We recently had a question from one of our SLP-Impact members about the Recalling Sentences Subtest on the CELF-5 that I wanted to share.  Our member wrote,

I have always hated the recalling sentences sub-test of the CELF-5. I have always believed that is much more of a memory test than anything else. What are your thoughts on this sub-test? I have a student who bombed this part and achieved a 1st percentile on it affecting her overall language score and expressive score. How would I do dynamic assessment on this sub-test and would you use the same items from the test, or other items? If you would use other items, how would you make your selection?

A memory component in Recalling Sentences

You are certainly right that there is a memory component in the Recalling Sentences task, and if a student struggles with short-term memory, they will perform poorly. There are also many other reasons a student might perform poorly, and their responses will help you identify those reasons.

If a student does a great job of repeating the shorter sentences at the beginning of the test, and then absolutely bombs the longer sentences (e.g. can’t repeat any of what you said), then you might be looking at the impact of memory.

The answer is in the errors of the Recalling Sentences subtest

Sentence Repetition Orange Speech Bubbles

If a student repeats sentences back with altered verb forms, it might be that they do not have a strong underlying construct for the verb form that was used in the sentence. I see this a lot when on the CELF-4-Spanish recalling sentences subtest when we get to sentences that use the Pluperfect Subjunctive (e.g. would have studied). Students who do not have a strong underlying Pluperfect Subjunctive form (most students), use a simpler form. If we see a student struggling with subordinate clauses, that gives us great information. If we see them omit prepositional phrases, that also gives us great information. Rather than just paying attention to the scoring on these items, if we focus on the errors, we’ll have great information.

How do you do Dynamic Assessment when a student bombs the Recalling Sentences subtest?

Well, let’s start with our Intentionality piece: “The next task we are going to do is to repeat sentences. We’re doing this to see if you know the words and forms I am using in my sentences. I want you to listen carefully and repeat back all of the words I say as best you can. If you can’t repeat it back exactly as I say it, do the very best you can to tell me as much of the sentence as possible.” (You can download our Dynamic Assessment Protocol from the Bilinguistics Resource library).

In selecting the sentences I would start with short, simple sentences and then gradually make them more complex. This will give you a good sense of where the break down is. Is it related to length or complexity of the forms/vocabulary in the sentence. You could use some of the same sentences combined with some new ones that you make up. I would try to match them to the complexity of the sentences on the test but change out the nouns and verbs. If your student is struggling, try breaking the sentence into two parts and see if that helps. If they use synonyms for nouns in the sentence, it tells you that they know what you are talking about but that they use a different word.

Go beyond the score

You can really get some great information about language skills from the subtest. Maybe the score doesn’t tell you all you need to know but the changes the students makes can really enlighten you as to where their breakdown is.

For an article that goes into great depth about research on sentence repetition, check out:

Klem, M., Melby‐Lervåg, M., Hagtvet, B., Lyster, S. A. H., Gustafsson, J. E., & Hulme, C. (2015). Sentence repetition is a measure of children’s language skills rather than working memory limitations. Developmental Science, 18(1), 146-154.

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