It is with pleasure that I introduce the series of articles included in this volume dedicated to the topic of narrative. The past 25 years has witnessed the emergence of increased attention to the development of narrative abilities in children, due in part to the critical role narratives play in academic and social success. The cognitive/linguistic demands that discourse-level tasks place upon children make this higher level of language functioning particularly difficult for children with language-learning disabilities, and thus a critical area for speech–language pathologists (SLPs) to consider in both assessment and intervention. A growing body of work investigating narrative abilities in preschool and school-aged children has contributed to professionals' understanding of narrative in ways that are important both theoretically and clinically.
Judith Johnston first called attention to the relevance of narratives to SLPs working with school-aged children in an article published in Language, Speech, and Hearing and Services in Schools in 1982. In that seminal work, Johnston argued for four distinct knowledge bases that are necessary to support narrative abilities: knowledge of the content of narrative, knowledge of the appropriate framework in which to construct the narrative, linguistic abilities in order to create a cohesive text, and the ability to consider communicative adequacy in what is shared. Johnston's reflections upon her early ideas regarding the importance of narratives, and consideration of how her viewpoint has changed over the past several decades, serve as the first article in this volume. Johnston suggests an important addition to her original narrative framework, specifically a consideration of processing demands in narrative tasks. This is an important theme in recent narrative research, which is addressed in more detail in several other articles in this volume (Boudreau, this volume; Skarakis-Doyle & Dempsey, this volume).
A critical place to begin when addressing narrative skills is to obtain a valid picture of a child's ability to both understand and produce narratives. The field has witnessed the development of several standardized measures of narrative assessment over the past decade, which have been designed to capture children's knowledge and understanding at both a micro and macro level. Petersen, Gillam, and Gillam's article on narrative assessment includes a discussion of standardized and criterion-referenced measures for evaluating narrative skills and includes a review of the strengths and weaknesses of each. These authors subsequently present a recently developed criterion-referenced scoring procedure, the Index of Narrative Complexity (INC), and summarize findings from a study addressing reliability and validity of this measure. The INC was designed to monitor progress/change in narrative performance over time, and thus, may be of particular interest to clinicians as a tool for evaluating the effects of narrative intervention.
Narrative abilities first emerge in very young children, supported by mediated exchanges between parent and child. Analyses of parent–child interactions have provided evidence of children's developing competencies as narrators, as well as the behaviors and strategies of parents that support the development of discourse skills. This evidence is important for clinicians working with families and young children at risk for speech and language difficulties (Boudreau, this volume). These emerging competencies in preschoolers are predictive of a host of academic skills in school-aged children. However, clinicians face particular challenges in identifying valid and reliable indices of narrative abilities in preschool children. Skarakis-Doyle and Dempsey (this volume) consider some of the challenges surrounding narrative assessment of young children and discuss several new tools designed to provide a representative picture of preschoolers' story comprehension.
SLPs are increasingly called upon to ensure that the provision of intervention services is evidence-based (ASHA, 2005). This requires the identification of empirical studies evaluating clinical frameworks and strategies. A growing body of literature substantiates the efficacy of narrative intervention, including parent training, explicit teaching of narrative structure, and use of narratives as a context for addressing both linguistic and narrative skills, termed narrative-based language intervention (NBLI). The use of NBLI may be a particularly relevant intervention strategy for SLPs, given the support it provides to the development of both micro-level aspects of narrative (e.g., syntax, morphology) as well as macro-level skills (narrative structure, organization). Justice, Swanson, and Buehler (this volume) detail a recent study they completed using NBLI with children with cochlear implants. Their findings that NBLI can be used effectively to support the acquisition of narrative skills in this population of children provide further support for the efficacy of this intervention strategy.
Although the preponderance of studies to date has addressed fictional narratives, the development of personal narratives plays an important role in the acquisition of discourse skills as well. Personal narratives represent the earliest form of narrative development and are clearly represented in peer interactions of preschoolers and school-aged children. Bliss and McCabe summarize strategies for analyzing personal narratives of children and provide suggestions for selecting goals and intervention strategies to support the acquisition of personal narrative skills. These authors discuss the important role that culture plays in all areas of our lives and suggest that clinical efforts by SLPs must consider the cultural background, as well as experiences, of a child referred for evaluation or treatment. Narrative may be an area of development particularly influenced by culture, with evidence of varied narrative style aligned with children from diverse cultural backgrounds. Bliss and McCabe summarize research investigating cultural influences and diversity of narrative performance for children from varied cultural groups (Latino, Asian, African American) and provide a framework for judging narrative performance based on cultural expectations. In the final contribution to this volume, Heilmann and his colleagues summarize a recent research project evaluating the accuracy and reliability of language transcription and analysis across languages for bilingual (English and Spanish) speakers, providing support for the clinical feasibility of narrative transcription.
In returning to Johnston's introductory article, she notes that her hunch 25 years ago regarding the important role narratives would play to the field of language and learning intervention has been substantiated. Clearly, the perspectives of the authors who have contributed to this volume would agree with her original prediction. Narrative plays a critical role in the linguistic and social development of all children. Evidence of particular difficulties in the acquisition of discourse skills for children with language and learning problems, as well as evidence of effective intervention strategies to address these difficulties, makes narrative a critical area for SLPs to address in assessment and intervention. My hope is that the next 25 years will be as rich as the previous have been in contributing to our understanding of how narrative abilities develop, as well as ways in which we may support children in the acquisition of this critical skill.
Donna Boudreau, PhD, Issue Editor
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon