Doing a speech-language assessment is a time-intensive process and I know that adding dynamic assessment to your assessment line-up can seem like you are adding lots of time to your evaluations, but that doesn’t have to be the case. While many of the studies on dynamic assessment use multiple 20-30-minute intervention sessions, that’s not necessary, nor is it realistic for those of us who have caseloads and lots of evaluations to complete. I’ve been testing kids from diverse backgrounds for 25 years, and over the course of my career, I’ve played with many different types of dynamic assessment. What I’ve found is that I can get a lot of great information in a relatively short period of time. Not only that, I’ve also found that I can make more confident diagnostic decisions and plan intervention goals from my dynamic assessments. In this post I’ll share a number of dynamic assessment examples with you.
Dynamic Assessment is a test-teach-retest approach based on the work of Lev Vygotsky that is used to augment formal and informal measures to give examiners more information to help them decide whether a child needs special education services or not.
One of the great things about dynamic assessment is that it is a flexible assessment tool that you can use to get the information YOU need. You identify a student’s needs, teach to those needs, and look at learning potential. This helps to reduce the bias inherent in assessment tools and helps rule out difficulties that are due to lack of experience with the task or topic. Before we go any further, let’s take the mystery out of this process by sharing what it is and giving some concrete dynamic assessment examples.
So our dynamic assessment is a strategy to help us differentiate students who aren’t performing well because they just don’t quite know what the task is, or they haven’t had much experience with the task from those students who really have an intrinsic difficulty or disorder in the area of whatever we are testing. Dynamic assessment is going to help us tease apart these situations.
What is Meant by Dynamic Assessment?
Dynamic assessment is an interactive assessment approach that is used to reduce testing bias and gain information about a client’s learning potential. It is accomplished by using a test-teach-retest approach. We test as we normally would. Next we identify areas of need from the testing. We design and implement a teaching session, and then we retest to see if our student demonstrated improvement based on our teaching.
If what you are looking for is quick list of the steps of dynamic assessment for use with an interpreter, check out Dynamic Assessment with an Interpreter, where you will find a completed protocol of a dynamic assessment example. Also, if you’re looking for report blurbs and ways to write about dynamic assessment procedures, check out Faster Report Writing Tip #7: Dynamic Assessment. And here’s the popular Bilinguistics Dynamic Assessment Protocol Form to save you time in developing your Mediated Learning Experiences (that’s another term for the teaching portion of dynamic assessment).
The Five Most Important Types of Dynamic Assessment
We can tackle dynamic assessment in a lot of different ways. We can pull areas of need from our formal assessments or standardized tests. We can identify areas of need from performance on informal assessment measures. We can also do this by language areas like receptive language skills, expressive language skills, and speech skills (articulation and/or phonology). Take a look below at some dynamic assessment examples.
Dynamic Assessment based on Results of Formal Testing Measures
In this example, I tested a student using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – Fifth Edition (CELF-5). Here’s a brief background for this student:
- 10-year-old 4th grader who has received all English instruction since starting school.
- English is the primary language spoken at home but her parents also speak Arabic.
- Born in the United States and has spoken primarily English throughout her life.
- Understands Arabic
- Learning to read and write in Arabic–attends Arabic lessons four hours each Saturday
- Parents are not concerned about speech or language skills
- Teacher is concerned about student’s ability to follow instructions in class
Okay, so the only concern that has been expressed is related to Nina’s receptive language skills. On an informal measure of story comprehension questions, Nina correctly answered 18/18 questions correctly. Next, let’s look at her performance on formal measures.
We can see one area of need–Following Directions, which is consistent with her teacher’s concern. So that’s the area I am going to target. But before I can target it, I want to understand what is going on so I look at her responses on those test items. Unfortunately, I can’t share what the protocol form looks like but here is a description:
Nina got 17 items incorrect. Let’s take a look at the 6 on this page.
- For number 9, instead of pointing to the first circle, she pointed to the last circle.
- For number 10, instead of pointing to the first square and the last X, she pointed to the last square and the first X.
- For number 12, instead of pointing to the fourth black circle, she pointed to the first black circle.
- For number 14, instead of pointing to the third triangle, she pointed to the first one.
- For number 15, instead of pointing to the fourth black circle and the first white circle, she pointed to the first black circle and the last white circle.
- For number 16, instead of pointing last square, she pointed to the first square.
Do you see the pattern? Backwards? Or perhaps operating from right to left instead of left to right? Hmmm. She’s learning to read and write in Arabic and in Arabic, you read and write from right to left. This should be a pretty easy Mediated Learning Experience, or teaching session. Here’s what it looked like:
This was the very short teaching session. I also gave Nina a visual she could use to remember which side to start from (sign of letter L with her left hand). Next, I retested the 17 items she missed and she got 14 of them correct, which would yield a score very much within normal limits.
Now, if I had only used her formal test performance that matched her teacher’s concerns, I might have put her into a special education program she did not need to be in. Instead, I noted the inconsistency between informal and formal measures and probed a bit further on the needs I saw on her performance on the standardized test. Nina’s improvement from zero out of 17 to 14, out of 17, after a short teaching session indicates that she was able to understand, and these concepts with very limited support, right? So speech therapy is not warranted.
Dynamic Assessment Based on Results of Informal Testing Measures
Okay, now let’s take a look at needs identified using informal assessment measures. Here’s the background for this student, Bella.
- Bella is 6 years old and in a dual language Kindergarten program.
- Spanish and English are used for instruction on alternating days
- Both Spanish and English are used at home.
- Bella said she usually speaks Spanish at home and English at school.
- Her mother is bilingual and from the Dominican Republic.
- Her step-father uses African American English.
Bella was asked to tell a story using the wordless picture book, Frog, Where Are You? By Mercer Mayer. She first looked through all of the pictures and the examiner pointed to important events in the story as they looked through the book silently together. Next, Bella was asked to tell the story, using any language she wanted to. Here was the story she told without hearing a model.
The boy is seeing the frog. The frog is getting out. The boy wake up. It not near. Where is it? Frog, Hmmm. Frog (calling out). Art art. No playing. Dog. Frog. Pee-yew! Hmm? Frog. Hey. Arf arf. Uh. Frog, dog? Ahhh. Slow down! Ahhh. Thank you, dog. Shhhh. It get in the walk. Look. Awww. Bye.
So next, we need to identify the needs. She seems to start out with some of the fundamentals of telling a story by talking about the characters and the problem but that’s it. After that, it was tough to follow her story.
For her teaching session, we focused on teaching the story grammar components–the characters, the setting, the problem, attempts to solve the problem, the resolution, and the ending. For the specifics on teaching story grammar components, grab Scott Prath’s book Literacy-Based Speech and Language Therapy Activities, also available as an ebook. It shares some links to videos and includes scripts and visuals you can use in your dynamic assessment.
After Bella’s teaching session she had the chance to retell the same story. Here’s what it looked like:
The frog and the boy and the dog is seeing the frog. It was nighttime and the frog was going. “Hey, where’s the frog? We have to find him. Frog? No more playing. Frog?” There was a hole. And a bee, wait, what this thing again? The squirrel um, hurt him nose. The beehive dropped. The dog was in X. And the boy was looking all over the tree. Oh, arf arf. The frog, I mean, the owl is pushing him. And the dog is running away of the bees. “Ow! Frog?” But him x x that was not a tree branches, it was a reindeer. Hey, let me go. And him X and put him in the water. Hi. Shhh. It’s x log. Ahhh. There’s a mother and a daddy and them all have babies. Bye. See you tomorrow. The end.
Much better. We have characters, setting, a problem, attempts to solve the problem, a resolution, AND an ending! Great job, Bella. Now let’s see if you can do that with an unfamiliar book, Frog Goes to Dinner, also by Mercer Mayer. Here’s Bella’s story:
The boy is looking at the mirror. The gog was sad and the boy was leaving. Is him taking her frog? Is him taking his frog? Hmmm. I will have a X of wine. Honey! Okay. This picture is so nice. Let’s make a party. I’m hungry. Waiter, we will have a cup of wine and paghetti. Dududududu. The frog jump out and it was on the horn. Hey, what in here? This is not working good. Hmmmm. Hush. Ahhhh. Hey, what’re you doing? Hey, this is nice. Ow, who did this? You will have this for lunch. Is this? What is this? This is your salad. Ahhhh. Get off of my plate. X serve this. Don’t even get near me. I don’t like this restaurant. What’s that? Ahhhh, a frog. Get away here. Huhhhh! I’m leaving this restaurant. And him get the frog. Please, that’s my frog. Hmmm. You guh be grounded in six days. Go at you room. It’s party. Now we have a X. We guh ha a new one at the end.
It doesn’t flow quite as well as the one she practiced with the examiner, but it’s certainly more detailed and includes a lot more story grammar components than her original story. She included character information and emotions, the problem, dialogue, somewhat of a resolution, and an ending. The fact that she improved that much with very minimal teaching allows us to see that her learning potential is great.
Other Informal Measures we might assess dynamically include:
- Answering story comprehension questions
- Initiating interactions during play
- Relating a past event
- Describing a sequence of events
- Describing a procedure, such as making sandwich
Dynamic Assessment for Receptive Language Tasks
Let’s take a look now at a dynamic assessment example with a receptive language task. One of the receptive language measures I use frequently is story comprehension questions. I have a set of 18 questions (3 who questions, 3 what questions, 3 what happened questions, 3 where questions, 3 why questions, and 3 when questions) that go with the Frog, Where Are You book. I ask them initially without visual support. If a child misses a particular type of question, I’ll teach that concept. For example, if they miss all of the when questions, I’ll teach the types of answers that are appropriate for when questions using a visual cue of a watch. Next I’ll ask the when questions from the book again and add a few novel when questions. If they still struggle to answer them, I’ll add visual support by pulling the book out or using sets of response cards that have two pictures on them. This helps me to know what level of support is needed for the child to answer the question.
And it translates directly into goals!
Billy will answer “when” questions about a story that is read aloud to him using the pictures in the book and a visual prompt (picture of a watch) in four out of five opportunities in a small group setting.
Other receptive language skills we might tackle in a dynamic assessment include:
- Answer why, how, what, who, or where questions following a story/lesson,…
- Follow 2-step directions to complete a task
- Follow directions that include temporal concepts, such as first, next, last,…
- Follow directions that include spatial concepts, such as above, below, next to,…
Dynamic Assessment for Expressive Language Tasks
Okay, let’s talk about some expressive language dynamic assessment examples now. Here are some of the targets I use for expressive language dynamic assessment:
- Produce simple sentences
- Use pronouns
- Use the present progressive
- Use plural forms
- Use past tense verbs
- Describe the function of common objects
- Name objects in a category
- Use compound sentences
- Use complex sentences
- Use articles in sentences
You might look at this list and say, “Can’t some of these things result from language influence for children learning more than one language?”
Well, yes! And a great way to determine whether a pattern is produced as a result of influence rather than disorder is to directly teach it and see how the student responds. Those with typical language acquisition skills will learn new patterns. They might not immediately start to use those new patterns consistently in their connected speech with peers and teachers, but they will demonstrate the ability to learn new patterns in a short teaching session.
Here’s a dynamic assessment example for a 4th grader I tested in English and Spanish. Spanish was his home language and English was his school language. He had been exposed to English consistently for 7 years and he spoke both languages with relatively equal proficiency. I used the OWLS-2 and then analyzed his responses. Here are the items he missed.
When I look at this, I think that every one of these items COULD result from an influence from Spanish. Verb tense errors are common, irregular plurals don’t exist in Spanish, and figurative language does not translate well from one language to another. He also missed an item that included a math concept. Math was a primary area of concern for his teacher.
So let’s do a quick lesson on irregular past tense verbs and see if he improves and can generalize his knowledge to new items as well.
Here is what his post-test looked like.
And here’s a blurb from the report:
I’d say that’s some really good improvement after a short teaching session, wouldn’t you?
Dynamic Assessment for Speech Articulation Tasks
Okay, this piece is really pretty simple–it’s one of the easiest types of dynamic assessment. If we see a client make errors on a certain sound (say “l”) or sound pattern (like consonant clusters) or sound type (such as fricatives), you can provide a correct model and ask the client to repeat you. That’s easy, right? It tells you what the client can do with the support of a correct model. Next, you can add more support, like a visual prompt or tactile prompt. Do this for 10 words that the client produced in error and see how much improvement they make. If they produce everything correctly with an auditory model only, they likely don’t need therapy. If they need more support, they likely do need therapy. Here’s a link to the BAPA and iTAP Dynamic Assessment Form that I created to easily calculate this for the Bilingual Articulation and Phonology Assessment app and the Test of Articulation and Phonology (iTAP) app.
Use Dynamic Assessment to Improve the Accuracy of Your Diagnostic Decisions
We need to be mindful that everybody who comes and sits down at our testing desk comes to us with a broad range of experiences. And we need to consider how those different experiences can influence the performance on the test. So use your formal and informal measures in the best way you can and add some different types of dynamic assessment measures to further explore areas of difficulty for your students. This is especially important for the students you test who you feel like you’re on the fence about whether to diagnose a speech or language impairment or not. We’ve shared some dynamic assessment examples here to help you easily implement this process.
Want to dive into more dynamic assessment examples, here’s a great course with a lot of videos of a variety of types of dynamic assessment in action:
And here are a couple of quick videos to get you started.