Cognitively challenging talk during shared reading: Effects of parent gender, child gender and relations with story comprehension

Roel van Steensel, Brenda Gouw, Saskia Liefers, Tessa van Aspert

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Although research on the home literacy environment and its impact on early literacy has long focused on mothers, the past decade has seen a shift in scholarly attention to the role of fathers. Building on this shift, we examined whether the nature of parent–child interactions during shared storybook reading varies with parent gender, child gender and the interaction between the two, and we analysed whether possible differences in the nature of mother– and father–child interactions are related to story comprehension. We made video observations of mothers and fathers within 36 relatively highly educated families reading a storybook with their kindergartener (age 4 – 5) and registered the use of cognitively challenging (i.e. decontextualized) talk during these activities. After each shared reading session, we additionally administered a test assessing children’s understanding of the story being read. Two-way mixed ANOVA’s revealed no effects of parent gender or child gender on either the use of cognitively challenging talk or children’s story comprehension, nor did we find interaction effects of parent and child gender. The extent of cognitively challenging talk was significantly correlated to children’s comprehension scores for fathers, but not for mothers. This correlation seems to have masked another association, however: when correlations were computed separately for girls and boys, we found that the proportion of cognitively challenging utterances of both parents was correlated to comprehension scores for boys, but not for girls. The absence of parent gender effects provides further insights into the way mothers and fathers shape interactions during shared reading, but also stresses the need for studies with larger, more diverse samples. The observation that more frequent use of cognitively challenging talk was paralleled by better story comprehension for boys invites further research on the specific effects of shared reading for boys.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Early Childhood Literacy
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2022

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