Language is the comprehension and use of words (spoken, written, signed, pictured) to communicate.  Language is complex and multi-dimensional.  Most children have learned to understand many words and sentence types and to use language for a variety of social purposes (requesting, telling, refusing, greeting, negotiating) by the time they enter kindergarten.  Most can understand and perhaps even tell simple stories and narratives about events in their lives.  However, depending on natural developmental schedules and on the environmental models and opportunities available, there is wide normal variation in language skills in the early grades.  There is normally continued language growth throughout the elementary and secondary education years. 

Children in kindergarten and first grade should be able to understand and communicate in simple sentences (not necessarily grammatically correct sentences) and be able to understand and express a variety of meanings.  Vocabulary may vary depending on experience, but they should be able to learn and use new words as they experience the enrichment of school.  they should be able to use language in social interactions with peers and adults and, if these skills are weak because of lack of experience, to improve as they receive models and opportunities at school.  As students get older, the language demands of the curriculum increase,  stories and instruction become longer and more complex, and teachers may need to modify their language to help some of the students with naturally weaker language skills.

If a student is not communicating in sentences, or if the sentences are very limited compared with peers, there may be cause for concern about language.  If a student often struggles to find the words and form the sentences needed to communicate, there may be a concern.  If a student can form sentences, but the content of his/her language does not make sense, there may be a concern.  In addition to language production concerns, there may be comprehension concerns.  When children do not understand directions or questions, even when they are attending, or when they cannot understand stories and instruction that are readily understood by peers, there may be cause for concern. 

If there are concerns about language skills, a first step is to try some classroom and home interventions to encourage development of these skills.  If there is a concern about language that may result in a referral for a special education language assessment (if classroom interventions are not successful), you will need documented evidence of the nature, frequency and length of the classroom interventions tried.  It is recommended that teachers discuss the concern with parents before trying preferral interventions. 

If the child's langauge skills improve when prereferral interventions are implemented for four to eight weeks, continue to implement the interventions.  If concerns about language persist because there is no improvement or improvement is minimal, the next step is a referral for a language assessment.

Prepared by S. Penner 9/20/93