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Enhancing preschoolers reasoning skills : an intervention to optimise the use of justificatory speech acts during peer interaction

McWilliam, D. and Howe, Christine (2004) Enhancing preschoolers reasoning skills : an intervention to optimise the use of justificatory speech acts during peer interaction. Language and Education, 18 (6). pp. 504-524. ISSN 0950-0782

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Abstract

It has long been acknowledged that justificatory speech is linked with both social and cognitive development. Yet many studies suggest that pre-school children might lack the ability or experience to produce such discourse in routine interaction. In contrast, researchers such as Eisenberg and Garvey (1981) have found evidence of pre-schoolers' justifications in conflictual play contexts. Although this has positive implications for child development, the conflictual context may sit uneasily with parents' and teachers' expectations. It is encouraging therefore that McWilliam (1999) has demonstrated that pre-schoolers can produce justificatory dialogue in both conflictual and nonconflictual situations, even if occurrence in the latter context is less frequent. Based on this, the aim of the present study was to encourage pre-schoolers' production of justificatory discourse during peer exchanges in a non-conflictual context. Twenty-two dyads from a state-run nursery were subject to verbal modelling of either justificatory speech (experimental condition) or a more commonly used alternative (control condition) in daily ten-minute sessions over five consecutive days. All interactions were videorecorded for subsequent coding and analysis. Results showed that both 'why' questions and 'justifications' were significantly higher in the experimental condition, indicating that pre-schoolers' explanatory speech can be effectively enhanced by a cooperative intervention programme.