Explanation in mother-child discourse across contexts: shared book reading, co-viewing of educational television, collaborative block play, and mealtime
Dougherty, Susan Marie
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Home-based explanatory discourse supports linguistic and conceptual development, and is an important precursor to school-based learning. This study aimed to increase understanding of this topic by describing the distribution of explanations across five contexts in the home environments of preschool-aged children. The conversations of five highly educated, middle class mothers and their 2 1/2- to 3-year-old children were recorded as they read narrative and expository texts, viewed educational television, played with blocks, and ate meals together. The transcripts of these conversations were analyzed to determine: (1) the characteristics of mothers' explanations; (2) the characteristics of their children's explanations; (3) the ways the mothers provided scaffolds for their children's attempts to explain; and (4) the extent to which science concepts were discussed. Coding of parent-child discussions was based on Beals' (1993) nine categories of explanation, revised in response to data gathered in this study. Three intentional categories in Beals' coding scheme were collapsed, and two categories, identification and event , were added. The addition of these two categories of explanation afforded a richer picture of how mothers support the linguistic and cognitive development of their children across contexts. Explanation types identified in mothers' discourse in order of frequency were: identification, definitional/descriptive, causal, event, procedure, internal, intention , and consequence . Across the five contexts, the children heard an average of 3.2 explanations for every 10 turns spoken by their mothers. While certain contexts displayed a greater density of particular explanation types, each context offered opportunities for a range of types of explanation. Evidence that mothers have different explanatory "styles" was also found. Children's explanations were most often identification and event explanations. Mothers supported the children's attempts at explanation by extending their children's utterances, providing hints and information, and redirecting questions. Discussion of scientific concepts was also found across all contexts, but most frequently during the reading of expository text. The results indicate that a range of home activities support preschool-aged children's exposure to explanatory discourse and that those working with families to support early literacy should look beyond traditional book reading tasks as sources of talk that builds children's linguistic and conceptual knowledge.
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