Preschool discourse skill improvement with computer-assisted instruction

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Virginia Tech


The primary purpose of this study was to determine whether commercially available software, modified with enhanced dialogue from instructors, could improve discourse skills in Head Start students over improvements obtained without enhanced instructor dialogue, and over improvements of ordinary classroom instruction. Additional information about modifying software or designing new software to improve discourse skills was investigated.

Ninety-three students in five Head Start classes of 4- year-olds were tested on the Preschool Language Assessment Instrument (PLAI) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test- Revised (PPVT-R). Students within each of the five classes were matched on scores from the PLAI and the PPVT-R and then randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (a) software with enhancement, (b) software alone, or (c) control condition. Five student speech-language clinicians worked with the students assigned to the computer-aided conditions. The third group of students received normal instruction from the Head Start staff.

Following a treatment period of 3 months, a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze pretest/posttest PLAI and PPVT-R scores of the Head Start students (N=78). No significant group differences were found for treatment. Significant group differences were found for time.

Qualitative analysis from anecdotal records and a user response survey provided additional information about the computer-assisted program and the speech and language of the students in the two computer conditions. The records and clinician survey also suggested how the software could be modified or new software designed to improve discourse skills in young children.

The concept of scaffolding was applied to the two computer-aided conditions used in this study. Selected examples from the spontaneous speech of students during computer training sessions demonstrate the relationship between scaffolding instruction and the computer-assisted condition, software with enhancement (CAI+). A theoretical framework which follows from this relationship is suggested. Implications for the use of software with enhancement by non-communication specialists with the speech-language clinician in the role of consultant are provided.