A humorous and educational look at speech pathology.

Archive for January, 2015

Board Games and Speech Therapy: Narrative Paradigm

As part of my efforts to start regularly blogging again, I’m branching out a little beyond what games I use in speech therapy sessions and spending some space discussing why I use games in speech therapy. This conversation is going to occur over a few months, one topic a month, and will be rooted in my study of communication theory as well as my experience as a speech pathologist. I’m starting out with the theory that is something of the background of my perspective in both communication theory and speech pathology – Walter Fisher’s model of the Narrative Paradigm.

Prior to Fisher’s development of the narrative paradigm, research in human communication focused on logic. It assumed that people used rational argument and discussion to develop their beliefs and perspectives. As a result, communication relied upon developing knowledge and understanding and reaching conclusions based on that understanding that the way the topic was discussed – scientifically, philosophically, legally, etc.

Fisher found purely logical constructs of human communication to be too limited and inconsistent with how people actually behaved. Recent examples of human communication and persuasion – one notable example being the Daisy ad from the 1964 US Presidential campaign – didn’t use appeals rooted in logical or philosophical thought, and were extremely effective in motivating action. What these acts of communication did, Fisher argued, was appeal to a more fundamental nature in human communication – our nature as storytellers. Instead of placing evidence into a structure of logical arguments, people instead experience and interpret their lives and others’ as a series of ongoing stories or narratives, each with their own characters, scenes, and plots with beginnings, middles, and ends. Using the example above, the Daisy ad didn’t appeal to any sort of evidence to construct a logical argument. It created a powerful narrative that began with an idyllic scene of a young girl picking flowers, transitioned to a sinister countdown, and ended with a literal end – of everything – followed by a statement that not “standing together” behind President Johnson would make this dreadful narrative become reality.

Core elements of the narrative paradigm include:

  • Values/Beliefs – The narratives we experience throughout our lives define our values and beliefs. Additionally, values and beliefs we’ve already formed tend to influence which of conflicting narratives we accept or reject in the future. If my father was a hardworking electrician whose union membership allowed him to gain access to better wages and benefits, I’ll develop a belief that unions are good. If your father was an independent contractor who couldn’t find work because local businesses use non-union labor, you’ll develop a belief that unions are bad. Those beliefs will greatly influence whether or not we believe the conservative politician who says that right-to-work laws protect workers from union bullying or the progressive politician who says they’ll hurt worker wages and benefits, regardless of whether the statistical evidence supports either narrative.
  • Good Reasons – We develop our own “good reasons” for accepting and interpreting information and evidence in the manner we do. In contrast to evidence and logic, which are objective and the same for all people, good reasons are based on our own history, culture, and perspectives about the character of the others involved – measures that are more subjective and less completely understood by a communication partner. When a new student enters your school from a neighboring school or district, your opinion of the quality of the students’ goals is influenced by your previous experience with that student’s school and the service providers at that school, even though those previous experiences provide no actual evidence regarding the quality of this student’s goals.
  • Test of narrative rationality – When we experience a new narrative, we assess, and then accept or reject, that narrative based on the narrative’s coherence, probability, and fidelity. Coherence refers to whether or not the characters in a narrative act reliably or consistently – someone who is kind to his neighbors will be deemed unlikely to rob them. Probability Fidelity refers to accepting a narrative that matches our own beliefs and experiences – if our experience and belief is that there is no God, we are unlikely to believe a story of miraculous healing and instead search for a scientific rationale.

Where does Fisher’s narrative paradigm become useful to speech pathologists?

1. The narrative paradigm does much to explain why it’s difficult for the field of speech pathology to move from treatment and assessment based on anecdote to evidence-based practice. As the more natural communicative form, it’s difficult to switch from the anecdote to something more structured.

2. The narrative paradigm suggests that our clients will respond better to treatment methods that present tasks in the form of a narrative or require responses in the form of a narrative. By using a natural communication form, we are asking clients to take fewer steps in developing their communication.

3. We must be mindful of cultural and social factors when developing treatment plans. If we present treatment activities or assessment items that are outside a client’s values, beliefs, or experiences, they’re not going to do as well on them. This is why students in low-income urban areas tend to do poorly on the Understanding Paragraphs section of the CELF – attending double features at movies and getting positive attention from emergency workers tends to be wildly inconsistent with their experiences.

4. We need to acknowledge that, even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, our predisposition to use “good reasons” is likely to influence our therapy or assessment decisions – and the input of other professionals. Considering the influence of these narratives is critical (and the narratives may not necessarily be wrong – standardized assessments frequently do not present information in narrative form or ask students to respond that way).

Using the Narrative Paradigm in Therapy

Many games I’ve suggested in previous blog posts either present information in narrative form or require students to produce narratives in responses:

Games that present information in narrative: Dixit (a narrative in image form is still a narrative), Telestrations, Snake Oil, Storyteller Cards.

Games that require a narrative response: Apples to Apples (a great example of how values, beliefs, and “good reasons” influence choices), Rory’s Story Cubes, The Storybook Game, Who Would Win.

I hope this brief exploration of communication theory was useful. This kind of blog post is new for me, so I’d love to hear any feedback regarding what could use better explanation or what portions simply weren’t useful to you. At the end of next month, I’ll cover another communication theory, and you’ll see a couple more posts covering board games between now and then.


Board Games and Speech Therapy: Who Would Win

And I’m back after a long hiatus (major interferences involved a very interesting year or so at work and a baby).

This week, I’ll be looking at a party game that was originally released by Gorilla Games and now published by Gamewright, Who Would Win?

Description: In this party game, two players are each given a fictional or historical character (Darth Vader, Albert Einstein, etc). Then, a moderator reveals a card from an event deck (figure skating, gardening, pie eating, etc). Each player has 20 seconds to explain why their character would win at that event. The moderator chooses a winner, and players switch roles.

Variants: There’s an iOS version of this game. It doesn’t appear to be made by either publisher of the card game, so you may encounter different figures and/or events, but it’s the same concept.

Skill Supports:
-Comparison: Comparing two people is a fundamental part of the game.
-Agent/Action Relationship: This game requires students to synthesize at least the “who” and “what” of a scene, likely adding in the “how” and “why” as well.
-Inference: The game requires students to take a person they know something about and apply it to a context that the person (probably) isn’t involved in. How would Michael Jordan’s basketball expertise help him in a sailing competition? Does Marie Curie’s remarkable scientific mind help her sing?

-Supports wide range of players: If the clinician acts as moderator, this game can support as few as two players or as many as eight.
-Narrative comparison: Who Would Win taps into a skill that many speech impaired students have a hard time with – comparison – and approaches it from perspectives that almost all kids are familiar with – competition and storytelling.
-Easily adapted – If you’ve got lesson plans in advance, it is not difficult to modify the event deck or the character deck to include events or characters from your students’ lessons. Class studying civil rights for Black History Month? Forcing kids to think outside the box and explain why Harriet Tubman would beat Malcolm X at a science fair could help improve understanding of both iconic figures in US History. (And now I want to see the poster presentation for Tubman’s project, “Can natural terrain features be used to fool scent-following hunting dogs?”)

-Background Knowledge Required: If you don’t know who Albert Einstein is, you won’t be able to argue why he’d be better than anyone at sheep herding.
-Limited Time: Students who process information slowly or stutter will have difficulty with the 20-second time limit.
-Favoritism in Voting: The rules of the game ask all players not involved in the debate to sit on a “jury” of voters. There’s a significant risk for students who are not popular to do poorly regardless of what they say.

-Throw Away The Timer – Untimed response is usually better in therapy anyway.
-Player-Chosen Characters – If you don’t mind getting an in-depth knowledge of Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian (and honestly, if you did, what were you thinking working with kids?), let students pick their own person to argue about before introducing the event. Just be careful of that kid who can make Batman work for anything.
-Adapt to Curriculum – We discussed above the possibility for a custom deck for Black History Month. The same would work for a deck of characters (or events) based on stories read in an ELA class and events/characters in a social studies class, and you could even stretch to make event decks based on things like health concepts (who’s better at CPR – Benjamin Franklin or Lassie?).

Alternate Uses:
-The character cards can be used to create a “person-only” game of Apples to Apples, or even as a text-only approach to Dixit.
-The game in general can be played in the style of Apples to Apples, with the judge holding a scenario and each player playing the character they think would win. This would keep a greater number of students consistently engaged in the session.

Overall, this game is one of the strongest games for high school students with language impairments that I’ve encountered (and they’re a hard group to shop for). It’s also especially adaptable to general education curriculum concepts, which is important as more states adopt Common Core and SLPs are encouraged to push into the classroom. It’s not the easiest game to find right now, but if you can locate a copy, I highly recommend it.