Guest lecture by Margaret Tresch Owen at the Department of Special Needs Education, UiO

I little while ago I attended a guest lecture held by professor Margaret Tresch Owen from University of Texas – Dallas. The topics of the lecture were predictors in language and concept development. In the longitudinal study, NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development 1990 – 2007, Owen and colleges examined the effects of early child care on over 1300 children. One of the domains examined was trajectories for language functioning later in life. Interaction between parent and child was recorded and analysed. Amongst other things the video material from this study has been used to examine the predictors of vocabulary size at age three, as well as the correlation between vocabulary size and literacy skills in third graders.

Owen talked about how vocabulary size is accumulative – the more words you know, the more words you learn. This also means that the gap between children’s vocabulary size increases quickly in the early years. However, vocabulary size isn`t the only factor of importance in predicting language and literacy skills further on. Margaret says that the vocabulary size has gotten the most attention, but the sole focus on words is not enough. The path toward language starts very early and children’s emerging skills (gestures, vocalizations and joint attention skills), and in their research they have found that caregivers child-directed speech and their shared communication foundation are all predictors of vocabulary at age 3.

In the in depth study, Quality of Early Communication, video material from the NICHD - project, Owen and colleges examined the quality of the dyadic communication between mother and child. They selected 60 low income children from the longitudinal study, including both successful and struggling language learners. The quality of the mother-child interaction was coded within three categories:

o   Symbol infused joint engagement
·      How well does the child actively sustain attention to a shared activity that includes symbols as well as objects and events? Raters focused on the child`s active interest and attention, as well as the parent`s contribution.
o   Fluent and connected communication
·      Assessment of the overarching flow and cohesion of the mother-child interaction. Raters attended to the balance between partners`contributions.
o   Playful routines and rituals
·      Assessment of the frequency and quality of routines and rituals that occurred during shared activities. Raters attended to the dyads coordinating of activity using a familiar play routine or a cultural script.
(Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015)

Findings from the study is resently published in the article; The Contribution of Early Communication Quality to Low-Income Children`s Language Success (Hirh-Pasek et al., 2015). The study shows significant correlations between quality in the mother-child communication in the child’s first year and language functioning later on in life. Communication foundation qualities matters - hence filling the word gap won’t be enough in early intervention. Building a strong foundation for communication is needed.

- Silje Hokstad - 


Hirsh-Pasek, Adamson, Bakeman, Owen, Golinkoff, Pace, . . . Suma. (2015). The Contribution of Early Communication Quality to Low-Income Children's Language Success. Psychological Science, 0956797615581493.

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