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The purpose of the study was to examine the word learning skills and abilities of kindergartners who were considered at risk. This study was interested in vocabulary acquisition, specifically synonym learning, during JBR enhanced with elaborated commenting of target words. Current literature suggests repeated exposure and adult commenting during shared reading experiences facilitates word learning and significantly influences vocabulary acquisition for young language learners (Graves, 2006; Justice, Meier, & Walpole, 2005; McKeown & Beck, 2004; Robbins and Ehri, 1998; Sénéchal, 1997).
There has been little research investigating the use of elaborated commenting or the effects of synonyms within a JBR context for kindergarten students as a potential strategy to increase word learning. Preschool age children benefit and increase word learning skills when additional semantic information (synonyms, short explanations) regarding novel vocabulary is given. Semantic cues surrounding vocabulary offer children the opportunity to relate and associate novel words to surrounding context to gain specific information regarding word meaning (Best, Dockrell, & Braisby, 2006; Graves, 2000; Ralli & Dockrell, 2005; Senechal, 1997).
Researchers have examined the use of synonyms used by parents and teachers while reading to young children (Elley, 1989; Pemberton & Watkins, 1987). Results revealed children made greater gains when the reader gave short explanations (e.g., synonyms) of target words during reading compared to children who simply listened to the story text. This applied dissertation study adds to the minimal literature examining the benefits of using elaborated commenting to influence and support synonym knowledge during JBR for children who are at risk for potential delays.
During the two reading sessions, participants were read a story in which synonym target words and illustrations were embedded into the story. Elaborated commenting presentation was counterbalanced across target synonyms by using two different story formats (see Appendix E and F). One of two counterbalanced story formats were randomly assigned to each participant. The strategy of elaborated commenting was used to help children make greater gains and increase vocabulary development. After two joint book reading sessions, participants were then administered an expressive and receptive post-test. Investigator used SPSS; Version 18.0 to enter data and appropriate statistical data was calculated to determine the impact elaborated commenting had on expressive and receptive synonym word learning.
Review of Null Hypotheses
The null hypothesis assumes there is no significant difference between vocabulary acquisition during JBR when provided elaborated commenting or text presentation alone. A within-subjects counterbalanced design was used to investigate the probability that elaborated commenting was responsible for synonym learning for at-risk kindergartners rather than joint book reading alone. Research questions examined in this study include:
Do at risk kindergarten students demonstrate greater receptive vocabulary acquisition than expressive vocabulary acquisition given joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone?
Do at risk kindergarten students acquire more vocabulary words receptively from joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone?
Do at risk kindergarten students acquire more vocabulary words expressively from joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone?
Two instruments were used to collect the post-test data required to confirm the hypotheses. Both instruments were adapted and used with permission and administered by the investigator. Post-test instruments included an expressive post-test (see Appendix G), and a receptive post-test (see Appendix H) analyzing both text only and elaborated commenting.
The first question investigated whether there is a significant difference between the acquisition of receptive and expressive vocabulary for at risk kindergarten students given joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone. A null hypothesis would indicate there is no significant difference, implying receptive and expressive vocabulary is acquired at the same rate. Performance was examined using a within subjects analysis of variances (ANOVA) and paired t tests to measure expressive and receptive word learning differences during JBR using elaborated commenting. Analysis revealed that at risk kindergarten students demonstrated greater receptive vocabulary acquisition on all receptive post-tests than expressive vocabulary acquisition during joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone indicating a significant effect when comparing receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition. Null hypothesis was rejected implying with reasonable certainty that there is a significant difference between receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition when comparing elaborated commenting to joint book reading alone.
The second research question investigated if there was a significant difference between joint book reading alone compared to experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting for receptive vocabulary acquisition. A null hypothesis would indicate there is no significant difference, implying at risk kindergartners would not acquire more vocabulary receptively from joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone. Outcomes were examined using a within subjects analysis of variances (ANOVA) and paired t tests to measure receptive word learning differences comparing JBR alone and the use of elaborated commenting. Comparing correct receptive responses for synonym learning using elaborated commenting (16) to that of JBR alone (15), results showed participants did not acquired more receptive vocabulary when enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone. Null hypothesis was not rejected implying there was a lack of a statistically significant difference with regards to elaborated commenting and vocabulary acquisition.
The final research question examined if there was a significant difference between joint book reading alone compared to experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting for expressive vocabulary acquisition. A null hypothesis would indicate there is no significant difference, implying that at risk kindergartners would not acquire more vocabulary expressively from joint book reading experiences enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone. Results were examined using a within subjects Analysis of variances (ANOVA) and paired t tests measuring expressive word learning differences comparing JBR alone and the use of elaborated commenting. Comparing correct expressive responses for synonym learning using elaborated commenting (3) to that of JBR alone (1), results showed that participants did not acquire significantly more expressive vocabulary when JBR was enhanced with elaborated commenting compared to joint book reading alone. Null hypothesis was not rejected implying there was a lack of a statistically significant difference with regards to elaborated commenting and vocabulary acquisition.
Implications of Findings
Children enjoy a variety of readily available inexpensive storybooks, which can provide a rich collection of potentially unknown words to be targeted to encourage vocabulary development during joint book reading activities (Justice et al.). During the preschool years, young children have the ability to learn new vocabulary rapidly at an extraordinary pace. Between the ages of one and six toddlers and preschoolers potentially can learn approximately five novel words each day (Carey, 1978). Results of current study support previous research in that exposure to storybooks has a positive affect on children's ability to learn language (Scarborough & Dobrich, 1994; Senechal, LeFevre, Hudson & Lawson, 1996).
Previous research found that young language learners have the ability to gain vocabulary knowledge and learn new words during JBR activities through incidental learning (Elley, 1989; Senechal & Cornell, 1993; Robbins & Ehri, 1994). Additionally, growing research revealed structured language activities, such as JBR, question and commenting, and discussion and interacting is an advantageous way to promote language and vocabulary skills in young children (Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, & Pellgrini, 1995; Van Kleck, Stahl, & Bauer, 2003; Whitehurst, Zvenbergen, Crone, Schultz, Velting, & Fischel, 1999). Results of this study support previous investigations in that various novel word exposure strategies used during joint book reading influences receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition for young language learners (Elley, 1989; Ewers & Brownson, 1999; Senechal, 1997; Snow & Goldfield, 1983).
Furthermore, previous research suggested preschool and kindergarten vocabulary knowledge can be a predictor of a children's reading ability (Badian, 1982; Scanlon & Velutino, 1996; Tunmer, Herriman, & Nesdale, 1988). As a result, young children with delayed, or limited, vocabulary skills are at risk for experiencing academic failure and difficulties with reading skills. Children who have lower initial vocabulary abilities and are less likely than their typically developing peers to acquire words while listening to stories (Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Senechal, Thomas, & Monker, 1995) or viewing videos and are at risk for later reading disabilities.
Findings of this study indicated participants gained greater receptive vocabulary when compared to expressive vocabulary during JBR. Post-test scores comparing receptive elaborated and receptive text only conditions resulted in no statistically significant differences, though descriptive statistics revealed minimally higher receptive scores when target words were paired with elaborated commenting. Findings may be minimal due to small sample size. If results of greater gains in elaborated commenting when compared to text only held true with a larger sample size, findings would support other studies evaluating the effectiveness of providing elaboration and simple explanations (i.e., simple explanation) of target words within the context of JBR (Biemiller & Boote, 2005; Elley, 1989; Senechal, 1997).
Findings of this study indicated receptive vocabulary acquisition appears to be a simpler task when compared to expressive vocabulary acquisition. Children understand far more vocabulary than they have the ability to use expressively, as novel words often tend to be receptive rather than expressive for initial acquisition (Dollaghan, 1985; Holdgrafer & Sorenson, 1984). In terms of expressive word learning, results of this study indicated neither text only or elaborated commenting demonstrated an advantage for vocabulary acquisition. Similar studies of typically developing children regarding receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition have also found comprehension exceeds production and does not always result in the ability to produce a new word. Typically children name fewer target words expressively than they are able to identify receptively due to the fact that the ability to comprehend typically exceeds production of a new words. During fast mapping of new vocabulary words, production is a more difficult task of learning (Ard & Beverly, 2004; Crais, 1992; Dollaghan, 1985; Holdgrafer & Sorenson, 1984; Justice, 2002). Receptively, each participant was required to choose a target synonym out of a choice of four. Even if the word was not recognizable, participants may have recognized the target, or made an educated guess.
Review of the literature supports the findings of this study that young children, even non-reading kindergartners (Robbins & Ehri, 1994) can expand their comprehension of unfamiliar vocabulary with joint book reading (Elley, 1989; Jenkins, Stein, & Wysocki, 1984; Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987). Nelson (1973) stressed young language learners have the ability to acquire new words easily from social interaction and directly relate to a significant portion of acquisition before the age of 2. Young language learners acquire new words using a variety of strategies influenced by adult-child interactions. Word learning is influenced by adult referents, visuals, the number of times novel words are presented, the context and support surrounding the new word, as well as, the concreteness of the novel word (Sternberg, 1987; Sternberg & Powell, 1983).
When examining the receptive text only post-test results of this study, participants were less likely to choose the non-target foils when identification of target synonym was not possible, but chose a different target synonym from a different page. Receptive post-test was developed to ensure all foil choices were unknown words. Perhaps they recognized the foil illustration as an unfamiliar word and made a reasonable estimate for the unfamiliar target word. Possibly the unknown target synonyms paired with the unknown foils overwhelmed and increased the demands of typical word learning strategies. Participants were therefore unable to use the theory of mutual exclusivity to map target synonym to correct illustration. In fact insufficient semantic information from the target synonym was gained to be able to discriminate the target foil from the target synonym. In contrast, when examining the receptive elaborated commenting post-test, participants were more likely to choose the first non-target picture when unable to identify target synonym from four choices. Fundamentally the participants did not obtain enough semantic information to correctly differentiate the target words and were therefore unable to use the theory of mutual exclusivity to map target synonym to correct illustration
Expressively, participants were required to spontaneously identify the target synonym without any meaningful context or cues, as well as, retrieve semantic and phonological information. Studies have shown vocabulary acquisition is more effective when paired with information, which helps form connections between unfamiliar words and their meanings (Levin, Levin, Glasman & Nordwall, 1992; Pressley, Levin, & McDaniel, 1987). The demands of expressive word learning require broad mapping of word meaning, which increases the difficulty of vocabulary acquisition. Findings of this study revealed that when participants were unable to expressively label target synonym correctly, a more commonly known word was substituted (i.e., cow/bovine, rabbit/hare, house/dwelling, curtain/drapery, blanket/afghan, and book/novel). More than half of the 24 possible targets responses (n = 16) were not labeled accurately in this fashion following 12 exposures to the synonym with text only. Nearly as many (n=15) participants labeled the target synonym with a more commonly known word when introduced to elaborated commenting as well. Post-test scores comparing expressive elaborated and expressive text only conditions resulted in no statistically significant differences.
The acquisition of vocabulary is fundamental for reading development and comprehension. Children are more likely to acquire unknown words when provide with elaboration compared to text only, however; it may not contribute to a level which may be necessary to meet the needs of those children considered at risk for. (Coyne, McCoach, & Kapp, 2007). Rupley and Nichols (2005) suggest children considered at risk, and having limited reading vocabulary do not make significant gains in reading, which supports the overall intention of this study. It is imperative to continue examining strategies that may increase the vocabulary skills for those students considered to be "at risk" for future academic failure due to delayed vocabulary development. Therefore, it is imperative that research continues to address JBR strategies that could positively impact at risk kindergartners.
Participant history may have resulted in potential limitation inherent to the design of the study due to differing family socioeconomic status, home literacy exposure, and parent education. Therefore, participants may have been exposed to different vocabulary instruction strategies and different styles of shared reading experiences provided in the classroom environment. Exposure to different vocabulary instruction strategies potentially increases participants' ability to use extraneous cues to assist in word learning. Additionally, participants were selected from several different classrooms and included a wide age range of children considered at risk.
Additional exposure to the experimental book in the classroom during the study would confound the validity of the study by providing exposure to common synonyms for the target vocabulary. To minimize the effects of familiarity of synonyms to target vocabulary, classroom teachers and parents were asked to refrain from using the experimental storybook, Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown, 1947) before or during the course of the study.
Another limitation is small sample size. Parent's willingness to allow children to participate, as well as the modest size of the school, may have resulted in a limited potential participant pool of kindergartners who met the inclusionary criteria for participation which could have altered significance effects. The small sample size may have reduced generalization of results to a larger population of children whom are at risk for language delays.
All participants were introduced to elaborated commenting as an intervention strategy. No control group was included to act as a comparison to discriminate language ability between groups of participants. A control group would have allowed for comparison between groups and determine efficacy of word learning using elaborated commenting during JBR between children in different ability categories (normal development, those considered at risk and those already diagnosed with a learning disability).
Spontaneous adult-child interactions during JBR was limited to control internal validity and exclusivity. Typical JBR in natural settings encourage interaction and discussions. The participants were not given the opportunity to verbalize the target synonyms. Rather, participants simply heard target words, or the target word with elaborated commenting, but additional commenting by the researcher or participants were limited to control additional exposure or semantic input.
An additional limitation is that elaboration of the target synonym was given along with a supporting sentence and descriptive sentence. It is difficult to determine which of the elaboration specifically is responsible for word learning of the target synonyms; the increased exposure to the word, the synonym, the definition or the use of the word in a supportive sentence.
Summary and Recommendations
This study was interested in how young children acquire new vocabulary words during JBR as adults introduce new synonyms and provide multiple exposures of new vocabulary. The investigator's intentions were to determine if the use of elaborated commenting paired with supportive sentences would influence the increase of receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition for those kindergartners considered at risk.
Early research (Chomsky, 1979; Elley, 1980; Elley & Man Gubhai, 1983) has demonstrated that young children who are read to on a regular basis have the ability to make rapid growth in language development. However, few studies have attempted to demonstrate specific language learning through elaborated commenting and JBR. Results of this study suggested future research should continue to examine the effects of elaborated commenting upon children's receptive and expressive synonym word learning abilities to determine if using this strategy increases vocabulary skills. Investigations of this nature can reinforce current speculation and provide a solid foundation to characterize the role adult's play in joint book reading with young language learners.
Further research should include synonym learning in more naturalistic setting to allow for active participation and increased peer and adult interaction. Specific attention in current research is directed at examining home environments. These natural settings are where adult-child interactions are encouraged and the children are given ample opportunity to engage and interact with adults who are elaborating on word meanings. Present findings maintain the need for further research investigating the benefits of story reading and its effects on future language development impact and vocabulary acquisition, specifically which characteristics of JBR are critical for language learning. Further research focusing on strategies implemented by adults during JBR can provide continued support to define the role that adults and children play during shared reading experiences.
The investigator was interested in vocabulary acquisition specifically synonym learning during JBR enhanced with elaborated commenting of target words. It is also anticipated that JBR used with elaborated commenting would assist in providing children with strong vocabulary skills. Skills to communicate, share thoughts and ideas, ask and answer questions, and provide opportunity to develop literacy skills.
Results of this study suggest that at risk kindergartners can learn new word meanings through elaborated commenting and supportive instruction within the context of JBR. Statically significant differences were found between receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition using elaborated commenting and text only strategies, which supports previous vocabulary studies (Bielmiller & Boote, 2006; Dockrell & Messer, 2004; Elley, 1989; Pemberton & Watkins, 1987; Penno, et al., 2002). Expressive post-test scores did not reveal any statistically significant information when comparing expressive elaboration and expressive text only results; outcomes were equivalent. Receptive elaborated word-learning gains were modest when compared to receptive text only vocabulary acquisition. Future research should continue to focus on vocabulary acquisition to determine effective word learning strategies that are most beneficial for children considered at risk for later reading and language difficulties.