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IES Grant

Title: Increasing Vocabulary in Preschoolers: Using Cognitive Science to Guide Pedagogy
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Dickinson, David Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,691,934
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A110128

Co-Principal Investigators: Roberta Golinkoff (University of Delaware) and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to create and test a novel approach to building preschool teachers' abilities to foster vocabulary and therefore, broader language skills among preschool children from low-income homes. In years 1 and 2, researchers will identify instructional methods that can be used to teach vocabulary and foster language learning through book reading followed by guided play (i.e., play in which an adult subtly offers input to children's play activities). Researchers will then refine development of intervention components and study the impact of the conditions on word learning. In year three, Language Specialists (LS) will coach teachers for four months to support their acquisition of broad language skills. At the conclusion of this project, the team intends to have a set of optimal vocabulary learning activities that teachers can use after observing and being coached by an LS, and that will ultimately support improved vocabulary of preschool children.

Project Activities: Researchers will employ an iterative method to develop a vocabulary and language classroom-delivered intervention, which will use a combination of book reading and guided play. Initial development of intervention components will occur in year 1, and testing of varied combinations of components and continuing component refinement will occur in years 1 and 2. In years 1 and 2, researchers will use experimental methods to identify which presentation conditions show the most beneficial effects on word learning. In years 2 and 3, researchers will devise and test strategies to train teachers in use of the approach developed in years one and two. The professional development and training will be delivered by Language Specialists who will model and coach teachers as the teachers adopt the novel instructional methods over four to five months.

Products: Products will include data-driven strategies intended to help teachers learn to adopt strategies for supporting language using a combination of modeling, coaching and guidelines illustrated with videotaped exemplars. In addition, reports of the projects' findings will be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in Nashville, Tennessee and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Population: Participants include preschool teachers and children who are from low income backgrounds and who will vary in racial background and home language.

Intervention: The intervention is designed to match existing pedagogy and activities generally available in preschool classrooms. There are three intervention components: (1) book reading, (2) book discussion, and (3) guided play. Researchers will create teacher protocols for the group and play-based activities that will differentially activate language learning principles, such as strategies for teachers to use to introduce and reinforce vocabulary words that were addressed during the group book reading sessions. The intervention will support teachers as they learn to use book reading to teach language and will draw on and extend book reading events as they guide children's play in a manner that fosters language growth.

Research Design and Methods: In the first two years, working in 28 classrooms in two different sites (Nashville and Philadelphia), researchers will design and test intervention components intended to support vocabulary learning and language growth. In each classroom, 3 children will be randomly assigned to one of 3 conditions. First, researchers will test three book reading methods, and then use the most effective book reading method as they then test three play support methods. Finally, they will test combinations of the most promising book reading and play methods. Initial implementation of the experimental techniques will be carried out by Language Specialists, and over time, control will be gradually shifted to the classroom teacher. Researchers will create professional development materials that include videotapes constructed or filmed as they test their methods. In year 3, the pilot test will be delivered in 16 classrooms with 12 children per classroom. For the pilot test, teachers will receive be trained through an initial group workshop followed by LS assistance for four to five months. LSs will model, show videotaped examples of effective methods, and coach teachers. Researchers will refine professional development materials based on first efforts.

Key Measures: Child outcomes will be assessed using pre-post testing with materials that control for vocabulary and topic. Researchers will also assess depth of knowledge by testing comprehension of words in contexts close to and distant from the presentation context. Researchers will examine learning across word types (e.g., nouns, verbs) and patterns of learning as influenced by children's pre-existing vocabulary knowledge across conditions. During the second half of year two, researchers will do an initial small-scale test of their ability to help teachers learn and use the group- and play-based methods. Word learning and general language outcomes will be assessed during and after the intervention. For year 3, researchers will administer standardized language tests (the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–Fourth Edition and the Preschool Language Scale-4 Screening Test) before and after the intervention. After the intervention, children's recall of stories will be assessed as well as productive language ability.

Data Analytic Strategy: Research questions will be addressed using linear mixed modeling, and all analyses will account for the clustered nature of the data. Feasibility will be determined by observing delivery during and after the intervention and by holding focus group conversations with pilot test teachers.

Products and Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Hassinger-Das, B., Ridge, K., Parker, A., Golinkoff, R.M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., and Dickinson, D.K. (2016). Building Vocabulary Knowledge in Preschoolers Through Shared Book Reading and Gameplay. Mind, Brain, and Education, 10(2): 71–80.

Weisberg, D.S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., and Golinkoff, R.M. (2013). Guided Play: Where Curricular Goals Meet a Playful Pedagogy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(2): 104–112.