Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #37
CE Offered: BACB
Storytelling Intervention Promotes Academic Language Skills and Inclusion: A Verbal Behavior Analysis and Applied Research
Saturday, May 25, 2019
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Fairmont, Second Level, Gold
Area: EDC/VRB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Trina Spencer (University of South Florida)
Discussant: Tina Marie Covington (Anderson Center for Autism)
CE Instructor: Trina Spencer, Ph.D.
Abstract: Academic language, which strongly predicts academic achievement, is defined as the language used in school to acquire and use knowledge (Nagy & Townsend, 2012). Insufficient academic language skills of children with disabilities or at risk of reading failure limit their access to general education and inclusive opportunities. There is a paucity of research investigating interventions that promote the acquisition and normalization of language beyond basic verbal operants. Oral narrative intervention is a promising approach to teaching diverse learners higher level academic language skills, including complex vocabulary, inferencing, syntax and grammar, and writing. Through oral storytelling children with disabilities can receive academically-focused instruction alongside their peers. The purpose of this symposium is to provide a conceptual analysis, multiple empirical examples, and a review of extant literature on storytelling interventions with children with autism. Practitioners will receive recommendations for teaching advanced verbal behavior through fun, interactive, and meaningful storytelling activities that increase opportunities for academic and social engagement.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): education, inclusion, storytelling, verbal behavior
Target Audience: Speech and language pathologists, educators (general and special education, reading specialists), behavior analysts
Beyond Elementary Verbal Operants: A Conceptual Analysis of Storytelling
TRINA SPENCER (University of South Florida)
Abstract: Narratives are causally related events told or retold in temporal order (Cohn, 1999; Prince, 1982). They are critically important for social and academic development of children, especially those with language related disabilities. Telling or retelling a story is considered a verbal operant response. Therefore, Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior applies to narratives. However, the size of the unit is much larger than what is typically understood by elementary verbal operants and narratives are standardly under multiple control related to tacts, intraverbals, and sometimes mands and echoics. What is less understood is the autoclitic framework involved in the structure of stories and the linguistic structures (e.g., grammar) of the sentences used to tell stories. Nonetheless, these structures are indeed functional (Palmer, 2007). In this paper, a verbal behavior analysis will be offered for complex and large units of verbal behavior known as narratives. Implications of a verbal behavior analysis of storytelling for teaching children with language related disabilities will be presented with particular attention to procedures for establishing and transferring stimulus control of storytelling and for enhancing response and stimulus generalization that results in generative and normalized academic and social communication of diverse children with language related disabilities (e.g., autism).
Storytelling Intervention Improves Vocabulary and Inferencing: An Inclusive Approach
(Applied Research)
ANNA GARCIA (University of South Florida), Trina Spencer (University of South Florida)
Abstract: Two of the most important components of language and reading comprehension are vocabulary and narrative skills (Griffin et al., 2004). The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of vocabulary instruction embedded in narrative language intervention on children’s ability to retell stories and infer the meaning of contextually supported vocabulary words. Participants included 22 first grade students who presented with limited or impaired language skills. A small group (3-4 children) narrative language intervention with embedded vocabulary instruction was delivered four days a week for 30 minutes. Intervention sessions involved visually supported storytelling activities and promoting the use of less-common words while retelling personally-themed stories. Intervention effects were examined using a small-scale randomized control group design with an embedded repeated acquisition design across 12 weeks of intervention. Statistically significant differences were observed at posttest on narrative language skills [t(20) = 3.62, p > .001, d = 1.54] and inferential word learning measures [t(20) = 2.77, p = .01, d = 1.18]. Repeated acquisition graphs (see sample graphs) show 12 weekly demonstrations of targeted vocabulary acquisition for each of the 11 students in the treatment group, resulting in 121 replications of experimental effect.
Oral Storytelling Intervention Improves Writing and Access to Peers
(Applied Research)
Trina Spencer (University of South Florida), MEGAN ERIN SULLIVAN SULLIVAN KIRBY (University of South Florida)
Abstract: This study examined the extent to which oral language instruction using narratives can impact students’ writing skills. Following multiple baseline design conventions to demonstrate an experimental effect, three groups of first grade students experienced staggered baseline and intervention phases. During the intervention condition, groups received six sessions of small group narrative instruction over two weeks. Outside of oral narrative instruction, students were asked to write their own stories, forming the dependent variable across baseline, intervention, and maintenance conditions. Written stories were analyzed for story structure and language complexity using a simple narrative scoring flow chart. Corresponding to the onset of oral narrative instruction, students showed meaningful improvements in story writing, which maintained for several weeks. Results suggest that narrative instruction delivered exclusively in an oral modality has a robust and durable effect on students’ writing, which may be more efficient than addressing writing skills directly. Additionally, improvements in story writing were notable for one student receiving special education services, resulting in increased time spent in the general education classroom and access to grade-level peers. One important implication of a socially valid and flexible narrative intervention is enhanced inclusion of children with language related disabilities in general education and with peers.

Review of Storytelling Intervention Studies Involving Children With Autism

MALLAMY IDALIT CAMARGO PENA (University of South Florida), Anna Garcia (University of South Florida), Trina Spencer (University of South Florida)

Children with autism have deficits in language, communication, social interaction, and perspective taking skills. Storytelling integrates this cluster of skills as it requires an understanding of narrative structure, the use of complex sentences, and it naturally occurs in social contexts. For example, narratives have been used to teach children with autism to tell personal experience narratives (Favot et al., 2018), increase the complexity of the sentences used to tell stories (Petersen et al., 2016), and to take another’s perspective (Gillam et al., 2015). We will present a summary of the currently available data-based research that used storytelling activities to teach various skills to children with autism, many of which are published in non-behavior analytic journals. The results of the systematic review will be discussed while giving special attention to the specific teaching procedures used to promote storytelling, the dependable variables (e.g., social skills, academic skills, perspective taking, and communication skills), and the methodological rigor used to investigate the effect of the intervention. Implications will be discussed as they pertain to academic and social programming for children with autism and directions for future behavior analytic research.




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