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Section Editor(s): Westby, Carol PhD; Issue Co-Editor; Culatta, Barbara PhD; Issue Co-Editor

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0b013e318205c19c
Original Article

Bilinguage Multicultural Services, Albuquerque, NM

Professor, Communication Disorders, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

In the early grades, the educational focus is typically on narrative texts. Even the material presented in history and science lessons is often presented in a narrative mode. By middle school and high school levels, however, narrative material usually appears only in literature/ language arts courses. The information in all other classes is presented in a variety of expository formats. Because expository text plays such an important role in academic success, educators and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) will want to assess and develop students' expository text comprehension and production and will want to support teachers in their use of effective expository instructional strategies. Assisting students' with language-learning disabilities in comprehending and producing expository texts is compatible with major roles for school SLPs as identified in a recent ASHA professional issues statement (ASHA, 2010):

  • Ensuring educational relevance. Addressing comprehension and production of expository text is educationally relevant because it impacts the attainment of educational goals.
  • Providing unique contributions across the curriculum. By addressing the needs of students to comprehend and produce expository texts, SLPs are providing unique contributions to the curriculum by addressing the linguistic and metalinguistic foundations of curriculum learning.
  • Highlighting language/literacy. Current research supports the interrelationships across the language processes of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. SLPs contribute significantly to the literacy achievement of students with communication disorders, as well as other learners who are at risk for school.
  • Collaborating with other school professionals. SLPs collaborate with other school professionals to support the instructional program at a school.

To work effectively with expository texts, educators and SLPs need to understand the skills, knowledge, and processes the reader brings to the text and the structure and linguistic characteristics of the texts to be read (Snyder & Caccamise, 2010). The goals of this of issue of Topics in Language Disorders are to provide readers with (a) description of the linguistic characteristics and nature of the knowledge domains of expository texts, (b) strategies for facilitating the development of expository text comprehension that are appropriate for students across the curriculum and across grades, and (c) strategies for assessing the microstructures (vocabulary and syntax) and macrostructures (overall organization and themes) of expository texts students produce.

Westby, Culatta, Lawrence, and Hall-Kenyon present assessment frameworks for students' written summaries of expository texts. Summaries reflect students' comprehension of a text. When summarizing, students must be able to recognize the text macrostructure (organization and gist) and they must be able to employ the necessary microstructure elements (vocabulary and syntax) to appropriately and accurately convey the relationships among the ideas in the text and signal the relationship of these ideas to the text macrostructure. To assess and develop students' expository text comprehension and production, educators need to know how students develop the skills underlying expository texts. Evaluation of students' summaries of expository text can provide educators and speech-language pathologists with an understanding of the developmental levels of students' language skills and awareness of the specific skills and strategies to teach.

In their article, Scott and Balthazar address both the microstructures (the vocabulary and syntactic patterns) of expository texts and the linguistic processing difficulties exhibited by students with language learning disabilities. Using examples from student textbooks, they provide examples of three grammatical strategies that are used in expository text in late elementary and secondary schools – complex nominal groups, clausal subordination, and theme and information structuring patters. They describe the difficulties that students with language impairments experience with these types of complex syntax, propose techniques for assessing students' abilities to comprehend and construct complex syntactic patterns, and offer strategies for promoting complex patterns through instruction and intervention.

Culatta, Blank, and Black continue this issue of TLD by describing the characteristics of instructional conversation (IC)/discourse and demonstrate how it is used to promote students' conceptualization, comprehension, and academic-style language. Examples of types of questions asked and the feedback provided to students in ICs with informational texts are shown. The use of instructional conversations (Goldenberg, 1991) or instructional discourse in academic contexts provides a means to scaffold children in comprehending and producing expository texts. ICs take place in children's zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) where they construct, with the assistance of an SLP or teacher, understanding of the concepts and ideas in the text that they would otherwise not understand on their own.

Culatta, Hall-Kenyon, and Black describe strategies for introducing and teaching expository text structures in the preschool years. Typically, little attention has been given to expository texts until mid-elementary school. Educators and researchers, however, are advocating that children have early exposure and instruction with expository texts (Hall & Sabey, 2007). Culatta, Hall-Kenyon, and Black note that only 4% of texts read aloud in preschool are expository, yet preschool children are interested in informational text. The authors recommend introducing expository text instruction in preschool by focusing on understanding of concepts such as same and different and problem and solution to help create an organization of content that supports expository text comprehension. They describe ways of providing visual and verbal scaffolds to enable the children to organize and discuss ideas from a 16-week unit entitled, People and Animals Living Together, in terms of same/different and problem/solution.

Hall-Kenyon and Black describe strategies for explicitly teaching expository text comprehension in elementary school in their article. They address three areas for instruction: (1) developing awareness of text structure and using graphic organizers that highlight the text structure to predict text content; (2) selecting the domain-specific content words to teach, as well as the structural cue words (e.g., but, alike, different, finally); and (3) drawing attention to external text structures (the ways the text is formatted, e.g., headings, subheadings, boldings, sidebars) that signal the important points of a text. These principles represent the content that students across all grade levels must know if they are to be successful with expository texts.

In middle and high school, students must become more responsible for their own learning. They must master a variety of strategies to promote expository comprehension and production and know when and how to use the strategies. Synder and Caccamise (2010) maintained that students' abilities interact with awareness of their abilities and with characteristics of the text to impact their comprehension. In her article, Horn, using the Synder and Caccamise (2010) framework, employs a case study of a student with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) to frame her discussion of strategies for promoting text comprehension in adolescents. Horn explains the types of cognitive/metacognitive strategy instruction that benefits adolescents' comprehension of expository texts and demonstrates how this is done using examples from the high school biology text of the student with TBI.

Speech-language pathologists working in schools must link their interventions to the curriculum. Expository text comprehension and production can serve as a focus for curriculum-based intervention. With their knowledge of the linguistic and metalinguistic foundations of the curriculum, SLPs can collaborate with other school personnel to promote the language and literacy development of students across the grades. If narratives are the dessert of the textual world and expository texts are the meat and potatoes, it is the intention of the authors of this issue of TLD to provide readers with the knowledge about expository that will enable them to provide students with nutritious meals that will promote their academic health.

Carol Westby, PhD

Issue Co-Editor, Bilinguage Multicultural Services, Albuquerque, NM

Barbara Culatta, PhD

Issue Co-Editor, Professor, Communication Disorders, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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