The Right Kind of Guesswork If your student has trouble making inferences, knowing why the student struggles is the first step in deciding on a treatment strategy. School Matters
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School Matters  |   May 01, 2016
The Right Kind of Guesswork
Author Notes
  • Kim Murza, PhD, CCC-SLP, is assistant professor of audiology and speech-language science at the University of Northern Colorado. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10, Issues in Higher Education; 16, School-Based Issues; and 19, Speech Science. kimberly.murza@unco.edu
    Kim Murza, PhD, CCC-SLP, is assistant professor of audiology and speech-language science at the University of Northern Colorado. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10, Issues in Higher Education; 16, School-Based Issues; and 19, Speech Science. kimberly.murza@unco.edu×
Article Information
Development / School-Based Settings / Normal Language Processing / School Matters
School Matters   |   May 01, 2016
The Right Kind of Guesswork
The ASHA Leader, May 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.21052016.32
The ASHA Leader, May 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.21052016.32
What makes a novel a page-turner? For me, the best part of reading is finding a book I don’t want to put down because the author keeps me guessing.
Sure, I get my suspicions—perhaps the guy next door turns out to be the hero, or maybe he’s the romantic partner the main character’s been looking for, or maybe things turn sour and he ends up the serial killer. Whatever the outcome, the reader constantly makes educated guesses about what happens next. The surprise of predicting the wrong answer generates as much fun as the pride of correct guesses.
Either way, generating these predictions while reading means you stay present in the text and likely comprehend it better. Your educated guesses originate from inferences made when you consider the text coupled with your general knowledge—usually about human nature. Most people generate inferences without much effort, but children with language disorders might not even know how guessing about what happens next makes reading fun!
For these children, difficulties with inference generation might also extend to social situations. Again, many of us take this ability for granted. For example, think about the statement, “I’m so excited to see you today!” When someone says this to you—depending on their tone of voice, facial expressions or body language—we determine whether they mean it sincerely or if they said it sarcastically and you should run for the nearest exit.
Interestingly, the process of inference generation remains somewhat similar in social situations or when reading. However, fleeting social cues and information given during conversations create quite a different contextual situation than static text.

Determining the culprits for your students’ inference challenges helps you decide the best course of action for treatment.

Background knowledge, contextual cues
The graphic above certainly oversimplifies the process, but use it when thinking about the component pieces of inference generation. To generate an inference, whether socially or while reading, you must consider what you already know about the topic at hand—from 19th-century English novels to 21st-century dating behaviors. Then you integrate your background knowledge with the current context. That approach works for social context—verbal and nonverbal cues your conversational partner gives you—or textual context.
The integration of background knowledge and context allows you to generate inferences about what might happen next in a book or what messages your conversational partner really wants to convey. But you’re not done yet! When more contextual information becomes available, you might decide to revise your initial guess. It’s a cyclical process, and one most of us perform without really thinking.
Inference impeders
Some of the students you serve might struggle with this process. Before working on inference generation, first determine why it’s a challenge. Consider these potential culprits.
For students with difficulties with inference generation while reading:
  • Does your student know to read for comprehension?

  • Can your student pause and think aloud while reading?

  • Does your student understand that answers to questions usually come from the text? (Consider this in terms of our Common Core State Standards climate.)

  • If your student already makes inferences, can the student also revise them when additional information comes to light?

For students who have a hard time with inference generation in social situations:
  • Does your student know that the actual words their conversational partner says might not be the most important information they convey?

  • Can your student detect sarcasm?

  • Does your student recognize polite lies?

  • Can your student detect what their partner feels, thinks or wants to say based on facial expressions and tone of voice (boredom versus interest, for example)?

Determining the culprits for your students’ inference challenges helps you decide the best course of action for treatment. Whether your student struggles with inference generation in reading or during social situations, they’ll likely benefit from explicit instruction in the process of inference generation.
You might consider, for example, using the graphic illustration to help explain the process. For students who have trouble generating inferences while reading, consider asking your student to pause at predetermined points in a text to ask a question about what he’s read. Encourage thinking aloud by modeling it first to help students learn how to ask questions about the text and what types of questions to consider asking.
For students with particular difficulty making social inferences, you might use video examples to demonstrate how verbal and nonverbal behaviors give clues about what a conversational partner is feeling, thinking or trying to express. I like using clips from popular talk shows, such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” to provide examples of nonverbal and verbal behaviors that indicate interested listening.
More Research-Based Intervention at ASHA Connect

Kim Murza will present the research basis of her intervention ideas during her ASHA Connect presentation, “Promoting Inference Generation in Adolescents.”

ASHA Connect is a three-day event that blends the former ASHA Schools Conference and Health Care/Business Institute. School-based clinicians will find practices and solutions they can try immediately. ASHA Connect takes place July 8–10 in Minneapolis.

In the meantime, Murza suggests clinicians get “meta” and think about what they’re thinking when reading a novel or holding a conversation.

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FROM THIS ISSUE
May 2016
Volume 21, Issue 5