Interactive Book Reading to Accelerate Word Learning by Children with SLI
In this project, we are figuring out the best way to teach children with Developmental Language Disorders (DLD) new words during book reading. Two children in every kindergarten classroom have DLD. DLD affects a child's ability to talk to others and to understand what others say to them. Different areas of language can be challenging for children with DLD. Our focus in this project is vocabulary. Many children with DLD don't know enough words for their age or don't know enough information about each word to use the word well or quickly in conversation. Vocabulary is important for becoming a good reader and a successful student. You can't read and understand a book if you don't know the words. Likewise, learning in the classroom involves learning new words that are important for the topic area. If we improve vocabulary in kindergarten, children with DLD will be on their way to becoming good readers and successful students.
We focus on book reading because it is a common activity that children do at home and in their classrooms. Book reading provides structure for learning about new words because children can see how a word is spelled, hear how it is pronounced, hear how it can be used in sentences, and experience how the word is used in different situations. The challenge is finding the best way to teach a child with DLD as many words as possible during book reading. To date, our preliminary clinical trials have shown that children with DLD need three times as many exposures to a word as their typical peers to learn it (Storkel, et al., 2017a). We can't just read the book cover-to-cover one time. We need to talk about the words and read the book over and over. However, it doesn’t seem to matter how you divide up your talking and reading time (Storkel, et al., 2019). Children with DLD seem to learn just as well when they hear the word many times in a single book reading session (e.g., 9 times) but read the book fewer times (e.g., 4 times) as when they hear the word fewer times in a single book reading session (e.g., 4 times) but read the book many times (e.g., 9 times). Moreover, each child with DLD is different (Storkel, et al., 2017a; Storkel, et al., 2019). Some children learn many words while others learn few. Our past and current work is establishing (1) language tests scores that accurately predict which children with DLD will benefit the most from book reading (Storkel, et al., 2017a; Storkel, et al., 2019) and (2) benchmarks for progress so that children who are not doing well can receive a different approach (Storkel, et al, 2017b).
In addition to exploring individual differences, our ongoing work (2019-2023) examines whether asking few or many questions about the words in the book helps children with DLD learn words. On the one hand, testing helps build rich memories of words that are remembered, even after teaching has stopped. On the other hand, children with DLD tend not to like being tested because they aren’t good at it. Also, children with DLD are more likely to answer questions incorrectly, which could cause confusion during learning. Our ongoing work will determine the optimal amount of testing during book reading to help children with DLD learn and remember words. Future phases of this work likely will focus on training parents to effectively read books to children with DLD and will explore whether technology can be used in place of the adult book reader.