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The influence of context on the abstraction level of children’s conversations in the preschool classroom


Conversing abstract concepts boost children’s language learning. Despite the numerous studies on the linguistic environment of early childhood education settings (ECE), most of this work disregards contextual factors that may influence abstract conversations and omits characteristics of children’s verbal participation in these interactions. We examined how preschool classroom contexts influenced the abstraction level of children’s conversations and how the context and conversational partners’ language influenced children’s verbal participation. We analyzed 2,928 utterances in 453 natural teacher and peer conversations during a one-week period in a preschool classroom. Bayesian analysis showed that children and teachers used significantly more abstract talk in small-group activities coded as math and science than other coded settings. Moreover, Bayesian analysis revealed that the abstraction level of conversational partners’ turns influenced that of children’s talk beyond the characteristics of the context. Interestingly, this association was moderated by the partner (teacher or peer). Practice or Policy: The inconsistent association between measurements of ECE quality and children’s outcomes invites practitioners to reevaluate what these measurements should assess. This study suggests the need to pay greater attention to the features of ECE settings that are conducive to children’s development, such as learning materials, grouping, and peer interactions. (author abstract)

Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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