The ability of African-American preschoolers to tell vivid, complex stories predicts those children’s literacy skills later on when they’re in kindergarten, says new research from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in North Carolina.
This link between “oral narrative” skills and early literacy was not seen in Latino, Asian, or white children, which was surprising, said Nicole Gardner-Neblett, an investigator with the institute and one of the study’s authors. Oral narrative skills may be important for children of other races as well, but the importance may show up in areas other than kindergarten literacy, she said.
To measure the effects of oral narrative on kindergarten literacy, the researchers used a federal study that has tracked children born in 2001. About 6,150 children were evaluated by the researchers. The children were separated into four racial categories—European-American, Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American—and further divided by household income into poor and non-poor.
To measure the child’s storytelling skills, researchers told the children a story using pictures, then asked the children to retell the story, with the pictures serving as prompts. Children scored higher if they could retell the story coherently, using details and strong vocabulary.
Preschool oral narrative skills were a significant predictor of emergent literacy for both poor and non-poor African-American kindergartners, Gardner-Neblett said.
Study Results Offer More Research Areas for Black Children and Literacy
In a release announcing the study results, Gardner-Neblett said that previous research suggests that African-American children are skilled in telling complex narratives of many different types, which may provide clues to the new study’s findings.
“Having a repertoire of different styles suggests that African-American children are flexible in their narratives, varying the narratives according to context,” she said in the release. “This flexibility may benefit African-American children as they transition from using oral language to the decoding and comprehension of written text.”
The results bring up some tantalizing avenues for further research, Gardner-Neblett told Education Week.
“One question I would like to pursue is how these oral narrative skills have a long-term affect on reading for African-American children. If you look across elementary school, will those early narrative skills have an influence?”
Also, additional research can be used to develop classroom interventions that can support reading development in African-American children, she said.
“Oral Narrative Skills: Explaining the Language-Emergent Literacy Link by Race/Ethnicity and SES” was published in the July edition of Developmental Psychology.
Photo: Courtesy of the FPG Photo Archives
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.