Announcing our free researcher-practitioner event on children learning adjectives

After almost a year of covid-related postponements, we’re delighted announce that our end-of-project workshop on children’s descriptive vocabulary on Thursday March 18th, 1-5pm GMT.

Children Learning Adjectives: Free research workshop and practitioner CPD

Event description:

The role of vocabulary breadth and depth in children’s achievement at school and beyond is well recognised. One way of enriching vocabulary is through descriptive language. Classroom and clinical practice is designed to support this, and research findings highlight th e power of adjectives and other kinds of descriptive language in children’s developing language systems. Despite their importance in communication, adjectives have received relatively little attention in research, and up to now there has been limited exchange between teachers, clinicians, and researchers. To remedy this, this workshop brings together academic, educational, and clinical perspectives on how children develop descriptive language. Researchers, teachers, clinicians, and other related professionals working in speech, language, and communication are invited to discuss the place of descriptive language in their work, and explore areas of crossover with others.

Invited speakers:

  • Samantha Wilkes (Lecturer in Primary Education, Leeds Trinity University) Learning adjectives in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 classrooms
  • Sarah White (SLT, Leeds Beckett University) Children’s semantic development: A clinical view
  • Dr Kristen Syrett (Rutgers, State University of New Jersey)  Adjective meaning in language development
  • Dr Sudha Arunachalam (New York University) How do researchers learn about children’s adjective learning?
  • Dr Elena Tribushinina (Utrecht University) Parental strategies to support toddlers’ processing of adjectives

To register:

Please register via https://sites.google.com/view/children-learning-adjectives/registration by 26th February 2021. To ensure an even spread of teachers, clinicians, and researchers, places are limited to 15 per sector. We will then operate a waiting list. Participants will receive an email confirming their place by 5th March. We will provide certificates of participation for recognition as continuing professional development.

Our new research on Covid-19

 

 

 

 

 

Although we can’t run studies in our physical lab at the moment, members of the CDU are busy with projects investigating the effects of the COVID lockdown on children’s language development. See Our Research for details of how we’re doing this, and what we’re hoping to find out.

Our role in BBC’s Tiny Happy People campaign

Jamie is one of the resident language scientists featuring in the BBC’s Tiny Happy People campaign. The initiative aims to empower parents and practitioners to support children’s language development through videos, resources and activities.

In this first video, he offers some tips about how to explore different sounds during storytime. Making sound effects when reading a book is a fantastic way for children to understand the connection between sounds and words.

In this second video, he gets inventive with families by changing the words to favourite nursery rhyme tunes

Enjoy!

Cat and Jamie jet off to the Big Apple (or is it ‘the apple that’s big’?)

We were fortunate enough to have spent a week in late April visiting Dr. Sudha Arunachalam at the Language Experience and Acquisition Research (LEARN) Lab at New York University. Having had a day to acclimatise to the pace of New York City, we started our visit by presenting our recent work at the monthly lab meeting on the kinds of adjectives preschoolers hear in child-directed speech. In this study we found adjectives occurred more frequently in prenominal positions (e.g. the red car) than postnominal positions (e.g. the car that’s red), though postnominal frames were more frequent for less familiar adjectives – we think this helps children when learning adjectives. Additionally, adjectives occurred much more frequently with a descriptive function i.e. describing things in their own right (e.g. the handsome prince), compared to contrastive adjectives, i.e. those which make comparisons (e.g. the big one), especially for less familiar adjectives. These findings present a puzzle: the types of adjectives that children hear are not those that studies have shown to be most beneficial for learning.

To solve this puzzle, we  talked to colleagues at the LEARN lab about the design and method for a brand new study.  Although adjectives are a common part of language, they can be difficult for children to learn. Research shows that adults use information about the world to interpret adjectives quickly during listening. For example, when hearing “Where’s the big cow?”, adults can use the word big in its visual context to work out that the speaker is referring to the cow, even before they’ve heard the word cow! But we don’t yet know whether children’s understanding works in the same way. The aim of the study is therefore to understand how 3- to 4-year-old children comprehend different types of scalar adjectives like big and little. In this experiment, children will sit in front of a computer monitor and piece of equipment called an eyetracker. Children will see a series of pictures appear on the screen. Instructions which contain prenominal and postnominal adjectives  encourage kids to point to particular pictures. The eyetracker records where children look on the screen and for how long they continue to look. The data will tell us how children come to make sense of descriptive language, and how their understanding might differ from adults. We had some very fruitful discussions with lab members and it was really interesting to share our experiences in designing and running eyetracking studies.

Another aim of the visit was to expand our understanding of how to analyse eyetracking data. Back in Leeds, we have collected data from a group of adults, using the method above. Having completed data collection, the next step is to analyse the data. But before we can do that, we need to spend some time preparing the data for analysis. Eyetrackers typically output a lot of data – as much as 1000 datapoints a second! That’s about 400,000 rows in an Excel spreadsheet, for each of our 40 participants. And so we need to narrow down the specific time regions or ‘interest periods’ prior to running our analysis. Therefore, with the help of Sudha and Prof. Irina Sekerina we spend lots of time crunching our data!

On the final day of our visit, we were also able to find out more about a new ‘naturalistic eyetracking’ experiment that is being developed by researchers at the LEARN lab. This approach is being used to study children’s real-time language processing of their parents’ unscripted speech. Focusing on the phrases that parents use to label particular objects, children and caregivers play a game in which parents name one of several objects displayed on a screen, and the child has to identify it as their eye gaze is tracked. We are hoping to use this paradigm back in Leeds to investigate how children use the specific input from their caregivers to comprehend descriptive language.

It was a fantastic experience to be able to visit a different lab (not least in New York City!) Our week at the LEARN lab really broadened our own understanding of designing, running, and analysing experimental studies. In the future we hope to collaborate with some of the fantastic researchers we had the pleasure of working with. Over the next few weeks in Leeds we will be running more analyses on the data we’ve collected with adults, before turning our focus to launching our study with 3- and 4-year-olds. Watch this space!