Butler, Katherine G. and Elaine R. Silliman (2002) Speaking, Reading and Writing with Language Learning Disabilities: New Paradigms in Research and Practice, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Nicla Rossini, University of Pavia, Italy
The book is a collection of papers dealing with classroom teaching to children with language learning disabilities, and it is thus intended to serve as a support for (American) primary school teachers. As the editors claim in the book preface, ''despite the torrent of evidence that disabilities in reading , writing , and spelling are primarily language-based, the translation of this research into everyday functional practices in-and-out the classroom continues to move at a pace that, at best, can be described as tepid'' (p. ix).
The book is divided into three main parts, the first one (chapters 1-5) dealing with ''perspectives on language, literacy, and diversity''. The aim of the book is further stated in its first chapter (Silliman, Butler, and Wallach, The time has come to talk of many things), which addresses the problems of teaching ''all of American children to be literate in the technological world of the 21st century, because all children, including those with disabilities, must now participate in the high-stakes assessment that states and school districts use to authenticate educational achievement.''
Chapter 2 (by B. Keogh) provides an interesting review of the ongoing research on reading and reading problems, from both neuroscience and educational perspectives. Neuroscience research is based on assumptions about the relationship between behavior and neurological functions. In particular, the researches carried on by the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention and by the Colorado Learning Disabilities Research Center are presented and discussed. In particular, these research groups contributed to the study of learning disabilities, mapping the neural organization involved in reading task (Yale Group. Shaywitz et al., 1994) and documenting heritable influences as contributors to deficits in reading (Colorado Group. Pennington, 1995). Other research on kindergarten and grade 2 children (Wagner et al., 1993) determined that phonological awareness, phonological memory and naming have some independence in grade 2 children, while for younger subjects memory and phonological awareness are strongly associated. This result highlights the importance of studying the development of brain processes for the comprehension and correction of reading problems.
Chapter 3 (by Kamhi & Catts) addresses the Language Basis of Reading,dealing with the processes involved in word recognition and comprehension, which are the two basic components of reading according to what is defined the simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). The influence of some nonlanguage factors (i.e. naming speed and inferencing skills) in reading processes is also discussed. A classification of reading disabilities according to word recognition and listening comprehension skills is also provided. Possible strategies of intervention for children with language learning disabilities and hyperlexia (i.e.: increasing vocabulary, comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning) are discussed.
Chapter 4 (by Westby) applies concepts such as critical literacy and dynamic literacy to the study of possible intervention on children with dyslexia, language learning disabilities, and attention deficit- hyperactivity disorder. Chapter 5 (by Silliman, Wilkinson, and Turner) examines the role of language variation (i.e. African-American Vernacular English versus Standard American English) in the context of those African-American children with reading disabilities.
The second part of the book (chapters 6-12) addresses more closely the strategies for classroom teaching. Chapter 6 (by Blank) deals with literacy, language and school failure. The differences between spoken language and what is defined book language are analyzed. Patterns of classroom discourse are also discussed, basing on the statement that ''the spoken language of the classroom offers the sole opportunity for reviewing and evaluating the content of literacy and [...] revealing the properties of written language'' (p.157). All analyzed teacher- student exchanges do not seem to be structured in ways that will enable students to grasp the concepts that elude them. On the other hand, questions come at a rapid pace and seem to presume that the students already possess the needed information. In conclusion, classroom discourse serves as a test of the students' acquired knowledge, rather than being a vehicle for teaching concepts not yet mastered. Possible modifications of classroom discourse are thus suggested. These include a higher level of redundancy, extensive use of comments, varied, but simple questions, and the integration of nonverbal materials.
Chapter 7 (by Stone) addresses a particular pattern used in teacher's activity, that is, scaffolded instruction. The origin and evolution of the scaffolding metaphor to the analysis of instruction and its extension to classroom activity is discussed, with useful considerations on its effectiveness with students with Language Learning Disabilities.
Chapter 8 (by Graham & Harris) and Chapter 9 (by Stone) both deal with the difficulties encountered by children with Language Learning Disabilities learning to write. According to Graham & Harris, the problem should be resolved with early intervention. In particular, six principles for intervention are outlined. According to these principles teachers should: expect that each child will learn to read; provide exemplary writing instructions tailoring them to meet the individual needs of children; address academic and non academic roadblocks to writing and school success; employ technological tools to improve writing performance. As the authors state, these principles are to be considered a staring point, since they are ''necessary, but not sufficient, components of an overall response to writing disabilities'' (p. 214). Stone, on the other hand, focuses on the first two principles outlined in Graham & Harris' work.. The author also remarks the importance of a deeper level of individualization in interventions for writing disabilities. Writing problems are regarded as language problems, and the results of the large body of research on reading intervention are stated to be applicable for writing intervention, which is a less studied field.
Chapter 10 (by Donahue) and chapter 11 (by Prelock) focus on the role of interaction with peers in children with language and learning disabilities. Interaction with peers is regarded as an important key for the analysis of behavioral patterns and social responses in children with language disabilities. As Donahue states, ''to inform meaningful interventions, its now time to expand our research base for designing studies that ask the difficult questions'' (Donahue, p.253). The study of the strategies for social interaction in children with language disabilities may serve for the individuation of meaningful intervention. The importance of self-perception of social and academic status is remarked. The study of socially ''resilient'' children, that is, ''those with language and learning disabilities who have been successful in peer interaction'' (Donahue, p.254) is also considered a possible key for intervention. Prelock's contribution further focuses on possible strategies of intervention based social interaction for children with learning disabilities and specific language impairment. Instructional strategies for the enhancement of social communication (such as classroom literacy activities and classroom scripts in role play) are also suggested.
Chapter 12 (by Masterson, Apel, and Wood) deal with the employment of technology to facilitate literacy skills in children with language disabilities. The need to capitalize word prompt programs (that is, word prediction tools), and speech recognition software to help literacy improvement in children with disabilities is remarked. A review of the main dedicated programs for the enhancement of spelling skills is also provided.
The third part of the book focuses on legal and policy issues in special education and postsecondary education.
Chapter 13 (by Osborne)deals with legal, administrative, and policy issues in the U.S. special education system, while Chapter 14 (by Battle) focuses on legal issues in serving postsecondary students with disabilities within the legal framework provided by U.S. federal and state provisions.
In conclusion, the book seems to combine successfully the accuracy of scientific investigation with the aim to providing a useful handbook for teachers handling children with language and learning disabilities.
REFERENCES Gough, P., Tunmer, W. (1986) Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7,6-10.
Pennington, B. F. (1995) Genetics of Learning Disabilities. Journal of Child Neurology, 10:S,69-77.
Shaywitz, S. E., Fletcher, J. M., Shaywitz, B. A. (1994) Issues in the definition and classification of attention deficit disorders. Topics in Language Disorders, 14(4), 1-25.
Wagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., Laughon, P., Simmons, K., Rashotte, C. (1993) The development of young readers phonological processing abilities. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 83-103.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Nicla Rossini is a Ph. D: student in Linguistics at the University of Pavia (Italy), where she is also professor of Nonverbal Communication (SILSIS). Her interests deal with the study nonverbal communication, namely, with the research on gesture's cognitive origin, the origin of language, and the study of nonverbal behavior for the intervention on deaf students in primary and secondary education.