WWC review of this study

The language of play: Developing preschool vocabulary through play following shared book-reading [Guided play or directed play vs. free play]

Toub, T. S., Hassinger-Das, B., Nesbitt, K. T., Ilgaz, H., Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Nicolopoulou, A., & Dickinson, D. K. (2018). Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 1–17.

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    249
     Students
    , grade
    PK

Reviewed: January 2022

At least one finding shows promising evidence of effectiveness
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
Language outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Receptive Test (Toub et al. 2018)

Guided play or directed play vs. (Not applicable)

1 Week

Guided play + Directed play vs. Free play;
249 students

0.60

0.54

Yes

 
 
14
 
More Outcomes

New Word Definition Test-Modified (NWDT-M;Hadley et al., 2016),

Guided play or directed play vs. (Not applicable)

1 Week

Guided play + Directed play vs. Free play;
249 students

0.57

0.42

Yes

 
 
13
 
Show Supplemental Findings

Receptive Test (Toub et al. 2018)

Guided play or directed play vs. (Not applicable)

3 Weeks

Guided play + Directed play vs. Free play;
153 students

0.63

0.55

Yes

 
 
17

New Word Definition Test-Modified (NWDT-M;Hadley et al., 2016),

Guided play or directed play vs. (Not applicable)

3 Weeks

Guided play + Directed play vs. Free play;
153 students

0.61

0.50

No

--


Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.


  • 15% English language learners

  • Female: 54%
    Male: 46%
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    Pennsylvania, Tennessee
  • Race
    Asian
    1%
    Black
    55%
    Other or unknown
    30%
    White
    14%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic    
    23%
    Not Hispanic or Latino    
    77%

Setting

The study included 10 Head Start preschool classrooms in Eastern Pennsylvania and 18 pre-K classrooms in Central Tennessee. About nine students per classroom participated in the study.

Study sample

The authors reported that the students in the study were 55 percent Black, 23 percent Hispanic/Latino, 1 percent Asian, and 14 percent White, and 7 percent other race or multiracial. The average age was 59 months (4.9 years), ranging from 39 months to 66 months. Most students in the sample were low-income. In the Pennsylvania classrooms, all children were low-income, while in Tennessee, low-income students were prioritized for enrollment. Fifteen percent of the sample were English learners, and there was no report of children having learning disabilities.

Intervention Group

The intervention condition for this review is the aggregated sample of the guided play and directed play intervention groups. In both the guided play and directed playgroups, students received the intervention in small groups led by an outside intervention specialist. The intervention lasted two weeks (8 days), with each week having 4 consecutive days of sessions. Each session had two phases: (1) book reading and (2) play. In the book reading phase, the intervention was exactly the same for the guided play and directed playgroups. Intervention specialists followed a script to guide 10 minutes of reading. The books used included 10 target words, which were explicitly defined and taught by the intervention specialist during reading, along with 3-5 exposure words, which were included in the book but not explicitly taught, and 8 control words. The instruction on the target word began with a child-friendly definition, additional conceptual information, use of a gesture, and tied to the pictures in the book. One book was read in the first week while a second book was read in the second week of the intervention sessions. The books either covered a dragon or farm theme. After reading the book, the intervention specialist reviewed the story and used picture cards to review the target words. Over time, the children were asked to produce more of the words themselves. The scripts also included comprehension related discussion questions, which grew in difficulty over time as children became more familiar with the story. Following the book-reading phase, there were 10 minutes of playtime in both groups. This level of instruction during this phase varied across the two groups. In the directed playgroup, children were asked to reenact the story from the book. The directed play was done by the intervention specialist who used a script to lead the activity. The script included at least three of the target words and their definitions. In the guided playgroup, the children could choose how to spend their playtime; the intervention specialist did not have a script for this group but would follow the children’s lead on the play activities. The intervention specialist would join the children’s play activities and incorporate target words into the conversations using a definition, close-ended question (meaning one with an easy answer drawing on the definition or the story), and open-ended question (meaning one with a more nuanced answer that did not have a single right answer and required students to think more deeply). The three conditions were delivered by trained intervention specialists. There were nine intervention specialists, all of whom were female. They had a background in working with young children. Some were previously preschool teachers and others worked at libraries or bookstores.

Comparison Group

The comparison in this study was free play. The duration and timing of sessions was the same as the intervention group. In the free play condition, the book reading portion of the session was the same as the two intervention groups (guided play and directed play). Free play differed from the other two conditions in the play portion of the session. For 10 minutes, children played with the toys in whichever manner they chose. The intervention specialist did not actively engage with students as they played and did not incorporate the target words into the play activities.

Support for implementation

Intervention specialists led the activities for each of the groups (free play, guided play, and directed play). They attended two to three training sessions that were three to four hours long. During the training sessions, they reviewed the scripts and practiced leading the activities using role-playing exercises.

 

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