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August 30, 2002

Calvin Prof, Student Partner on Project

What can parents do to help their children develop language skills? This summer a Calvin professor and her student researcher explored that question.

What they learned will be the subject this fall of an academic paper. But it also will benefit the Grand Rapids community. Over the last two years, a number of Calvin professor Judith Vander Woude's students have volunteered with language stimulation programs in Head Start and Early On programs in Kent County. Students who volunteer this year will use the work done this summer in both their own interactions with students and in the advice they give to parents.

Vander Woude, a speech pathology and audiology professor at Calvin, and senior Abby Bormann of Ionia, Mich., worked together as a result of Calvin's McGregor Fellowships program, which pairs a student with a professor for 10 weeks of paid research. Their project was called "Parents' Corrections of Preschool Children's Responses During Conversations." Their goal was to learn more about the ways in which young children develop language skills and the ways in which parents can best assist such children.

"Parents," says Vander Woude, "basically make two kinds of corrections. They tell the child they're wrong and then give them the correct answer. Or they give the child another opportunity to answer by giving hints or suggesting that there might be a better answer. What researchers are interested in is which approach is better? Or is one better?"

So Bormann began her work by reading lots of literature on similar studies. And then she settled into a summer of watching and transcribing hours and hours of video footage of moms and their preschoolers reading together. The videos, in fact, track the progression of 10 mother-child teams over a period of almost five years and come from a study conducted in the early 90s by Dr. Anne van Kleeck of The University of Georgia, a colleague and collaborator of Vander Woude.

Once the videos were transcribed, Vander Woude and Bormann had the tedious task of scanning and coding them for specific sequences of interaction. They were most interested in how mothers responded when children made errors, such as incorrectly identifying an animal in a picture book or mispronouncing a word in an alphabet book.

Vander Woude believes that comparing these interactions with results from developmental tests taken by the children during the same study will show that children whose parents give the child another opportunity to answer by giving hints or suggesting that there might be a better answer develop better language skills.

Bormann, whose love of language originally had her pursuing a degree in French, will graduate next spring with a major in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She plans to go on to graduate school and hopes to work as a speech-language pathologist, especially with children.

"I've always wanted to go into a field where I felt like I was helping people," she says. Thanks to her summer fellowship she already is.

~with reporting by media relations student writer Abe Huyser-Honig

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
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