Child Development and Language Lab

Child Development and Language Lab-Undergraduate Research Internship Class Students stand outside of IHD
Child Development and Language Lab - Undergraduate Research Internship (DIS 485)

In the Child Development and Language Lab, Dr. Spencer and her team conducts research with young children with disabilities and children who are at risk of language and reading problems. Families, teachers and other professionals are often involved in their studies. Researchers employ high quality experimental designs to determine the effects of innovative classroom and behavioral interventions and clinical treatments. They develop and validate practitioner-friendly measurement tools. Dr. Spencer recruits undergraduate and graduate students from education, psychology, and communication science to be research assistants and work collaboratively on projects. Student researchers receive mentorship from Dr. Spencer in both research and practice and get hands-on experience with children.

Trina D. Spencer, PhD, BCBA-D

Dr. Spencer currently serves as the Research Director at the Institute for Human Development (IHD) and has an associate research faculty appointment in the Department of Educational Psychology at Northern Arizona University. She earned a specialist degree in School Psychology and a PhD in Disability Disciplines from Utah State University with emphases in language development and early childhood special education. She has been a board certified behavior analyst since 2001. Dr. Spencer has worked with culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse children as well as children with disabilities, their teachers, and their families for 15 years. She has published 31 articles in peer-reviewed journals, 5 book chapters, and 22 non-peer reviewed articles, briefs, or encyclopedia entries. Her publications and editorial service span a number of disciplines including speech-language pathology, early childhood education, special education, applied linguistics, and school psychology. Benefiting from strong collaborations with practitioners and other researchers, Dr. Spencer maintains a spirited research agenda to improve reading comprehension and academic outcomes of the nation’s most vulnerable students. Specifically, she has developed screening, curriculum-based measurement, and intervention tools so that schools can implement a multi-tiered system of language support to complement schools’ decoding efforts. Finally, Dr. Spencer writes extensively on evidence-based practice and promotes interdisciplinary, collaborative relationships among clinicians, educators, and researchers. 

Current Studies / Projects

  • Development of a Dual Language Narrative Curriculum for Head Start Preschoolers
  • Positive Behavior Intervention Supports - Early Childhood
  • Undergrads and Underdogs: Shared Book Reading Experiences to Enhance Vocabulary Skills of Preschoolers
  • Spanish and English Multi-tiered Academic Language Interventions
  • Academic Language Intervention with Native American Students
  • Revolutionizing Literacy Assessment in Elementary Schools: Pilot Project
  • American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Practice Guides

Select Publications

Spencer, T. D., Kajian, M., Petersen, D. B., & Bilyk, N. (2013). Effects of an individualized narrative intervention on children’s storytelling and comprehension skills. Accepted for publication in Journal of Early Intervention.

Spencer, T. D., Petersen, D. B., Slocum, T. A., & Allen, M. M. (in press). Large group narrative intervention in Head Start classrooms: Implications for response to intervention. Journal of Early Childhood Research.

Noe, S., Spencer, T. D., Kruse, L., & Goldstein, H. (2013). Effects of a tier 3 phonological intervention on preschoolers’ emergent literacy. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. Online First.

Detrich, R. D., Slocum, T. A., & Spencer, T. D. (2013). Evidence-based education and best available evidence: Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. In B. G., Cook, M. Tankersley, & T. J. Landrum, (Eds.). Evidence-based practices: Advances in learning and behavioral disabilities, volume 26 (pp. 21-44). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Spencer, T. D., & Higbee, T. S. (2012). Using script training and transfer of stimulus control procedures to promote generalization and spontaneity of language. FOCUS on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 27(4), 225-236.

Petersen, D. B., & Spencer, T. D. (2012). The Narrative Language Measures: Tools for language screening, progress monitoring, and intervention planning. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 19(4), 119-129.

Spencer, T. D., Detrich, R., & Slocum, T. A. (2012). Evidence-based practice: A framework for effective decisions. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 127-151.

Gardner, A. W., Spencer, T. D., Boelter, E. W., DuBard, M., & Jennett, H. K. (2012). A systematic review of brief functional analysis methodology with typically developing children. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 313-332. 

Slocum, T. A., Detrich, R., & Spencer, T. D. (2012). Evaluating the validity of evidence based practice review systems. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 201-233.

Slocum, T. A., Spencer, T. D., & Detrich, R. (2012). Best available evidence: Three complementary approaches. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 153-181.

Spencer, E., Spencer, T., Goldstein, H., & Schneider, N. (2012). Identifying early literacy learning needs: Implications for child outcome standards and assessment systems. In T. Shanahan & C. J. Lonigan (Eds.), Early Childhood Literacy: The National Early Literacy Panel and Beyond (pp.45-70). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Spencer, T. D., & Slocum, T. A. (2011). Maximizing conversational independence using script training: Generalizing outside the research base. EBP Briefs, 6(1), 1-8.

Spencer, T. D., & Slocum, T. A. (2010). The effect of a narrative intervention on story retelling and personal story generation skills of preschoolers with risk factors and narrative language delays. Journal of Early Intervention, 32(3), 178-199.

Watkins, C. L., Slocum, T. A., & Spencer, T. D. (2010). Direct Instruction: Relevance and applications to behavioral autism treatment. In E. A. Mayville & J. A. Mulick (Eds.), Behavioral Foundations (pp. 297-319). Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing.