Evidence for Learning: Communication and language approaches

Communication and language approaches

The summary below presents the research evidence on communication and language approaches in the Australasian context.

The Early Childhood Education Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of communication and language approaches on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on communication and language approaches. In contrast to the Early Childhood Education Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by early learning professionals and young learners. This information is valuable for early learning centres interested in finding out more about particular examples of communication and language approaches that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

Edith Cowan University generated this evidence summary on behalf of CoLab (a partnership between Telethon Kids Institute and the Minderoo Foundation) in July 2019.

Communication and language approaches seek to develop children’s receptive and expressive oral language competence. Oral language competence is required for socio-emotional growth and regulation, for the emergence of phonological awareness skills and language necessary to literacy learning, and for expansion of literacy and broader learning.

Common approaches include teacher-child interactions such as individual sustained shared conversations, dialogic book-talk and shared reading, as well as programs to support parent interactions with their children at home, typically through book reading.

In the International literature and within the Australasian context, studies have examined dialogic book reading in pre-school contexts (Cohrssen, Niklas and Taylor, 2016) and shared reading practices with 4 – 5 year olds (Dexter and Stacks, 2014; Hayes, 2015; Shaheain et al, 2018). Conversation analytics from two book-reading sessions found that book reading platforms actively involve children as storytellers, rehearse newly acquired vocabulary, provide opportunity to extend thinking and dialogue, and support children to make connections between print and their lived experience (Cohrssen et al, 2016). However, a study of 28 two-year-old children and their parents found quality rather than frequency of one-on-one episodes in the context of shared reading was a more reliable predictor of children’s language outcomes (Dexter and Stacks, 2014).

The quality of interactions between educators and children in Australasia is reported to be inconsistent in early years care and education settings (Paatsch, Scull and Nolan, 2019; Torr and Pham, 2016). Demands to prioritise the physical needs of children and to cater to more than one child at a time, limit sustained conversations and opportunity to encourage and develop children’s language. From this finding, Paatch (2019) recommends expansion of educators’ repertoire of talk practices. Strategies such as questioning, restating and expanding upon children’s utterances, and providing encouraging feedback have been identified as appropriate both for typically developing children and children with language delays (Reese, Sparks and Leyva, 2010). Parent involvement in early years education settings has also been used as a method to facilitate opportunities for communication and language use. For example, Amorsen, McBurnie and Wilson’s (2017) study modelled classroom practice of 10 oral language interventions, including pedagogical documentation, informal play-based conversation and home reading packs with questioning frameworks, aiming to boost oral language engagement in Kindergarten with a ripple effect’ of parent-child engagement reported beyond the classroom.

Identification of strategic intervention points for supporting communication and language development have been researched widely, using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children [LSAC] (for example, Hayes, 2015; McKean et al, 2016; Shahaeian et al, 2018). Overall, pre-school, home-based contexts outside of school or care settings have been identified as showing the greatest variance and potential for impact upon oral language outcomes from birth to five. Haye’s study found maternal education, child gender, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin and home language other than English were the most significant predictors of the frequency of family engagement in English language-based home activities. In addition, studies by Shahaeian et al (2018) and McKean et al (2016) reported that child, family and parenting characteristics associated with Social and Economic Status (SES) are effective pre-vocal predictors for intervention from as early as 12 months. In all cases, programs to boost home-based language and literacy practices are recommended. The Better Beginnings program is being used effectively for this purpose in Western Australia (Barratt-Pugh and Rohl, 2016).

Amorsen, A., McBurnie, K. & Wilson, D. (2017). Oral language development in the early years – getting everyone involved. Practical Literacy: The Early and Primary Years, 22(2), 13 – 15.

Barratt-Pugh, C., & Rohl, M. (2016). Evaluation of family literacy programs: A case study of Better Beginnings, a library-initiated family literacy bookgifting program in Western Australia. Library Trends, 65(1), 19 – 39.

Cohrssen, C., Niklas, F., & Tayler, C. (2016). Is that what we do?’ Using a conversation-analytic approach to highlight the contribution of dialogic reading strategies to educator – child interactions during storybook reading in two early childhood settings. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy,16(3), 361 – 382.

Dexter, C. A., & Stacks, A. M. (2014). A preliminary investigation of the relationship between parenting, parent-child shared reading practices, and child development in low-income families. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 28(3), 394 – 410.

Hayes, N. (2015). Continuity and change in family engagement in home learning activities across the early years (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology).

McKean, C., Law, J., Mensah, F., Cini, E., Eadie, P., Frazer, K., & Reilly, S. (2016). Predicting meaningful differences in school-entry language skills from child and family factors measured at 12 months of age. International Journal of Early Childhood, 48(3), 329 – 351.

Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., & De Jong, M. T. (2009). Interactive book reading in early education: A tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 979‑1007.

Paatsch, L., Scull, J., & Nolan, A. (2019). Patterns of teacher talk and children’s responses: The influence on young children’s oral language. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy,42(2), 73.

Reese, E., Sparks, A., & Leyva, D. (2010). A review of parent interventions for preschool children’s language and emergent literacy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(1), 97 – 117.

Shahaeian, A., Wang, C., Tucker-Drob, E., Geiger, V., Bus, A. G., & Harrison, L. J. (2018). Early shared reading, socioeconomic status, and children’s cognitive and school competencies: Six years of longitudinal evidence. Scientific Studies of Reading, 22(6), 485 – 502.

Torr, J., & Pham, L. (2016). Educator talk in long day care nurseries: How context shapes meaning. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(3), 245 – 254.

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Language intervention, oral communication intervention, oral language, reading aloud, read-aloud, oral reading, story reading, story-telling, book reading, shared reading, dialogic reading, dialogic book-talk.