Proximal Processes in Preschoolers' Word Learning from Classroom Storybook Sessions: Effects of the Teacher Elaboration and Child Attention

Lima, Olivia Kathryn Aranda, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Pianta, Robert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Willingham, Daniel, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Jaswal, Vikram, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Stanton-Chapman, Tina, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Children's early vocabulary is an important predictor of later school achievement, and research has clearly established the power of storybook reading to teach vocabulary. Even unembellished reading leads to incidental word learning, while simple reading strategies to highlight vocabulary can produce even greater gains. Preschool offers a potent leverage point for this instruction, as children who may not have access to books at home enter the classroom. However, we still do not know much about the proximal processes involved when preschool teachers (as opposed to researchers) read to their students. The present study investigates teachers' use of elaborative reading strategies following brief training, how children's word learning varies as a function of teachers' elaboration, and how teacher effects interact with children's own attention to the readings. Twenty-six teachers were divided into treatment and control groups: treatment teachers received training in elaboration, and all teachers read a selected storybook to their class three times over the course of a week. Teachers' readings were audio-taped and coded for their use of elaboration, and five children in each classroom were preand post-tested on the book vocabulary (seven elaborated and seven incidental words, with controls), and observed for attention during a reading. Treatment teachers implemented elaboration with high fidelity, and their students showed greater gains on elaborated words compared to the control group. Elaboration even appears to have mitigated the effects of attention, helping even less-focused children learn. Teachers perceived these benefits of elaboration, and rated their experience with the techniques positively. These results suggest that basic teacher training in elaboration can produce real and immediate gains in children's vocabulary, with minimum classroom investment or disruption.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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