Elizabeth Peña is the George Christian Centennial Professor in Communication. She is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and is a Fellow of the American Speech Language Hearing Association. Her research focuses on two lines of inquiry that address the goal of differentiating language impairment from language difference. These two interrelated areas include dynamic assessment and semantic development in bilinguals leading to test development. Dynamic assessment tests ability to learn new language skills. In contrast, standardized tests asses what children already know. The advantage of focusing on learning is that it greatly reduces bias by not assuming lack of knowledge is lack of ability. She further focuses on language impairment in children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Specifically, she is interested in how children from diverse linguistic backgrounds learn new language skills and how they lexicalize their conceptual knowledge across two languages. Through careful qualitative and description of bilingual children’s performance, she is currently focusing on potential similarities among typical monolingual and bilingual children as well as differences between typical and impaired bilingual or monolingual children. Her work on test development for bilinguals has focused on assessment of semantic skills using a battery of related tasks. Because typical vocabulary tests rely on knowledge of specific vocabulary items children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds often perform below age expectations, possibly leading to misdiagnosis. The bilingual semantics test tasks are designed to allow responses that reflect cultural knowledge and allow children to respond in Spanish, English, or both. Outcomes of these efforts have resulted in publication of the Dynamic Assessment and Intervention: Improving Children's Narrative Abilities protocol and the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment test.
Currently, she is working on an NIH funded project: Cross-language Outcomes of Bilingual Language Impairment with Lisa M. Bedore and Zenzi Griffin. She is the project director on a Department of Education grant focused on training doctoral students: Language Evaluation, and Development in Educational Research (LEADER). She is co-director (Lisa Bedore, Director) of a Department of Education training grant to fund MA students called Access to Language & Literacy Project (ALL); co-director (Anita Perez, Director) of a Department of Education training grant to fund MA students called Lessons on Instructional Collaboration for Speech Language Pathologists (LINC SLP); and co-director (Jesse Franco, Director) of a Department of Education training grant to fund MA students: Language Intervention as a Foundation for Transition (LIFT). Read more about ongoing work on the Human Abilities in Bilingual Language Acquisition (HABLA) lab blog.
Read more about bilingualism on the 2languages2worlds blog.
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