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 systematic review published by the Campbell Collaboration summarises the research on the correlation between reading-related preschool predictors, such as code-related skills and linguistic comprehension, and later reading comprehension skills.
Sixty-four longitudinal studies met the eligibility criteria for the review. These studies spanned 1986 to 2016 and were mostly carried out in the US, Europe and Australia. Overall, the findings of the review found that code-related skills (rhyme awareness, phoneme awareness, letter knowledge and rapid automatised naming) are most important for reading comprehension in beginning readers, but linguistic comprehension (grammar and vocabulary) gradually takes over as children become older. All predictors, except for non-word repetition, were moderately to strongly correlated with later reading comprehension. Non-word repetition had only a weak to moderate correlation to later reading comprehension ability.
These results suggest a need for a broad focus on language skills in preschool-age children in order to establish a strong foundation for reading comprehension.
Source: Preschool predictors of later reading comprehension ability: a systematic review (December 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:4, Campbell Collaboration
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
A study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, evaluates the effectiveness of a parent-delivered language programme on pre-school children’s language and emerging reading skills.
Kelly Burgoyne and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial with 208 pre-school children (mean age 3 years, 1 month) and their parents living in socially diverse areas of the UK. Children and parents received either an oral language programme or an active control programme targeting motor skills. Parents delivered the 20-minute sessions to their child at home every day over 30 weeks. Children were assessed at pre-test, post-test, and 6 months after post-test on measures of language and motor skills. Early literacy skills (letter-sound knowledge, phoneme awareness and regular and irregular word reading) were assessed at 6 months after post-test only, as children were non-readers at pre- and post-test.
Children who received the language programme made larger gains in language skills (effect size = +0.21) and narrative skills (effect size = +0.36) at post-test than those children who received the active control programme, and these results were maintained six months later. Improvements were also seen in letter-sound knowledge (effect size = +0.42) and regular word reading (effect size = +0.35). No evidence was found that the control programme improved motor skills.
Source: Evaluation of a parent-delivered early language enrichment programme: evidence from a randomised controlled trial (September 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12819
A randomised controlled trial, conducted by Silke Fricke and colleagues, looked at the effect of an oral language intervention and compared the extent to which a 30-week programme beginning in nursery and continuing for 20 weeks in Reception was more effective than delivering a 20-week programme starting in Reception.
Children from 34 nurseries in the UK were randomly allocated to a 30-week intervention (n= 132), a 20-week intervention (n=133), or an untreated waiting control group (n=129). Allocation was minimized for gender, age and verbal skills. The children in the 30-week intervention group received the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme for 10 weeks in nursery and continued for 20 weeks in Reception. The 20-week intervention group received only the final 20 weeks of the intervention, beginning when they entered primary school. The control group received their usual schooling.
Children in both the 20- and 30-week programme intervention groups showed greater improvement in oral language skills on measures including the CELF Expressive Vocabulary and CELF Sentence Structure subtests, and the Information Score from the Renfrew Action Picture Test, compared to children in the control group (effect size for the 20-week programme = +0.21; effect size for the 30-week programme = +0.30). However, there was no evidence to suggest that either programme improved early literacy or reading comprehension skills.
Source: The efficacy of early language intervention in mainstream school settings: a randomized controlled trial (October 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12737
A new study published in Child Development has found positive results for an intervention designed to improve early language and pre-literacy skills in children in Denmark.
Dorthe Bleses and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial of three variations of SPELL (Structured Preschool Efforts in Language and Literacy), to evaluate to what extent the intervention increased children’s language and pre-literacy skills compared to business as usual. SPELL, which is a Danish version of an existing programme, Read it Again-PreK!, is a 20-week storybook-based intervention for children aged three- to six-years-old. Twice a week, children receive 30-minute lessons in small groups which include a before, during, and after reading activity to address the lesson’s objectives, which is delivered via an iPad-based digital learning technology.
For the trial, 6,483 children from 144 childcare settings were randomly assigned to one of three variations of SPELL, or continued with business as usual. Pre- to post-test comparisons showed an impact of all three interventions for literacy skills (effect sizes = +0.21 to +0.27) but not language skills (+0.04 to +0.16), with little difference among the three variations.
Source: The effectiveness of a large-scale language and preliteracy intervention: The SPELL randomized controlled trial in Denmark (2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12859