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Retelling Stories - Reasonable Expectations


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DS8 is a rising 3rd grader; 2E with ADHD, so his skills are all over the place.  I’d love some insight on whether this is age-appropriate or cause for concern. 

He can retell a fable or short fairy tale (Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs) with some cueing for setting, characters, plot, conclusion - but as a story gets more complex, he struggles. It’s very hard for him to get started & if asked questions he tends to default to “I don’t know.” He can generally answer question with answers to select from (“multiple choice” style). Open-ended questions are hot or miss. Once something triggers his memory the floodgates open & he can give quite a lot of information, but seems to have difficulty determining which details are significant. 

He struggles more when watching a video or listening to the story than if he reads it himself, but the issue is present regardless of medium.

When narrating from notes, which I’ve started having him take during readings to assist his recall, he does well & can fill in additional details. The process of taking these notes significantly slows our reading, so while I don’t mind using the technique on occasion, it isn’t always practical. 

Can a child this age typically watch a movie or hear a chapter & tell the major points of what happened? How do you strengthen this skill? 

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Yes, my son, also a rising third grader and ADHD, can retell a chapter or a movie....if he was paying attention. If the chapter or the movie doesn't capture his attention, then it is hit or miss.

I break it down and have him give me paragraph by paragraph narrations when he is struggling. Or page by page, which ever is appropriate. It also helps when I warn him ahead of the reading that we will be narrating at the end. It doesn't matter that he knows that we do it every time we read XYZ. If I warn him, he does much better than if I don't.

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30 minutes ago, sweet2ndchance said:

It also helps when I warn him ahead of the reading that we will be narrating at the end. It doesn't matter that he knows that we do it every time we read XYZ. If I warn him, he does much better than if I don't.

Yes, we do this as well! The head’s up is what initiated him taking notes. I don’t mind trimming our readings, but it does really impact our pacing.

Last year we only got through 1/3 of our history curriculum & frankly I’d be shocked if he remembered any of it. I suspect this is partially a fit issue & we may very well switch back to our previous (now discontinued) history curriculum to address that, but it’s concerning. 

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I recently (re)listened to SWB's talks on teaching writing.  She says that it's not uncommon for elementary kids up through third grade to struggle with the difference between details that fascinated them and details that are structurally important to the passage.  The selections she has third graders narrate in WWE are maybe 2 pages long, not whole chapters.  My rising 5th grader could have narrated whole chapters at that age, but my rising third grader currently can't.  No LDs with either kid.

I don't have experience with ADHD, but wonder if level 2 of Writing with Ease might help you?  That level of the program gently guides students to pick out the most important couple of details from a variety of texts, with comprehension questions to scaffold them.  You probably don't need level 1, which is strictly at the "tell me any single thing you like about the passage" level.

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So, personally, I would worry less about whether it's age-appropriate and more about how to improve it. 

Do you know why he struggles less if he reads it himself? Does he go over confusing passages a few times to help him out? Do you think he tunes out when you read to him? Does it help when it's something that interests him? 

Basically, I'd start doing some detective work here 🙂 . 

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8 hours ago, caffeineandbooks said:

I wonder if level 2 of Writing with Ease might help you?  That level of the program gently guides students to pick out the most important couple of details from a variety of texts, with comprehension questions to scaffold them. 

I’ve looked into WWE before & liked it. He can answer direct comprehension questions like that without issue, & after a series of them could complete the summary because his thoughts will have been organized through the process.

It’s only an issue when he tries to jump straight to a summary, which I’m thinking may be EF-related. We tried the placement test in April & he tested into WWE4, but I think we may drop back to Level 3 instead & build up. That level has passages from several beloved poems & books, which is an added bonus. 

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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

Do you know why he struggles less if he reads it himself?

It forces him to pay closer attention, & he can refer back to the text to refresh his memory - just like having notes. He doesn’t intentionally tune me out, but his attention does drift and yes, interest level has a huge impact. He struggles even when interested, though. 

I do care whether or not it’s age-appropriate. Not because I’m going to ignore it if it is, but because it helps inform my scheduling. If this needs remediation, we might dedicate more time to it than if he’s progressing typically. He requires a very structured day & can only tolerate so much focused work before he’s spent, so I am careful with how our time is allotted. 

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1 minute ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

It forces him to pay closer attention, & he can refer back to the text to refresh his memory - just like having notes. He doesn’t intentionally tune me out, but his attention does drift and yes, interest level has a huge impact. He struggles even when interested, though. 

I do care whether or not it’s age-appropriate. Not because I’m going to ignore it if it is, but because it helps inform my scheduling. If this needs remediation, we might dedicate more time to it than if he’s progressing typically. He requires a very structured day & can only tolerate so much focused work before he’s spent, so I am careful with how our time is allotted. 

I think it’s so hard to know what “typical” is, though, especially with kids who aren’t so close to average in the first place 🙂 . The question is whether it’s getting in his way and whether it looks like it’s improving, I think. I’d trust your sense about whether it needs remediating or not, I guess.

What’s your own feeling?

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13 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

What’s your own feeling?

I’m not sure. It seems odd compared to his other skills, but his other skills are advanced. It doesn’t seem emergent. For now I’m thinking “Keep an eye on it. Address it a bit more directly & see if there’s improvement.”

I do feel better having reviewed samples of grade-level materials & knowing he is capable of what they are asking.

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12 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

I’m not sure. It seems odd compared to his other skills, but his other skills are advanced. It doesn’t seem emergent. For now I’m thinking “Keep an eye on it. Address it a bit more directly & see if there’s improvement.”

I do feel better having reviewed samples of grade-level materials & knowing he is capable of what they are asking.

Hmmmm, yeah, that's what I'd do. 

I've definitely remediated skills that were technically "grade level," but were almost certainly going to get in the way with my kids. Like, I spent a WHILE remediating DD5's phonics, even though she could read via context-guessing very well. But it seemed like it was going to build bad habits to let her read without knowing the phonics, so we worked on it -- yes, she was 4, and her ability to do phonics was definitely advanced, but it wasn't advanced compared to either how much time we had spent on it nor compared to her other academic skills. And so far, I've been very pleased with the fact that I did it. 

I've found that for lots of skills, doing 10 minutes of practice EVERY DAY can actually get you surprisingly far. So that's probably what I'd do in your shoes -- do some very gentle remediation for a short time each day, but tailor the remediation to the problem so that there's actually a bit of progress made every day.

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Seconding @caffeineandbooks' recommendation for WWE.  

@Shoes+Ships+SealingWax, your son at his age sounds like where my current 10-year-old son was at that age, including the ADHD.  We went all the way through WWE, and he really improved on his narration ability, to the point where I would say that his narrations are now excellent.  I really attribute this To WWE, because that's what it does best.  

I would also encourage you to be patient and give him some more time, as well.  You're right - 2E kids are all over the place.  It's okay if this skill takes a little longer.

Good luck!

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On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

age-appropriate or cause for concern.

https://mindwingconcepts.com/pages/methodology

http://speech.blogs.sd73.bc.ca/files/2012/09/SLP006-Narratives-in-the-Classroom.pdf  This link puts ages to the developmental stages from Moreau (first link). You should be seeing an abbreviated episode (again, look at the stages) and something leading into a complete episode. If you are *not* at least seeing an abbreviated episode consistently, yes you should be concerned and no that would not be developmentally typical. 

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

with some cueing for setting, characters, plot, conclusion -

Notice the additional elements that differentiate the levels/stages of narrative. A Reactive Sequence has characters, setting, a problem, and a conclusion. An Abbreviated Episode, adds in the critical thinking triangle of emotion and plan. So there's a problem to which the character has an emotion and for which he develops/enacts a plan. And technically at that stage the narrative logically ends right there, without lots of attempts and follow up. The attempts and follow up are what mature it into a Complete Episode.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

He can generally answer question with answers to select from (“multiple choice” style).

Multiple choice will be the least helpful way to assess language skills, and ironically some commonly used tests, like the CELF, actually do this, providing models and multiple choice options, as if life is lived in multiple choice! So if you pursue SLP testing (which you could, there's testing for this), you would want to avoid at all costs tests which are likely to underidentify his challenges. For my ds this meant using longer tests that are, as you say, open ended, requiring actual answers. So the TNL is good, the SPELT, etc. TNL=Test of Narrative Language. There are other tests, but it's a standardized tool.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

It’s very hard for him to get started

This would be normal for EF issues, and you can use strategies to head this off. You first need to make a keyword outline, talk about the text structures, talk about his targets to include, list out important vocabulary he should include, etc. Those are normal EF supports.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

if asked questions he tends to default to “I don’t know.”

This is more concerning, because it can indicate language issues. Or EF, sure. But language.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

difficulty determining which details are significant. 

normal EF issues. You can look for workbooks on determining main idea, etc. I've done scads of them with my ds. Any publisher will have them. I like the Spotlight on Reading series, I forget the publisher. But it's a pretty common issue. Workbooks are good for skill gaps because they give you scads o practice over and over.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

He struggles more when watching a video or listening to the story than if he reads it himself, but the issue is present regardless of medium.

You're describing a language issue. They would call it auditory processing, which is difficulty processing auditory language, ie a language problem. So not to be simplistic, but you're seeing language issues. Not bleeps and blips but language issues. EF too, but probably also some subtle language issues that are getting masked by his IQ. They're going to look more odd, more subtle because he's trying so hard to compensate. However just the fact that your radar is going off is a sign that they're there in some fashion. And it is nothing about him being bright, because my dd was whippersnapper bright.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

When narrating from notes, which I’ve started having him take during readings to assist his recall, he does well & can fill in additional details.

So this is good. That's your EF support. If you look at the Mindwings stuff, they have graphic organizers for each genre and type of writing and whatnot both for narrative and expository. You want organizers, not just keywords.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

The process of taking these notes significantly slows our reading,

Well that and he shouldn't need them for Little Red Riding Hood.

On 8/2/2021 at 4:39 PM, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

Can a child this age typically watch a movie or hear a chapter & tell the major points of what happened? How do you strengthen this skill? 

He should be able to narrative, irrespective of the source, to the developmental levels that are age appropriate on that chart. So, given his IQ, I would expect him to be edging toward a complete episode narrative and to be able to do it in some fashion for any input (audiobook, movie, short story, something you read him, something he reads himself, whatever). If there's a gap between media, that's concerning. 

If it's ONLY the EF, as in ONLY the ADHD, then the narrating should improve with EF, attention, and working memory supports. So he might struggle with a longer model but do fine with a shorter model. That would feed the theory that it's an EF/ADHD issue. So for instance he might struggle with narrating a whole movie but do ok with a 3 minute Woody Woodpecker cartoon. Actually try it and see, kwim? See if shortening the model length improves it. 

He should *not* require you to preload every piece for him to narrate a simple story or a short model. That would *not* be age appropriate. I haven't heard the TNL administered, even though my ds has had it twice, but I'm pretty sure they read single page, rather straightforward stories and expect the dc to narrate in some fashion. 

I'm a huge fan of testing. It sounds like you'd find some things if you got thorough testing done.

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Just for your trivia, the Abbreviated Episode shows up in real life as self advocacy. For instance, my ds is now FINALLY able to say something thrilling like "I threw the clock on the floor because the ticking was making me feel angry." That's a problem, feeling, and plan. 

So narratives don't have to look *long* if that makes sense. Especially with boys, boys with language issues, boys who are bored and would rather not, I think they can look pretty terse. It's more important whether there *elements* are there. 

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2 hours ago, PeterPan said:

You should be seeing an abbreviated episode (again, look at the stages) and something leading into a complete episode. If you are *not* at least seeing an abbreviated episode consistently, yes you should be concerned and no that would not be developmentally typical. 

It’s hard to tell for sure, because the link images are small & too blurry to zoom, but I believe he is at the Abbreviated level independently for retelling complex stories & Complete for short stories / writing his own / retelling with scaffolding (prompting, a checklist, notes, etc).

2 hours ago, PeterPan said:

Well that and he shouldn't need them for Little Red Riding Hood.

He doesn’t need notes to retell something like LRRH, just a prod to get started. He can do a Complete Narrative for that. 

He can narrate back the plot of a short novel with cueing to get started or if he gets stuck:  “Who are the characters?” “What is the problem?” “Did that work?”. He is very factual; doesn’t get into the characters’ emotions or inner thoughts. If you ask he can describe feelings & explain the reasoning for them, but he doesn’t include that information on his own.

He struggles when there are parallel plot lines or changing perspectives. I had him narrate Mrs Frisby & the Rats of NIMH & he could give the whole plot for Mrs. Frisby, but completely left out what made the rats unique. If I ask he knows & can tell me their story, but like the emotions he doesn’t include it on his own. 

He does need notes for our history chapters. As written, the chapters are 6-8 printed pages long. They are very good, full of interesting information - but overwhelming for him. I’ve started trimming them in places & only reading 2-4pgs per day. I read the “Big Ideas” before we get started (as a clue to what is most important), then read the text & he takes notes. He can’t write them while I read, so we generally get through it a paragraph or two at a time. I tried to get him to take notes KWO style but he hated that. We settled on complete sentences, but a limited number (6 +/- 2 per chapter). 

 

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47 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

He is very factual; doesn’t get into the characters’ emotions or inner thoughts.

To what are you attributing this? 

https://www.kelly-mahler.com/resources/blog/3-tips-for-helping-our-clients-develop-theory-of-own-mind/ 

https://www.kelly-mahler.com/what-is-interoception/

50 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

He does need notes for our history chapters. As written, the chapters are 6-8 printed pages long. They are very good, full of interesting information - but overwhelming for him. I’ve started trimming them in places & only reading 2-4pgs per day. I read the “Big Ideas” before we get started (as a clue to what is most important), then read the text & he takes notes. He can’t write them while I read, so we generally get through it a paragraph or two at a time. I tried to get him to take notes KWO style but he hated that. We settled on complete sentences, but a limited number (6 +/- 2 per chapter). 

Fwiw, as a history hater I completely identify with this. The biggest problem of history is what most people enjoy about it, the fractal like nature of the social narrative. So yes, the key in that case is to boil it down to a major point with some essential details, so that in essence you give him a framework, a structure. Also, my own small opinion is that for some people it's better to toss traditional history (wars, men dominating the world, etc.) and to reframe the discussion entirely around some other, more engaging interest, a la WEM. So it could be music, weapons, whatever floats his boat.

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3 hours ago, PeterPan said:

This is more concerning, because it can indicate language issues. Or EF, sure.

“I don’t know,” is his knee-jerk response to any question that feels intimidating.

It seems he gets overwhelmed because all the details of longer stories get jumbled in his head when he tried to retell. He KNOWS what has happened. He could answer endless “short answer” style questions. But ask him to tell back the story & he struggles to sort through the plethora of thoughts to come up with something cohesive-sounding. It really bugs him if his narrations don’t sound polished, but he also hates to leave out details. So there’s lots of going back to add things in. 

He gets overwhelmed by broad questions “Who is Character XYZ?” or “What happened in this story?” It’s like a deer in headlights. Which things do I want to know? At which point in the story? How much detail should he give? You can see the questions buzzing in his head. 

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54 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

I believe he is at the Abbreviated level independently

 

54 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

He can narrate back the plot of a short novel with cueing to get started or if he gets stuck:  “Who are the characters?” “What is the problem?” “Did that work?”.

What you're describing matches what you're saying about his narrative stage, yes. 

I would think your question is what component is ADHD/EF (an easy assumption) and what component is something more. 

I have my own personal theory that it's *not* so much that there's some kind of mysterious "language" delay causing narrative language issues as that it's the *interoception* and self awareness issues showing up. Mahler/Vermuleun are working on this idea of theory of *own* mind developing before theory of *other's* minds. It explains why narrative language deficits occur across labels, being both common in spectrum, DLD, dyslexia, etc. AND in trauma/ACE populations. The trauma would cause the dissociation and interoceptive deficits that would affect narrative language development.

So what you find is something like what you're saying, that you can put "add emotions" on a checklist, but it's not native, not intuitive, not inherently part of where they're coming from and what details were catching their attention. So is the answer to push emotion more (as the SLPs suggest) OR is the answer to work on interoception/self awareness to get to the point where those details ARE noteworthy to them?

I've been working on interoception about 2 years with my ds now and have held off on any overt pushing of formulaic narrative, with the thought that I wanted inclusion of emotion to be natural, native, not scripted or robotic. Just in the past two weeks he has spontaneously used emotion words 3 times in describing events/scenarios. This is HUGE for him and I take it as a sign that he's coming along. 

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1 minute ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

“I don’t know,” is his knee-jerk response to any question that feels intimidating.

It seems he gets overwhelmed because all the details of longer stories get jumbled in his head when he tried to retell. He KNOWS what has happened. He could answer endless “short answer” style questions. But ask him to tell back the story & he struggles to sort through the plethora of thoughts to come up with something cohesive-sounding. It really bugs him if his narrations don’t sound polished, but he also hates to leave out details. So there’s lots of going back to add things in. 

He gets overwhelmed by broad questions “Who is Character XYZ?” or “What happened in this story?” It’s like a deer in headlights. Which things do I want to know? At which point in the story? How much detail should he give? You can see the questions buzzing in his head. 

Sometimes people who are doing that are masking that they can't do the simple task. So he *is* that gifted yes, but you might go with a "thinking in threes" kind of thing and whittle it down. 

Does he have anxiety? My dd used to do that kind of "I don't know what you're asking" thing (still does actually), and it was anxiety. Well that and really *subtle* language issues. 

You might look for some of the youtube videos from the Mindwings/Story Grammar Marker people. They give enough scoop away in their longer 1 hour webinars that you'd pretty much have your brain wrapped around it and not need to buy much. They have some really concrete ways to approach those vague/broad questions using graphic organizers. https://mindwingconcepts.com/blogs/news/39161089-character-and-setting-fun-activities  Here's an example to get you started.

It's not that any of it is so rocket science. It's more just that you can *organize their brains* using a graphic organizer so they know exactly what you're asking for. It can reduce anxiety. Maybe also work on the interoception to see if he can identify strategies for the anxiety. I'm just saying with my dd that's how it manifests, it doesn't go away, in fact it gets worse.

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9 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

To what are you attributing this? 

I’m not sure what you mean. I’m not really attributing it to anything - I hadn’t really noticed before I saw it on the checklist.

When he reads aloud he is very emotive (showing how the characters are feeling), he catches double-entendres & loves puns, he picks up on when characters lie or misdirect or say something in jest. He understands & uses sarcasm. He aptly & specifically discusses his emotions / the emotions of others in real life.

I just don’t think he finds labeling them in a retelling as all that essential to the plot? 

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8 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

It seems he gets overwhelmed because all the details of longer stories get jumbled in his head when he tried to retell.

Narrative is such an interesting topic. There are some studies looking at narrative in other languages and cultures, because it's not like it's a *fixed* thing. 

When you have someone who is maybe all over the place in their brain, they might be hyperfocusing on details. So working specificially on narrative and comprehension skills can, over time, start to make those things more noteworthy. 

https://www.carsondellosa.com/104561--summarizing-resource-book-grade-5-6-paperback-104561/  Here's a book from a series I used successfully with my ds. They have multiple topics in the series and they have different grade ranges for each workbook in the topic (summarizing, cause/effect, main ideas, etc.). So the idea is to begin drawing attention to those components using simple models so the skill becomes more automatic, less effortful. Then when they read, their brain will be organizing the material they read around these organizing concepts. 

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What I did with my dd around this stage was to have her summarize at the end of each chapter so she'd be better prepared to write her whole book summary at the end of the book. It was brutal and I'm not sure it did any good, lol. 

The challenge with a book is how long it is and how many plot twists occur. When you're considering EF, it's always appropriate to drop the model size so make it easier to hold in their memory. So same skills, but do them on a short story or a chapter instead of an entire book. 

Would his ability to narrate the whole and get the big picture improve with repeated readings? That's another strategy some people use. Some people will say they should read the book 2-3 times before ever attempting to discuss.

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1 minute ago, PeterPan said:

Is he including emotion in his personal narratives?

He hasn’t really done any written personal narratives, but spoken yes.

“Kid A did XYZ to kid B & they got mad & said they wouldn’t ever play with them again, but I don’t think they really mean it because they said that last week & are back to playing with them anyway. Kid A is just like that sometimes, because [insert kid-logic], but they aren’t really a mean person,” etc.

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7 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

What I did with my dd around this stage was to have her summarize at the end of each chapter so she'd be better prepared to write her whole book summary at the end of the book.

Yeah, he’s never written a book report but we would likely do something like this, too. 

8 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

Would his ability to narrate the whole and get the big picture improve with repeated readings?

We haven’t specifically tried this with novels or other longer works, but probably. It does for shorter works. 

 

I guess what I am wondering is - should I be concerned he can’t do this (succinctly retell longer, more complex narratives) verbally, without advance notice, & without anything written down? Or is it normal at this level to need things like outlines, checklists, or mind maps to perform this skill for that level of story? 

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Good! So he has emotion in his personal narratives. You can up the EF supports. (shorten models, use graphic organizers, preteach expectations, etc.)

If you want just one video to watch on narrative, this could be a good one. She went through an awful lot in the one hour, and you can see then the connection between narrative and expository. 

 

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1 minute ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

Yeah, he’s never written a book report but we would likely do something like this, too. 

I liked the How to Report on Books series with my dd. It's grade leveled, might be just the thing.

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14 minutes ago, Shoes+Ships+SealingWax said:

I guess what I am wondering is - should I be concerned he can’t do this (succinctly retell longer, more complex narratives) verbally, without advance notice, & without anything written down? Or is it normal at this level to need things like outlines, checklists, or mind maps to perform this skill for that level of story? 

No it's not "normal" and probably he would flag on something like the Test of Narrative Language, yes. But then the SLP would do further testing and tease out what part is EF and what part is from something else. So you're always good to work on EF, but the question is what more you need to work on. 

I'm forgetting the age of your ds, but my dd did WT2 around maybe 8, so she was on the young end. Like I think maybe it's marked for gr 4-6 and she was just below that and young to boot. She got to a point where she just couldn't hold everything in her head and work with those multi page narratives! That's EF issues, so I just had her pick a more appropriate amount from the narrative and work with just that. 

She terrific ACT scores btw, so it's not like she was dumb or what we did was a disaster. However writing stayed a plague to her because of these difficulties with organizing her brain and getting things out. We never did evals because she seemed fine in comparison to my ds (extreme issues). 

I don't know if I could have done better with her. I know things are going better with my ds, but I'm less afraid to be precise in my expectations. I think I was too caught up in the whole voodoo "narration" thing like it was some kind of homeschooling thing like raising free range chickens. It's not. It has a concrete progression, definite components, and we can target them and be very clear in what we expect. WWE, for as generally nice as it is, doesn't do that. It ramps up the working memory demands but basically assumes the dc will go through those developmental steps of narrative on their own. 

Side note: Narration is now included in Common Core standards and SLPs are working on it in the ps with IEP goals. My ds has narration/narrative language goals in his IEP.

So if you're ready to bring some science to your grass fed free range chicken gig, there you go, you have the links and info. So not a freak out but more of a hey let's bring all the tools in.

Edited by PeterPan
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Posted (edited)
42 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

I'm forgetting the age of your ds, but my dd did WT2 around maybe 8, so she was on the young end. Like I think maybe it's marked for gr 4-6 and she was just below that and young to boot.

He is 8 - heading into 3rd grade.

What is WT2? I looked back through your posts but must have missed it. Did you mean WWE2?

Edited by Shoes+Ships+SealingWax
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