I’m grateful for my summer research opportunity!

As I’m preparing to conclude my experience as a University Honors Scholar, it’s hard to believe that this summer is already coming to an end. I spent the first six weeks of the summer completing an in-depth literature review of my topic and the last three weeks on data entry and analysis.  In the midst of the nine weeks, I also completed my blog posts, met with Dr. Tattersall several times, wrote up my Capstone proposal, and completed a SIRCA proposal for the Illinois Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s convention in February 2016. Ultimately, my goal was to answer my two original research questions for the summer: (1.) Is there a difference in performance on the tasks between children with and without language-learning deficits (LLD)? (a.) For the dynamic probe? (b.) For the spelling probe? (2.) Is there a correlation in performance on the dynamic assessment task (oral) and the spelling (written) task?  (a.) For children with typically developing skills? (b.) For children with LLD? 

As the data was analyzed, it seemed most beneficial to split students into four different groups (as opposed to our original division that included only 2 groups: TL and LLD).  These groups differentiated students who had typical language, students with articulation disorders, students with language-learning disorders, and students who were in a response to intervention (RTI) program.  Students with typical language and articulation disorders performed similarly on the two tasks as did students with LLD and those enrolled in RTI.  When these four groups were classified into two subgroups (TL/Articulation vs. LLD/RTI), there was a significant difference in performance between the two groups on both tasks.  A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was measured for performance on the two tasks for all four groups individually.  Negative weak to moderate correlation was measured for both students with TL and articulation disorders, and a positive strong correlation was measured for students with LLD and those enrolled in RTI.  The correlation coefficients measured for students with TL and articulation disorders differ from our initial hypotheses.  These correlations (for children with TL and articulation disorders) may be skewed by ceiling effects, so the implications of these results will be considered as the project continues.

As I look to the upcoming school year, I plan to expand this project to include data about the error patterns of children in each of our four groups.  This will necessitate the expansion of our results about the number of errors made by both groups to include data about the types of errors made by students.  In this analysis, we will examine student spellings to draw conclusions about the metalinguistic skills used during testing, which will give us insight as to the expected spelling errors of children in each group.  My project will conclude with presentations at the annual Illinois Speech-Language-Hearing Association convention and the Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day.

gratitudeThis summer has been a unique experience in that I’ve gotten the opportunity to get ahead on my capstone project and make significant strides towards its completion.  I’m grateful to the Lord, the University Honors Department, and Dr. Tattersall for making this summer possible.  It’s been an excellent learning experience and I’m looking forward to the continued work on my project this school year.grateful-e1385143875856

by Marissa DeVlieger


Thank you, Dr. Tattersall

I cannot put into words how grateful I am for Dr. Tattersall’s dedication to research in the field of speech language pathology, and even more so, her dedication to students who pursue research opportunities in the field.  She’s been an advocate for my involvement in this program from the first day that I brought the opportunity to her attention.  I walked into her office about two weeks before the application deadline to discuss the details of the program and her interest in serving as my faculty mentor.  Her response?  “You can’t let opportunities pass you by because you won’t know what would’ve come from them if you don’t apply.”  With Dr. Tattersall’s encouragement at my back, I knew that if chosen for the program, I would have excellent guidance throughout the summer.  Within a few hours of turning in my application, I was contacted by Dr. Tattersall to let me know that she was notified of my application submission and to congratulate me on completing “step #1” in the process.  It’s moments like these—expressions of  her continual thoughtfulness—that make Dr. Tattersall stand out among the sea of professors at NIU.

Dr. Tattersall has an outstanding résumé that make her a unique contributor to the professional development of speech-language pathologists and audiologists.  Dr. Tattersall’s full time position at NIU demands her divided attention to roles as an instructor at the undergraduate and graduate level, student advisor, and researcher.  In the little spare time that she has, Dr. Tattersall has worked to standardize assessments, create an online course, and publish her work. Dr. Tattersall also serves on the licensure board for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations and has been heavily involved in the Illinois Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (ISHA).  Her involvement in ISHA has included her roles as president of the organization, vice president of the committee of Educational Development, and program chair for the annual convention.  It’s no doubt that Dr. Tattersall is active in our field and an expert in her knowledge of language development and literacy in school-aged children.  Dr. Tattersall has been such a significant contributor to the field of speech-language pathology that she was recognized by ISHA in February 2015 as a recipient of their highest honors.

Dr. Tattersall’s first response to this opportunity reflects what a proponent she has been for me throughout this entire process.  She answers emails swiftly (no matter what time of day or night), always offering encouragement, providing answers to my questions, and generating new ideas to consider.  Before beginning this project, I had consulted with another student who had worked under Dr. Tattersall’s guidance in the past.  She said that she “couldn’t recommend [Dr. Tattersall] enough” and that Dr. Tattersall does not shy away from putting just as much work into her projects as her students.  I couldn’t agree more.  Dr. Tattersall has high expectations for her students; however, she does not withhold even a minute of her time to provide direction to students as they work to gain a comprehensive understanding of their topic.  She’s spent numerous hours independently and in correspondence with me to look further into a certain topic, clarify an idea, or smooth out the logistics of the project.Patricia Tattersall

The working relationship that I’ve developed with Dr. Tattersall is invaluable.  I’ve learned from her that I don’t have to be afraid to jump two feet in to situations that I feel underqualified for.  I don’t have to shy away from opportunities that seem “too daunting” or be afraid to ask for help from professors who seem “too intelligent.”  This one-to-one mentorship has helped me to understand how much professors delight in the students’ “breakthroughs” and their joy in paving our way to professionalism.  I cannot emphasize enough how critical this relationship has been in developing my knowledge about the field and confidence in what I understand about speech and language.  A big thank you goes out to Dr. Tattersall for her kindness, patience, and expertise this summer!  This project wouldn’t have been successful without her.

by Marissa DeVlieger

My Connection to the Research

At five years old, I expressed to my mom that when I “grew up,” I wanted to be a speech pathologist.  At the time, my younger brother was receiving therapy, and all I knew about the field was that “speech sessions were fun.”  Little did I know that, even 16 years later, my desires as a five-year-old would match my career choice.  Over the past 3 years, I’ve spent my time at NIU working towards a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, which will set me up to attend a Master’s program for Speech-Language Pathology.

The thing I love most about this field is, of course, providing an avenue for effective communication for individuals who have limited language abilities.  The field is unique in that it provides the opportunity to work in a variety of environments.  As an aspiring SLP, I have the potential to work in a hospital, clinic, school district, assisted living facility, or rehabilitation center with a variety of client populations.  Because I’ve always loved children and have a heart for those who experience hardship, academic setbacks, or social barriers, my goal is to work as an SLP for a school district.

As a clinician in the school setting, my client population will likely consist largely of elementary aged students.  The topic of morphological awareness is especially important for younger clients learning to read and spell.  Many of my younger clients will be at a critical age for acquiring vocabulary, gaining proficiency in reading, and learning how to spell multimorphemic words.  As I encounter students on my caseload with poor literacy skills, my awareness of the link to morphological awareness will benefit me in identifying the root of my students’ weaknesses. speech-and-language

Looking deeper, the driving force behind my motivation to complete this project is the link between language impairment and low self-esteem, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and several other characteristics in adolescents—all of which have been linked with higher rates of suicide (Reed, 2012).  In order to eliminate adolescent language impairment and reduce risk for the associated social and emotional factors, language skills must be remediated as early as possible.  By diving into this project, I’m learning the most effective ways for identifying language deficits and intervention strategies in students who have deficits in morphological awareness.  Although this will only account for some of my students with language impairment, it is an important piece of the puzzle and critical for students with deficits in literacy skills.

Reed, V.A.  (2012). An introduction to children with language disorders (4th ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education, Inc.

by Marissa DeVlieger

Overview of my Summer Research

A current setback in the field of speech-language pathology is the lack of a gold standard assessment method and intervention strategy for deficits in morphological awareness.  Morphological awareness is the conscious awareness of and ability to recognize, analyze, and manipulate the smallest meaningful units of language (e.g. Apel & Werfel, 2014; Wolter & Pike, 2015), termed morphemes, in botGold Standardh spoken and written form.  Morphemes can be base words (e.g. cat, run), prefixes (e.g. preview, rerun), or suffixes (e.g. retirement, cats).  Students begin to develop morphological knowledge as early as the preschool years, but its development continues into adulthood.  As students develop the ability to comprehend and produce morphemes, they are also expected to develop an awareness of the underlying semantic and syntactic structure of those morphemes.

Deficits in this ability to consciously analyze the role of morphemes in written and oral communication have been linked to deficits in literacy skills.  Poor morphological awareness has been linked to poor reading comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling abilities (e.g. Anglin, 1993; Apel, Wilson-Fowler, Brimo, & Perrin, 2012; Carlisle, 2000).  As professionals who address all three of these literacy skills, speech-language pathologists must have an effective method for identifying deficits in morphological awareness as the root of these other academic setbacks.

Currently, there are no standardized tests that exclusively target morphological awareness, but there are some that include subtests to assess different facets of morphological awareness (Apel, 2014).  In several research studies, morphological awareness has been measured using a variety of tasks (e.g. cloze tasks, analogy tasks, semantic relatedness tasks) or dynamic assessment.  The utility of these subtests and tasks is hindered in that they are heavily focused on inflectional morphology and that most of them rely on spoken activities (Apel, 2014).  However, the dynamic assessment and spelling probe used in the present study require awareness of morphemes in both spoken and written form, and further, assess awareness of both inflectional and derivational morphology.

The Dynamic Assessment Task of Morphological Awareness (DATMA; Larsen & Nippold, 2007), an orally administered assessment, has been used in research studies to measure morphological awareness.  An assessment based on this model was given to our elementary aged students as part of a test-teach-retest approach.  Since undergoing instruction and three rounds of dynamic testing (baseline, midway, and final measurements), our students were given a spelling probe targeting their morphological awareness.  Using the scores from the final administration of dynamic assessment and the written spelling probe, my goals for this summer are to answer the following two questions: Is there a difference in performance on the tasks between children with and without language-learning deficits?  Is there a correlation in performance on the oral dynamic assessment task and the written spelling task?

As I explore performance data and discover answers to these questions, I will gain a better understanding of the error patterns demonstrated by both children with typical language and language-learning disabilities.  Further, as correlation is measured, I will draw conclusions about the potential for the written spelling probe to serve as an assessment measure or progress monitoring tool for morphological awareness skills.  These conclusions will add to the literature concerning elementary aged students’ awareness of morphemes and assessment methods used to identify deficits in this metalinguistic skill.

Anglin, J. (1993). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysis.  Monographs of the   Society of Research in Child Development, 58(10, Serial No. 238).

Apel, K. (2014).  A comprehensive definition of morphological awareness: Implications for          assessment.  Topics in Language Disorders, 34, 197-209.

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000019

Apel, K. & Werfel, K.  (2014). Using morphological awareness instruction to improve written            language skills.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 251-260.

Apel, K., Wilson-Fowler, E., Brimo, D., Perrin, N.  (2012). Metalinguistic contributions to          reading and spelling in second and third grade students.  Reading and Writing, 25(6), 1283-1305.

Carlisle, J.F.  (2000). Awareness of the structure and meaning of morphologically complex          words:             Impact on reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 169-   190.

Larsen, J.A., & Nippold, M.A. (2007).  Morphological analysis in school-age children: dynamic          assessment of a word learning strategy.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in    Schools, 38, 201-212.  doi: 10.1044/0161-1461(2007/021)

Wolter, J.A. & Pike, K.  (2015). Dynamic assessment of morphological awareness and third-   grade literacy success.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46, 112-126.    doi: 0.1044/2015_LSHSS-14-0037

by Marissa DeVlieger