Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Communication Sciences and Disorders

Major Professor

Howard Goldstein, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Trina Spencer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Barker, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.


decontextualized language, early intervention, parents, storybook reading, storybook selection


Poor reading levels is a pervasive problem in the US. For example, two of every three eigth grade students in the US are estimated to demonstrate insufficient reading comprehension skills. Early use of decontextualized language, in which the language expressed is removed from the here and now, serves as a precursor of academic language proficiency. Starting as early as the third year of life, decontextualized language is less likely to be practiced in lower socio-economic status (SES) households. Although storybooks offer a rich context for practicing the language with young children, reading storybooks alone is not adequate to promote conversational turn taking. Incorporating decontextualized language during storybook sharing delivered by mothers and fathers has potential benefits as a means for parents to prompt rich conversations with their children. Such conversations with decontextualized language during storybook sharing may help to narrow the 30-million word gap.

Three studies comprising this dissertation investigate how to implement a feasible, effective parent-child book-sharing intervention program that promotes decontextualized language conversations of parents with their preschool aged children. The first study examined the effects of embedding decontextualized language cues during book-sharing delivered by four fathers living in low SES in Istanbul, Turkey. This study featured a multiple baseline design across behaviors and utilized visual analysis, Tau-U effect size estimates, and a social validity questionnaire to analyze the effects of the book-sharing program. The second study replicated the first study by examining the effects of implementing the same book-sharing program delivered by both mothers and fathers in four families living in Tampa, Florida. This second study extended the results of the first study. The analysis of the second study included multilevel models to reveal the magnitude of the intervention effect on participants and the differential effects of mothers and fathers on their child’s decontextualized language utterances. Results from these two studies showed that embedding decontextualized language cues during storybook sharing is functionnally related to increases in decontextualized language utterances of mother-child and father-child dyads living in lower SES households. When written cues were removed after two shared reading sessions, all but one family in the second study maintained their use of decontextualized language albeit with slightly depressed frequency. The intervention effects in the second study were consistently higher for parents than for their children. These children used significantly more decontextualized language utterances when responding to their mothers than to their fathers.

The third study in this dissertation investigated how parent gender, household SES levels, and parenting indicators relate to parents’ storybook selection. This explanatory mixed-method study used qualitative content analysis to elaborate results from quantitative regression and hierarchical regression models. A total of 167 parents (91 mothers and 76 fathers) recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk completed six surveys on parenting and demographics, selected children’ storybook topics, and then selected a book from two choices that differed based on coding of their difficulty. Results showed that parent gender and household SES levels do not predict the difficulty levels of storybooks selected by parents. Parenting style was the only significant predictor of the difficulty level of storybooks that parents select. Parents who demonstrated more inconsistent, harsh, or excessively lax parenting styles tended to select easier storybooks. Qualitative analyses identified four themes that did not reflect book difficulty. These themes were a) family and child relation with storybooks, b) instructional context of storybooks, c) physical characteristics of storybooks, and d) storybook appeal. In addition, 15% of parents’ comments indicated general appeal of particular storybooks as a criterion while selecting storybooks, using vague descriptions, such as “cute book” and “pleasing book.”

Early language intervention programs with the individualized and explicit instruction with ongoing guidance seem to represent effective ways of prompting conversations with decontextualized language cues during book-sharing. These studies could influence the ways that parent-child storybook sharing programs are implemented and the classification systems used to provide parents with objective information for selecting storybooks. Such studies can help to improve the effects of early language intervention programs that could eventually lead to social policy changes to narrow the 30-million word gap.