Language expansion and oral communication skills in preschool children
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Preschool children who live poverty may have fewer opportunities to practice complex language skills, resulting in their kindergarten entrance with a smaller repertoire of linguistic and academic skills. To learn how to enhance oral language skills of preschool children, a ten-week intervention was employed for children attending state lottery-funded PreK classrooms. Experimenters, who met twice a week for 10 weeks with pairs of students, engaged children in a total of 500 minutes of cognitively challenging conversation to expand on children’s speech. Adults and children engaged in cognitively complex dialogue through imitation, extension, expansion, recast, repetition, clarification, and open-ended questions. Pre- and post-test language sampling included the use of guided conversation, speech stems and the narration of a wordless picture book. Mean length of utterance at the word level (MLUw) was used as a gross measure of oral language ability. Matched groups of children in intervention and control groups were determined to be equivalent prior to the intervention. Post-intervention findings indicated that children in the intervention made greater gains in MLUw than children in the control group. Analyses revealed children beginning the intervention with low EVT scores made significant gains in MLUw compared with their peers that scored higher on the EVT at pre-test. Results suggest complex input promotes oral language development in children with limited access to early academic and linguistic experiences.