Evaluating the Leeds Story Buses

White bus with cartoon drawings on the side and the words Story Bus also written on the side.

This summer, Emma Twine and Cat Davies have been working with Leeds Libraries to independently evaluate their Story Bus Service.

Now one year into operation, the two story buses bring reading experiences in a creative and nurturing environment to communities across the city. Children and their caregivers are welcomed into the space by the staff team who have a rich understanding of children’s literature. The team recommend books and model good practice in sharing books and activities.

The story bus evaluation report presents data from interviews and observations of almost 500 people using the buses, including caregivers, young children, librarians and other library staff, and early years practitioners. It also provides some key recommendations to ensure that the buses are providing the most effective service possible to enable to growth of a city of readers, helping to reduce socioeconomic gaps in early years development.

Key findings

  • Support for the buses was overwhelmingly positive across all stakeholders.
  • Caregivers mainly visited the story bus to support their children’s reading development. Fewer families used the bus for borrowing books.
  • Reading was the most enjoyable aspect of the bus, along with singing, and the physical characteristics and novelty of the buses.
  • Children were highly engaged in language and literacy activities on the bus, and demonstrated a range of early literacy skills.
  • The modelling of reading to families by librarians increased caregivers’ and practitioners’ confidence.
  • Unusually, the data contained no negative comments about the service. Participants suggested that the only ways to improve it are to widen and promote the provision.
  • Most caregivers did not previously know about the service. Effective advertising is required.

Taken together, the new data shows that one year into its operation, current story bus practice effectively addresses several of its original aims:

  • To foster a love of books and reading in the early years.
  • To encourage families to share books and reading activities together.
  • To support the development of language, communication and literacy.

Children Learning Adjectives: Event report


On 18th March 2021, Cat Davies and Cecilia Zuniga-Montanez ran an online Continuing Professional Development workshop for researchers, teachers, clinicians and other professionals working with descriptive language. The three main objectives were to share research findings about how children learn descriptive language across academic, clinical and educational sectors, to explore how we can all contribute to promoting adjective learning, and to develop further opportunities for collaborative work.

We had an amazing turnout with 77 attendees joining from all over the world. Most were based in the UK, but there were also people joining from the Netherlands, USA, Switzerland, Kuwait, and India. Most attendees were clinicians, researchers, or teachers, but we were also joined by several early years practitioners, education consultants, students, and other professionals.

In the first part Decorativeof the event, we were joined by six expert speakers from different fields who discussed their work with descriptive language. The first speaker was Samantha Wilkes, a Lecturer in Primary Education at the Institute of Childhood, Leeds Trinity University, with over 20 years’ experience in primary education. Samantha discussed adjective learning and teaching in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 curriculum. She was followed by Sarah White, a Speech and Language Therapist and Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, who discussed clinical perspectives on adjective learning in children. Both of them shared resources to promote adjective learning in educational and clinical practice.Decorative

We were then joined by two Associate Professors all the way from the United States. Dr Kristen Syrett talked about what adjectives are, their various types and properties, and how caregivers can highlight adjectives in their speech. She was followed by Dr Sudha Arunachalam who shared how researchers investigate children’s adjective learning, and some of the techniques and equipment that they use.


Our fifth speaker was Dr Jamie Lingwood. Jamie showed the patterns of adjectives that children hear from their caregivers during different activities. He also discussed how caregivers can be encouraged to use descriptive language in child-directed speech. Our final speaker was Dr Elena Tribushinina, who joined us from the Netherlands. Elena discussed how toddlers process adjectives in real time, how caregivers use adjectives in their speech, and how caregivers can support children’s processing of adjectives.

After the talks, we had a discussion session where, in small groups, attendees shared the opportunities and challenges involved in working cross-sector. One of the most commonly shared views was that there is an urgent need for more collaborative work between fields. The challenges that researchers, practitioners, and teachers face were also shared. For example, sometimes teachers and speech and language therapists do not have access to information about evidence-based research when supporting adjective learning. This highlighted the importance of more events such as this one, where professionals from different fields can come together, share their work, and develop ideas for collaborative work. Finally, different ideas on how to link the work from researchers, clinicians and teachers were proposed, for example by exploring learning through art, drama and music.

The event ended with a reflection of what each person was going to take home and share with their colleagues, e.g.

I will be sharing with teachers and parents the importance of adjectives, language development and some key strategies.

I will definitely be thinking about how to collaborate my SLT goals with Teaching goals.

I will follow up with colleagues about ways that their work might intersect with mine. I will think how I can collaborate with people from other fields.

Brilliant insights into how SLTs and practitioners teach adjectives in the real world and how researchers investigate descriptive language.

We are delighted that this event brought together people working with descriptive language across different fields. Our next steps are to work with the invited speakers and some of the delegates to produce practitioner reports containing research findings, case studies, and recommendations for practice and research.

If you would like to view the resources and talks from the event, please visit our event website.




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 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 the 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 our website 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

Logo of ICKLE project. Logo has a boy writing in a notebook, below the initials I C K L E, and below that it says Impact of Covid on Key Learning and Education  Three houses with the following text above: The effects of social distancing policies on children's language development, sleep and executive functions.





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


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

Cat, Sudha and Jamie looking at the camera and smilingWe 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!