Multiculturalism and Dialogic Reading

The United States has a large and fast growing ethnic, linguistic, and culturally diverse population. The demographic shift over the last decade is particularly noteworthy among young children. Abedi, Hofstetter, and Lord (2004) reported more than two million children in pre-K through third grade speak a language other than English in their homes. Hispanic children under the age of five years are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the U. S. In July 2003, they numbered 4.2 million or 21% of the total demographic of 19.8 million children (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition [NCELA], 2008). These statistics present serious implications for schools in terms of education policy and practice related to early intervention, assessment and special education placement, mono/bilingual education, and overall academic achievement. 

A large component of children’s reading and expression skills in kindergarten and elementary school are formed at a very young age, says research by Lonigan, Burgess, & Anthony from 2000. The skills and abilities of young children (0-5 years) predict the subsequent outcomes of children’s literacy and expressive ability.

Dialogic Reading is an interactive reading strategy that promotes the language development of children through argumentation, reasoning and the extension of children’s thoughts supported by the adult reader. The strategy has been shown in several research studies to support the development of children’s oral language and early literacy skills, including child-adult (in this case Teacher) and child-peers expressive and relational skills. Researchers using Dialogic Reading strategies have reported significant positive results in the development of the oral home language (Crain-Thoreson & Dale, 1999; Lonigan & Whitehurst, 1998; Valdez-Manchaca & Whitehurst, 1992; Whitehurst, et al., 1988; Mary Ellen Donovan Huennekens, 2013).

There are several theories on the acquisition of the second language among young children. The most widespread is the theory of the Transfer of Skills. Cummins (1996) has suggested that there may be “common basic skills” (p. 250) in the language in such a way that first language skills favorably mediate second language acquisition. The interlingual transfer of skills can be conceptualized as “the access and use of the linguistic resources of the first language by students while learning other languages” (Leafstadt & Gerber, p. 27). The principle is susceptible to inversion, that is, the inter-linguistic transfer can also take place with the transfer of resources learned in the second language and be favorably transferred to the language of origin.

Numerous researches show how Dialogic Reading applied in the classroom can generate benefits in the language of origin, spoken at home. Conversely, also the Dialogic Reading practiced at home with the parents, can have benefits on the linguistic abilities of the child.