Chapter 3 Application

I was extremely excited to be assigned the “Neuroplasticity” chapter, as I find brain science to be one of the most interesting topics to read about. But I was a bit stumped initially on how to address neuroplasticity in application form. So I decided to focus on some specific points Dana Suskind made within the chapter and derive some application possibilities from those.

It’s All in the Timing

In this section of chapter 3, Suskind reminds us that brain development, “occurs in a hierarchical fashion, with the ‘basic’ abilities providing the foundation on which the more complex ones are built.” I was thinking about how important this concept is when deciding IEP goals. We are constantly having to assess which skill to work on at what time with our students. Specifically, this reminded me about minimal pairs.  So many of our phonological students don’t actually hear the difference between a /g/ and a /d/ or the word “row” and the word “rope” or an /st/ and an /s/.  And yet oftentimes, I skip right over any discrimination training and go straight to working on producing the target sound. So my first takeaway “application” is just a reminder to not skip the minimal pair discrimination work. Maybe the rest of you are always on top of this, but I was glad to have the reminder to build a solid foundation before moving onto complex skills.

Why Can’t We Do It?

In this section, Suskind writes about what we already know as SLPs: that all children are born with systems in tact to learn phonemes from all languages, but if they are not exposed to certain phonemes in the first year of life, those neurological pathways are deemed “extraneous” by the brain and sounds  to which we were not exposed become much more difficult to hear or speak later in life.

The application here is fairly straightforward – don’t forget to consider phonological differences and limitations with our ESL students. I am including links to 2 resources. The first is a Super Duper handout differentiating sounds in English and Spanish

The second is a link to the ASHA resource containing phonemic inventories for over 15 languages.

Hopefully these can be of use if you are evaluating a child from one of these backgrounds. And hopefully everyone enjoyed chapter 3 as much as I did.

Chapter 3 Summary

Today, Erica Hayes shares:

This chapter was packed with interesting information about brain development in babies and how it impacts language development.  Here is my attempt to summarize all of the good info!

What helps a baby to achieve optimal brain development?  Nature or nurture?  Genetics or stimulation from the environment?  Well, we all know it is both.  While we are unable to change a child’s genetics, we can change the stimulation that a child receives and increase the outcomes for that child.  The author points to a couple of important factors in infancy that are important foundational pieces in increasing the child’s readiness to receive information.  First, it is important to reduce stress in the baby’s environment.  High levels of stress can increase “stress hormones” which can negatively change the make-up of the baby’s brain.  Secondly, it is important that the parent’s relationship with the child is loving and nurturing.  For those “thirty million words” to have the strongest impact on the child, the child needs to hear them in the context of a loving relationship.

A baby’s brain develops at an incredible rate.  Up to the age of three, a baby’s brain is making 700-1000 neural connections each second!  An important part of development is the pruning of the unnecessary neural connections to help the brain work more efficiently.  The period in which this happens, is the time when a baby is primed to receive environmental stimulation and have optimal learning.  Dr. Suskind explains how this period of time is so critical in her work.  She tells the story of a Palestinian family that brings their twenty-year-old son in for a cochlear implant.  She had the difficult task of being sure that the family would have “realistic expectations” for the results of the procedure.  Since this young man was well past the period of greatest neuroplasticity, he could be expected to respond to sounds, but he would no longer be able to process spoken language in the same way a toddler receiving a cochlear implant would.  Therefore, it would be unlikely that he would learn to speak.  The pathways that allowed him to process spoken language would have been eliminated in that pruning process since he was not using his brain for that purpose.  Dr. Suskind explained that it would be like if she herself went to Palestine and expected to be able to understand and speak Arabic just because she could hear it.

Dr. Suskind repeatedly tells the importance of adequate language stimulation in the early years.  Even skills that are learned much later (such as reading) are tied to that early stimulation.  Children must have the building blocks that are acquired early in life to build on for more complex, later developing skills.   Imagine the challenge that a child who is deaf and uses ASL to communicate has learning to read, when he has not heard the language nor uses the language to communicate.

When it comes to language learning, baby’s brains are wired to hear the differences in various languages.  As the neuroplasticity of their brains decreases, it becomes more difficult to process the differences in the sounds of different languages.  Parents who uses “baby talk” with their babies, help their baby learn the language by slowing and exaggerating speech.  So it is good to encourage parents to talk to their baby’s in this way.  It is also important to encourage parents to limit time in front of the TV.  While children are exposed to language while watching TV, it is clear from research that it is language that is heard during social interactions that children learn from.  Is all hope last for those children past the optimal learning period?  Research shows that in some areas, such as the processing of visual and musical information, that their can be ways to go back and optimize learning once again.  This gives hope that we can find ways to get back in an increase language learning in those children that show deficits following a lack of adequate stimulation early in life.

Thanks, Erica!

She Persisted Literacy Unit

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Literacy unit for March is based around the book She Persisted. Here are the activities produced by the group during our September work day:

Recipe to apply to each part:

(There are 13 women highlighted in the book. This “recipe” can be applied to each)

  • Artic–listen for your sound, write down 2 words you hear
  • Vocabulary & language–bigger words (monstrosity) have them on index cards and use them as a talking point–building or have them listen for a word they don’t know.
  • Compare and contrast using different graphic organizers
  • Retelling-using a flow map but writing or drawing a picture
  • Every chapter has an important quotation–have them discuss, especially the figurative language.


Chapter 2 – Application

Lisa Ehrie shares some applications about chapter 2:

PARENTS NEED TO TALK MORE TO THEIR BABIES AND CHILDREN! This will foster higher IQ, higher achievement in school and improve their language processing speed. This is something we pretty much already agreed on.

We have probably said that exact statement before to many of our families during early intervention. But that is one of those statements that may seem easy to do (to us), but can be very vague and empty to parents who may not be in tune to or aware of what “Talk to your kids more” even means on the most basic level. It probably could even be very stressful for parents to feel that they need to “change” the way they talk or speak to their child. That is why my favorite line of the chapter was:

“We don’t have to get parents to talk differently to their children. We just have to help them (talk) more” ….and the rest will take care of itself.

We are often so involved with the therapy side of our world, we miss that we can also be great resources for home. Handouts are helpful and telling them strategies is definitely beneficial. But I had the realization in this chapter that the skills we are advocating are not as “second nature” as we feel – if they were, parents would already be doing them! Basketball coaches and Art instructors teach others too – and they do it by showing – that is what I may lack sometimes. Modeling specific scripts, comments or activities that parents can do. This chapter gave many key ones that we can try to zero in on when we teach and actually model to parents during early intervention.

The researchers confirmed the following as critical to language development:

1. Homes need lots of words used in them

2. Affirmative feedback (Good job, You’re so smart, That’s right  Versus  Stop talking, be quiet, or no response at all when the child speaks to them)

3. Joint attention where parent/child use meaningful words and gestures as they share an activity

4. Routines and Rituals – my turn/your turn, games, structured daily events

5. Business talk (get down, put your shoes on, eat your dinner) Versus Extra Talk (What a big tree, This ice-cream is yummy, Who’s mommy’s big boy?).  Extra talk is the chit-chat of life!

If we can incorporate and model some of these specific ideas to parents, it could really impact their “homes” and begin a change in their language environment that will last long after the toddler stage.

Thanks Lisa!

Chapter 2 summary

Brought to you by Karen Reynolds:

Chapter 2 starts with the discussion of Betty Hart and Todd Risley, who created a project to enhance the academic potential of children by intensively increasing their vocabulary.  Vocabulary increased because of intervention but by kindergarten, the positive effects disappeared.  Hart and Risley wanted to break the cycle of poverty through preschool education so in 1965 they created the Juniper Gardens Project, which was a program that included rigorous, vocabulary-enriched curriculum to increase school readiness and academic potential.  It failed but that did not stop them. They wanted to know why it failed.  Research and literature at that time was minimal.  They would change that.  Their insight into the role of early language exposure in relation to a child’s academic achievement changed the way many people thought. Most people were either team Chomsky or team Skinner regarding language acquisition.



The chapter goes on to discuss Hart and Risley’s study.  Forty-two families with varying socioeconomic status were selected for the study and the children were followed from nine months of age to three years.  Once each month participants were observed and audiotaped, notes were taken and data was analyzed.  Data was then analyzed for another three years.  They noticed similarities between families in all income levels and regularity regarding optimum conditions for language.  The main difference was the numbers of words spoken in the homes.  Two thousand words were spoken in homes with higher socioeconomic status while poorer children only heard about 600 words. Parent responses to their children were at 250 per hour for higher status families while lower status families responded to their children fewer than 50 times.  These verbal interaction amounts remained constant throughout the study and this answered their question.  They found that the essential factor that determined future learning of a child was the environment – how much and how parents talked to their children regardless of educational or economic status.



Another area Hart and Risley found in their study was evidence of the effect on IQ at three years of age.  More talking equaled increased vocabulary, which then equaled higher IQ test scores.  Variety of vocabulary heard and family conversation habits had an effect on language acquisition and IQ.  After further study, it found that the amount of talk children had been exposed to through age three also predicted language and test scores at ages nine and ten. It was shocking to find that socioeconomic status was NOT a determining factor.



One argument against their findings was that their sample was of only thirty one-hour recordings and that it would be hard to accurately know how many words children knew.  They often observed parents encouraging a child to speak rather than an assessment of acquired vocabulary.  The study did confirm the impact of early language on school readiness and long-term achievement.  Ultimately, some questioned if the small sample of children could really be predictive of a child’s future.  As truly disadvantaged children were also omitted from the study, the achievement gap may have been different.



It found that if parents were encouraged to talk more, the quality of their language would also increase and increase a child’s exposure to a variety of words.  A discussion of the “communication foundation” was presented regarding mother-child shared interactions and how these work together to create the optimal context for language learning.  There was a discussion regarding the role of praise and criticism as well as the “Belief Gap” as being a key factor in the lack of achievement in children of poverty. The effect of poor early language environments also affected the brain’s processing speed, which is critical to learning. Those exposed to more talk had larger vocabularies and faster language processing speeds.


The chapter ended with the following:  “It all came down to how well the brain has been nourished with words”.  Something we all try to do daily with our students.

Thanks, Karen!

Grocery Ad Scavenger Hunt

Happy Friday! Today I have a quick activity that requires only the worksheets in this post and a weekly ad from Kroger (Here is the link for the online ad, in case you don’t have a paper version. However, you may want to have the paper version because that will allow you to cover or black out the ‘adult’ beverages. You could also use any other grocery store– although I was looking at the Kroger ad when I developed the worksheet).

These worksheets will allow you to target categorization, answering WH and inferential questions, following 1-2 step directions, object use, adjectives, describing, and synonyms and antonyms.

Here is a quick worksheet that you could use for your artic kiddos. They will find as many items with their target sounds as possible.

If you use these and your kiddos like them– let me know. If they hate it or you have problems–let me know that too! If you see other areas that could be targeted, comment below!

Chapter 1 Application

My post serves as an application post covering the first chapter, Connections: Why a Pediatric Cochlear Implant Surgeon Became a Social Scientist.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure where this chapter was going for the first few paragraphs. Although I enjoyed the review of the history of cochlear implants and newborn hearing screenings, I was too quick to have thoughts of not being sure how I would tie this up into such a post. Mentioning this to my husband as I began reading over the weekend, he offered very helpful advice that significant others can have such a knack for: “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Ha!
I loved reading about Zach and Michelle as well as the reminder of the Hart and Risley research that I found fascinating in school. While reading on my Kindle, I highlighted a few parts of this portion of the chapter that made me reflect:
1. “What had gone wrong? I had provided the gift of hearing to two deaf children. Why hadn’t that been the complete answer to speaking and learning and integrating into the world?”
               -We all have days where we wonder the same about our own careers, don’t we? Similarly, we are providing the gift of speech therapy to all of the students we serve. Why was I able to release Student A, who met their goals, this school year but not Student B, who is making progress but isn’t quite there yet? Or really, especially in my current world with 7 MSD units between my two schools and the concept of role release in mind, why was I able to release Student A, who can now participate and progress just fine in their classroom, while Student C was released due to Specially Designed Instruction no longer resulting in measurable benefits?
2. “Taking the Hippocratic oath meant that my obligation didn’t end when I finished operating; it ended when my patient was well.”
               -With role release still on my mind, I think this is why the educational model of speech-language therapy can be such a challenging concept for some, including SLPs in the medical or clinical world, parents, and even some of us. We are in this field to be helpers and can easily and understandably overlook the fact that for some of our students, other staff can be equally as or maybe more effective in their efforts to help following a little bit of teaching from us.
3. “Were we saying that there was no solution? Do we say that’s that and go on to another, more promising patient?”
               -This is the part of Chapter 1 that really got me thinking about “application”. So, what do we do? We know that birth-three is a critical period for neuroplasticity and language development. We know that socioeconomic considerations impact educational attainment in addition to other aspects of lives. We know that the quality of language, and not just the quantity, matters during those crucial years.
               What do we do?
What do you do?
What do I do?
I think we advocate. We advocate for students to caregivers during opportunities like ARC meetings, where we can use that time not just to routinely review progress, but educate parents (to be clear—regardless of assumed socioeconomic status) in hopes that the information we share will be used at home with our students. We also advocate for students to school staff during opportunities like push-in therapy, faculty meetings, PLC meetings, or when we pick up or drop off our students in their classrooms. The more practice in a variety of settings, the better.
Actual dialogue with caregivers is great but I’ve been in a number of ARC meetings where the ARC Chair has made it clear that I’ve been talking too much. We also know that teachers don’t have time for long winded teaching sessions each time we arrive to their classroom. Quick communication, like handouts or e-mails with useful links, can be a good alternative when time is short.
I’ve been printing relevant handouts from Super Duper for parents and teachers since I was in grad school. Here is one I found that is relevant to the material in this chapter:
E-mail can be a good way to follow-up after a quick conversation with a teacher about a student. Here is a website on echolalia that I still have open in my browser from when I e-mailed a teacher on Friday:
Sometimes I’ll make visuals to support language during routine or new activities in the classroom after consultation with the teachers to make sure that what I’m providing will actually be useful.
This was a good first chapter, as it really got me thinking by the end. The author stepped outside of the surgery room comfort zone to attend classes to ultimately benefit patients. While I have done a few things I mentioned above to benefit my students, I definitely don’t do all of those things all of the time for every single student on my caseload. Reading this chapter and writing this posts makes me want to challenge myself to do even more.
-Candra Grether
SLP @ The Phoenix School of Discovery and JTown High School
 Thanks, Candra!!