research round up

Research Round Up December 2018

In a study carried out in Australia, 1910 infants were recruited at age 8-10 months and followed up at ages 2 and 4 years on a range of assessments. Child language ability at 4 years was a more accurate predictor of low language at 7 than a range of early child, family and environmental factors. Low language at 7 years was associated with a higher prevalence of co-occurring difficulties such as difficulties in literacy, social-emotional and behavioural difficulties and limitations in school and psychosocial functioning.

This report recognises the changing context of early intervention and sets out the current state of play, including how it works to support child development and to improve outcomes for children and young people. It highlights barriers and actions, and puts the case for and stresses the importance of early intervention as a long-term solution.

This study looked at very early, pre-linguistic communication in infants. Previous studies have found that infants use pointing to indicate they want to share attention and interest from around 12 months. This has been linked with later language and cognitive development. This study focused on ‘hold-out gestures’ – that is: holding out a new toy. It found that infants used hold-out gestures as communication (with the motive to share attention and interest) from 10 months of age; earlier than previously thought.

This literature review looks at the relationship between dyslexia and developmental language disorder (DLD). The main findings were: children with dyslexia who do not have DLD may still have relatively weak language skills compared with typically developing peers, significantly poorer vocabulary, sentence repetition and syntactic comprehension – though standard scores may be within normal limits. It also found that children who have dyslexia, regardless of language abilities, risk slower language acquisition and slower growth of world knowledge across their lifetime. This is because in adolescence and adulthood a lot of language and general world knowledge are acquired from texts.

Researchers in Denver analyzed more than 9,000 hours of transcribed day-long recordings for six months, from 146 children aged two months to four years old and their parents. The children had follow- up tests of their language skills and cognitive abilities, between the ages of nine and 14. A recording device in a vest the young child wore automatically counted the child’s vocalizations and verbal stimulation from their parent.

Conversational turns were found to be more important for developing brains than simply being exposed to words. The study found that frequent chatting with toddlers accounted for up to 27% of their higher performance in IQ, verbal comprehension and expressive and/or receptive vocabulary a decade later. The study underlines the importance of this early stage in life.

An EEF guidance report on Improving Secondary Science was published in September. Amongst the key recommendations, there was a focus on the importance of language and dialogue for extending thinking. Teachers were also encouraged to model their own thinking aloud. The report stresses the importance of specifically teaching the science vocabulary pupils need.

This study carried out a range of cognitive tests with 550 children who were ‘struggling to learn’. All children took a range of cognitive tests. Using a clustering algorithm, the team plotted four broad cognitive profiles on a ‘map’. The profiles were not strongly linked to any diagnoses the children came with. So, for example, a child with ADHD could sit in any of the four profiles.

The authors stress the importance of knowing a child’s profile of cognitive skills – not just to assume all children with a specific label will learn in the same way or need the same interventions. However, they also identified that some difficulties were common across struggling learners; ‘working memory’ and ‘phonological/language deficits’ were two of the broad profiles. Knowing this, teachers can ensure their teaching approaches adopt strategies for reducing memory and language load.

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