How to determine present language levels

How to Determine Present Language Levels

It is vital for teachers of the deaf and speech language pathologists to assess present language levels at the beginning of each school year. This provides an accurate starting point for what goals to work on and measures any regression/progression during summer break. The following instructions for determining present levels are taken from the CID TAGS- Teacher Assessment of Grammatical Structures manual. Please keep in mind that these instructions can be implemented regardless of what tracking system is used.

STEP 1: Take language samples.

You can take language samples over a period of a few seconds, a few minutes or an extended period of 20 minutes or more. To collect enough information about the child’s syntax ability, a teacher usually needs four to six weeks of extensive daily language sampling in a variety of natural interactions and settings. To accurately determine present levels, collect between 20 and 30 samples. Each sample should contain multiple utterances.

To create a language sample, write  a child’s utterances and indicate whether those utterances are in imitation of a model, a response to a prompt or spontaneously produced. Note when a child understands certain language even if he can’t produce it. You can easily note these distinctions by simply writing a C (comprehension), or an I (for an imitated production), a P (for a prompted production) or an S (for a spontaneous production) next to the idea or utterance. When a child produces a number or utterances in an attempt to convey a story or multiple ideas, separate them logically into shorter, simpler samples. A good rule of thumb is to write each utterance containing a single idea on its own line on the paper.

STEP 2: Analyze the syntax information within language samples.

First, look at the general length of the utterances.

  • Are the utterances mostly single words, two-word combinations or three-word combinations?
  • Are the utterances mostly simple sentences?
  • Are the utterances mostly simple sentences with later-developing structures, compound sentences or complex sentences?

Next, look at the actual elements of the utterances and match those elements to the ones listed on the tracking system. The utterances might contain any combination of nouns, noun modifiers, pronouns, prepositions, verbs, secondary verbs, adverbs, questions or conjunctions.

Example utterance: “Mommy eating apple.”

  • Three-word combination
  • Noun-verb-noun
  • Attempted present progressive

Example utterance: “My grandma has two dogs at home.”

  • Simple sentence containing six words
  • “my” – pronoun – first person singular possessive
  • “has” – verb – form of have
  • “two” – noun modifier – cardinal numbers
  • “at” – preposition – place

Example utterance: “I could have gone, but I didn’t.”

  • Complex sentences containing seven words
  • “I” – pronoun – first person singular subjective
  • “could have gone” – verb – modal with perfect
  • “but” – conjunction forming a complex sentence
  • “didn’t” – verb – negative past

Use this information to determine what form you should use with the child, then begin marking structures as mastered and/or emerging and set objectives. Now you can feel confident that you are working with the child at their level and targeting appropriate goals.

Abby Meister Abby Meister, MSDE, CED is the content coordinator of the Emerson Center for Professional Development at CID – Central Institute for the Deaf. She has been a teacher of the deaf for over 10 years, primarily working with children ages 2-5. She has presented at professional conferences with content focusing on early intervention and listening and spoken language strategies for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. She received her master’s degree in deaf education through the Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences (PACS) at Washington University.

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