This post also appears on SpeechTechie.
I recently had several evaluations in which the students had variable ability to engage in traditional standardized assessments. Specifically, the often quite useful CELF-4 Formulated Sentences subtest, in which the student is asked to produce a sentence to correspond with a presented picture using a target word, put these particular kids at a dead-end of silence and "I don't know"s. The subtest features a series of colorful pictures designed to serve as contexts for target words that increase in abstraction and complexity (e.g. always, because, until), and though I had never really analyzed it before, I realized that it involved even more advanced aspects: perspective taking and self-talk. For example, the "practice" picture in which the examiner asks the child to use the word when depicts a cafeteria scene in which all sorts of things are going on: kids sitting at a table, a child ordering food, another throwing out the contents of a tray. On-target responses could include anything from:
When is lunch?
to the more complex
When I finish my lunch, I throw away my tray.
In either case, and in most of the items, the child is asked in some sense to put themselves in the scene to be a voice within the picture. Some kids, of course, struggle to do that, and as my students exhibited a level of frustration and anxiety that prompted me to discontinue this subtest after a few items, I was left with the need to quantify their syntactic abilities (and, oh well, no Core Language Score). Language sampling was on the agenda, of course, but both kids were very engaged by the iPad, so I found myself turning to Mobile Education Store's Language Builder ($7.99, iPad only).
Language Builder is an open-ended tool within this app studio's line of apps in which audio can be recorded to match picture and language prompts. Or, in this case, I used the most open-ended option in the app, simply asking my students to "Make a sentence about the picture." In both cases, it was an enjoyable and engaging experience for the child, and gave me key information about their sentence formulation abilities, along with transcribable (or demonstrable for parents) audio samples in response to the pictures. Language Builder has different levels of "hints" that prompt various language structures, and could of course be used for all those kids that complete Formulated Sentences and don't do so well with it. I actually have also been using it in conjunction with the excellent Conversations with Conjunctions program (Catherine Harkins May, Pro-Ed), which involves the use of ASL signs for conjunctions in order to provide a visual and kinesthetic cue. Overall, it's a great go-to app to address the difficult-to-assess (and treat) area of complex sentence development!
Sean J. Sweeney, CCC-SLP