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Language Comprehension: Blank’s Language Levels Framework

Language Comprehension: Blank’s Language Levels Framework

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - August 28th, 2019

Is communication a challenge in your home? Your child may carry that same struggle with him into the classroom. Research shows that language difficulties affect roughly 15% of younger students, wherein, they do not have the skills to cope with the demands each school day brings (Hart & Fielding-Barnsley, 2009). So what begins young, can continue into adulthood–perpetuating the cycle of miscommunication and language breakdown. A useful tool for accessing and growing in this skill is Marion Blank’s Language Levels Framework.

Blank's Language Levels Framework

Begin Improving Language in Your Home Today

Listen I know it is tough. In a time, when much is said and little is heard or understood–we are overloaded with words from every direction. The cacophony of it leaves many of us feeling overwhelmed, unheard and lonely. So it’s up to us to remove some of the distractions and have a real face-to-face (or side-by-side) talk with our children in our homes.

Here are a few tips that work in my home:

  1. When travelling together, shut off devices and music or news and talk about your day together. Ask questions and give support when needed. This graphic (below) has fantastic ideas for conversation starters.
  2. Eat meals together at the table. This is a great opportunity to discuss the highs and lows and funnies in our day or to tell stories.  Linger long after the meal is eaten. Take time to listen to each one in the family. This may be a great tie for later in life, when your adult children come home–wanting to linger at the dinner table long and share stories (a great way to build extended family unity, too).
  3. Sit together or work together outside. This is a great opportunity to just learn how to be together in silence, as well as share some hard things going on. We have truly seen some life changes happen on our front porch–and better communication, which involves a lot of listening, was a big part of it.

Blank's Language Levels Framework Conversation Starters

Now let’s look together at the tools by Dr Marion Blank, a developmental psychologist, who created a framework that WORKS!

Blank’s Levels of Questioning

“Dr Blank’s framework is based on the simple idea that young children’s early language and reasoning skills develop interactively to their mutual benefit. As a child’s understanding of words and the meanings of words improves, so does their ability to think and reason in words, which then further enhances their ability to understand and use words in more complex situations. In other words, stimulating language development can improve verbal reasoning, which, in turn can help more advanced language development: a virtuous cycle.

Dr Blank proposed that children learn language through social interaction, including through the way they listen to and speak with others while engaged in activities together.” *

Four Levels of Abstraction

Level One: At level one, the language complexity is where there is directly supplied information or matching perception. This is where a child matches pictures, sights or sounds to label objects. Like you may say to your child did you hear that sound?  What was it? And the child will answer cow. OR you may say how does this tree trunk feel?  And the child may answer scratchy or bumpy or smooth.

Level Two: At level two, the language complexity is classification with a selective analysis of perception. This is where a child responds selectively to different aspects, attributes or features of a situation. A child may comment on the color, size, shape function or other aspects of objects they see, hear or touch. For example, your child may ask, Do you see the red bug on the step? and you can reply  Yes, it has black spots and is small, but cannot get inside, because the door is closed.

Level Three: At level three reorganization occurs or reordering perception–language is no longer mapped on what the child sees. Here a child looks beyond what he sees and reworks the experience in accord with the language demands of the task. This includes tasks where the child summarizes, predicts, explains, or retells the information with which he has been shown. An example might be planting a garden and noticing that the squash has grown to two inches long long. Your child might say that it has grown so much in the past month, but is not ready to pick, yet.

Level Four: At level four the child uses abstraction and inferences and has reasoning about perception. This is where the child is discerning relationships among objects and events and explain the reasons for the relationships. For instance, an example might be letting in the family dog into the house and she’s wet all over, then shakes the water everywhere. The child might answer these sorts of questions: Where did the water come from? What should we get to dry her and so on. Here every situation becomes a story.

Many Level 3 and 4 tasks require children to make inferences, which are skills we want kids to have or to be developing when they start school and are learning to read.

Using Blank’s framework to spot kids at risk

Blank’s Levels provide a quick way of identifying young preschoolers and school-age kids at risk. Most (although not all) kids start school with an ability to complete Level 1 tasks. But many kids struggle with Level 2, including many kids with developmental language disorders and kids who have had disadvantaged childhoods. Many children with autism spectrum disorder or social language disorders have significant difficulties answering Level 3 and 4 questions.*

Finding Ways to Practice Communication and Support Growth

As a parent, you want to be sure and give opportunities for your child to not only show his level of communication, by talking about all manner of things, but you also want him to grow in that ability.  Indeed, if he is struggling young, it may be something to take note of, but not necessarily to be greatly concerned about until he has had time to do some maturing–a common occurrence, for sure. Good communication comes with time and many opportunities to practice talking about what you did today or what you saw together. Look for those!  Play games together. Talk about what interests him.  Go the extra mile and get books and movies on those topics. Visit museums and zoos and monuments. Build a platform for communication and build on that. It will have a lifetime of pay-offs in your home and family, as well!

*Based on Banter’s Speech + Language article from Jan 2019.

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