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The Context of Discourse Difficulty in Classroom and Clinic: An Update

Nelson, Nickola Wolf PhD, CCC-SLP

Part 1: A Look Across 25 Years: Article

In two original articles from the inaugural issue of Topics in Language Disorders, Berlin, Blank, and Rose proposed a model of dialogue complexity on the basis of a continuum of abstractness defined as perceptual-language distance; Carlson, Gruenewald, and Nyberg proposed a triadic model of academic concepts, student language, and teacher language to explain classroom breakdowns, particularly in math story problems. The update credits the original contributions as stepping-stones toward a contextualized view of language learning disability and curriculum-based language assessment and intervention. Implications are considered for a complex model of integrated spoken and written language processing and for current discussions of inclusive classrooms, differentiated instruction, and scaffolding discourse. Questions remain about best service delivery contexts for improved instructional and intervention discourse. The writing lab approach is offered as one example of a context for integrating differentiated instruction that can be adjusted to appropriate difficulty levels for all.

Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo.

Corresponding author: Nickola Wolf Nelson, PhD, CCC-SLP, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, 1903 W Michigan, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008 (e-mail:

Portions of the work described in this article were supported by research grants from US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, grants H180G20005 and H324R980120, and by training grants HO29B10245, HO29B40183, and H325H010023 in collaboration with Adelia Van Meter and many other colleagues, classroom teachers, and graduate students. No official endorsement by the federal government should be inferred.

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins