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USU Study Suggests Improved Storytelling Could Help all Students

Thursday, May. 29, 2014

USU faculty member Sandra Gillam
USU faculty member Sandi Gillam led a study that says it is important to help children improve their storytelling.

Children with poor narrative skills are likely to experience reading comprehension problems too — which makes it especially important to help them improve their storytelling.


Now, a feasibility study from Utah State University suggests that specialized narrative instruction can be delivered to the entire classroom — and both typical students and those who struggle with storytelling will benefit.


“Usually children who are at high risk for academic failure require individual or group instruction in order to make measurable gains,” said Sandra Gillam the study’s lead author. 


But students who received the specialized instruction made progress without being pulled out of the classroom, whether they were in the high risk group or not.


Results from the study will appear in Language, Speech and Hearing Services in the Schools. Its authors include Sandra and Ron Gillam and Jamsion Fargo, all from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at USU; and also Abbie Olzewski of the University of Nevada School of Medicine.


Their nonrandomized study divided children from two classrooms into two subgroups: high- and low-risk. Then a speech-language pathologist provided narrative and vocabulary instruction three times a week for 30 minutes over six weeks in one classroom. In the other classroom the SLP assisted the teacher in traditional, non-experimental instruction.


Children in the classroom that received the specialized instruction made clinically-significant improvements in storytelling and vocabulary skills. Children in the comparison classroom did not experience the same level of improvement.


The intervention benefitted students in different ways, according to whether they were judged to be at high or low risk. Students who were at high risk made greater progress in narrative skill than their counterparts, though both made clinically significant gains. Students who were at low risk made greater gains in vocabulary than those at high risk.


The narrative skills were taught gradually, as students learned seven story elements. They learned that characters take action because they are motivated by a goal, and they were taught to connect causes and effects. Eventually they developed their own stories.


“It’s a very scaffolded process,” Gillam said. “As they demonstrated greater proficiency we taught them more and more complex skills. Over time, we provided less and less support until children were creating and editing their own complex stories independently. ”


Related links:


Contact: Sandra Gillam, sandi.gillam@usu.edu

Writer: JoLynne Lyon, 435-797-1463

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