Examining the role of text and talk in later school-relevant language development in middle grade classrooms

Examining the role of text and talk in later school-relevant language development in middle grade classrooms

First Author: Emily Phillips Galloway -- Vanderbilt University
Keywords: Academic Language, Language Development, Classroom Quality, Adolescent
Abstract / Summary: 

Academic language or discourse skills contribute to reading comprehension and writing proficiency; however, theoretical accounts of later language development remain incomplete, often focusing on the role of literacy. Yet not all students in middle grade classrooms are able—from a linguistic point of view—to access grade-level texts, raising questions about what other factors support this later language development.

In this longitudinal study, we explore multiple factors hypothesized to support Academic Discourse (AD) learning in a large cohort of middle grade students (540 students in grades 4-6 in 33 classrooms) followed over an academic year. Using multilevel linear regression, we examine both learner and contextual factors as predictors of AD gains. Predictors included both sociodemographics at the individual- and classroom-levels: learner’s text comprehension and AD skills as measured through individual assessment, classmates’ AD skills, and the frequency and quality of academic talk in classrooms (as measured through a novel, researcher-designed classroom observation protocol). We also ask whether these mechanisms of later language learning operate differently for learners with higher- or lower-levels of AD knowledge relative to classmates.

Results suggest that AD development was accelerated for students with higher language and reading skills in the fall and in classrooms in which talk was higher quality and peers had higher average levels of AD skills. The impact of reading skill was moderated by students' relative levels of fall AD skills, with those with higher levels of AD skill and reading comprehension experiencing the greatest gains in AD knowledge.

Results indicate that Academic Discourse development is accelerated for students more able to access grade-level print (skilled readers, higher fall AD levels), exposure to peer’s AD language, and supported by high-quality classroom talk.