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Title page for ETD etd-11272012-132257

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Grifenhagen, Jill Freiberg
URN etd-11272012-132257
Title Nurturing Word Learners: Children’s Opportunities for Vocabulary Learning in Head Start Classrooms
Degree PhD
Department Teaching and Learning
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
David K. Dickinson Committee Chair
Ann Kaiser Committee Member
Dale C. Farran Committee Member
Deborah W. Rowe Committee Member
  • Head Start
  • vocabulary
  • early childhood
Date of Defense 2012-10-31
Availability unrestricted
This study describes the word-learning opportunities available to children in Head Start classrooms and examines relationships between these opportunities and children’s preschool vocabulary gains. The sample was composed of 51 Head Start teachers and two samples of 4-year-old children selected based on screening at preschool entry: children with low-language skills and children with typical-language skills matched on the basis of classroom, age, and gender. The low-language sample was comprised of 210 children, and the matched language sample was comprised of 228 children. A list of instructional words for this population was designed to approximate vocabulary that would be neither too easy not too challenging for expanding the children’s lexicons. Videos of each classroom during small group instruction and centers were transcribed and analyzed. Instances of instructional words in adult-to-child speech were identified as word-learning opportunities, and these instances were coded for the presence of three types of semantic supports (verbal supports for meaning, nonverbal supports for meaning, and embedding in extended discourse). The word learning opportunities experienced by children in these Head Start classrooms varied greatly between classrooms. Child-level residualized gain scores on three vocabulary measures were regressed on the teacher language variables to examine the relationship between word-learning opportunities and vocabulary growth. The results did not support most of the hypotheses of the study, but suggest low-language children may have made more vocabulary gains when teachers used many nonverbal supports, and typical-language children may have made more vocabulary gains when teachers used many verbal supports. Implications, methodological limitations, and areas for further research are discussed.
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