about his ability to express himself in class.
- His parents are concerned about his ability to share the experiences of his days with them.
I haven’t even brought the interpreter in yet and I am feeling pretty confident about my diagnostic decision. Now, you might be thinking, “You cannot always pull parents in to serve the role of interpreter.” It’s true. I got lucky that I had a parent to work with who was bilingual and had a high level of understanding of languages and errors. But the point I want to make is that when we are in these tough situations and our interpreter does not show up, we can still collect a lot of information on the front end that will contribute to our diagnostic decisions.
Here’s to your Difference or Disorder decisions!