- A recent study led by Elizabeth Kelley, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Health Professions, found the use of interactive, pre-recorded storybooks significantly improved at-risk preschoolers' vocabularies, with students' gains including words such as "disappointed," "enormous," "brave" and "protect."
- Along with study collaborator Howard Goldstein of the University of South Florida, Kelley created the audio-based intervention program "Story Friends" and implemented it in 24 Missouri and Florida preschool classrooms to track how students picked up common words they previously did not understand.
- Select students participating in the program listened to recordings while following along in a book equipped with embedded vocabulary lessons, and teachers report the program helped expand vocabulary for all students — not just those who were struggling, according to a University of Missouri news release.
“While we are working with children who are only 4 or 5 years old, we teach them the vocabulary words they will need to know when they eventually enter elementary or middle school,” Kelley said in the MU news release. “If we can teach them more challenging words while they are young, we can give them the language skills they will need to be ready for school and set them up for success throughout their lives.”
Indeed, early literacy skills are crucial to future academic success. Being able to read at grade-level by the end of 3rd grade, for instance, has been tied by research — including a long-term study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation — to be a significant predictor of future academic success. The Casey Foundation research found students who hadn't achieved reading proficiency by 3rd grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school.
As a result, a number of states have pursued legislation and enacted laws around 3rd-grade literacy and retention in recent years. Though questions remain about the benefits of retaining students not yet reading at level, educators in Michigan have said they appreciated the additional resources provided by that state's law. Michigan has also seen an increase in reading achievement since the law was enacted.
At the University of Missouri, Kelley says she plans to expand the research, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, to examine the impact of "Story Friends" on students' vocabulary as they move into early elementary.