Language and Literacy Skills: Oral Language Skills - Digital Promise

Language and Literacy Skills: Oral Language Skills

Sections

 

Early/emergent literacy skills are vital precursors to literacy in later grades. Children who have weaker emergent literacy skills in preschool and kindergarten tend to continue to perform suboptimally relative to their peers in both reading and writing in later grades (Duncan et al., 2007).

Reference

Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–1446.


Background Knowledge

Background Knowledge is very important for reading comprehension. Understanding text can often be very difficult without basic Background Knowledge in the subject/topic because reading often requires students to make inferences from the text. Without the appropriate foundational Background Knowledge, this may be impossible in some circumstances (Neuman, Kaefer, & Pinkham, 2014). Also, many words have multiple meanings and can be ambiguous if the reader does not have the sufficient Background Knowledge to choose the correct meaning (e.g. the word bank could refer to a financial institution or to the edge of a river) (Neuman et al., 2014).

Moreover, Background Knowledge allows readers to understand figurative language like metaphors and idioms. Figurative language is very common in texts, and children who lack Background Knowledge have a more difficult time understanding many texts. The reliance on Background Knowledge grows as students progress through school, and they are required to build upon prior knowledge to acquire new knowledge. Also, the comprehension of informational texts requires students to have more Background Knowledge relative to storybook texts, as informational texts typically use more complex Vocabulary and require students to apply information from prior lessons (Price, Bradley, & Smith, 2012).

See the section on Verbal Reasoning for information about appropriately using Background Knowledge to make inferences about text.

Assessments

  • Background Knowledge in research studies is often assessed by choosing a specific subject/topic and testing children on their knowledge prior to participating in the study.
  • Gelman and Coley (1990) modified a task first developed by Carey (1985) to measure Background Knowledge. A specific common category is chosen (e.g., birds), and an assessment is made asking children to make inferences on new words based on their Background Knowledge within that category. For example Kaefer, Neuman, and Pinkham (2015) would show children a picture of a bird they were unfamiliar with, tell them the name of the bird, then ask them questions where they were required to use background information and inferencing to answer correctly. An example would be telling them the name of the bird was a “toma” and then asking, “Does a toma build a nest?” Children with a small amount of Background Knowledge on birds would be expected to receive a score close to chance.

Learner Factor Connections

  • Long-term Memory: The ability to hold information for a long period of time, and possibly indefinitely
    • Long-term Memory is key for the storage and retrieval of Background Knowledge when reading.
  • Motivation: The desire that guides behavior. Intrinsic Motivation is the inherent desire to learn and accomplish goals, while extrinsic Motivation is the desire to accomplish goals because of external rewards/recognition. Extrinsic Motivation can vary in terms of relative autonomy, and Identified Regulation is the most autonomous form with an internal perceived locus of causality. It involves consciously valuing a goal or regulation and considering the behavior/action to be personally important.
    • Research suggests that students who are internally Motivated (intrinsic or identified Motivation) are better able to connect Background Knowledge with text, which improves the understanding of the text. Also, the act of connecting reading material with Background Knowledge increases Motivation.
  • Primary Language: The child’s language that they have been exposed to from birth
    • When a child is reading a text at their reading skill level but not in their Primary Language, possessing the appropriate Background Knowledge can enhance reading comprehension.
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES): A combination of factors including education and income of a family compared to other families
    • Children with low-income backgrounds often have less Background Knowledge than children raised in middle- and high-income households. This may be because students gain Background Knowledge from books and educational materials, and children from low-income backgrounds often have less access to these in their homes and schools compared to children from  middle- and high-income backgrounds.
  • Verbal Reasoning: Required to fully understand a text’s meaning, making inferences involves connecting and integrating information read within a text, and global inferencing requires integrating Background Knowledge
    • Background Knowledge is required for forming global inferences.
  • Vocabulary: Includes both the lexical representations of stored sounds (word forms) and the semantic meaning associated with each of those stored sounds
    • A large Vocabulary supports Background Knowledge because it allows readers to form associations between words with similar meanings.

Research Findings

  • Many studies have found that the more a student knows about a specific topic, the easier it is for them to comprehend and retain information presented in the text (Alexander, Kulikowich, & Schulze, 1994; Hirsch, 2003; Shapiro, 2004).
  • The relationship between Working Memory, Vocabulary, and inference-generation skills has also been investigated. Currie and Cain (2015) measured these three variables in 5- to 5-year-olds, 7- to 8-year-olds, and 9- to 10-year-olds. The authors investigated both local inference and global inference generation. They found that both Vocabulary and Working Memory were correlated with inference generation (local and global). However, while Working Memory was associated with inference-making abilities in 6- to 10-year-olds, this effect was mediated by Vocabulary. Thus, Vocabulary was a unique predictor of inference performance, while Working Memory was not. The authors attributed their findings to the link between Vocabulary and Background Knowledge, which allows readers to form associations between semantically associated words and synonyms.
  • Kaefer, Neuman, and Pinkham (2015) explored the influence of Background Knowledge on word learning and comprehension. They also compared children living in low-income homes to those from middle-income homes. They found that children from low SES homes have significantly less Background Knowledge than those from middle-income homes. Also, children from middle-income homes performed significantly better in a storybook reading experiment measuring acquisition of new Vocabulary and reading comprehension abilities. However, in a third experiment where both groups of children were required to read a story where neither group had Background Knowledge on the subject, both groups of children performed similarly. They concluded that differences in Background Knowledge impact reading comprehension ability and may partially explain the discrepancy in literacy measures between children growing up in poverty and their middle-income and high-income peers.
  • Droop and Verhoeen (1998) examined and compared the role of Background Knowledge in reading comprehension in Dutch, Turkish, and Moroccan children living in the Netherlands. Dutch was the Primary Language of the Dutch children, and it was the second language (part of Primary Language) for the Turkish and Moroccan children. The students were given three types of texts, including texts referring to Dutch culture, texts referring to Turkish and Moroccan cultures, and neutral texts. Their results revealed that possessing Background Knowledge provides children with a significant benefit in the areas of reading comprehension (measured by accuracy on recall task) and reading efficiency (measured by number of words read correctly per minute). They also found that, when texts are presented in a child’s secondary language, the benefit of Background Knowledge disappears if the linguistic (syntactic and semantic) complexity of the text is beyond the child’s current reading skill level.
  • Many studies investigating the impact of Background Knowledge on reading comprehension have been conducted in college students learning a second language. For example, Chou (2011) found that students who studied Vocabulary performed significantly better on a reading comprehension task than students who relied on Background Knowledge. McNeil (2010) examined the impact of both Background Knowledge and self-questioning, a strategy where students create questions about the text. McNeil’s results revealed that Background Knowledge and self-questioning combined to account for variance in reading comprehension scores; however, self-questioning was a significantly stronger predictor than Background Knowledge. Also, Pulido (2004) discovered that Background Knowledge only aided reading comprehension in students with higher levels of reading proficiency and Vocabulary in their second language. Thus, Background Knowledge appears to only help students who have sufficient linguistic knowledge in their second language.
  • Taboada and colleagues (2008) studied Motivation in fourth grade students and found that Motivation (as measured by teacher rating scale) was a strong predictor of a child’s reading comprehension skills. Also, Motivation predicted the improvement in reading over a three-month period. The student’s Background Knowledge was also a significant predictor of reading comprehension ability, and there was a connection between Motivation and Background Knowledge. It is possible that internally Motivated students are better able to make connections between the text and their Background Knowledge
  • Was and Woltz (2007) examined the relationship between available Long-term Memory, Working Memory, Background Knowledge, and listening comprehension in a group of adults. Available Long-term Memory was found to mediate the relationships between Working Memory and listening comprehension, as well as between Background Knowledge and listening comprehension. Long-term Memory is essential for the storage of Background Knowledge that can be referenced later during reading.
  • Elbro and Buch-Iverson (2013) investigated a training program designed to improve inference making (part of Verbal Reasoning) skills in a group of 16 classes of 6th-graders. They specifically focused on training students to make “gap-filling” inferences, which are those that require the integration of Background Knowledge with information in the text in order to maintain a coherent representation of the text’s meaning. The training program was based on expository texts and consisted of eight 30-minute training sessions implemented by the classroom teacher. The students were provided with graphic organizers, which contained a box with information from the text, a box showing an inference that could be made from the text, and an empty box labeled “from the reader.” The empty box was meant to make the students aware that they were required to apply Background Knowledge to make the inference. Half of the students were assigned to the control condition and half to the experimental condition. They found a significant increase in students’ inference making skills, as well as a significant improvement in reading comprehension. This suggests that all students, even those without reading difficulties, can benefit from inference-making training.

References

Alexander, P., Kulikowich, J., & Schulze, S. (1994). How subject-matter knowledge affects recall and interestAmerican Educational Research Journal, 31(2), 313-337.

Carey, S. (1985). Conceptual development in childhood. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chou, P. T. M. (2011). The effects of vocabulary knowledge and background knowledge on reading comprehension of Taiwanese EFL studentsElectronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 8(1), 108-115.

Currie, N. K., & Cain, K. (2015). Children’s inference generation: The role of vocabulary and working memoryJournal of Experimental Child Psychology137, 57-75.

Droop, M., & Verhoeven, L. (1998). Background knowledge, linguistic complexity, and second-language reading comprehension. Journal of Literacy Research30(2), 253-271.

Elbro, C., & Buch-Iversen, I. (2013). Activation of background knowledge for inference making: Effects on reading comprehensionScientific Studies of Reading17(6), 435-452.

Gelman, S. A., & Coley, J. D. (1990). The importance of knowing a dodo is a bird: Categories and inferences in 2-year-old childrenDevelopmental Psychology, 26(5), 796–804.

Hirsch, E.D. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge – of words and the world: Scientific insights into the fourth-grade slump and stagnant reading comprehensionAmerican Educator, 27(1), 10-22, 28-29, 48.

Kaefer, T., Neuman, S. B., & Pinkham, A. M. (2015). Pre-existing background knowledge influences socioeconomic differences in preschoolers’ word learning and comprehensionReading Psychology, 36(3), 203-231.

McNeil, L. (2011). Investigating the contributions of background knowledge and reading comprehension strategies to L2 reading comprehension: An exploratory studyReading and Writing, 24(8), 883-902.

Neuman, S. B., Kaefer, T., & Pinkham, A. (2014). Building background knowledgeThe Reading Teacher, 68(2), 145-148.

Price, L. H., Bradley, B. A., & Smith, J. M. (2012). A comparison of preschool teachers’ talk during storybook and information book read-alouds. Early Childhood Research Quarterly27(3), 426-440.

Pulido, D. (2004). The effect of cultural familiarity on incidental vocabulary acquisition through readingThe Reading Matrix: An Online International Journal, 4(2), 20-53.

Shapiro, A. (2004). How including prior knowledge as a subject variable may change outcomes of learning researchAmerican Educational Research Journal, 41(1), 159-189.

Taboada, A., Tonks, S. M., Wigfield, A., & Guthrie, J. T. (2009). Effects of motivational and cognitive variables on reading comprehensionReading and Writing22(1), 85-106.

Was, C. A., & Woltz, D. J. (2007). Reexamining the relationship between working memory and comprehension: The role of available long-term memoryJournal of Memory and Language56(1), 86-102.


Morphological Awareness

Morphological Awareness refers to sensitivity to morphemes and linguistic units including root words, prefixes, suffixes, intonations, and stress, which all convey meaning. Morphological knowledge allows a student to understand the relationship between the verb “teach” and the noun “teacher” where the morpheme “-er” has transformed a verb to a noun. It also will allow a child to understand the difference and relationship between the singular “cat” and the plural “cats” by understanding the meaning of the plural “–s” morpheme. Moreover, morphological knowledge includes an understanding of stress and phonological changes (part of Phonological Awareness) that may occur, such as the difference in pronunciation between the root word “sign” and “signature.”

Word components (morphemes) include:

  • Root words: The primary lexical unit of a word without a prefix or suffix (e.g., “play”)
  • Prefixes: A morpheme (e.g., “re-“) placed in front of a root word to change it into another word (e.g., “replay”)
  • Stress: Placing stress on one syllable over another can change the meaning of a word (e.g., the word “record” can be a noun or a verb depending on where the stress is placed)

Morphemes can also be classified as:

  • Free morpheme: A morpheme that can stand alone (e.g., “play”).
  • Bound morphemes: A morpheme that must be attached to a free morpheme, including two categories:
    • Derivational morpheme: A prefix or suffix added to a word that changes the grammatical category (e.g., adding “-er” to the verb “teach” forms the noun “teacher“)
    • Inflectional morpheme: A suffix added to a word to change the number, tense, or possession (e.g., adding plural “-s” to form “dogs” or adding the past tense “-ed” to form “walked“)

Morphology is important to a variety of literacy skills including reading comprehension (Nagy et al., 2003), reading fluency, spelling, and word identification (Green, 2009).

Morphological Awareness likely contributes to literacy in several ways, including enabling readers/spellers to decode and produce longer words more accurately (by recognizing the multiple components in a word: roots/prefixes/suffixes), providing understanding of the writing system, helping children process language analytically, and facilitating Vocabulary development (Nagy et al., 2003).

Assessments

  • Oral Morphological Production tasks (Carlisle, 1995; Carlisle & Flemming, 2003): Children are required to complete a sentence with the morphologically correct form of a word when given a base word.
  • Single-word morphological spelling task (Treiman & Cassar, 1996; Wolter et al., 2009)
  • Test of Language Development – Primary (TOLD-P) (Hammill, & Newcomer, 2008): Includes a Morphological Completion subtest that measures the ability to recognize, comprehend, and use different morphemes. This test can be administered to children between the ages of 4 to 8.
  • Test of Language Development – Intermediate (TOLD-I): Includes a Morphological Comprehension subtest where the student is asked to distinguish between grammatically correct and incorrect sentences. The TOLD-I can be administered to 8- to 17-year-olds.

Learner Factor Connections

  • Decoding: The ability to apply knowledge of relationships between letters and speech sounds to properly recognize and pronounce words
    • Morphological Awareness contributes to Decoding skills by helping students successfully decode morphologically complex words.
  • Hearing: The ability to hear sounds in the typical human range of approximately 20 – 20,000 Hz
    • Even mild-to-moderate hearing loss can impact the quality of speech signal a child hears, which can impact Morphological Awareness. For example, children who cannot hear the /s/ (a high frequency sound) in speech will have less exposure to the morpheme  “-s” which can change a word to plural (“dogs“) or possessive (“dog’s”).
  • Home Literacy Environment (HLE): The environment the family provides to help a child gain precursors of reading/spelling skills including access to reading materials and exposure to reading/literacy concepts
    • The amount of time parents spend reading to their children is one important predictor of Morphological Awareness. This is likely because language in books often includes more complex morphemes and grammar than language used in spoken conversations.
  • Phonological Awareness: The knowledge of and ability to manipulate and detect sounds in words
    • Morphological Awareness includes an understanding of stress and phonological changes that can occur, such as the difference in pronunciation between the root word “sign” and “signature.”
  • Primary Language: The child’s language they have been exposed to from birth
    • Primary Language may impact Morphological Awareness because the types of morphemes can vary between languages. Therefore, if a child is learning a new language in school that uses different types of morphemes than their Primary Language, they may have less Morphological Awareness in their new language. Also, if similar morphemes are used in a child’s Primary and secondary Language, Morphological Awareness skills can transfer from a child’s Primary to secondary Language.
  • Syntax: Understanding the rules and principles that govern the structure and word order of sentences
    • Morphological Awareness is very closely related to Syntax because many morphemes carry Syntactic meaning. For example, it is necessary to add the morpheme “-ed” to a verb in a sentence using past tense (e.g., “The man walked to the store yesterday.”).
  • Vocabulary: Includes both the lexical representations of stored sounds (word forms) and the semantic meaning associated with each of those stored sounds
    • Morphological Awareness is essential for Vocabulary because it allows students to infer meanings of new words (e.g., knowledge of the morpheme “un-” would allow a student to infer the meaning of unfamiliar words such as “unbelievable” or “unhappy”).

Research Findings

  • In at-risk 2nd-graders, morphology contributes significantly to reading comprehension, while oral Vocabulary and orthography contributed to word reading (Nagy et al., 2003).
  • Morphological Awareness is important for Vocabulary development. Around 60% of words acquired by school-age children are morphologically complex, and it is likely that morphological knowledge can be used to infer meanings of unfamiliar derivatives (Green, 2009; Anglin, 1993; Baumann et al., 2002).
    • For example, when encountering the unfamiliar word “owlet,” prior knowledge of the word “piglet” would allow a child to infer that the addition of “–let” to the root word “owl” likely means a young owl.
  • It is likely that inflectional morphological development (e.g.endings such as plural “–s” or present progressive “–ing” that change tense or number) occurs primarily in 1st grade, and derivational morphological development (e.g., changes in grammatical category such as “run” to “runner”) occurs in later years. These morphemes are critical because they hold syntactic information (part of Syntax) that allow children to produce syntactically correct and complex utterances. Sometimes these skills are referred to as morphosyntactic skills (morphological + syntactic) (Wolter, Wood, & D’zatko, 2009).
  • Performance on oral Morphological Awareness tasks in 1st grade is predictive of word-level reading/spelling abilities (Wolter et al., 2009).
  • Morphological instruction is effective even for young students and is very helpful for children with weaker literacy skills (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2010).
    • Senechal and colleagues (2008) investigated the impact of shared reading between parents and their children on morphological knowledge in a group of 4-year-olds. They found that time spent shared reading (indicative of the Home Literacy Environment) was a significant predictor of morphological knowledge in children. They attributed their findings to the previous finding from Crain-Thoreson and colleagues (2001) who found that parents used longer mean length of utterance (MLUs) during shared reading activities.
  • Morphological Awareness skills will likely vary in dual language learners depending on the characteristics of their Primary Language. For example, Chinese languages contain significantly fewer derivational morphemes than many Indo-European languages (Chen et al., 2011)
  • Norbury, Bishop, and Briscoe (2001, 2002) and Briscoe, Bishop, and Norbury (2001) conducted a series of studies examining the impact of mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss (part of Hearing) on language development in 5- to 10-year-olds. They found that 21-22% of students with hearing loss displayed difficulties in both the production and comprehension of morphosyntax (part of Morphological Awareness and Syntax), and 50% had significant phonological impairments (Phonological Awareness, expressive phonology).

References

Anglin, J. (1993). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysisMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 58(10), 1-186.

Baumann, J. F., Edwards, E. C., Font, G., Tereshinski, C. A., Kame’enui, E. J., & Olejnik, S. (2002). Teaching morphemic and contextual analysis to 5th grade studentsReading Research Quarterly, 37(2), 150-173.

Bowers, P. N., Kirby, J. R., & Deacon, S. H. (2010). The effects of morphological instruction on literacy skills a systematic review of the literatureReview of Educational Research, 80(2), 144-179.

Briscoe, J., Bishop, D. V., & Norbury, C. F. (2001). Phonological processing, language, and literacy: A comparison of children with mild‐to‐moderate sensorineural hearing loss and those with specific language impairment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry42(3), 329-340.

Carlisle, J. F. (1995). Morphological awareness and early reading achievement. In L. B. Feldman (Ed.),Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 189-209). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Carlisle, J. F., & Fleming, J. (2003). Lexical processing of morphologically complex words in the elementary yearsScientific Studies of Reading, 7(3), 239–253.

Chen, X., Ramirez, G., Luo, Y. C., Geva, E., & Ku, Y. M. (2012). Comparing vocabulary development in Spanish-and Chinese-speaking ELLs: The effects of metalinguistic and sociocultural factorsReading and Writing, 25(8), 1991-2020.

Crain-Thoreson, C., Dahlin, M. P., & Powell, T. A. (2001). Parent-child interaction in three conversational contexts: Variations in style and strategy. In J. Brooks-Gunn & P. Rebello (Eds.), Sourcebook on emergent literacy (pp. 23-38). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Green, L. (2009). Morphology and literacy: Getting our heads in the gameLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40(3), 283-285.

Hammill D. D., Newcomer P. L. (2008). Test of language development–Intermediate (4th ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Nagy, W., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Vaughan, K., & Vermeulen, K. (2003). Relationship of morphology and other language skills to literacy skills in at-risk second-grade readers and at-risk fourth-grade writersJournal of Educational Psychology, 95(4), 730-742.

Norbury, C. F., Bishop, D. V. M., & Briscoe, J. (2001). Production of English finite verb morphology: A comparison of SLI and mild–moderate hearing impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 165-178.

Norbury, C. F., Bishop, D. V. M., & Briscoe, J. (2002). Does impaired grammatical comprehension provide evidence for an innate grammar module? Applied Psycholinguistics, 23(2), 247–268.

Sénéchal, M., Pagan, S., Lever, R., & Ouellette, G. P. (2008). Relations among the frequency of shared reading and 4-year-old children’s vocabulary, morphological and syntax comprehension, and narrative skillsEarly Education and Development, 19(1), 27-44.

Treiman, R., & Cassar, M. (1996). Effects of morphology on children’s spelling of final consonant clustersJournal of Experimental Child Psychology, 63, 141-170.

Wolter, J. A., Wood, A., & D’zatko, K. W. (2009). The influence of morphological awareness on the literacy development of first-grade childrenLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40(3), 286-298.


Narrative Skills

Telling stories requires children to properly form sentences (use Syntax), use Vocabulary, and organize sentences in a meaningful way (Vandewalle et al., 2012). Thus, Narrative Skills are complex and depend upon the development of oral language skills such as grammar and Vocabulary. Narrative Skills rely both on elements of macrostructure (e.g., story organization) and microstructure (e.g., syntactic and semantic elements). Macrostructure can be analyzed by examining whether the narrative included important story grammar units such as a setting, main character(s), an initiating event, internal response, internal plan, attempts, outcome, and reaction of the character(s). By the age of 5 or 6, typically developing children are able to organize a narrative in a cohesive manner with goals and plans (Nelson, 1996).

Assessments

  • Let’s Tell Stories PreLAS (Duncan & DeAvila, 1998): Assesses oral Narrative Skills in preschoolers by the interviewer telling children a story using a picture book and asking the children to retell the stories using the pictures as prompts. The quality of the story the child retells is rated on grammar, level of detail, whether the thoughts/sentences were well connected), and coherence/fluency of sentences. This allows investigators to score the macrostructure and microstructure of the children’s stories.
  • Story Generation Tasks: Children use wordless picture books or sequencing cards to tell the examiner a story (e.g., Frog Where Are You?, Mayer, 1969). Macrostructure and microstructure of narrative elements can then be assessed.

Learner Factor Connections

  • Home Literacy Environment (HLE): The environment the family provides to help a child gain precursors of reading/spelling skills including access to reading materials and exposure to reading/literacy concepts
    • A strong HLE enhances the development of strong Narrative Skills. Using dialogic reading techniques, where the adult reads to the child and engages them by asking open-ended questions throughout the story improves Narrative Skills.
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES):A combination of factors including education and income of a family compared to other families
    • Children with low-income backgrounds often have weaker Narrative Skills than their peers from middle- and high-income backgrounds. Although, this can be changed by enhancing the HLE (see above).
  • Syntax: Understanding the rules and principles that govern the structure and word order of sentences
    • The development of Narrative Skills rely on knowledge of Syntax.
  • Vocabulary: Includes both the lexical representations of stored sounds (word forms) and the semantic meaning associated with each of those stored sounds
    • A strong Vocabulary is essential for the development of good Narrative Skills.

Research Findings

  • Children from low SES homes tend to have weaker Narrative Skills than peers from middle- and high-income homes. However, there are effective interventions to help improve Narrative Skills in children from low-income homes. Zevenbergen and colleagues (2003) investigated the impact of a shared reading intervention program for 4-year-olds enrolled in Head Start. The intervention program involved training teachers and parents to use dialogic reading techniques (Whitehurst, 1994), where the adult engages the children while reading to them by prompting them with questions (e.g., asking wh- questions about the story, asking open-ended questions, using recall prompts that require the child to recall something that happened in the story). They found that children included significantly more evaluative devices in their narratives (they referenced the internal states of characters) relative to children who were not part of the intervention.
  • Narrative Skills at the age of 5 are a significant predictor of reading comprehension ability at the age of 8 (Griffin et al., 2004).
  • Gardner-Neblett and Iruka (2015) examined language skills at age 2 to determine how they were related to oral Narrative Skills at age 4 and emergent literacy skills at age 5. They found that oral language skills (e.g., Vocabulary, Syntax, word combinations, morphology, and communication complexity) at age 2 were a significant predictor of oral narrative skills at age 4 and that oral narrative skills at age 4 were a significant predictor of emergent literacy skills [e.g., Alphabet Knowledge, word recognition (part of Sight Recognition), print conventions (part of Print Awareness), Phonological Awareness] at age 5.
  • Children with specific language impairment (SLI) also have weaker oral Narrative Skills than their peers without language impairment. Often their stories include fewer cohesive ties (Paul et al., 1996), less complex sentence structures (part of Syntax) (Manhardt & Rescorla, 2002), less complex Vocabulary (Kit-Sum To et al., 2002), and more morphological errors (Norbury & Bishop, 2003).
    • Soodla and Kikas (2010) examined Narrative Skills in a group of 6- to 8-year-olds with and without SLI. While there was no difference between groups in structural story components (e.g., setting, initiating event, internal response), the group of children with SLI included significantly less story information units, which is the amount of relevant information included in their narratives.
    • Vandewalle and colleagues (2012) researched three groups of children: (1) children with SLI and literacy delay, (2) children with SLI and no delay in literacy, and (3) a control group. They followed the children from kindergarten to the beginning of 3rd grade. All children with SLI received language therapy beginning in kindergarten. Overall, the children with SLI and unimpaired literacy skills experienced difficulty relative to the control group on story retelling tasks, though they produced more coherent and complex personal narratives. Children with SLI and a literacy delay performed consistently worse on measures of oral language and Narrative Skills, and they were the only group to develop impairments in reading comprehension by the 3rd grade. Children with SLI and no literacy delay did not have difficulties with reading comprehension in 3rd grade, even though they did have oral language deficits at this age relative to the control group.

References

Duncan, S., & De Avila, E. (1998). Preschool language assessment scale (Pre-Las). Monterey, CA: CTB/McGraw-Hill.

Gardner-Neblett, N., & Iruka, I. U. (2015). Oral narrative skills: Explaining the language-emergent literacy link by race/ethnicity and SESDevelopmental Psychology, 51(7), 889-904.

Griffin, T. M., Hemphill, L., Camp, L., & Wolf, D. P. (2004). Oral discourse in the preschool years and later literacy skills. First Language24(2), 123-147.

Kit-Sum To, C., Stokes, S. F., Cheung, H.-T., & T’sou, B. (2010). Narrative assessment for Cantonese-speaking childrenJournal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 53(3), 648–669.

Manhardt, J., & Rescorla, L. (2002). Oral narrative skills of late talkers at ages 8 and 9Applied Psycholinguistics, 23, 1-21.

Mayer, M. (1969). Frog, where are you? New York, USA: Dial Press.

Nelson, K. (1996). Language in cognitive development: Emergence of the mediated mind. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Norbury, C. F., & Bishop, D. V. M. (2003). Narrative skills of children with communication impairmentsInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 38(3), 287-313.

Paul, R., Hernandez, R., Taylor, L., & Johnson, K. (1996). Narrative development in late talkers: Early school age. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 39, 1295-1303.

Soodla, P., & Kikas, E. (2010). Macrostructure in the narratives of Estonian children with typical development and language impairmentJournal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 53, 1321-1333.

Vandewalle, E., Boets, B., Boons, T., Ghesquière, P., & Zink, I. (2012). Oral language and narrative skills in children with specific language impairment with and without literacy delay: A three-year longitudinal studyResearch in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1857-1870.

Whitehurst, G. J., Arnold, D. S., Epstein, J. N., Angell, A. L., Smith, M., & Fischel, J. E. (1994). A picture book reading intervention in daycare and home for children from low-income familiesDevelopmental Psychology, 30, 679-689.

Zevenbergen, A. A., Whitehurst, G. J., & Zevenbergen, J. A. (2003). Effects of a shared-reading intervention on the inclusion of evaluative devices in narratives of children from low-income families. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology24(1), 1-15.


Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is the knowledge of and ability to manipulate and detect sounds in words. This includes understanding whether two words begin with the same or different sounds, understanding whether words rhyme or not, and understanding how sounds can be manipulated to create new words. Phonemic awareness is part of Phonological Awareness. Specifically, phonemic awareness is the ability to manipulate phonemes (e.g., speech sounds like /p/ or /b/), which are the smallest units of sounds in language.

Assessments of Phonological Awareness

  • Phonological Awareness subtest of the Test of Preschool Emergent Literacy (TOPEL) (Lonigan et al., 2007): Standardized measure
  • Rhyming Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDI): Measures rhyme identification skills
  • The Phonological Awareness Test 2 (PAT 2) (Robertson & Salter, 2007): Measures all aspects of Phonological Awareness, including rhyming and the ability to detect and manipulate phonemes

Learner Factor Connections

  • Alphabet Knowledge: Familiarity with letter names, forms, and corresponding sounds
    • Alphabet Knowledge is predictive of Phonological Awareness skills such as rhyming and blending phonemes.
  • Auditory Processing: The process of detecting sound and interpreting it as meaningful input
    • Auditory Processing is necessary for speech perception and therefore essential for developing Phonological Awareness.
  • Decoding: The ability to apply knowledge of relationships between letters and speech sounds to properly recognize and pronounce words
    • Decoding is dependent on early literacy skills, including Phonological Awareness.
  • Hearing: The ability to hear sounds in the typical human range of approximately 20 – 20,000 Hz
    • Hearing loss can impact the ability to distinguish between different speech sounds. This can result in reduced Phonological Awareness and reduced production of certain speech sounds when speaking.
  • Home Literacy Environment (HLE): The environment the family provides to help a child gain precursors of reading/spelling skills including access to reading materials and exposure to reading/literacy concepts
    • A strong HLE can aid in the development of Phonological Awareness skills.
  • Morphological Awareness: Sensitivity to linguistic units including root words, prefixes, suffixes, intonations, and stress, which all convey meaning
    • Morphological Awareness includes understanding stress and phonological changes that occur, such as the difference in pronunciation between “sign” and “signature.”
  • Print Awareness: Understanding the forms, functions, and conventions of print
    • Phonological Awareness is important in the development of Print Awareness. Students with better Phonological Awareness outperform their peers in Print Awareness.
  • Short-term Memory: The ability to hold information for a short period of time
    • Deficits in verbal Short-term Memory may result from poor Phonological Awareness.
  • Social Supports: The perception of the support network, including parents, friends, and teachers, that is available to help if needed
    • Students with better peer relationships also tend to have better Phonological Awareness skills. This is possibly because positive peer relationships contribute to a student’s engagement in the classroom, which in turn supports learning. Another possibility is peer relationships partially depend on language skills, such as Phonological Awareness. Thus stronger language skills contribute to forming stronger peer relationships.
  • Vocabulary: Includes both the lexical representations of stored sounds (word forms) and the semantic meaning associated with each of those stored sounds
    • Growth of receptive and expressive vocabulary is related to the development of Phonological Awareness skills.

Research Findings

  • Phonological Awareness is a significant predictor of reading development, and providing instruction in Phonological Awareness significantly improves early reading abilities (National Reading Panel, 2000).
  • The size of a child’s Vocabulary may impact the emergence of Phonological Awareness skills (Goswami, 2001).
  • In a study of 3- to 4-year-olds from low-income homes (part of SES factor), both Phonological Awareness and Vocabulary played significant roles in predicting Print Awareness (Dickinson et al., 2003).
  • Phonological Awareness abilities in younger children are highly predictive of children’s later ability to read (Storch & Whitehurst, 2002).
  • Overall preschool and early school-age children from low-income households and children whose parents have less education possess weaker Phonological Awareness skills compared to peers from high SES households (Lonigan, 2004; Lundberg, Larsman, & Strid, 2012). Weaker Phonological Awareness skills result in significantly lower achievement in early word reading in students from low SES homes relative to those from high SES homes (Goswami, 2001; Bowey, 1995).
  • Many researchers agree that instruction in Phonological Awareness and emergent literacy is vital for preschool children from low SES households (Ehri et al., 2001; Locke, Ginsborg, & Peers, 2002; McDowell, Lonigan, & Goldstein, 2007). A recommended evidence-based approach is to assess Phonological Awareness abilities in all students and create small groups of students with similar abilities so instruction can be provided at the appropriate level (Phillips, Clancy-Menchetti, Lonigan, 2008; Kruse et al., 2015).
  • Instruction at the small group or individual level is effective in training Phonological Awareness (Rashotte, MacPhee, & Torgesen, 2001; Kruse et al., 2015).
  • Alphabet Knowledge is tied to the development of Phonological Awareness (Lerner & Lonigan, 2016), such that Alphabet Knowledge is predictive of growth in rhyme, blending (combining individual phonemes to form a word), and elision (being able to delete certain phonemes from a word properly, such as asking a child to say the word keyboard without saying key (the correct answer is board).
  • Boets and colleagues (2008) examined Auditory Processing, Visual Processing, Phonological Awareness, and reading skills in a group of 62 5-year-olds. They found that dynamic Auditory Processing was related to speech perception skills, and that speech perception skills were a predictor of Phonological Awareness skills. There was also a direct link between Auditory Processing skills and Phonological Awareness, suggesting that the relationship between Auditory Processing and Phonological Awareness is only partially mediated by speech perception skills. Phonological Awareness skills were directly related to early literacy skills. Overall, these results suggest that Phonological Awareness deficits are likely preceded by deficits in Auditory Processing.
  • Decoding is an essential aspect of reading and refers to the ability to read words by applying knowledge of relationships between letters and speech sounds to properly pronounce words. This also includes knowledge of letter patterns. The ability to decode is dependent on early literacy skills, such as Phonological Awareness and Alphabet Knowledge (Ehri et al., 2001).
  • Active Home Literacy Environment variables (e.g., reading to a child) are more closely associated with Phonological Awareness, Vocabulary development and early reading than passive Home Literacy Environment variables (e.g., seeing a parent read). Additionally, evidence shows that the Home Literacy Environment directly influences Phonological Awareness skills measured at the beginning of kindergarten (Niklas & Schneider, 2013).
  • Norbury, Bishop, and Briscoe (2001, 2002) and Briscoe, Bishop, and Norbury (2001) conducted a series of studies examining the impact of mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss (part of Hearing) on language development in a group of 5- to 10-year-olds. They found that 21-22% of students with hearing loss displayed difficulties in both the production and comprehension of morphosyntax, and 50% had significant phonological impairments (Phonological Awareness, expressive phonology).
  • Many studies have found that verbal Short-term Memory is impaired in children with reading disabilities (Kibby, 2009; Snowling, 1991). However visuospatial Short-term Memory is often unimpaired in students with reading disabilities (Kibby & Cohen, 2008; Kibby et al., 2004). It is possible this deficit in verbal Short-term Memory originates from poor Phonological Awareness and processing (Liberman & Shankweiler, 1991; Wagner et al., 1994). However, other researchers suggest the verbal Short-term Memory deficit results from a less efficient storage buffer, slow articulation rate, and poorer quality representations in Long-term Memory (Kibby et al., 2004; McDougall & Donohoe, 2002).
  • Rouse and Fantuzzo (2006) investigated the relationship between early literacy skills (measured by DIBELS subtests) and peer relationships (as measured by the PIPPS) (peer relationships are part of Social Supports) in a group of kindergarten students in a district that primarily educates low-income, minority students. They found that peer interactions during free play were significantly correlated with scores on Letter Naming (Alphabet Knowledge), Nonsense Words (Alphabet Knowledge), and Phoneme Segmentation (Phonological Awareness).
  • A study by Foorman and colleagues (1998) found that students with weaker phonological skills benefitted the most from direct code instruction (where direct instruction on letter-sound correspondences is provided) relative to less direct instruction in systematic sound-spelling patterns embedded within connected text, and implicit instruction in the alphabetic code while reading connected text.

References

Boets, B., Wouters, J., Van Wieringen, A., De Smedt, B., & Ghesquèire, P. (2008). Modelling relations between sensory processing, speech perception, orthographic and phonological ability, and literacy achievement. Brain and Language106(1), 29-40.

Bowey, J.A. (1995). Socioeconomic status differences in preschool phonological sensitivity and first-grade reading achievementJournal of Educational Psychology, 87(3), 476-487.

Briscoe, J., Bishop, D. V., & Norbury, C. F. (2001). Phonological processing, language, and literacy: A comparison of children with mild‐to‐moderate sensorineural hearing loss and those with specific language impairment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry42(3), 329-340.

Dickinson, D. K., McCabe, A., Anastasopoulos, L., Peisner-Feinberg, E. S., & Poe, M. D. (2003). The comprehensive language approach to early literacy: The interrelationships among vocabulary, phonological sensitivity, and print knowledge among preschool-aged children. Journal of Educational Psychology95(3), 465-481.

Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Willows, D. M., Schuster, B. V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001). Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysisReading Research Quarterly, 36(3), 250-287.

Foorman, B. R., Francis, D. J., Fletcher, J. M., Schatschneider, C., & Mehta, P. (1998). The role of instruction in learning to read: Preventing reading failure in at-risk childrenJournal of Educational Psychology, 90(1), 37-55.

Goswami, U. (2001). Early phonological development and the acquisition of literacyHandbook of Early Literacy Research, 1, 111-125.

Kibby, M. Y. (2009). There are multiple contributors to the verbal short-term memory deficit in children with developmental reading disabilitiesChild Neuropsychology15(5), 485-506.

Kibby, M. Y., & Cohen, M. J. (2008). Memory functioning in children with reading disabilities and/ or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A clinical investigation of their working memory and long-term memory functioning. Child Neuropsychology, 14(6), 525–546.

Kibby, M. Y., Marks, W., Morgan, S., & Long, C. J. (2004). Specific impairment in developmental reading disabilities: A working memory approachJournal of Learning Disabilities, 37(4), 349–363.

Kruse, L. G., Spencer, T. D., Olszewski, A., & Goldstein, H. (2015). Small groups, big gains: Efficacy of a tier 2 phonological awareness intervention with preschoolers with early literacy deficitsAmerican Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24(2), 189-205.

Lerner, M. D., & Lonigan, C. J. (2016). Bidirectional relations between phonological awareness and letter knowledge in preschool revisited: A growth curve analysis of the relation between two code-related skills. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology144, 166-183.

Liberman, I. Y., Shankweiler, D., Liberman, A. M., Fowler, C., & Fischer, F. W. (1977). Phonetic segmentation and recoding in the beginning reader. In A. S. Reber & D. Scarborough (Eds.), Toward a psychology of reading: The proceedings of the C.U.N.Y. Conferences (pp. 207–225). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Locke, A., Ginsborg, J., & Peers, I. (2002). Development and disadvantage: Implications for the early school years and beyondInternational Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 37, 3-15.

Lonigan, C. J. (2004). Emergent literacy skills and family literacy. In B. Wasik (Ed.), Handbook on family literacy: Research and services (pp. 57-82). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lonigan, C. J., Wagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., & Rashotte, C. A. (2007). TOPEL: Test of preschool early literacy. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed Inc.

Lundberg, I., Larsman, P., & Strid, A. (2012). Development of phonological awareness during the preschool year: The influence of gender and socio-economic statusReading and Writing, 25(2), 305-320.

McDowell, K. D., Lonigan, C. J., & Goldstein, A. (2007). Relations among socioeconomic status, age, and prediction of phonological awarenessJournal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 50(4), 1079-1092.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Niklas, F., & Schneider, W. (2013). Home literacy environment and the beginning of reading and spellingContemporary Educational Psychology38(1), 40-50.

Norbury, C. F., Bishop, D. V. M., & Briscoe, J. (2001). Production of English finite verb morphology: A comparison of SLI and mild–moderate hearing impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 165-179.

Norbury, C. F., Bishop, D. V. M., & Briscoe, J. (2002). Does impaired grammatical comprehension provide evidence for an innate grammar module? Applied Psycholinguistics, 23, 247–268.

Phillips, B. M., Clancy-Menchetti, J., & Lonigan, C. J. (2008). Successful phonological awareness instruction with preschool children: Lessons from the classroomTopics in Early Childhood Special Education, 28(1), 3-17.

Rashotte, C. A., MacPhee, K., & Torgesen, J. K. (2001). The effectiveness of a group reading instruction program with poor readers in multiple gradesLearning Disability Quarterly, 24(2), 119-134.

Robertson C, Salter W. (2007). The Phonological Awareness Test, Second edition (PAT-2). East Moline, Illinois: LinguiSystems.

Rouse, H. L., & Fantuzzo, J. W. (2006). Validity of the Dynamic Indicators for Basic Early Literacy Skills as an indicator of early literacy for urban kindergarten children. School Psychology Review35(3), 341-355.

Snowling, M. J. (1991). Developmental reading disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry32(1), 49–77.

Storch, S. A., & Whitehurst, G. J. (2002). Development of reading-related phonological processing abilities: New evidence of bidirectional causality from a latent variable longitudinal studyDevelopmental Psychology, 30(1), 73-87.


Syntax

Syntax refers to the rules and principles that govern the structure and word order of sentences in language. Syntactic development progresses through several stages beginning at the one-word and progressing to the point where children can form more complex sentences, such as those with embedded clauses, passivation, and wh- questionsBoth expressive and receptive Syntax can be measured.

Assessments

  • Two subtests from the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF) (Semel, Wiig, & Secord, 2000) can be used to measure language skills in 6- to 21-year-olds.
    • Sentence Structure Subtest: Assesses children’s receptive language abilities by asking them to point to a picture that matches the target sentence.
    • Recalling Sentences Subtest: Requires students to imitate an orally presented sentence.
  • The Test for Reception of Grammar-2 (TROG-2) (Bishop, 2003): Measures children’s comprehension of sentences as syntactic complexity increases. It requires students to select the picture that matches the sentence they just heard spoken by the experimenter. It has an age range of 4 years to adult.

Learner Factor Connections

  • Home Literacy Environment: The environment the family provides to help a child gain precursors of reading/spelling skills including access to reading materials and exposure to reading/literacy concepts
    • Parent literacy and the amount of time spent engaging in shared reading with their children are correlated with Syntax comprehension in children.
  • Morphological Awareness: Sensitivity to linguistic units including root words, prefixes, suffixes, intonations, and stress, which all convey meaning
    • Syntax is very closely related to Morphological Awareness (the term Morphosyntax is often used when discussing their combined properties) because many morphemes carry Syntactic meaning. For example, the suffix  “-ed” is important to add to a verb in a sentence using past-tense  (e.g., The man walked to the store yesterday.).
  • Narrative Skills: The ability to tell stories requires the development and use of a complex set of skills, including properly forming and organizing sentences, understanding and using Vocabulary, and organizing the elements of a story (e.g., setting, main characters, etc.) in a logical manner
    • The development of Narrative Skills rely on knowledge of Syntax.
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES): A combination of factors including education and income of a family compared to other families
    • Children raised in low SES homes tend to be exposed to less complex Syntax due to less interactions with their parents, who may need to work several jobs thus spend less time speaking with and reading to their children. Also, parent literacy skills influence their children’s literacy, possibly because parents who read more produce more complex Syntax in interactions with their children. Less exposure to complex Syntax negatively impacts Syntactic development.
  • Verbal Reasoning: Required to fully understand a text’s meaning, through comprehending figurative language such as metaphors and idioms, and making inferences. Making inferences involves connecting and integrating information read within a text, and global inferencing requires integrating Background Knowledge.
    • Syntactic skills help children use story context to understand figurative language like idioms and metaphors.
  • Working Memory: The type of memory that allows a person to temporarily hold and manipulate information for use in many complex cognitive processes
    • Working Memory contributes to Syntax development through the phonological loop, which processes spoken and written information through temporary storage and repetition.

Research Findings

  • Sénéchal and colleagues (2008) examined the impact of shared reading and parent literacy (part of Home Literacy Environment) on Syntax comprehension, as well as expressive Vocabulary, morphological comprehension, and narrative ability in a group of 4-year-olds. Their results revealed a positive but indirect relationship between the frequency of shared reading and children’s Syntax comprehension. Specifically, the relationship between shared reading and children’s Syntax comprehension was mediated by parent literacy. The authors suggested this could be because parents who read more themselves could expose their children to more syntactically complex language. Or it could be that parents who read more themselves tend to select books with more syntactically complex language than parents who read less.
  • Nation and colleagues (2010) conducted a longitudinal study of early reading and language skills in a group of 242 children. The children began the study at age 5 and were also assessed at ages 5 1/2, 6, 7, and 8. By the end of the study, 15 of those students met the criteria to be considered poor comprehenders, where they had age-appropriate levels of reading accuracy and reading fluency but impaired reading comprehension skills. These 15 poor comprehenders were compared to a group of 15 students with age-appropriate reading comprehension skills. They found that weaker comprehenders had difficulties with oral language skills (e.g., expressive and receptive language, syntactic comprehension, listening comprehension) before learning to read that persisted throughout their development. However, they did not display difficulties in phonological skills.
  • Cain (2007) measured syntactic awareness in 8- and 10-year-olds in a grammatical correction task and a word-order correction task to determine their predictive power on word reading and reading comprehension. The grammatical correction task requires students to repair a grammatical anomaly in a sentence (e.g., The girl eat the chocolate.). The word order correction task simply requires students to reorder jumbled words into a sentence. They found that syntactic awareness was predictive of word reading. However, the relationship between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension was mediated by measures of grammatical knowledge (as measured by a sentence picture matching task), Short-term Memory, Working Memory, and Vocabulary.
  • The National Early Literacy Panel report, Developing Early Literacy (2009), identified oral language abilities including the ability to produce and comprehend grammar and Vocabulary of spoken language, as having a substantial impact on later literacy skills. Crucially, measures of oral language skills were found to play a larger role in later literacy achievement when complex measures, including grammar and listening comprehension, were included relative to those that measured Vocabulary knowledge alone.
  • Holsgrove and Garton (2011) investigated the relationship between syntactic processing, phonological processing, Working Memory, and reading comprehension. They researched these factors in a group of 13-year-old students. Both syntactic processing and phonological processing made independent contributions to reading comprehension skills. Overall, their results supported a model of reading comprehension where Working Memory contributes to syntactic processing skills through the phonological loop.
  • It is likely that inflectional morphological development (e.g., understanding word endings such as plural “–s” or present progressive “–ing” that change tense or number) occurs primarily in 1st grade, and derivational morphological development occurs (e.g., changes in grammatical category such as “run” to “runner”) in later years. These morphemes are critical because they hold syntactic information that allows children to produce syntactically correct and complex utterances. Sometimes these skills are referred to as morphosyntactic skills (morphological + syntactic) (Wolter, Wood, & D’zatko, 2009).
  • Children with specific language impairment (SLI) also have weaker oral Narrative Skills than their peers without language impairment. Often their stories include fewer cohesive ties (Paul et al., 1996), less complex sentence structures (part of Syntax) (Manhardt & Rescorla, 2002), less complex Vocabulary (Kit-Sum To et al., 2002), and more morphological errors (Norbury & Bishop, 2003).
  • Telling stories requires children to properly form sentences (use Syntax), use Vocabulary, and organize sentences in a meaningful way (Vandewalle et al., 2012). Thus, Narrative Skills are complex and depend upon the development of oral language skills such as grammar and Vocabulary.
  • Parents in low SES homes tend to have less education than those in middle- or high-income homes, and when communicating with their children, parents with less education tend to use less complicated Syntax, fewer words (a smaller Vocabulary), and make fewer references to events that are not in the present (Hart & Risley, 1995). Parent literacy and language skills have an impact on their children’s Syntax development.
  • Norbury (2004) explored idiom comprehension (part of the Verbal Reasoning factor) in a group of 39 typically developing children and 93 children with communication disorders. Within the group of children with communication disorders, there were two subgroups: children with autism and children without autism. While many of the children with communicative disorders had structural language deficits (e.g., difficulty with Semantics and Syntax), some of the children with autism had pragmatic deficits only (e.g., difficulties with the social aspects of language like understanding body language or tone of voice). The children were between ages 8 to 15, and all had nonlinguistic skills within the normal to above average range. Children were first presented with idioms in isolation and asked to define them, then after a 3 to 24 hour delay, they were presented with the same idioms in the context of a short story and were asked to define them. The results indicated that all children were better able to define idioms when they were presented in context. However, most of the children with communicative disorders did not benefit from context to the extent that the typically developing children did. The group of children with autism with pragmatic deficits only did benefit from context in the same manner as the control group. Thus Syntax skills were very important for the ability to use context to comprehend idioms. Memory for the story was also a significant predictor of idiom comprehension skills.

References

Bishop, D.V.M. (2003). Test for reception of Grammar-2. London: Pearson.

Cain, K. (2007). Syntactic awareness and reading ability: Is there any evidence for a special relationship? Applied Psycholinguistics28(4), 679-694.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (2003). The early catastrophe: The 30 million word gap. American Educator27(1), 4–9.

Holsgrove, J. V., & Garton, A. F. (2006). Phonological and syntactic processing and the role of working memory in reading comprehension among secondary school studentsAustralian Journal of Psychology, 58(2), 111-118.

Kit-Sum To, C., Stokes, S. F., Cheung, H.-T., & T’sou, B. (2010). Narrative assessment for Cantonese-speaking children. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 53(3), 648–669.

Lonigan, C. J., & Shanahan, T. (2009). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Executive summary. A scientific synthesis of early literacy development and implications for intervention. Jessup, MD: National Institute for Literacy at Ed Pubs.

Manhardt, J., & Rescorla, L. (2002). Oral narrative skills of late talkers at ages 8 and 9. Applied Psycholinguistics, 23, 1–21.

Nation, K., Cocksey, J., Taylor, J. S., & Bishop, D. V. (2010). A longitudinal investigation of early reading and language skills in children with poor reading comprehensionJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(9), 1031-1039.

Norbury, C. F. (2004). Factors supporting idiom comprehension in children with communication disorders.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47(5), 1179-1193.

Norbury, C. F., & Bishop, D. V. M. (2003). Narrative skills of children with communication impairments. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 38(3), 287–313.

Paul, R., Hernandez, R., Taylor, L., & Johnson, K. (1996). Narrative development in late talkers: Early school age. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 39, 1295–1303.

Sénéchal, M., Pagan, S., Lever, R., & Ouellette, G. P. (2008). Relations among the frequency of shared reading and 4-year-old children’s vocabulary, morphological and syntax comprehension, and narrative skillsEarly Education and Development, 19(1), 27-44.

Vandewalle, E., Boets, B., Boons, T., Ghesquière, P., & Zink, I. (2012). Oral language and narrative skills in children with specific language impairment with and without literacy delay: A three-year longitudinal study. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(6),1857–1870.

Wiig, E. H., Semel, E., & Secord, W. A. (2013). Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals–Fifth edition (CELF-5). Bloomington, MN: NCS Pearson.

Wolter, J. A., Wood, A., & D’zatko, K. W. (2009). The influence of morphological awareness on the literacy development of first-grade children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 286–298.


Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning refers to the ability to comprehend and analyze concepts expressed through words. Understanding figurative language and inferences are important aspects of Verbal Reasoning.

In figurative language, the literal meaning of the text is different from the intended meaning. Figurative language is typically more difficult to comprehend than literal language and requires Verbal Reasoning to fully understand the writer’s intended meaning. It is a skill that begins to emerge in the prekindergarten to 3rd grade age group and continues to develop into adulthood.

Verbal Reasoning is important for making inferences to more thoroughly understand text and for understanding figurative language like idioms and metaphors. In order to appropriately apply Background Knowledge to aid reading comprehension (see Background Knowledge section), students must use Verbal Reasoning to form inferences. Most text requires the reader to make inferences based on their Background Knowledge, which helps them use contextual cues to infer the full meaning. Inference making can break down when the reader lacks the applicable Background Knowledge (Hirsch, 2003), has incorrect Background Knowledge leading to incorrect inferences (Kendeou & van den Broek, 2007), or possesses the appropriate Background Knowledge but does not use it in a suitable manner to form inferences. There are different types of inferences including local and global inferences. Local inferences require the reader to connect and integrate information within the text (e.g., understanding the relationship between ideas across several sentences), and global inferences typically require the reader to draw on information and Background Knowledge that is external from the text (Cain & Oakhill, 1999; Currie & Cain, 2015).

Assessments

  • Elbro and Buch-Iverson (2013) created a measure consisting of 16 questions where the students were required to make inferences and underline the information in the text that allowed them to answer the question. The assessment is scored based on accuracy and whether they underlined the appropriate section of the text.
  • Cain and colleagues (2001) taught students a knowledge base, read them a story, then asked them questions where they were required to integrate information from the knowledge base with the story to make inferences. Their accuracy was measured.
  • An assessment by Cain and Oakhill (1999) involves having students read three short stories and answer questions that ask about literal information and inferential information. Two types of inference questions are included. In one, the students are required to integrate general knowledge with information from the story, and in the other, students are required to integrate information between two sentences.

Learner Factor Connections

  • Background Knowledge: Information that is essential for fully understanding a situation, problem, story, etc.
    • Background Knowledge is required for forming global inferences as part of Verbal Reasoning.
  • Syntax: The rules and principles that govern the structure and word order of sentences
    • Syntactic skills help children use story context to understand figurative language like idioms.
  • Vocabulary: Includes both the lexical representations of stored sounds (word forms) and the semantic meaning associated with each of those stored sounds
    • A large Vocabulary supports Verbal Reasoning because it allows readers to properly apply Background Knowledge by forming associations between synonyms and words with similar meanings.
  • Working Memory: The type of memory that allows a person to temporarily hold and manipulate information for use in many complex cognitive processes
    • Working Memory is important for Verbal Reasoning because information can be held in Working Memory while it is related to the new information presented in the text.

Research Findings

Inference Studies

  • Elbro and Buch-Iverson (2013) investigated a training program designed to improve inference-making skills in a group of 16 6th-grade classes. They specifically focused on training students to make “gap-filling” inferences, which are those that require the integration of Background Knowledge with information in the text in order to maintain a coherent representation of the text’s meaning. The training program was based on expository texts and consisted of 8 30-minute training sessions implemented by the classroom teacher. The students were provided with graphic organizers, which contained a box with information from the text, a box showing an inference that could be made from the text, and an empty box labeled “from the reader.” The empty box was meant to make the students aware that they were required to apply Background Knowledge to make the inference. Half of the students were assigned to the control condition and half to the experimental condition. They found a significant increase in students’ inference making skills as well as a significant improvement in reading comprehension. This suggests that all students, even those without reading difficulties, can benefit from inference-making training.
  • Cain and colleagues (2001) examined the relationship between reading comprehension skills and the ability to make inferences. The authors controlled for individual differences in Background Knowledge to specifically examine inference-making skills. Two groups of students age 7 to 8 years participated in the study. One group were skilled readers (skilled comprehenders), and the other had weaker reading skills (less skilled comprehenders). The children were first taught a knowledge base about the planet where the story they were about to hear took place. Inferences would need to be made based on this knowledge base. Then they were read a multi-episode story and were asked questions that required children to make both a coherence inference (readers must link different elements and premises in the text) and an elaborative inference (creates a richer representation of the text but is not necessary to understand the text), as well as to provide literal information from the story. The skilled comprehenders had better recall of the knowledge base. Yet when recall of knowledge base was taken into account, the less skilled comprehenders still generated significantly less inferences than the skilled comprehenders. The less skilled comprehenders often failed to select the relevant information needed to form the inference. Also note that this was a listening comprehension task rather than a reading comprehension task, and even so, the group of children with text comprehension difficulties showed difficulty with Verbal Reasoning.
  • In a longitudinal study by Oakhill and Cain (2012), inference-making skills measured at ages 8 or 9 (Time 2) were significantly related to reading comprehension skills two years later (Time 3). Inference-making skills were found to make a larger contribution to reading comprehension skills than word reading, Vocabulary, or IQ. They also found that reading comprehension measured at Time 1 (7- to 8-year-olds) was predictive of inference making skills at Time 2 (8- to 9-year-olds). The authors interpret this to mean that reading comprehension strengthens inference skills and that the reverse relationship is also true where inference skills strengthen reading comprehension.
  • The relationship between Working Memory, Vocabulary, and inference generation skills has also been investigated. Currie and Cain (2015) measured these three variables in 5- to 6-year-olds, 7- to 8-year-olds, and 9- to 10-year-olds. The authors investigated both local inference and global inference generation. They found that both Vocabulary and Working Memory were correlated with inference generation (local and global). However, while Working Memory was associated with inference making abilities in 6- to 10-year-olds, this effect was mediated by Vocabulary. Thus, Vocabulary was a unique predictor of inference performance. The authors attributed their findings to the link between Vocabulary and Background Knowledge, which allows readers to form associations between semantically associated words and synonyms.

Figurative Language Studies

  • In Gibbs (1987), a group of kindergarten students, as well as 1st, 3rd, and 4th graders, were asked to listen to expressions containing idioms that were presented either alone or within a short story. Then they were asked to explain what the idioms meant. They investigated several factors, including whether the idioms were syntactically frozen, meaning they only take a figurative (rather than a literal) meaning when presented in one specific syntactic form. For example, “kicked the bucket” is syntactically frozen because when it is presented in another form, like the passive “the bucket was kicked by the man,” it typically is not considered to have an idiomatic meaning. Idioms that are not syntactically frozen were termed “syntactically flexible.” Another factor they investigated was metaphoric transparency. This refers to how closely the literal meaning of an idiom is related to the figurative interpretation. For example, the phrase “kick the bucket” is not closely related to the figurative meaning (to die). But “hold your tongue” is more closely related to the figurative meaning of remaining silent. Their results showed that kindergarteners and 1st graders had a better understanding of idioms that were syntactically frozen, while the older children understood both syntactically frozen and syntactically flexible idioms equally well. Additionally, all groups of children had better understanding of the idioms that had literal and figurative meanings that were more closely related. This study demonstrates that even young children are beginning to gain an understanding of idioms and that it is a skill that continues to develop throughout childhood.
  • Norbury (2004) explored idiom comprehension in a group of 39 typically developing children and 93 children with communication disorders. Within the group of children with communication disorders, there were two subgroups: children with autism and children without autism. While many of the children with communicative disorders had structural language deficits (e.g., difficulty with Semantics and Syntax), some of the children with autism had pragmatic deficits only (e.g., difficulties with the social aspects of language like understanding body language or tone of voice). The children were between ages 8 to 15 and all had nonlinguistic skills within the normal to above average range. Children were first presented with idioms in isolation and asked to define them. Then after a 3 to 24 hour delay, they were presented with the same idioms in the context of a short story and were asked to define them. The results indicated that all children were better able to define idioms when they were presented in context. However, most of the children with communicative disorders did not benefit from context to the extent that the typically developing children did. However, the group of children with autism with pragmatic deficits only did benefit from context in the same manner as the control group. Thus syntactic skills were very important for the ability to use context to comprehend idioms. Memory for the story was also a significant predictor of idiom comprehension skills.
  • MacKay and Shaw (2006) examined the comprehension of different types of figurative language: hyperbole (exaggeration), indirect requests (a request phrased as a comment such as “that cake looks delicious”), irony (where the literal meaning is opposite from the intended meaning), metonymy (using the name of an object or concept to mean something it is related to, such as using “the Pentagon” to refer to the people working at the Pentagon), rhetorical questions (a question that does not require an answer), and understatement (a comment that underplays the actual case). They included a group of 19 boys with autism and a group of 21 controls who were typically developing ranging in age from 8 to 11 years. Note that the two groups were age- and language-matched so there were no differences in overall language abilities between the two groups. The children were presented with stories including different types of figurative language, and the examiner asked them what the different phrases meant. They found that both groups of children often took the literal interpretation rather than the figurative interpretation across all different types of figurative language. Also, the control group performed significantly better than the group of children with autism in understanding the intended figurative meanings. However, irony was particularly difficult for both groups of children (though the control group still performed better than the group of children with autism). Overall the results show that children with autism have difficulty understanding different forms of figurative language and that figurative language comprehension is a skill that is continuing to develop in school-aged children.
  • Van Herwegen, Dimitrious, and Rundblad (2013) investigated both novel metaphor and metonymy comprehension in a group of 31 typically developing children (between the ages of 3 to 17 years), as well as 34 individuals with William’s syndrome (between the ages of 7 to 44 years). William’s syndrome is a genetic disorder, and individuals with William’s syndrome typically have a low overall IQ with relatively good language skills. Metaphors establish a link between two concepts using comparisons or analogies (e.g., “the classroom was a zoo”), while in metanyms, a salient aspect of an entity is used to refer to the whole entity (e.g., “the palace gave a speech” where “the palace” refers to the people within the palace). The authors created 12 novel metaphors and 12 novel metonyms using individual words that are typically understood by children by the age of 6. These expressions were presented to the participants within short stories, and at the end of each story, the participants were asked about the meaning of the metaphor/metonym, a question about something that happened in the story (testing memory), and a control question. The results indicated that the ability to comprehend metaphors/metonyms increases with age in typically developing children. However, some of the youngest typically developing children were able to understand some of the metaphors/metonyms. Also, there was no difference in rates of metaphor vs. metonym comprehension; therefore one is not easier than the other. Moreover, higher semantic knowledge (Vocabulary) was correlated with better metaphor/metonym comprehension. Within the group of individuals with William’s syndrome, there was not a clear relationship between age and comprehension of metaphors/metonyms. Also, this group had significantly poorer metaphor comprehension compared to the control group, but metonym comprehension was not significantly different between the control group and the group of individuals with William’s syndrome.

References

Cain, K., & Oakhill, J. V. (1999). Inference making and its relation to comprehension failureReading and Writing, 11(5), 489-503.

Cain, K., Oakhill, J., Barnes, M. A., & Bryant, P. E. (2001). Comprehension skill, inference-making ability, and their relation to knowledgeMemory & Cognition, 29(6), 850-859.

Currie, N. K., & Cain, K. (2015). Children’s inference generation: The role of vocabulary and working memoryJournal of Experimental Child Psychology, 137, 57-75.

Elbro, C., & Buch-Iversen, I. (2013). Activation of background knowledge for inference making: Effects on reading comprehensionScientific Studies of Reading, 17(6), 435-452.

Gibbs, R. W. (1987). Linguistic factors in children’s understanding of idioms. Journal of Child Language, 14(3), 569-586.

Hirsch, E. D. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge of words and the world: Scientific insights into the fourth-grade slump and the nation’s stagnant reading comprehension scoresAmerican Educator, 27, 10-22, 28-29, 48.

Kendeou, P., & van den Broek, P. (2007). The effects of prior knowledge and text structure on comprehension processes during reading of scientific textsMemory & Cognition, 35(7), 1567-1577.

MacKay, G., & Shaw, A. (2004). A comparative study of figurative language in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 20(1), 13-32.

Norbury, C. F. (2004). Factors supporting idiom comprehension in children with communication disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47(5), 1179-1193.

Oakhill, J. V., & Cain, K. (2012). The precursors of reading ability in young readers: Evidence from a four-year longitudinal studyScientific Studies of Reading, 16(2), 91-121.

Van Herwegen, J., Dimitriou, D., & Rundblad, G. (2013). Development of novel metaphor and metonymy comprehension in typically developing children and Williams syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(4), 1300-1311.


Vocabulary

Vocabulary knowledge involves both the lexical representation of the stored sound patterns (phonology) of words, as well as the semantic representations of word meanings (Levelt, Roelofs, & Meyer, 1999). Thus, a distinction can be made between the number of lexical entries in a child’s Vocabulary (Vocabulary breadth) and the richness and extent of the semantic representations (Vocabulary depth). A distinction can also be made between receptive and productive Vocabulary, where receptive Vocabulary refers to words that are understood by the listener and productive Vocabulary refers to words that can be appropriately produced in context by the speaker. Typically, Vocabulary growth is relatively slow until a child has 50-100 productive Vocabulary words, usually at the end of the 2nd year of life. At this point, it is common to see a sudden jump in development (“vocabulary spurt”) where children add 10-20 new words per week.

Assessments

It is useful to assess both production and comprehension of Vocabulary

  • Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT): Measures receptive Vocabulary
  • Language sample: Measures production through number of different words (types), total number of words (tokens), and type-token ratio

Learner Factor Connections

  • Background Knowledge: Information that is essential for fully understanding a situation, problem, story, etc.
    • A large Vocabulary supports Background Knowledge because it allows readers to form associations between words with similar meanings.
  • Decoding: The ability to apply knowledge of relationships between letters and speech sounds to properly recognize and pronounce words
    • Vocabulary depth is predictive of Decoding skills.
  • Hearing: The ability to hear sounds in the typical human range of approximately 20 – 20,000 Hz
    • The sound distortion caused by Hearing loss can make it difficult for children to learn new Vocabulary, often resulting in smaller receptive and expressive Vocabularies than peers with normal hearing.
  • Home Literacy Environment (HLE): The environment the family provides to help a learner gain precursors of reading/spelling skills including access to reading materials and exposure to reading/literacy concepts
    • A strong HLE helps promote vocabulary development.
  • Long-term Memory: The ability to hold information for a long period of time, and possibly indefinitely
    • Once a word is sufficiently learned, that Vocabulary knowledge is stored in Long-term Memory.
  • Morphological Awareness: Sensitivity to linguistic units including root words, prefixes, suffixes, intonations, and stress, which all convey meaning
    • Morphological Awareness is a critical component of Vocabulary development by allowing learners to infer word meanings of unfamiliar words.
  • Narrative Skills: The ability to tell stories requires the development and use of a complex set of skills, including properly forming and organizing sentences, understanding and using Vocabulary, and organizing the elements of a story (e.g., setting, main characters, etc.) in a logical manner
    • A strong Vocabulary is essential for the development of good Narrative Skills.
  • Phonological Awareness: The knowledge of and ability to manipulate and detect sounds in words
    • Growth of receptive and expressive Vocabulary is related to the development of Phonological Awareness skills.
  • Primary Language: The child’s language they have been exposed to from birth
    • Bilingual/multilingual children often initially have lower expressive/receptive Vocabulary in each language when compared to monolingual peers because they are exposed to specific Vocabulary in one language but not the other (e.g., a child who speaks Spanish at home but attends an English-speaking school may know school-related words like “pencil” and “desk” in English but not Spanish).
  • Short-term Memory: The ability to hold information for a short period of time
    • Verbal Short-term Memory supports the development of Vocabulary.
  • Sight Recognition: The ability to recognize a word by sight rather than needing to decode the word
    • Expressive Vocabulary Breadth is predictive of visual word recognition skills.
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES): A combination of factors including education and income of a family compared to other families
    • Distinct differences in productive/expressive Vocabulary emerge by age 3 between learners from low SES households and those from middle-class homes. Some of these differences may occur because maternal education and literacy skills are a strong predictor of a learner’s expressive Vocabulary.
  • Verbal Reasoning: Required to fully understand a text’s meaning, making inferences involves connecting and integrating information read within a text, and global inferencing requires integrating Background Knowledge
    • A large Vocabulary supports Verbal Reasoning because it allows readers to properly apply Background Knowledge by forming associations
  • Working Memory: The type of memory that allows a person to temporarily hold and manipulate information for use in many complex cognitive processes
    • Working Memory contributes to Vocabulary acquisition through the phonological loop, which processes spoken and written information through temporary storage and repetition.

Research Findings

  • Vocabulary skills in preschool and kindergarten are highly predictive of reading skills in later grades:
    • Receptive Vocabulary abilities measured in preschool are a strong predictor of reading skills in the 2nd grade (Senechal & LeFevre, 2002).
    • In a group of children from low-income households, Vocabulary skills measured in kindergarten were highly associated with improvement in reading between the 1st and 4th grade (Spira, Bracken, & Fischel, 2005).
  • The quantity and quality of language input (part of Home Literacy Environment) that a child is exposed to is highly associated with Vocabulary development (Hoff, 2003a,b; Pan, et al., 2005). Additionally, maternal verbal language aptitude and literacy skills (also part of Home Literacy Environment) are a strong predictor for a child’s Vocabulary production (Pan et al., 2005).
    • The importance of quality vs. quantity of input depends on the stage of development. Quantity of input is most important during the 2nd year of life, the diversity of Vocabulary input is more important during the 3rd year of life, and the use of decontextualized language (e.g., narratives of past events or future events) is most important during the 4th year of life (Rowe, 2012).
  • The use of narratives by caregivers may be driven by child characteristics like Attention (Rowe, 2012).
  • Morphological Awareness likely contributes to literacy in several ways including enabling readers/spellers to decode and produce longer words more accurately (by recognizing the multiple components in a word: roots/prefixes/suffixes), providing understanding of the writing system, helping children process language analytically, and facilitating Vocabulary development (Nagy et al., 2003).
  • Ouellette (2006) found that expressive Vocabulary breadth predicted visual word recognition skills (part of Sight Recognition) in a group of typically developing 4th grade students. However receptive Vocabulary depth was predictive of Decoding performance (the ability to apply knowledge of the relationship between letters and their corresponding sounds).
  • Currie and Cain (2015) examined the relationship between Working Memory, Vocabulary, and inference generation (part of Verbal Reasoning) skills. They measured these three variables in 5- to 6-year-olds, 7- to 8-year-olds, and 9- to 10-year-olds. The authors investigated both local inference and global inference generation. They found that both Vocabulary and Working Memory were correlated with inference generation (local and global). However, while Working Memory was associated with inference making abilities in 6- to 10-year-olds, this effect was mediated by Vocabulary. Thus, Vocabulary was a unique predictor of inference performance. The authors attributed their findings to the link between Vocabulary and Background Knowledge, which allows readers to form associations between semantically associated words and synonyms.
  • Many studies investigating the impact of Background Knowledge on reading comprehension have been conducted in college age students who are learning a second language. For example, Chou (2011) found that students who studied Vocabulary performed significantly better on a reading comprehension task than students who relied on Background Knowledge. McNeil (2010) examined the impact of both Background Knowledge and self-questioning, a strategy where students create questions about the text. McNeil’s results revealed that Background Knowledge and self-questioning combined to account for variance in reading comprehension scores; however, self-questioning was a significantly stronger predictor than Background Knowledge. Also, Pulido (2004) discovered that Background Knowledge only aided reading comprehension in students with higher levels of reading proficiency and Vocabulary in their second language. Thus, Background Knowledge appears to only help students who have sufficient linguistic knowledge in their second language.
  • Overall, distinct differences in Vocabulary production emerge by age 3 between children from low SES households and those from middle-class homes (Pan et al., 2005), where children from low SES homes produce fewer words than their peers from middle-class homes.
  • Vohr and colleagues (2010) investigated the impact of early intervention on expressive Vocabulary in children with hearing loss (Hearing). They examined expressive Vocabulary in infants who were identified as having hearing loss in the Rhode Island newborn screening program and, at the time of the study, were between the ages of 18 to 24 months. The children with Hearing loss were divided into those who were enrolled in early intervention at or before 3 months of age and those who were enrolled after 3 months. Early intervention services included being enrolled in a specialty program for infants/toddlers with Hearing loss that supports language acquisition and provides speech therapy, as well as occupational and physical therapy when needed. Overall, children with Hearing loss had a smaller expressive Vocabulary than children with typical Hearing, and children who received early intervention services at/before 3 months of age had larger expressive Vocabularies than children who enrolled after 3 months. This demonstrates that early identification of Hearing loss and subsequent early intervention services are both essential to language development outcomes in children with Hearing loss.
  • Telling stories requires children to properly form sentences (use Syntax), use correct Vocabulary, and organize sentences in a meaningful way (Vandewalle et al., 2012). Thus, Narrative Skills are complex and depend upon the development of oral language skills, such as grammar and Vocabulary.
  • Short-term Memory capacity predicts Vocabulary skills more so than intelligence in prekindergarten students (Davidse et al., 2010).
  • Children with larger Vocabularies are better able to acquire new Vocabulary implicitly from storybook reading (Leung, 2008; Stahl & Nagy, 2006).
  • Research suggests that the size of a child’s Vocabulary may impact the emergence of Phonological Awareness skills (Goswami, 2001).
  • Mancilla-Martinez and Lesaux (2010) conducted a longitudinal study examining the contributions of initial status (at age 4 1/2) and rate of growth in both Vocabulary (measured in both Spanish and English using a picture-naming task) and word reading skills to English reading comprehension in low-achieving Spanish-speaking children (part of Primary Language). The participants were followed between ages 4 1/2 to 8, and a portion of these students were recruited to investigate reading comprehension skills at the age of 11. Word reading and English Vocabulary were found to influence English reading comprehension at age 11, but word reading had a greater impact. Also, the average English reading comprehension of these 5th grade students was at the 2nd grade level, and their Vocabulary skills plateaued at the level equivalent to an 8 1/2- to 9-year-old monolingual English speaker. Yet, their word reading skills were in the average range. The authors suggest that it might be possible to identify poor comprehenders on the basis of a profile of low Vocabulary and average age-appropriate word level reading skills. They also suggest that an emphasis be placed on boosting Vocabulary knowledge in language learners, which will in turn enhance their ability to gain Vocabulary and word knowledge from their own independent reading.
  • Studies of preschool children who are in the process of acquiring two languages have found that they often initially possess lower levels of skill in each language (such as a smaller Vocabulary or weaker Syntax skills) compared to monolingual peers (Marchman, Fernald, & Hurtado, 2010), and this is true even when the two groups are matched for SES (Hoff et al., 2012). While there are many advantages to being bilingual and multilingual, educators should be aware that dual language and multiple language learners follow a different learning trajectory than their monolingual peers.

References

Chou, P. T. M. (2011). The effects of vocabulary knowledge and background knowledge on reading comprehension of Taiwanese EFL students. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching8(1), 108-115.

Connor, C. M., Son, S. H., Hindman, A. H., & Morrison, F. J. (2005). Teacher qualifications, classroom practices, family characteristics, and preschool experience: Complex effects on first graders’ vocabulary and early reading outcomesJournal of School Psychology, 43(4), 343-375.

Currie, N. K., & Cain, K. (2015). Children’s inference generation: The role of vocabulary and working memory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology137, 57-75.

Davidse, N. J., de Jong, M. T., Bus, A. G., Huijbregts, S. C. J., & Swaab, H. (2011). Cognitive and environmental predictors of early literacy skillsReading and Writing, 24(4), 395-412.

Goswami, U. (2001). Early phonological development and the acquisition of literacy. Handbook of Early Literacy Research1, 111-125.

Harms, T., Clifford, R. M., & Cryer, D. (1998). Early childhood environment rating scale. Revised edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Hoff, E. (2003a). The specificity of environmental influence: Socioeconomic status affects early vocabulary development via maternal speechChild Development, 74(5), 1368-1378.

Hoff, E. (2003b). Causes and consequences of SES-related differences in parent-to-child speech. In M.H. Bornstein & R.H. Bradley (Eds.), Socioeconomic status, parenting, and child development (pp. 147-160). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Hoff, E., Core, C., Place, S., Rumiche, R., Señor, M., & Parra, M. (2012). Dual language exposure and early bilingual development. Journal of Child Language39(1), 1-27.

Leung, C. B. (2008). Preschoolers’ acquisition of scientific vocabulary through repeated read-aloud events, retellings, and hands-on science activitiesReading Psychology, 29(2), 165-193.

Levelt, W.J.M., Roelofs, A., & Meyer, A.S. (1999). A theory of lexical access in speech productionBehavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 1-75.

Mancilla‐Martinez, J., & Lesaux, N. K. (2011). The gap between Spanish speakers’ word reading and word knowledge: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 82(5), 1544-1560.

Marchman, V. A., Fernald, A., & Hurtado, N. (2010). How vocabulary size in two languages relates to efficiency in spoken word recognition by young Spanish–English bilinguals. Journal of Child Language37(04), 817-840.

Morra, S., & Camba, R. (2009). Vocabulary learning in primary school children: Working memory and long-term memory componentsJournal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104(2), 156-178.

Nagy, W., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Vaughan, K., & Vermeulen, K. (2003). Relationship of Morphology and Other Language Skills to Literacy Skills in At-Risk Second-Grade Readers and At-Risk Fourth-Grade Writers. Journal of Educational Psychology95(4), 730-742.

Ouellette, G. P. (2006). What’s meaning got to do with it: The role of vocabulary in word reading and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology98(3), 554-566.

Pan, B. A., Rowe, M. L., Singer, J. D., & Snow, C. E. (2005). Maternal correlates of growth in toddler vocabulary production in low‐income familiesChild Development, 76(4), 763-782.

Pianta, R. C., La Paro, K. M., & Hamre, B. K. (2008). Classroom assessment scoring system [CLASS] manual: Pre-K. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Rowe, M. L. (2012). A longitudinal investigation of the role of quantity and quality of child‐directed speech in vocabulary development. Child Development83(5), 1762-1774.

Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. A. (2002). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five‐year longitudinal study. Child Development73(2), 445-460.

Smith, M. W., Dickinson, D. K., Sangeorge, A., & Anastasopoulos, L. (2002). User’s guide to the Early Language & Literacy Classroom Observation toolkit: Research edition. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Spira, E. G., Bracken, S. S., & Fischel, J. E. (2005). Predicting improvement after first-grade reading difficulties: The effects of oral language, emergent literacy, and behavior skills. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 225-234.

Stahl, S., & Nagy, W. (2006). Teaching word meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Vandewalle, E., Boets, B., Boons, T., Ghesquière, P., & Zink, I. (2012). Oral language and narrative skills in children with specific language impairment with and without literacy delay: A three-year longitudinal study. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1857–1870.

Vohr, B., Jodoin-Krauzyk, J., Tucker, R., Topol, D., Johnson, M. J., Ahlgren, M., & Pierre, L. (2011). Expressive vocabulary of children with hearing loss in the first 2 years of life: impact of early intervention. Journal of Perinatology31(4), 274-280.

Weiland, C., Ulvestad, K., Sachs, J., & Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Associations between classroom quality and children’s vocabulary and executive function skills in an urban public prekindergarten programEarly Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 199-209.

Sign Up For Updates! Sign Up For Updates

Sign up for updates!

×