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Review of  Speaking, Reading and Writing with Language Learning Disabilities

Reviewer: Nicla Rossini
Book Title: Speaking, Reading and Writing with Language Learning Disabilities
Book Author: Katherine G. Butler Elaine R Silliman
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 14.846

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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

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.

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.
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.