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Inferential comprehension by language-learning disabled children Nicholson, Maureen Elizabeth


This study evaluated the comprehension of inference statements by language-learning disabled (LLD) children and children with normal language development (NL) under two conditions: uncontextualized and contextualized. The contextualized condition was designed to encourage retrieval of information from the subject's general knowledge — a procedure proposed to encourage elaborative inference-making. Two text passages were analyzed according to a model developed by Trabasso and presented by Trabasso, van den Broek & Suh (1989), which yielded a set of bridging causal connections across clause units. Sets of three true and three false causal inference statements were developed to represent bridging inferences for each story. In addition, three true and three premise statements were obtained directly from each story, yielding a total of twelve statements for each text. Subjects were ten language-learning disabled students (7 boys, 3 girls) and ten children with normal language development (5 boys, 5 girls) aged 9 to 11 years old. Mean age for children in both groups was 10 years, 4 months. Children were selected for the LLD group on the basis of the following criteria: (1) enrollment in a learning assistance or learning resource program for learning-disabled students, preferably for remediation of Language Arts; (2) history of speech-language intervention in preschool or early primary grades; (3) normal nonverbal cognitive skills; (4) lexical and syntactic comprehension within normal abilities (as determined by standardized language tests for the LLD group); (5) native English speaker and (6) normal hearing ability. Every subject received both stories and conditions. Story presentation and condition were counterbalanced across 8 of the 10 subjects in each group; condition only was counterbalanced across the remaining two subjects in each group. Inference and premise statements were randomized; each random set was randomly presented to each subject. Items were scored correct or incorrect. Subjects were also asked to answer open-ended wh-questions. Responses were compared and analyzed using a nonparametric statistical method appropriate for small sample sizes. Results indicated significant differences between the LLD and the NL groups on the number of correct responses to inference and premise items. Both groups scored significantly worse on inference than premise items. Analysis did not indicate that the LLD group scored significantly worse on inference items than the NL group did. Results also suggested that a contextualization effect operated for both groups, which affected the retention of premise items but acted to improve scores on inference items. This effect was seen most notably for the LLD group.

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