The Relation Between Child Talk During Mealtime and Literacy Outcomes for Pre-K Students: Examining the Differences Between Monolingual and Multilingual Children

The Relation Between Child Talk During Mealtime and Literacy Outcomes for Pre-K Students: Examining the Differences Between Monolingual and Multilingual Children

First Author: Jamie Greenberg -- University of California, Irvine
Additional authors/chairs: 
Cassidy Wolfe
Keywords: Academic Literacy, Bilingualism, Classroom Observation, Language, Preschool Classrooms
Abstract / Summary: 

Social learning theories suggest that as children develop language skills through a social learning framework in which child talk is encouraged, these language skills help to bootstrap literacy development (Hay & Fielding-Barnsley, 2012). Previous research suggests children’s participation during meal-time supports literacy skill acquisition (Cote, 2002; Snow & Beals, 2006). We asked whether a new classroom observation tool, Optimizing Learning Opportunities for Students (OLOS), would allow us to capture differences in meal-time talk for 172 4-5-year-old children in PreK, and whether this talk would be correlated with decoding and English vocabulary skills. We observed students three times throughout the school year using OLOS. If children demonstrated any knowledge of a second language during a language screener or if parents reported any child knowledge of a second language, we considered students multilingual. Researchers also administered two computer-based, adaptive literacy assessments from the Assessment-to-Instruction system to students in their spring term following the third observation period.

Preliminary results suggest multilingual children participate more in meal-time than their monolingual peers. In other instructional areas, there were no differences in frequency of participation between groups. Increased meal-time participation was negatively correlated with English vocabulary scores for multilinguals but not monolinguals; however, no correlations between meal-time talk and literacy outcomes reached significance for either group.

Our findings suggest meal-time conversations offer preschool students an opportunity to converse and interact, and multilingual children may be more likely to take advantage of this opportunity. More research is needed on encouraging the type of interactions that support literacy skills during meal-time.