Current Project: Tallying Reference Errors In Narrative (TREIN)

Tallying Reference Errors in Narrative (TREIN): A tool for assessing expressive discourse capacity in children. TREIN is currently underdevelopment by Dr. John C. Thorne.

The ability to create effective expressive discourse enables children to be successful at many social and academic tasks on a daily basis. The ability to produce grammatically correct sentences is a skill that will support effective expressive discourse, but it is not sufficient for managing the efficient flow of information to meet the processing needs of listeners in many discourse situations. Tallying Reference Errors in Narrative (TREIN) is an analysis protocol designed to quantify discourse level behaviors that help or hinder efficient information flow in narrative discourse by children. Two central constructs are quantified by a TREIN analysis: 1) how effectively children manage the introduction of concepts into a narrative, and 2) how effectively they maintain reference ties (Halliday & Hasan, 1976) to those concepts as the narrative develops. To understand the TREIN, we will first examine the introduction of concepts into a narrative and how to code strategies commonly used by children, and then follow this with a discussion of how reference ties to concepts are achieved and coded.

In English, concepts can be introduced into a narrative in a limited number of ways which will vary according to the discourse context in which the narrative is embedded. Likewise, there are a limited number of strategies in English for making reference ties to concepts that have been introduced into a narrative that will also vary according to the discourse context.  The TREIN protocol utilizes a very carefully specified discourse context in order make the impact of certain introduction and reference strategies predictable. This carefully controlled discourse context allows clinicians and researchers using the TREIN to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate strategies when they occur in the narratives of children. The pattern of use of appropriate and inappropriate discourse strategies as defined in the TREIN protocol, therefore, becomes a proxy measure of a child’s capacity for producing effective and efficient expressive discourse that can be considered separately from their ability to produce grammatical sentences.

The TREIN narrative Context

The TREIN protocol utilizes a story generation task (frogwayinstructionsmodified_protocol) to generate a narrative discourse for analysis. The task has the child look through a series of wordless story pictures, and then the child uses those pictures as prompts while they tell a narrative to a listener that is (presumably) unfamiliar with the pictures and unable to see them while the narrative unfolds.  This discourse context emphasizes the need for the narrator to carefully track the difference between their own knowledge of the story (provided by their access to the story pictures), and that of their listener who only has the verbal narrative produced so far with which to form an understanding of narrative concepts. It requires the narrator to avoid introduction and reference strategies that would only be appropriate in a context where both narrator and listener could see the story pictures (e.g., pointing to pictured concepts). By not allowing both the listener and narrator to have the same degree of access to the story pictures, this task limits appropriate strategies for introduction and reference to concepts to the spoken modality, making it unnecessary to quantify non-linguistic strategies in the discourse.

To lean more about Dr. Thorne’s work with TREIN, visit his website!


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