Teacher Talk in Early Head Start Classrooms
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This study investigated the oral language of Early Head Start teachers who work in preschool centers. Specifically, this study analyzed the amount, richness, and the sophistication of the oral language input offered by five Early Head Start teachers to their students. This study also analyzed the quality and quantity of the conversational supports teachers offered their students during encounters with sophisticated vocabulary. Each teacher was observed on four occasions. Each occasion occurred on separate day, on a different day of the week, and at a different time across the timeframe of a morning for a total of 4 hours.
The teachers were selected from Early Head Start centers because they work with low-income students who are 0-36 months of age. Teachers of this age group were chosen because research indicates that children obtain much of their knowledge of the various facets of human language during their first three years of life. Research also indicates that the principal effect of socio-economic status on oral language development occurs prior to 36 months of age.
The results indicated differences in the amount, richness, and sophistication of the vocabulary used by these teachers. The amount of speech generated by teachers over the morning differed greatly. This difference between the teachers in the number of words used ranged from 9,655 to 23,155 words over the 4 hours of observations. Differences in the richness of teacher language were also evident. The mean number of words used per utterance during individual observations varied from 3.67 words/utterance to 6.44 words/utterance. In addition, large differences were found in the number of sophisticated words used by teachers. Differences in sophisticated word use as large as 307 words/hour were found when the teachers' speech was analyzed over the course of 4 hours of observations in each classroom.
The results also indicate that these five Early Head Start teachers differed greatly in their use of three types of conversational supports. These differences occurred both within and between classrooms with no pattern related to time of day. In addition, teachers used Instructive Supports - the most supportive type of conversational support that can be used in relation to sophisticated vocabulary - the least in their classroom conversations. The results of this study suggest a need for further research into the impact of teacher vocabulary use on children ages 0-36 months.