While it is common knowledge that talking to children helps them develop language and pre-literacy skills, new research from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania shows that children gain greater language development and pre-literacy benefits the more that caregivers engage them in conversational turn-taking-like exchanges. In other words, talking with children is more beneficial than talking to children.
In the first study to link children’s language exposure to neural functioning, functional MRIs showed that children who experienced more frequent conversational turn-taking with caregivers while listening to stories demonstrated greater activity within the part of the brain in charge of language processing than children who didn’t interact in as many conversational exchanges. These same children also scored higher than their counterparts on standardised language assessments measuring vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. This was true regardless of children’s socioeconomic status or parental education.
Audio recordings of 36 four- to six-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds measured the number of words children said, the number of words they heard and the number of conversational exchanges in which they engaged for two days. All children were native English speakers who did not significantly differ by behaviour, language exposure, or neural measures on standardised tests. When these measures were compared to the brain scans, researchers found a positive correlation between conversational turns and brain physiology.
Source: Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function (February 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617742725
A new review of the evidence on early language development, commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation in partnership with Public Health England, has examined the most effective ways to support young children with delays in their early language development between birth and five years old.
James Law and colleagues looked at the existing evidence to find out which interventions have the greatest potential for boosting young children’s language skills and reducing inequalities in outcomes. They identified 44 intervention studies which focused on language and related skills in pre-school. All the studies were randomised controlled trials or quasi-experimental, matched study designs. Positive effect sizes were found in relation to receptive language in 29 studies. They found one of the best ways to improve early language development for this group is by training teachers in early years settings so that they can deliver cost-effective and evidence-based interventions to those children who have fallen behind.
In addition to high-quality early years provision, the researchers identified interactions with parents as key, highlighting the need to promote positive interaction between parents and their children before they start pre-school.
The report also stresses the need for better monitoring of children’s progress at different stages of their development, to catch those children falling behind and to identify those who need targeted, specialised support.
Source: Early Language Development: Needs, provision and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantage backgrounds (October 2017), Public Health England and Education Endowment Foundation
From September 2013, two-year-old children living in the 20% most disadvantaged households in the UK became eligible for 15 hours of funded early childhood education and care (ECEC) per week. This was extended in September 2014 to two-year-old children living in the 40% most disadvantaged households. The longitudinal Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) followed the progress of children from approximately 6,000 families, from ages two to seven, to help provide the Department for Education (DfE) with evidence on the effectiveness of early years education.
This latest DfE impact study presents findings for 4,583 children from the SEED longitudinal study and focuses on the relationship between the amount and type of ECEC between age two and three and children’s cognitive and socioemotional development at age three. After controlling for home environment and demographic factors, the amount of ECEC received between the ages of two and three was found to be associated with cognitive and socioemotional developmental benefits. There was also evidence that ECEC is associated with higher cognitive verbal ability (naming vocabulary). The study also found that children who participated in more than 35 hours of ECEC per week between two- and three-years-old had higher levels of conduct problems and lower levels of emotional self-regulation than children receiving less than two hours a week, although this group of children comprised only 3.25% of the sample (149 children). The researchers note that the children who received more than 35 hours of ECEC between two- and three-years-old were also more likely to have started early (ie, during the first year of life), and that this early start combined with high use when aged two to three is a significant factor behind these effects.
Source: Study of early education and development (SEED): Impact study on early education use and child outcomes up to age three. Research report (July 2017), Department for Education. Reference: DFE-RR706
A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review by Matthew Manning and colleagues examines the evidence on the relationship between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC), and finds there is a positive association.
The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. Of those samples, 58 assessed the overall quality of ECEC as an outcome. The relationship between teacher qualifications and overall ECEC quality demonstrated a positive correlation (r = 0.198).
Meanwhile, research funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published as a Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper, looks at whether staff qualifications and Ofsted ratings of nursery schools impact on how well children do at school.
For this report, Jo Blanden and colleagues matched data on children’s outcomes at the end of Reception with information on nursery schools attended in the year before starting school for 1.6 million children born between September 2003 and August 2006. They found that children who attend a nursery school rated outstanding, or one employing one or more staff members who are graduates, do better at school, but the effects are very small. Having an employee at the nursery school who is a graduate, specifically a qualified teacher, raises children’s scores at age 5 and 7 by two percent of a standard deviation. Attending a nursery school rated outstanding is associated with a better performance in the Early Years Foundation Stage at age 5 of about four percent of a standard deviation.
Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood care and learning environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews 2017:1.
Quality in early years settings and children’s school achievement (February 2017), The Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No 1468.
A randomised controlled trial carried out by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust tested EasyPeasy, a smartphone app for the parents and carers of two- to six-year-old children. EasyPeasy aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and interaction with young children.
The trial, which lasted 18 weeks, was carried out in eight children’s centres in Bournemouth with 144 families taking part. Games were sent directly to parents’ mobiles via an app once a week along with tailored prompts, encouragement, reminders, and information on child development.
The study reported significant findings for two out of seven outcome measures. Parents who took part in the intervention reported improvements in their children’s persistence and concentration (cognitive self-regulation). Parental consistency with discipline and boundaries also increased in the intervention group with parents feeling more comfortable setting limits for behaviour and following through on expectations. Both showed positive effect sizes; 0.51 and 0.44 respectively.
Source: EasyPeasy parenting app: Findings from an efficacy trial on parent engagement and school readiness skills (2016), The Sutton Trust
While the effects of preschool programmes have often been studied, it is less common to find studies examining the effects of programme duration on student learning. Annemarie Hindman and Barbara Wasik from Temple University, Pennsylvania, examined the effects of providing one year versus two years of the teacher professional development programme Exceptional Coaching for Early Language and Literacy (ExCELL) on the language development and learning outcomes of three- and four-year-old children in the US preschool programme, Head Start.
ExCELL provides teachers with individualised coaching by providing a background in the concepts underlying preschoolers’ language and vocabulary development, evolving into ways to develop these skills in the classroom. Teachers are provided with curriculum materials and an academic year of month-long coaching, each month cycling through a group workshop, a coach modelling targeted techniques in the classroom, the teacher using these techniques independently, and finally the coach observing the teacher and providing feedback.
In the present study, 159 four-year-old children in Head Start experienced either one year (n=88), starting at age four, or two years (n=71), starting at age three, with teachers using ExCELL. Children were in 10 Head Start centres in the urban Northeastern United States in adjacent neighbourhoods with demographically similar populations. Almost all students and teachers were African-American and all were native English speakers.
At four years old, children were tested in the spring and autumn using standardised tests measuring vocabulary, sound awareness, and alphabet knowledge. Results showed that although the four-year-olds who had already received one year of the programme entered their second year with stronger vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and alphabet knowledge than their peers who had not yet experienced the programme, by the year’s end, these peers had caught up to them. The authors state that these findings suggest that ExCELL is most effectively taught in the second year of preschool.
Source: Is dosage important? Examining Head Start preschoolers’ language and literacy learning after one versus two years of ExCELL (2016), Early Childhood Development and Care