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Pragmatic assessments include an analysis of how a student monitors and repairs potential and actual communication breakdowns. In addition to constructing messages according to listener and contextual variables, as described in the conversational speech model, a speaker must monitor the ongoing success of his/her communication endeavor. This monitoring is both proactive and reactive; it focuses on both prevention and repair. In a conversational interaction, both participants have the responsibility of assuring communicative success by monitoring the conversational text as it is being created.

An Observational Coding Scheme

Conversations should be video-taped and then reviewed. The review can be done first by the instructor as an assessment activity and then a follow-up review can be done with the student as an instructional activity. In reviewing performance with a student, focus on whether or not the student was being sensitive to his/her conversational partner and whether he/she was being vigilant and honest in monitoring communicative success.

The review should focus on these categories:

  • Making communication suggestions
  • Gathering information that influences message plan
  • Seeking repetition or clarification
  • Providing repetition or clarification
  • Seeking or providing confirmation

The first two involve strategies that avert difficulties and the other three involve strategies that monitor and repair difficulties.

Communication Suggestions

These are comments or actions that modify the environment or communication behaviors in order to maximize opportunities for success:

  • "Please talk slower."
  • "The lighting is better if we sit this way."
  • "Please interrupt if you are not understanding me."

Gathering Information

These are statements or questions that are uttered to establish or ascertain the speaker and/or listener's knowledge or communication abilities. These utterances serve to shape the message or participant expectations by verifying or clarifying participant knowledge or skills.

  • "I don’t know much about this."
  • "It's hard for me to explain."
  • "Do you know what perspective means?"

Seeking Repetition or Clarification

These are listener statements, questions, or nonverbal behaviors that indicate a lack of understanding, a confusion, or a need for more information. These utterances require a response from the speaker.

  • "Which man do you mean?"
  • "What was the last word?"
  • "Wait. I'm not following you."

Providing Repetition or Clarification

These utterances can be speaker responsive (i.e., in response to a listener request) or speaker initiated (i.e., spontaneous utterances that anticipate need). Repetitions or clarifications may involve modifications in rate, loudness, articulation, or pronunciation. They may involve syntactic or semantic repairs or the provision of examples or additional information.

Speaker Initiated:

"The boy bumped the girl…the boy with the beard bumped the girl."

Speaker Responsive:

S: "He wants to collect the money from other people."

L: "Who, who does?"

S: "The poor man."

S: "She showed him the vowel on the spectrogram."

L: "What?"

S: "She showed him the vowel on the visual display on the computer."

Seeking or Providing Confirmation

These are utterances or nonverbal behaviors that verify or check understanding. Requests require confirmation or negation.

"Uh-huh. " (nods head)

"OK. Got it. First I turn left."

L: "You said to turn right at the first light?"

S: "Yeah."