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Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31 (2010) 195201

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Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology

Home support for emergent literacy: Follow-up of a community-based

implementation of dialogic reading
Colleen E. Huebner a,b,c,, Kathryn Payne a,1

Department of Health Services, University of Washington, United States

Department of Family and Child Nursing, University of Washington, United States
Department of Pediatric Dentistry, University of Washington, United States

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 25 September 2007
Received in revised form 4 February 2010
Accepted 8 February 2010
Available online 26 March 2010
Language development
Emergent literacy
Parentchild interaction
Community-based research

a b s t r a c t
This study tested if parents taught to use an interactive (dialogic) reading style to promote early
vocabulary skills continued to read this way as their children grew older. Approximately half the 78
participants received instruction in dialogic reading when their child was age 2 or 3 years, the other half had
no prior instruction. Parentchild reading evaluated more than 2 years after instruction showed signicant
group differences in parents' use of dialogic reading techniques. Analysis controlling for maternal education,
child's age, and frequency of family reading found parents with prior instruction used on average 90% more
dialogic reading behaviors than parents without instruction. Use of dialogic reading behaviors was associated
with more active participation of the child in the reading session. Evidence of the ability to change parents'
reading style through brief instruction is strong. Similar efforts could help parents play a further role in
children's emergent literacy development.
2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Parents, policy makers and early childhood researchers agree that
reading with young children can help them prepare for school.
Reading with young children is appealing largely because of the
assumed link between being read to and learning to read. Empirical
models from which to test assumptions about the processes leading to
independent reading are relatively new. Most depict multiple
domains of knowledge, interactions among domains and, within
domains, a developmental progression of skills (e.g., Adams, 1990;
Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difculties in Young
Children, 1998; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). Precursor skills begin
with the ability to understand and produce language in the infant and
toddler years, skills practiced in shared reading with an adult who
focuses predominately on word meaning and book conventions such
as front and back, top and bottom. A second strand of skills relates to
decoding print and sound units including the abilities to name letter
shapes, make associations between sounds and alphabet letters, and
separate spoken words into constituent sounds (Adams, 1990;
National Research Council, 2001; van Kleeck, 1998; Whitehurst &
Lonigan, 1998). Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998) group these emergent literacy skills and processes as outsidein skills (e.g.,
Corresponding author. Maternal and Child Health Program Box 357230, School of
Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, United States. Tel.: +1 206
685 9852.
E-mail address: colleenh@u.washington.edu (C.E. Huebner).
Kathryn Payne is now at Seattle Public Schools' Head Start Program.
0193-3973/$ see front matter 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

vocabulary and general world knowledge) and insideout skills

(e.g., knowledge of the rules for translating writing into meaning).
Like Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998), Adams (1990) suggests these
domains of knowledge and skills are inseparable but are not fully
integrated in the preliteracy period. van Kleeck (1998) proposes two
stages of preliteracy development and posits their implications for
preliteracy instruction. She advocates emphasizing print meaning and
form sequentially, beginning with a focus on the meaning of words
and print in the toddler and early preschool years and shifting in the
later preschool years to give greater emphasis on print forms and the
correspondence between forms and meanings.
A number of interventions have been designed to encourage
parents' reading with preschool children. Typically, they share the
goals of increasing the frequency of parentchild reading and
improving children's vocabulary, syntactic skills, and their knowledge
of the conventions of print and books. One of the most extensively
studied book reading intervention programs is called dialogic reading.
Unlike conventional reading in which the adult reads the text and
occasionally asks for contributions from the child, dialogic reading is
highly interactive. The child is encouraged to take an active role in
telling the story while the adult coaches the child's understanding of
the plot and teaches new vocabulary (Arnold, Lonigan, Whitehurst, &
Epstein, 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1988). Dialogic reading techniques
are tied to the child's developmental level. The program for younger,
2- and 3-year-old children is taught to adults in two parts. The rst
teaches adults to ask simple questions about objects, actions, and
events pictured on a page, to build a child's expressive and receptive
vocabularies. The techniques taught next, typically 12 months after


C.E. Huebner, K. Payne / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31 (2010) 195201

the initial instruction, use open-ended questions and expansions to

elaborate the child's comments and questions. These behaviors foster
simple grammatical skills and the ability to use language to describe
and explain (Cole, Maddox, & Lim, 2006; DeBaryshe, 1993).
Throughout, adults are encouraged to praise the child's participation
in telling the story. The program for 4- and 5-year olds uses similar
evocative techniques to encourage conversation about the pictures
and words in the book and adds an emphasis on the understanding of
concepts and narrative structure through adults' use of open-ended
questions and distancing prompts that ask children to relate aspects
of the story to their own experiences (Lonigan, 2006). Although
dialogic reading methods are relatively easy to learn and well-liked by
caregivers of young children (Blom-Hoffman, O'Neil-Pirozzi, &
Cutting, 2006; Huebner 2000a), without instruction the behaviors
occur infrequently during shared reading (Dickinson & Keebler, 1989;
Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Hammett, van Kleeck, & Huberty, 2003;
Huebner, 2000b; Huebner & Meltzoff, 2005).
Dialogic reading programs with preschool children have been
tested in 1-to-1 interventions with parents and children (Arnold et al.,
1994; Huebner, 2000b; Whitehurst et al., 1988), with small groups of
children and a teacher in Head Start, and in other classroom settings
(Huebner, 2006; Lonigan, Anthony, Bloomeld, Dyer, & Samwel,
1999; Wasik, Bond, & Hindman, 2006; Whitehurst et al., 1994). The
intervention is implemented during a preschool year or, in community-based trials, taught to parents as a 4- to 8-week intervention
program. In most studies, outcome data have been collected 6 weeks
to 6 months following the end of the intervention period. Taken in
sum, these studies have shown positive effects of dialogic reading on
expressive language skills (Hargrave & Senechal, 2000; Huebner,
2000b; Lonigan et al., 1999; Wasik & Bond, 2001; Whitehurst et al.,
1994; Zevenbergen, Whitehurst, & Zevenbergen, 2003), use of
evaluative devices and reference to internal states of characters in
the story (Zevenbergen et al., 2003), and receptive vocabulary
(Huebner 2000b; Wasik & Bond, 2001; Whitehurst et al., 1988). A
meta-analysis of 16 studies found signicantly stronger effects on
expressive than on receptive vocabulary (Mol, Bus, de Jong, & Smeets,
The benets of dialogic reading, along with its low cost, ease of use,
and high acceptability have led to large-scale dissemination through
public libraries (i.e., the Public Library Association's Early Literacy
Initiative), early childhood education programs, and informal community-based programs (e.g., Hear and Say Reading with Toddlers,
http://www.bainbridgeislandrotary.org/). As dialogic reading gains
popularity, it becomes increasingly important to know the extent to
which its effects on children and adults persist and its potential to
support developmental advances in children's expressive language
To date, only one study has examined long-term effects of a
dialogic reading intervention. In this randomized controlled trial by
Whitehurst and colleagues (Whitehurst et al., 1999), Head Start
teachers and parents were taught dialogic reading techniques. Head
Start classrooms were randomized to receive their usual curriculum
or dialogic reading plus a phonemic awareness curriculum in the
classroom. The phonemic awareness curriculum was designed to help
children distinguish consonant sounds within spoken words. The
children, ages 3 and 4 years, participated in dialogic reading sessions
in small groups in the classroom and at home with their parents.
Parents did not receive instruction in the phonemic awareness
activities. Follow-up assessments at the end of kindergarten, rst,
and second grade, focused on the children only. Standardized tests of
vocabulary and other emergent literacy skills (i.e., knowing the names
of alphabet letters, print concepts, early writing) showed signicant
benets for children in the dialogic reading condition at the end of the
Head Start year and one year later, at the end of kindergarten. Positive
effects of the intervention did not generalize to children's reading
scores in the rst or second grade. The authors speculate that the

attenuation of group differences was due to the modularity of

emergent literacy skills. Consistent with the models of the development of emergent literacy skills discussed above, they argue that
success at independent reading depends on extensive vocabulary and
print knowledge (skills that can be developed in the early preschool
years by dialogic reading) and increasingly complex decoding skills.
Because the follow-up assessments did not include assessments of the
frequency or quality of parentchild reading interactions, it is not
possible to know if advantages might have been greater for the subset
of children whose families continued a habit of interactive reading.
Knowing if a brief and early dialogic reading program has longterm effects on the quality of shared reading is essential information
for community-based efforts intended to promote young children's
school and reading readiness. Given growing evidence of the
interdependent yet separable components of emergent literacy, a
sequence of developmentally-timed, parent-focused interventions
may be warranted to support language and preliteracy skills over the
preschool years.
The present study is a long-term follow-up of parents who received
instruction in dialogic reading when their children were 2 or 3 years of
age. The goal was to learn if parents taught the techniques of dialogic
reading when their children were young continued to read this way as
their children grew older. Based on previous research that found most
parents enjoyed dialogic reading (Huebner 2000a), we hypothesized
parents would maintain a dialogic style, demonstrated by more
interactive reading behaviors. We hypothesized also that parents' use
of dialogic reading behaviors would be associated with greater
participation by the child in sharing the story. To test these hypotheses,
this study compared patterns of parentchild reading of two groups:
1) parents and children who, more than two years previously, had
participated in an eight-week dialogic reading intervention (Huebner &
Meltzoff, 2005), and 2) a comparison group recruited from the
community at the same time as the intervention group but who
received no intervention.

Setting and eligibility criteria. The intervention and follow-up studies
took place in a mixed-income, rural county in Western Washington with
an annual birth rate of approximately 225 live births per year. The
setting was selected in part because in this community relatively few
young preschool age children are enrolled in early education programs.
A home-based intervention was both feasible and had the support of
policy makers, public health professionals, and the local libraries. The
sample included parents contacted rst when their children were ages 2
or 3 years. At that time, one group (n = 125) participated in an
intervention study that tested three methods of instruction in dialogic
reading and found all methods were effective (Huebner & Meltzoff,
2005). While the intervention study was concluding, a second set of
parents (n = 40) were recruited to create a comparison group for this
follow-up study. Parents indicated their interest in the future study by
giving written permission to contact them when their children were
Participants eligible for the follow-up study were 108 parents who
agreed to future contact and whose children would be at age 4 years
during the period 8/20047/2006. Parents were invited by postcard or
telephone call to participate. Of the 108 who were eligible, 18 parents
declined, 4 children were excluded because they had begun
kindergarten, and 8 families had moved out of the study area. The
nal sample included 78 parents and their children; 41 had
participated in the previous dialogic reading intervention and 37
parentchild dyads had no prior experience with dialogic reading (see
Fig. 1).

C.E. Huebner, K. Payne / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31 (2010) 195201


of the study participants are presented in Table 1. Tests for differences

between parents with and without prior instruction in dialogic
reading found one statistically signicant difference: mothers without
prior instruction had on average one additional year of formal
schooling (p b .01). For participants in the prior intervention study,
the average time between prior instruction in dialogic reading and the
follow-up assessment was 33.36 months.
At the time of the follow-up, the children were on average
59.40 months of age (4 years, 11.4 months). Due to delays in scheduling,
ve children were older than 60 months. Because the study ndings did
not change appreciably when they were excluded from the analyses, all
children were included to increase precision of the estimates. Children
without prior experience in dialogic reading were on average 15 days
younger than those with experience. Although this difference did not
reach statistical signicance, child's age was included as a covariate in
the analyses because age is a known correlate of early language skill.

Fig. 1. Flow diagram of study participants.

Description of the sample. The majority of parents were AngloAmerican (94% of mothers) with a family income derived from wages
(94%) rather than public assistance. Five mothers were less than
30 years of age, the youngest was 26 years. Additional characteristics

Parents and children completed one in-person assessment at their

home or at one of the two public libraries in the county. The assessments
were conducted by one of three college-educated community residents
trained in the data collection protocol and unaware of parents' prior
experience with dialogic reading. The assessment took approximately
45 min to complete and included: 1) a brief questionnaire about family
demographics and home literacy activities, and 2) an audio recording of
parentchild reading.
The reading session occurred at the end of the assessment visit.
Parents were instructed to read with their children for 5 min. All
parents read the same book in which a teacher and children play a
counting game. The book was chosen because of its familiar topic (in
the U.S., approximately two-thirds of 4-year-old children have
experience with center-based early child care or preschool; U.S.
Department of Education, 2007), its simple plot, and description of
actions and objects. If parents nished the book before 5 min elapsed,
they re-read it or another story about bugs.

Table 1
Characteristics of study participants (N = 78).

Parent's relationship to child

Mother's education
High school graduation
or less
One or more years college
Child's age
54 to 59 months
60 to 64 months
Child's sex (male)
Family read to child
last week
12 days
36 days
Family taught letters, words
or numbers last week
No days
12 days
3 or more days
In daycare or preschool
0 to 9 h per week
10 to 19 h per week
20 to 40 h per week

No instruction in
dialogic reading
n = 37

Prior instruction in
dialogic reading
n = 41

Percent (n)

Percent (n)

96% (35)
2% (1)
2% (1)

90% (37)
5% (2)
5% (2)

0% (0)

15% (6)

100% (37)

85% (35)

38% (14)
62% (23)
51% (19)

29% (12)
71% (29)
51% (21)

5% (2)
22% (8)
73% (27)

7% (3)
41% (17)
52% (21)

5% (2)
43% (16)
52% (19)

10% (4)
29% (12)
61% (25)

46% (17)
38% (14)
16% (6)

41% (17)
44% (18)
15% (6)

Sociodemographics and child characteristics. Sociodemographic

information collected by written questionnaire included the parent's
age, education, ethnicity, marital status, and source of family income.
Information about the children included age, sex, and the number of
hours spent each week in child care or early childhood education
Children's literacy experiences. Included in the questionnaire were
items that asked about reading frequency and literacy-oriented
experiences in the home. The items, taken from the National
Household Education Surveys for the year 2001 (U.S. Department of
Education, n.d.), included the following two questions: how many
times have you or someone in your family read to your child in the
past week? (0 days, 12 days, 36 days, everyday) and in the past
week, have you or someone in your family taught (him/her) letters,
words, or numbers? (0 days, 12 days, 3+ days).
Parentchild reading style. Audio-recordings of the parentchild
reading sessions were reviewed and coded to determine the extent to
which parents used the techniques of dialogic reading, either
spontaneously or as a result of prior training, to engage their child
in the story. Coders were not aware of parents' prior experience with
dialogic reading.
The coding scheme for the dialogic reading behaviors was similar
to that used in previous studies (i.e., Huebner 2000b; Huebner &
Meltzoff, 2005). It is a frequency count of behaviors that typify
dialogic reading with 2- and 3-year olds (i.e., use of what questions,
questions about function or attributes, repetition, labeling, imitative
directives, prompts to say more, making connections to the child's


C.E. Huebner, K. Payne / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31 (2010) 195201

experiences, praise, open-ended questions, and expansions) as well as

behaviors adults are asked to minimize during dialogic reading (i.e.,
reading without including the child, use of yes/no questions, and
pointing questions).
Dialogic reading behaviors were computed as rates in 5 min of
reading. Reading samples of less than 5 min duration were adjusted
upwards to yield ve-minute averages. The average sample length
before adjustment was 4.4 min (SD = 0.6); the shortest sample was
2.9 min.
Inter-rater agreement between a coder and an expert (CEH) for
parents' use of dialogic reading behaviors was computed based on 21%
of the audio records. The agreement statistic used for the dialogic
reading behaviors was intraclass correlation using a 2-way random
effects model and an absolute agreement denition. Intraclass
correlations (ICC) were computed for 10 of 13 parent codes. The
average ICC was .86. ICCs were not computed for parent behaviors
that occurred less than twice in the entire sample, these were:
imitative directives, questions about function or attributes, and
pointing requests.
Two indicators were used to summarize the child's participation in
shared reading: the frequency of multi-word phrases and a freespeech measure of children's syntactic maturity based on mean length
of utterance in words. We chose to report the longest ve utterances
based on words because in this study the amount and clarity of child
speech varied greatly. ICCs for the child behaviors were .99 for multiword utterances and .95 for the mean length of the longest ve
utterances in words.
The design was a 2-group quasi-experimental study of the effect of
prior instruction in dialogic reading on parentchild reading behaviors. Group differences were examined using regression analysis.
Regression modeling allowed us to assess the effect of prior
instruction on the quality of shared reading after controlling for
other variables that might affect this activity, specically: mother's
education, child's age, and the frequency of family reading. The rst
model, our primary analysis, tested the effect of prior instruction on
parents' use of dialogic reading behaviors at the follow-up assessment. Because this outcome is a count variable that included multiple
values of zero, a zero-inated negative binomial model was chosen.
Two additional regression models were used to examine associations between parents' use of dialogic reading behaviors and the
children's participation in the reading session. Two dependent
variables, the total number of multi-word utterances and the average
length in words of the longest ve utterances, were assessed.
Inspection showed signicant skew in the distribution of the number
of multi-word utterances. Four scores exceeded the 75th percentile of
the distribution by more than 1.5 times the inter-quartile range. These
outliers were replaced with less extreme scores by a procedure called
semi-Winsorization (Barnett & Lewis, 1994) that uses a 1.5 Interquartile Range Rule to reduce the effect of outliers on the shape of the
distribution. The adjusted variable, a count variable of multi-word
utterances with four observations of a value of zero, was modeled
with a zero-inated negative binomial distribution. The average
length of the longest ve utterances in words was modeled using
linear regression. Statistical analyses were performed using Stata
(Version 10.0, Statacorp, College Station, TX).
Frequency of children's literacy experiences
Data describing the children's literacy experiences are presented
in Table 1. For the sample as a whole, reading was a relatively
common family activity. All parents reported reading in the prior

week. Nearly two-thirds (62%) reported a family member read with

their child everyday. Reading frequency did not differ signicantly
between the two study groups. Direct teaching of letters, words, or
numbers during reading or in other family interactions was reported
to occur less often than shared reading. For the group as a whole, 8%
reported this occurred not at all in the prior week, 36% reported doing
so on 1 or 2 days, and 54% reported doing so on 3 or more days. The
difference between the study groups was not statistically signicant.
Exposure to preschool or daycare was considered another
potential source of literacy experience. At the time of the follow-up
assessment, when the study children were on average nearly 5 years
of age, 85% were enrolled in a daycare or preschool program. Fortyfour percent of the children attended daycare or preschool 0 to 9 h per
week, 41% attended 10 to 19 h per week, and 15% attended 20 or more
hours per week. The average hours per week spent in daycare or
preschool did not differ signicantly between study groups.
Parents' use of dialogic reading behaviors during shared reading
Table 2 presents data on the frequency of dialogic reading
behaviors used by parents in each study group. Averages are reported
for the ten behaviors parents are instructed to increase in dialogic
reading and three behaviors parents are instructed to decrease. For
the sample as a whole, the least frequent dialogic behavior was to
prompt the child to elaborate on a comment or gesture; the most
frequent dialogic behavior was to ask a what-question. Two dialogic
reading behaviors were not observed to occur at all: use of imitative
directives (e.g., can you say ) and questions about the function or
attribute of a pictured object. Reading sentences from the book
verbatim was the most frequent behavior of all.
Association between prior instruction in dialogic reading and parents'
reading behaviors
A dialogic reading (DR) summary score was constructed to test the
association between prior instruction in dialogic reading and parents'
use of these behaviors at 33 months, on average, post instruction. The
summary score was the sum of all ten behaviors parents are taught to
increase in dialogic reading. For the sample as a whole, the variable,
total number of DR behaviors ranged from 0 to 60 behaviors in the
5-min reading session. The average number of dialogic behaviors was
higher among parents with prior instruction (M = 11.86, SD = 12.10)
than among parents without it (M = 6.05, SD = 6.23). The effect size
Table 2
Item-level descriptives of dialogic reading (DR) behaviors during 5 min of shared
reading (N = 78).

Adult behaviors to increase in DR

What questions
Attribute questions
Repeats child
Imitation directives
Prompts to say more
Connects to experience
Open-ended questions
Adult behaviors to decrease in DR
Reading without the
child involved
Yes/no questions
Pointing questions

No instruction in
dialogic reading
n = 37

Prior instruction in
dialogic reading
n = 41

Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)

2.44 (2.98)
.78 (1.54)
.42 (1.03)
.12 (.54)
.24 (.60)
1.08 (1.49)
.92 (1.93)
.04 (.23)



69.63 (14.11)

58.48 (19.02)

3.98 (4.15)
.03 (.19)

5.29 (3.88)
.03 (.16)

C.E. Huebner, K. Payne / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31 (2010) 195201

corresponding to this difference was .57, interpreted as a moderate

effect size where .20 is considered small and .80 is large (Cohen,
1998). A multivariable model was used to test the difference between
groups after controlling for mother's education (in years), child's
age (in months), and frequency of family reading in the prior week
(12 days, 36 days, or everyday). Maternal education was missing
for 3 subjects so the analysis was limited to a sample size of 75. The
nal model is presented in Table 3 as Model 1. Parents with prior
instruction were observed to use 90% more dialogic reading behaviors
during shared reading than were parents without prior instruction.
The z-test associated with receipt of prior instruction (yes = 1, no =
0), after adjustment for the covariates, was statistically signicant
(z = 3.04, p b .05).
Associations between parents' use of dialogic reading behaviors and
child's participation in shared reading
Two regression models were constructed to test if parents' use of
dialogic reading behaviors, regardless of their experience with the prior
intervention, was associated with greater verbal participation of the
child in the reading session. Children's participation was examined in
two ways: the number of multi-word utterances and the average length
of the longest ve sentences in words. The number of multi-word
utterances ranged from 0 to 25 utterances in the 5-min reading session.
Four extreme scores were reduced to values of 16.13 using the
techniques of semi-Winsorization (Barnett & Lewis, 1994) described
above. A zero-inated negative binomial model was chosen for the
analysis because the distribution of scores included four zeros and the
Voung test indicated the chosen model t the data well. The nal model
is presented in Table 3 as Model 2. There was a strong association
between the number of dialogic reading behaviors used by the parent
and the number of multi-word utterances of the child after adjustment
for three covariates: mother's education in years, child's age, and
frequency of family reading. The z-test associated with parents' dialogic
reading behaviors was highly signicant (z = 4.12, p b .000).
The analysis of the dependent variable, the average length of
longest 5 utterances by the child included 73 children. The reason for
the reduction in sample size from 75 to 73 was two children did not
speak at all during the reading session and thus did not provide an
adequate sample from which to calculate this variable. The mean
sentence length of the longest utterances for the 73 children was 3.78
words (M = 3.78, SD = 1.31). The range was from 1.40 to 6.80 words. A

Table 3
Regression analyses: Associations between instruction in dialogic reading (DR),
parents' use of DR, and child reading behaviors 2 years later.
Model 1a total
DR behaviors
by parent

Model 2a total
utterances by



95% CI


95% CI

95% CI

Mother's education (years)

Age of child (months)
Frequency of family
reading (week)
Parent's prior instruction
in DR (yes)
Parents' use of DR
behaviors (total)


.98, 1.19
.99, 1.35
.76, 1.43


.88, 1.01
.92, 1.13
.80, 1.28


.27, .05
.15, .27
.20, .84

1.90 1.26, 2.88


1.01, 1.04


Model 3b avg.
length of longest
5 utterances by

.01, .07

Note. Number of observations used in Model 1 was 75; mother's education was missing
for 3 subjects. Model 3 is based on 73 observations because 2 children did not speak
during the reading session.
Zero-inated negative binomial model for count data; values are incidence rate
ratios and associated 95% condence levels.
Linear model; values are unstandardized regression coefcients and associated 95%
condence levels.


linear model was used to test the association between parents' use of
dialogic reading behaviors and this indicator of the child's level of
participation. The model, with adjustment for mother's education in
years, child's age, and frequency of family reading, is presented as in
Table 3 as Model 3. The overall model was statistically signicant (F (4,
68) = 2.73, p b .05) and the variable of interest, the total number of DR
behaviors used by the parent, was the only independent variable to
reach signicance (t = 2.62, p b .01).
This study provides the rst evidence that brief instruction in
interactive reading has an enduring effect on parents' reading style.
Parents taught to use dialogic reading behaviors when their children
were ages 2 or 3 years continued to use this reading style more than
2 years later. The frequency of dialogic behaviors among those with
prior instruction was nearly double that of parents with no prior
instruction. For the sample as a whole, use of dialogic reading
behaviors was associated with greater participation by the child in
telling the story. Two-party discourse, here prompted by familiarity or
curiosity with the story, exposes children to linguistically complex
and cognitively challenging experiences that teach the meaning of
new words and concepts and are correlated with subsequent
vocabulary and reading achievement (Beals, 1997).
Studies that implement dialogic reading as a universal preventive
intervention have been criticized for not delivering it only to children at
highest risk and thereby greatest need. We disagree. In this moderatelyadvantaged sample, there was substantial range in children's preschool
experience and in home behaviors to foster language and other
emergent literacy skills. Although shared reading was reported to be
common, only slightly more than half (56%) of parents reported their
child was taught within the family about letters, words, or numbers on
three or more days in the previous week. This percentage is lower than
the 77% reported nationally for children ages 3 through 5 years (U.S.
Department of Education, 2006). It is worth emphasizing that the
children in this study were, on average, nearly 5-years old and most
would not be identied as at risk for difculty learning to read due to
socio-economic disadvantage. County-level data for the study site for
the years 20052009 indicate only 68 to 71% of third-grade children met
the State's reading goals as measured by a standardized test and
required by the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2000. The county data
are consistent with national statistics that show in the U.S., an estimated
one in three children has difculty learning to read (Adams, 1990).
Practical, universal recommendations about how to support early
language and literacy skills are needed to benet children from all
socio-economic strata.
Three aspects of the study may have limited its results. First, no early
language measures were collected for the comparison group children
and thereby it was not possible to control for potential differences
between the groups at the follow-up assessment. Second, it is not
possible to know if prior instruction in dialogic reading or concurrent
use of the techniques were associated with stronger vocabulary skills.
A third limitation is that characteristics of parents in the comparison
group showed they were not equivalent to parents in the intervention
group in ways that could be related to a stronger motivation to support
children's preliteracy development and stronger readiness skills. For
instance, all parents recruited to the comparison group agreed to
participate in the study, whereas this was not true of the dialogic reading
group. One reason for the difference may be timing. All comparison
group parents were recruited at the end of the dialogic reading
intervention study (which was in the eld for approximately
1.5 years). For them, less time elapsed between the time they were
recruited and data collection; less time to move out of the area and less
time to reconsider their interest. Also, parents eager to participate in a
future study of children's language abilities and reading readiness
without receiving any benet in the here-and-now, may be more


C.E. Huebner, K. Payne / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 31 (2010) 195201

invested in these skills than parents who agree to participate in a

research study with immediate rewards (i.e., instruction in dialogic
reading and 2 free books for their children). These sources of selfselection bias, if they exist, would favor the comparison group children
and reduce the likelihood of observing differences between groups
related to early experiences in dialogic reading. The implication is that
the signicant effects on parents' reading behaviors observed in the
present study may in fact underestimate the difference between the
study groups.
Parents must be recognized as essential partners in helping all
children prepare for the demands of formal schooling and learning to
read. Although preschool curricula exist to support these goals,
preschool programs can't carry the responsibility alone. In the U.S.
nearly one-third (31%) of 4-year olds are not in center-based childcare
or early child education programs (U.S. Department of Education,
2007). For those who are, there is substantial variability between
programs in terms of curricula and, within programs, in the delity of
program implementation (e.g., Whitehurst et al., 1999). The ndings
of this study show parents are an under-utilized resource. Parents
may have received the message about the importance of reading with
young children (in this study, 94% reported their child was read to 3 or
more times in the previous week), but they need more information
about how to use shared reading for instructional purposes
throughout the preschool years. For instance, in the present study,
parents' use of distancing behaviors (e.g., Sigel, 1982) to connect the
meaning of the text to the child's own experiences were observed to
occur less than once on average in the 5-min reading session. Use of
open-ended questions, another technique that can prompt extended
discourse and in turn build knowledge of narrative structure (Snow &
Beals, 2006) and of print skills (Korat, 2009), occurred only 2 to 3
times on average among dyads with prior experience in dialogic
reading and less than once per session among those without prior
Maximizing shared reading to support language and other emergent
literacy skills may require parents to learn and practice behaviors that
are entirely new. Parental belief systems play an instrumental role in
everyday caregiving behaviors including home literacy activities
(Goodnow & Collins, 1990; DeBaryshe, 1995). In a study of middle to
upper-middle class parents and their 5- and 6-year-old children,
DeBaryshe and her colleagues (DeBaryshe, Binder, & Buell, 2000)
found parents' beliefs about children's literacy development and their
own roles in the process were associated with their shared reading style
and with children's literacy skills. Studies of low-income Latino families
report similar ndings. Individual differences in parents' beliefs about
how children learn to read were related to how parents' used literacy
materials provided by the children's school (Goldenberg 1987; Goldenberg, Rees, & Gallimore, 1992). Future studies are needed to test if
parents' beliefs mediate their willingness to adopt an interactive reading
Parent involvement in reading readiness holds considerable promise
for helping all preschool children prepare to succeed in school. The
evidence that brief instruction in dialogic reading can change parents'
reading behaviors and support early vocabulary development is strong.
Similar efforts are needed to help parents play a further role in their
children's emergent literacy development. Parents are willing but need
guidance in how to do this. One approach would be to build on the
success of dialogic reading as a parent-focused community-based
program (e.g., provided through public libraries, family centers, work
sites) to create a follow-up program for parents of older children.
Inviting parent participation in program design and implementation
will likely to strengthen its acceptance and effectiveness.
This research was supported in part by grants from the University
of Washington's Research Royalty Funds and from the Health

Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health

Bureau. We acknowledge also Karmen Meier for her assistance with
program management, and we thank the parents and children of
Jefferson County, WA, whose participation made this study possible.

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