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A Prevention and Enhancement Model for At-Risk Preschoolers: Three Classroom Contexts

A Prevention and Enhancement Model for At-Risk Preschoolers: Three Classroom Contexts
Christine P. Cecconi, MA, CCC-SLP
August 9, 2004

Dept. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology,
Ithaca College


Over the past two decades, naturalistic intervention has become a significant component of many language programs and is supported by federal legislation requiring service provision in least restrictive, normalized environments (USDE, 2003). The complexities involved in controlling context and understanding teaching/learning encounters are numerous. Many researchers have contributed to understanding these therapeutic encounters (Norris and Hoffman, 1990; Kovarsky and Damico 1997; Damico and Damico, 1997). Additionally, Fey, Catts and Larivee (1995) and Fey (1986) have described a continuum of control or intrusiveness utilized by clinicians to master language intervention, which includes clinician-directed, hybrid and child-centered approaches.

During clinician-directed intervention, the clinician establishes the goals, controls materials and most components of the context including the determination of which responses are judged correct or incorrect. Child-centered therapy allows the child to determine when and where therapy occurs and the targets of the encounters. Hybrid intervention combines components of both, in which the clinician has one or more goals, controls the materials, but engages in procedures that facilitate spontaneous use of targets. Paul (2001) has suggested specific facilitation techniques that correspond to each approach along this continuum.

Kovorsky and Duchan (1997) have identified and contrasted five dimensions of therapy interaction according to the constraints placed upon the communicative encounter in describing contextual differences between adult-centered and child-centered therapy. The intervention event, the agenda, instructional lead, evaluation and repairs constitute these identified dimensions. The cumulative effect of this research and literature is that clinicians have a wealth of information to utilize in navigating classroom-based instruction. Systematic application of this information to specific routine events within preschool classroom environments can further maximize efficiency and outcomes of communication intervention.

The need for comprehensive, effective and efficient programming is particularly relevant for one population that continues to be at great risk for cognitive, linguistic, and academic success: children in poverty, or of lower socioeconomic status. The needs of this population and their potential educational disadvantage is well documented (Dollaghan et. al., 1999; Fazio et. al., 1996; Hart & Risley, 1995; Patterson et al., 1990).

Recent assessment data on play behaviors of at-risk children within the Tompkins County (New York) Even Start programs (Even Start is a federally funded, family literacy program that addresses needs of families generally from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, with a history of limited academic success. Similar to the Head Start population, children in Even Start present with a high incidence of communication disorders and are at-risk for educational failure) suggests that symbolic play behaviors of many of these children resemble play behaviors of children at younger stages of development (McGraw, Hansel and Petit, 2003), paralleling the findings regarding linguistic performance by this population.

Christine P. Cecconi, MA, CCC-SLP

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