- Institution: Lehigh University (USA), University of Michigan (USA), Bilkent University (Turkey), New York University (USA), Instituto Alfa e Beto (Brazil)
- Title of the practice: Using a narrative- and play-based activity to promote low-income preschoolers’ oral language, emergent literacy, and social competence.
- Country: USA.
- Source: experimental study & school practice. Nicolopoulou, A., Cortina, K. S., Ilgaz, H., Cates, C. B., & de Sá, A. B. (2015). Using a narrative-and play-based activity to promote low-income preschoolers’ oral language, emergent literacy, and social competence. Early childhood research quarterly, 31, 147-162.
- Age of children: 3 to 4 years old.
Main characteristics of the practice
The study examined whether a storytelling and story-acting practice (STSA), integrated as a regular component of the preschool curriculum, can help promote dimensions of children’s school readiness: narrative and other oral-language skills, emergent literacy, and social competence.
A total of 149 low-income preschoolers (almost all 3- and 4-year-olds) participated, attending six experimental and seven control classrooms. The STSA was introduced in the experimental classrooms for the entire school year, and all children in both conditions were pre- and post-tested on different measures (narrative, vocabulary, emergent literacy, pretend abilities, peer play cooperation, and self-regulation).
The story-acting practice (STSA) is a structured preschool practice that exemplifies child-centred, play-based, and constructivist approaches in early childhood education, and that can operate as a curriculum module in conjunction with different preschool curricula. This study’s aim was to confirm if STSA can contribute to promoting learning and school readiness for low-income and children with other difficulties.
General goal and specific objectives of the practice
The study examined whether this STSA, integrated as a curriculum module within the regular preschool curriculum, can enhance the abilities of low-income preschool children in three major dimensions of young children’s school readiness: (a) narrative and other oral language skills, (b) skills related more directly to emergent literacy, and (c) social competence.
Investigators expected that participation in the STSA would promote key elements of the children’s school readiness in all three areas just outlined. They also hypothesized that the more frequently individual children participated in this activity (indicated by the number of stories they told), the greater these effects would be for them.
The study was conducted through two scholar-years with different classrooms and children.
Story-acting activities (STSA) generally occurred about twice per week. All classrooms in both conditions were visited twice per week by teams of trained research assistants, who assisted the teacher in carrying out either the STSA or normal classroom activities (in the intervention classrooms) and carrying out normal classroom activities (in the control classrooms).
The basic minimum requirements for implementation were the following: the STSA was conducted every week during the period between pre-testing and post-testing.
Teachers in the intervention classrooms were encouraged to conduct this activity as often as possible, but at least during the two days per week when the research assistants visited them. Teachers could schedule the activity at their discretion, but in practice, it was usually conducted on days when research assistants were present.
STSA activities were conducted in the regular classroom. For pre-test and post-test assessments, research assistants used an empty classroom on individual evaluations with children.
Description of procedures and methodology
After pretesting (in September-October) was completed, the STSA was introduced in the intervention classrooms by the first author and remained in operation throughout the whole school year. The control classes carried on with their usual activities. Prior to the introduction of the STSA, teachers and assistants in the intervention classes were trained as a group for two hours in carrying out the activity and also received a detailed manual.
The STSA was generally conducted by the teachers, usually with cooperation by research assistants from the study.
How the STSA was conducted
The storytelling part of the STSA took place during “choice time,” when children were free to engage in different activities. The teacher or a research assistant made herself available to take stories from children who wanted to compose and dictate them. Story dictations were voluntary and self-initiated; no child was required to compose a story, though some of the more reticent were occasionally encouraged (but not prodded) to do it. Children were allowed to tell any kind of story they wished, but there was a limit of one page per story to allow as many children as possible to tell their own stories.
The story-taker wrote down the story with minimal intervention, repeating the child’s words and reading the final story back to the child when it was completed. Occasionally there were formulated necessary questions to made clarifications on points relevant to enacting the story (“What happened next?” or “Is that the end?”).
After finishing the story, the child chose which character he or she wanted to play and then chose other classmates to act in the other roles.
If there were several children present who wanted to tell a story, a waiting list was created so that these children could go on with other activities. Some children, however, waited and listened while their classmates told their stories. If not all children on the waiting list could be storytellers that day, they would be offered a chance the next day that stories were being recorded.
The story-acting portion of the STSA took place with the entire class assembled and the teacher leading the activity. The teacher first read the story, then she called out the names and roles of the child-actors, who stood outside the area designated as the stage. As the story was read once again, it was acted out by the child-author and the selected classmates. This process was repeated until all the stories dictated during that day had been enacted.
In each classroom, the story-taker (teacher or research assistant) wrote the stories down in a single class “storybook” as the child dictated the story, indicating the author, date of dictation, and which children were chosen to act and their roles in the performance. This provided a record of how often the STSA took place and how many children participated in it as tellers or actors. The classroom storybooks were delivered to the investigators at the end of the year for analysis.
All children in both conditions (experimental and control) were given pretests and posttests for different measures covering expressive vocabulary, narrative skills, emergent literacy, pretend abilities, and elements of social competence (peer play cooperation and self-regulation). Pretests were administered at the beginning of the school year (September/October) and posttests at the end (May). In the intervention classrooms, the STSA was conducted during the entire period between pretesting and post-testing. Individual assessments were carried out by trained graduate students and undergraduates. For most of these measures, children were tested in a quiet room adjacent to their classroom. Two observational measures, assessing peer play and self-regulation, were carried out in the classroom.
The investigation’s report does not specify any specific technological device, but the use of some devices could be introduced in the practice (i.e. computer to write the stories, a video camera for the recording of stories’ performances).
As in the previous section, the study does not specify specific materials, although different elements can be introduced to enrich the activity, especially when children represent the stories (stage curtain, costumes, etc.)
Description of the final product
Overall, the children in the intervention classes who were included in the study for purposes of analysis composed and enacted 551 stories.
the study also provides different pre- and post-intervention measures on different skills relevant to consider school-readiness, different cognitive skills and social relationships inside the classroom.
In sum, findings provide evidence that the children’s participation in the STSA helped to promote a range of their school readiness skills in the domains of narrative, emergent literacy, and social competence
Its mode of combining voluntary composition and dictation of stories by individual children and the public enactment of those stories with their peers has several significant implications. One implication is that the children’s stories are shared, not only with adults, but with other children in a shared public arena that offers ongoing possibilities for narrative borrowing, experimentation, and cross-fertilization.
It has been argued that STSA helps build up a common culture in the peer group that in turn helps to motivate and energize the children’s participation, and it simultaneously requires and encourages capacities for self-regulation.
How children took part in the practice
With very few exceptions (three children in year 1; four children in year 2), all children in the intervention classes participated in the storytelling portion of the STSA. Except for one child who was very shy and refused to participate in this and most other activities, the non-storytellers were children who came to class later in the day (closer to noon), after the storytelling had already taken place. All children in the intervention classes participated in story-acting.
Parents had signed consent forms to make the stories of their children available to us.
Strengths and critical points of the practice
As for the limitations, investigators mention constraints in randomized experimental vs. control design, the assignment of classrooms to experimental or control conditions could not be fully randomized, because the consent of the teachers was required.
Other limitations and complications were related to the measures used in the study. Because of a lack of standardized measures, it was necessary to develop measures by adapting or modifying existing instruments, validating the measures using study data. Finally, they during year 1 of the study, for reasons described earlier, the pretest and posttest for the self-regulation assessment were administered with an insufficient time interval between then, so that it was possible to analyze data only from year 2; these results were valid and significant, but it would have been preferable to be able to analyze data from both years, in accord with analyses for the other measures.
INCLUDED – Digital Storytelling for Inclusion