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SLP Graduate Student Examines Language Delay Diagnosis in Worcester Schools

April 14, 2017
By: Kim Caisse

Elizabeth Johnston, a student in WSU’s speech-language pathology graduate program, has been working on the project she presented at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity on Wednesday, April 12 since 2015. It started as a Community Health Improvement Plan research project under the guidance of Dean of the School of Education, Health, and Natural Sciences Linda Larrivee, Ph.D.

Johnston developed a professional development presentation for elementary school teachers on language difference and delay for her project.

The CHIPS phase of the project was completed in 2016. She has continued to work with Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Kristina Curro, Ph.D., on the research phase.

Johnston’s interest in language acquisition by English language learners stems from her work as an elementary school teacher in Rhode Island. It motivated her to study speech-language pathology.

She examined data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education supported her and found that “there is an extremely high number of English language learner students” in Worcester’s public schools and that they are “being disproportionately over-identified as having a language disorder because teachers are not taught in school about language difference and language delay.”

“Oftentimes, what we’re seeing is English language learners might have trouble with comprehension and production, but that is because they are learning a second language, not because they have a deficit where there is a brain difference.”

“Oftentimes, what we’re seeing is English language learners might have trouble with comprehension and production, but that is because they are learning a second language, not because they have a deficit where there is a brain difference,” Johnston explained. “A language difference is when a child has a variation of standard American English,” which is considered “newscaster language.”

That formed the basis of Johnston’s professional development presentation. It reviews the subject of language difference, language delay, and language disorder to show what each looks like and ways they are different. It also includes a case study as well as pre- and post-tests to help her measure results.

In addition to sharing her findings at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity, Johnston has applied to Worcester Public Schools for permission to offer the professional development at a school.

Johnston will complete the M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology in December 2018.

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