Academic journal article Education

Oral Language Usage in Prekindergarten Classrooms

Academic journal article Education

Oral Language Usage in Prekindergarten Classrooms

Article excerpt

This article shares the results of an observational study conducted in federally funded prekindergarten programs to determine 1) the extent to which adults modeled language needed for their students to be successful as well as 2) if these students used the expected language when communicating with adults and peers. Specifically, the researchers describe a) the language behaviors and structure teachers and paraprofessionals used while working with students in both teacher directed and non-teacher directed experiences and b) the type of language students used during the same experiences when communicating with the adults or other students.

Classrooms examined in this study served children from low income families; as research has indicated, such children are at-risk for delayed language development, school readiness, and academic achievement (Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder, 2013; Rodriquez & Tamis-Le Monda, 2011; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Wasik, 2010). Oral language of young learners acts as the foundation for future development of reading comprehension and academic achievement (Morrison, Bachman, & Connor, 2005; National Early Literacy Panel 2009; Stahl & Nagy, 2006; Wasik & Hindman, 2011). Children's language development begins when they interact with parents or other adults; over time, children internalize more and more words while employing increasingly complex patterns and features of oral language (Reunamo & Nurmilaakso, 2007). Therefore, it is critical that early childhood practitioners model appropriate language and provide appropriate language experiences to build the skills necessary for language competence. These experiences should include indirect as well as direct instruction to encourage diverse thinking; experiences should also provide opportunities for students to communicate both with adults, who would presumably model higher level language skills, and peers. Obviously, adults will answer some questions with a simple yes or no. However, it is important that the adults in these pre-kindergarten classrooms model complete sentences as often as possible.

Understanding the communication that exists between practitioners and their students provides insights into how early childhood learning environments bolster young students' language development. The literature is replete with studies that highlight the importance of educator language modeling in early childhood classroom environments (Girolametto, Hoaken, Weitzman, & van Lieshout, 2000; Girolametto & Weitzman, 2002; Turnbull, Anthony, Justice, & Bowles, 2009; Wasik, Bond, & Hindman, 2006). In the present study, the research builds on this body of knowledge by examining language modeling of teachers and their paraprofessionals as well as the language used by the prekindergarten students.

The Importance of Language Exposure

Many studies have emphasized the importance of exposure to adult oral language in early childhood classrooms (Turnbull et al., 2009; Hoff, 2006; Hoff & Naigles, 2002). Huttenlocher, Vasilyeva, Cymerman, and Levine (2002) concluded that teacher speech is an important factor when explaining the extent that children's comprehension increases over the school year. McCartney (1984) noted that children's language growth is directly associated with the amount of time they spend talking with and listening to adult speech. As the research of Huttenlocher et al. (2002) indicated, teacher speech is a critical factor in the growth of student skill levels during a school year; this growth was found to be specific to the syntax-complexity of teachers' speech and the growth of students' syntactical comprehension. Furthermore, other researchers have reported that the language structures which teachers used impacted children's language comprehension as well as their language expression (Han, Roskos, Christie, Mandzuk, & Vukelich, 2005; Justice, Meier, & Walpole, 2005). …

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