Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hmmm....Using declarative language to promote problem solving skills

Hmmm....I wonder what will happen?
happy adjustment to school: Talking With Your Child (Woman Alive, 1974)

"Hmmm...I see your backpack on the desk." (Imperative: "Hang up your backpack and get out your pencil.")
"Hmmm...I notice all of the kids are getting out their lunches." (Imperative: "Get your lunch out.")
"Hmmm...your hands look dirty." (Imperative: "Wash your hands.")

I think you're probably starting to see a trend here. How many times do you tell your child to pick their dirty clothes up off the bathroom floor? Try saying, "Hmmm...I see some clothes on the floor."

Why should you use declarative language rather than imperative language with your students and children?

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP gives these five reasons:
  1. Using declarative language models a self-narrative to help your student develop an inner voice. Your inner voice is that one that says, "I can't find my phone. What was I doing when I last used my phone? Where was I when I last saw my phone?" Children with executive functioning difficulties do not typically develop an inner voice on their own. By thinking out loud and talking through a problem, you are providing a model of an inner voice.
  2. Using declarative language provides another perspective. Children who have difficulty with perspective taking will benefit from hearing declarative language. By using declarative language, you help your student understand what you are feeling. If a teacher says, "I feel like you're not listening to me when you don't look at me," rather than saying, "look at me when I'm teaching," then it will provide the student with the teacher's perspective. It probably never occurred to the student that it appears that he is not listening when he's not looking at the teacher!
  3. Using declarative language helps children see the big picture. By presenting information in a way that encourages students to look at the big picture, you encourage problem solving. By saying, "I see scraps of paper on the floor," rather than "pick the scraps of paper up off the floor," you encourage the student to look at the whole picture and figure out what to do.
  4. Declarative language encourages children to problem solve. This goes along with the previous reason of helping students see the big picture. By saying, "I see scraps of paper on the floor" vs "pick up the scraps of paper," you are encouraging problem solving by providing a direction that does not have a yes/no answer.
  5. Declarative language helps children notice what's going on around them. Along with difficulty with perspective taking, some students with executive functioning difficulties also don't notice social information that is happening around them. Use declarative language to help them notice what's going on. Rather than saying, "get your lunch out and line up for lunch," try saying, "I notice all of the kids are getting out their lunches." This will help them notice that their are visual clues and they are important! On the other hand, if you always use imperative language, then your child has no need to look around and see what's going on.

I challenge you to try it. You might be surprised at what a simple "Hmmm..." can do.

*The information in this post is based on a presentation I attended by Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, co-founder with Kristen Jacobsen, MS, CCC-SLP, of Cognitive Connections.
For more information, check out their website Cognitive Connections or follow them on Twitter! 
Follow Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP on Twitter: @swardtherapy
Follow Kristen Jacobsen, MS, CCC-SLP on Twitter @KJSLP

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