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The use of audio prompting to assist mothers with limited English proficiency in tutoring their pre-kindergarten children on English vocabulary.


Parents with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) may find it difficult to become involved in their children's education due to their lack of English proficiency. The present study examined the effects of using audio prompting to assist mothers with LEP in teaching their preschool children English vocabulary. Mothers were trained to tutor their children using a Talking Photo Album. The Talking Photo Album used audio prompting that can support a naive tutor. In this study, the mother with LEP received necessary assistance in providing accurate English object names and feedback to her child. Results of the study indicate that all participant mothers and children made substantial gains in naming objects, and children successfully generalized from pictures of objects to authentic or three dimensional representatives of the objects.


Parent involvement is a critical component of preschool children's success in school. Several investigations have demonstrated that parent support is an important factor in the development of school readiness, including early literacy skills, in preschool children (Bennett, Weigel, & Martin, 2002; Parker, Boak, Griffin, Ripple, & Peay, 1999; Rush, 1999). These studies examined the effects of the family literacy environment, quality of parent-child interactions, and parent involvement in literacy activities with their preschool child on various school readiness indicators.

Parent tutoring is one way of involving parents in supporting children's acquisition of academic skills. Results of several investigations have shown the overall positive impact of parent tutoring on academic achievement. Parent tutoring has been shown to be effective in the areas of reading (Fiala & Sheridan, 2003; Hook & DuPaul, 1999; Thurston & Dasta, 1990), math (Thurston & Dasta, 1990), and spelling (Thurston & Dasta, 1990). According to a meta-analysis completed by Erion (2006), procedures used in all of these studies included the provision of modeling and supervised practice and most of the studies provided written instructions to the parents.

Although results of several investigations have highlighted the overall positive impact of parent involvement on academic achievement of children who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) (Aspiazu, Bauer, & Spillett, 1998), those children with LEP are less likely to experience the benefits of parent involvement. Bhagwanji and McCollum (1998) found that non-English speaking parents participated significantly less frequently in most involvement activities compared to English speaking parents. These investigators discussed the possibility that minority families new to the United States may feel inadequate when working with their children and their child's teacher due to language differences and lack of experience with the school system and culture.

An example of a simple, explicit strategy for improving literacy skills in LEP children and for increasing the involvement of LEP parents in their child's education can be seen in a study by Lopez and Cole (1999), who examined the effect of parent tutoring using an academic drill procedure on Hispanic children's academic readiness skills. Parents in the study had limited English proficiency, yet successfully taught letter names to their children through the use of a scripted procedure involving repeated exposure to letters. Using a multiple-base-line across participants design, researchers demonstrated a functional relationship between parent tutoring in letter names and participants' letter naming accuracy and fluency.

Additional research on simple, explicit strategies for parent tutoring is needed across a range of skills. Of particular importance for preschool English language learners is the acquisition of English oral vocabulary. It is particularly important that children with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) are provided home support for acquiring language skills. Specifically, research has documented that children who have LEP benefit from oral language support from parents and family members in the home (Saunders & O'Brien, 2006). In several studies, children with LEP exposed to English at school and at home scored higher on oral vocabulary measures and acquired the vocabulary at faster rates than children who were only exposed to English at school (Hansen, 1989; Pease-Alvarez & Winsler, 1994; Umbel & Oller, 1994). Parents with LEP are at a great disadvantage in providing support to their children in learning English vocabulary. Therefore developing a simple, explicit strategy for parent tutoring in vocabulary, that does not depend on parent English proficiency, would be beneficial.

At least two studies have been conducted to address the challenge of providing the essential information to a naive tutor, allowing for correct modeling and feedback (Heward, Heron, & Cooke, 1982; Van Norman & Wood, 2008). Heward et al. used a tutor preparation component, "tutor huddle" to ensure that tutors were prepared with correct responses in advance of working with their partners. With respect to helping parents with LEP tutor their children with LEP at home, this strategy is limited by its requirement of a highly skilled person being present to conduct the tutor huddles. This has limited feasibility in family homes. Van Norman and Wood used audio prompting to increase the accuracy of tutor feedback. They taught kindergarteners to teach each other sight words by providing the tutor with word cards which held an embedded voice-output device. Following a tutee's response, tutors activated the device to hear a model of the correct response. Results showed improved accuracy of feedback for all participants when the voice-output device was used. The use of audio prompting holds promise for a variety of tutoring purposes (see Wood, Mackiewicz, Van Norman, & Cooke, 2007), including providing parents with LEP audio models of English words to teach their children.

The present study was designed to extend the research on the use of audio prompting as a support to naive tutors and to examine the extent to which parents with LEP could teach their children English vocabulary at home. Specifically we investigated (a) the effectiveness of parent tutoring on their children's fluency in identifying pictured objects, (b) the gain in English vocabulary for both the parents and children, (c) the generalization of naming pictured objects to authentic or three dimensional representations of the objects, and (d) parent responses to questions regarding treatment acceptability of the intervention.



Participants included three family pairs. Each pair was composed of a mother and a child, both with LEP. The children had all been born in the United States to parents who had moved to this country from Spanish-speaking countries. The children who served as participants were enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program which required demonstration of an educational need based on the results of a pre-academic screening. None of the children was identified as having an articulation impairment or a delay in any of the five developmental areas (i.e., cognitive, communication, physical, self-help, and social/emotional). The children in the study included two males and one female, ages 4 to 5 years old. The mothers involved in the study did not use English to communicate with their children's teachers and required an interpreter in order to effectively communicate with an English speaker.


Intervention training and data collection took place in a pre-kin-dergarten center within a public, urban school system. The school housed 17 pre-kindergarten classrooms. Each of the 17 classrooms served between 16 and 19 children with one certified teacher serving as lead teacher and one full-time instructional assistant. Demographic information related to the school population at the time of the study indicated that approximately 67% of children were eligible to receive free or reduced priced lunch with eligibility based on financial need, 28% of the school population was of Hispanic origin, and approximately 32% of the children lived in homes where English was not the primary language.

Intervention was conducted in the participants' homes. Although we requested that the mothers select a quiet location for tutoring, recordings on the procedural fidelity tapes suggested that the locations used were where family activities occurred (i.e., the sounds of televisions, activities, and occasional responses by other family members could be heard).

A private office in the school was used for pretests, posttests, and probes. At the conclusion of the study children were given a generalization assessment which took place in part in the office, but also required movement throughout the school.


A total of 200 objects were selected for instruction with preference given to (a) common objects in the home environment, (b) common objects in the school environment, and (c) objects found in children's literature. Picture cards representing these objects were made from digital images obtained through clip art.

A Talking Photo Album (Attainment Company, Inc., 2007) was used for presenting the object pictures. The Talking Photo Albums (TPA) were purchased for approximately $30.00 each. The albums had 12 two-sided pages allowing for up to 24 pictures to be displayed. Each side of the page contained a recording device that allowed for 10 s of recorded material. The album was set up to display two identical sets of 10 pictures. When the album was opened from one side, each of the 10 pictures was accompanied by an audio recording of the Spanish label of the picture, and when opened from the opposite side the matching pictures were accompanied by the English label of the picture. For example, one side of the page might have a picture of a house on it. When the recording device was activated, the word "house" would be heard. On the opposite side of the page an identical picture was placed, but the word "casa" would be heard when the recording device was activated. The TPA was selected because it was transportable, easily adapted, and cost efficient.

Other materials used during tutoring included tape recorders, microphones, and audiotapes. A10' x 10' piece of felt was mounted on a wall in a private office for displaying pictures of objects identical to those used in the TPA. Picture cards were printed on cardstock, and Velcro was attached to the back. For each probe session cards were displayed on the felt in an order determined by a computer-generated random assignment table. For the pretests and posttests, ten rows of ten cards were placed on the felt at one time and then changed for the second part of the test. For fluency probes, only the first 120 of the 200 randomly ordered picture cards were placed on the felt (12 rows of ten cards) since the children did not approach the end during the 3 min. The same arrangement of pictures was used across participants for each probe session.

Dependent Variable Measures

Fluency probes. The primary dependent variable was the number of pictured objects identified correctly by the child in English within 3 min. Probes were administered individually to the children three times per week for 17 weeks. Directions for each probe were given in Spanish. The children were told, "I am going to point to a picture. After I point to it, you tell me the name of the picture in English." The experimenter started the stopwatch which was set for 3 min. The experimenter moved to the next picture if the child indicated that he or she did not know the word by saying "no," shaking his or her head, or hesitating for 3 s. This continued until the 3-min period ended.

Pretest and posttest measures. Additional measures included the number of pictured objects identified correctly in English on an un-timed pretest and posttest of all 200 objects. The pretests and posttests were given individually to the mothers and children. Pretests were administered to each pair immediately preceding intervention and posttests were given within a few days of the last intervention probe. Gain from pretest to posttest in the number of correctly identified pictured objects was calculated for each participant.

Generalization measure. To test for generalization, a list was made of pictured objects mastered by each child during intervention. The experimenter presented matching "real" items, available by walking around the school (e.g., refrigerator), or three dimensional representations (e.g., toy horse) similar to the pictured objects. There was not a precise match between the pictures used in the tutoring procedures and the generalization items. The child was asked, "What is this?" A score of correct or incorrect was entered by the experimenter. The generalization measure was the percentage of representations or real objects identified correctly.

Social validity measure. Social validity interviews were conducted to assess the mothers' perceptions of the effectiveness and feasibility of the intervention. The interviews with the mothers were conducted individually by the experimenter with the support of a Spanish-English interpreter.

Interobserver reliability. An independent observer scored 28% of the fluency probes administered to each child. An agreement was counted if both the experimenter and the second observer marked the same picture as correct or the same picture as incorrect. A disagreement was counted if the second observer's markings differed from those of the experimenter. Interscorer reliability was calculated by dividing the number of agreements by the number of agreements plus disagreements and multiplying by 100. Mean agreement across children and conditions was 98.6% and ranged from 92.6 to 100%.

Research Design

A multiple baseline across participants design (Tawney & Gast, 1984) was used to assess the effects of parent tutoring with audio prompting on object naming fluency of English language learners. The condition sequence was baseline followed by intervention. The baseline condition ranged from 3 to 11 weeks and intervention ranged from 6 to 14 weeks across participants. Baseline probes were administered until a stable pattern was established for all children. At this time, intervention for the initial family pair began. Fluency probes continued to be administered to the remaining children during baseline. The intervention was introduced to subsequent family pairs based on level or trend of previous family pair.


Baseline. During baseline, and throughout the study, the children received whole group instruction within their classrooms from the preschool curriculum Opening the World of Learning (OWL; Schickedanz & Dickinson, 2004). The OWL curriculum was selected by the school district to provide instruction in the areas of language and literacy, social studies, science, mathematics, arts, physical development, and social and emotional development. This curriculum addresses literacy skills by building alphabet knowledge, early writing skills., and phonemic awareness. The OWL curriculum materials indicate that it also supports language skills by identifying and reinforcing vocabulary found in books read to the class and strengthening conversational skills. However, vocabulary instruction is incidental during the story reading (e.g., if the teacher felt the students might not know a word in the story, she might discuss the meaning of the word with the group). The curriculum does not include systematic, explicit instruction of vocabulary and does not target students with LEP. Children with LEP did not receive any additional differentiated instruction in oral language. The children spent six and one-half hours at school each day with no time allocated for explicit vocabulary instruction.

Intervention introduction and training. Prior to initiation of the study, all parents attended an introductory meeting at the school where the intervention was described and demonstrated. A Spanish-English interpreter helped facilitate the meeting and translated the English explanations of the experimenter into Spanish. First, parents watched a demonstration of the procedures and then they were given an informal opportunity to try out the tutoring procedures with a TPA. Parents were given an explanation of the consent form and were invited to participate.

Training and practice were provided to individual family pairs just prior to their participation in the intervention. A single training session, lasting approximately 30 min was conducted by the experimenter with the aid of an interpreter. Tutoring steps were listed in Spanish and mounted on the inside cover of the TPA to serve as a reminder for the mother. The experimenter orally described each step while pointing to the written step in the TPA. Next, the experimenter demonstrated the steps as described below in intervention, with the mother responding in the child's role. Then the mother practiced the tutoring procedures with the experimenter in the child's role. Finally, the child was brought into training and the mother practiced with her own child. Tutoring pairs practiced with a set of pictures, giving the pairs ample opportunities to practice the procedures. Practice continued until the parent demonstrated mastery of the tutoring steps (i.e., 100% on treatment fidelity checklist). During practice, prompting and feedback were given to the mothers and children by the experimenter. At the conclusion of training, the mothers were given the TPA with the first set of picture cards, instructions on taping the sessions, a tape recorder, extra batteries and an external microphone.

Intervention procedures. The experimenter set up the TPA by inserting two sets of ten pictures into the page pockets of the album. Pictures were selected at random according to a computer-generated random assignment table. Matching pictures were placed back-to-back in a page pocket. The experimenter audio recorded the Spanish side of the album, turned the album over and recorded the object names in English.

Parents conducted tutoring sessions with their children 5 days per week. At the beginning of a session the mother stated the date. Next, she opened the TPA on the side labeled "Espanol" and with her child previewed the words in Spanish that they would learn in English, by activating the play button next to each picture. The preview served to focus the family pair on the element of the picture that would be labeled (e.g., mouth versus teeth). Then, the mother used a model-lead-test feedback strategy to teach the objects in English. The mother spoke in Spanish with the exception of naming the pictured object in English. The strategy followed explicit steps (a) the mother presented the picture to the child, (b) the mother said, "Listen" and then activated the play button, (c) the mother said, "Say it with me," and the mother and child identified the object in English together, (d) the mother said, "Your turn" and the child responded independently, (e) the mother activated the play button, and (f) the mother provided feedback based on a match of the child's response with the English recording. If the child's response was correct the mother provided affirmation (e.g., praise, acknowledgement, or moved to next picture). If the child was incorrect, the mother pressed the play button and asked the child to repeat the word. The procedure was repeated for each card in the English set. Although the mother was asked to provide practice by repeating steps, d, e, and f three more times, all mothers did this additional practice only once. Therefore, the intervention in all cases was truncated to only one practice round before testing and lasted for a mean of 5 min (range 2-6 min). Following practice, the mother presented the pictures one last time as a test. She recorded a + for a correct response and a - for an incorrect response on a strip that had been divided into five segments (i.e., one segment for each tutoring session) and taped to the bottom of the picture.

After one week, the child returned the TPA to the experimenter along with the audiotape of the week's sessions. The experimenter supplied a new audiotape and set up the TPA with new pictures, audio recordings to match, and replaced the strip used for recording testing results. New picture cards replaced any cards mastered, and the child continued to be tutored using the cards not yet mastered. A vocabulary word was considered mastered when the strip indicated the object had been identified correctly on the tests following at least three consecutive tutoring sessions.

Treatment fidelity. The audiotapes served as a record of the intervention; 20% of the sessions were listened to by the fourth author late in the study. Originally, the fidelity checklist included three practice opportunities. However, when it was clear the mothers all failed to use that part of the instructions; the fidelity checklist was modified to include only one practice before testing. A 90-item checklist (available from the authors) was used to measure the integrity of delivering tutoring using audio prompting. Results indicated that tutoring sessions were implemented with a mean accuracy of 94% (ranging from 81% to 100%).


Fluency Measure

Child participants' object naming fluency was measured three times a week using timed probes. Substantial changes in performance occurred on probes for all participants (see Figure 1). Prior to beginning the intervention, Jacqui displayed stable and low scores (mean = 8.86, range = 7-11). After introduction of the intervention, Jacqui's scores on probes showed an increasing trend (mean = 37.67, range 11-54). During baseline, Javier's performance showed an increasing trend (mean = 9.13, range = 3-17). His scores continued to increase steadily after parent tutoring began (mean = 26.78, range = 15-41). Baseline data for Emilio were somewhat variable and showed a gradually increasing trend (mean = 16.60, range = 5-26). Emilio's scores on the six probes following parent tutoring showed no immediate change in level or increase in trend; however, his scores on the remaining probes were substantially higher (mean = 33.64, range = 22-43) than in base-line.

Pretest and Posttest Measure

Pretest and posttest scores for each child and mother participant were compared and examined for evidence of growth upon completion of intervention (see Figure 2). All participants increased the number of items correctly identified from their pretests to their posttests. Jacqui, Javier, and Emilio showed substantial increases (gains of 87, 91, and 55 words respectively) from pretests to posttests. All mothers also made gains, with posttest scores of Javier's and Emilio's mothers exceeding the scores of their children.

Generalization Measure

A generalization probe was administered to the children upon completion of the study. The percentage of the accuracy of transfer responses to corresponding three-dimensional representatives or real objects was measured for each child by presenting those items which corresponded to pictures the child had accurately identified. Jacqui correctly identified 95.2%, Javier correctly identified 88%, and Emilio correctly identified 87% of the generalization items.

Social Validity

The assessment of social validity in this study included a questionnaire to assess the procedures used in the study and the effects of the procedures. The first seven items were rated on a 4-point Likert-type scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The statements included on the questionnaire were (a) learning English is important for my child, (b) my child learned new English words, (c) materials were easy to use, (d) steps were easy to follow, (e) time spent doing this activity was reasonable, (f) I liked using the picture book with my child, and (g) my child liked using the picture book. After each item was stated, the parent circled the rating on a separate sheet of paper. After the mothers rated each statement, they were given the opportunity to explain their rating. The questionnaire also included one yes/no question (Did other family members get involved?) and two open-ended questions (Do you have any ideas about how I could make this easier or better? and Is there anything else you would like me to know?). The mothers completed the questionnaire through an interview with the assistance of a Spanish-English interpreter. Each mother strongly agreed with all seven of the statements corresponding to the Likert-type scale.

Jacqui's mother indicated that since they were in this country it was important for her daughter to be able to talk with other children. She also indicated that Jacqui enjoyed using the picture book and would often use it with her little sister in order to teach her new words. In response to the question "Did other family members get involved?," Jacqui's mother indicated that her youngest daughter would sometimes watch and say the words with Jacqui. When asked how tutoring could be made easier or better, Jacqui's mother responded by saying she would have liked to have more words in the TPA and she would have liked to be able to do the tutoring for the entire school year.

In the interview with Javier's mother, she explained that it was important for Javier to learn to be social with other children since he is in this country. She also indicated that the procedures did not take long to learn and that tutoring did not take up too much time at night. Just as Jacqui's mother indicated, Javier's mother thought more words could be added to the TPA. Javier's father, his younger and older sisters, and his same-age cousin also became involved in the tutoring, she stated.

Emilio's mother responded to the interview by stating that she thought it was important for her son to learn English because it would help him learn more in school. She indicated that Emilio really liked using the TPA and that he often asked to do tutoring before she asked him.


The purpose of the study was to determine the effectiveness of parent tutoring with audio prompting. Specifically, this study was designed to determine the effectiveness of these procedures on the acquisition of expressive vocabulary by children and their mothers with LEP. Results of the study indicate that all participant mothers and children made substantial gains in naming objects, and children successfully generalized from pictures of objects to authentic or three dimensional representatives of the objects.

Results of research have shown that parent involvement is an important factor in children's success in school (Bennett et al., 2002; Bhagwanji & McCollum, 1998; Parker et al., 1999). Parents with LEP may find it difficult to become involved in their child's education due to their lack of English proficiency. The current study was successful in finding a way to involve parents in their child's education. Mothers participated consistently and reported that they enjoyed using the strategy and that their children were able to learn new English words using the TPA.

This study supports the findings of Van Norman and Wood (20Q8) indicating that tutoring with audio prompting can successfully support a naive tutor. In this case the mother with LEP received necessary assistance to provide accurate English object names and feedback to her child. This assistance appeared to be sufficient to allow both mothers and their children to acquire new vocabulary.

All children made gains, however only one child demonstrated a change in trend that aligned with the introduction of the intervention. One possible reason for this limitation in experimental control may be that repeatedly requesting children to name objects may have sensitized them to incidental opportunities to learn the object name. For example, after being asked repeatedly to name the picture of a hat during baseline, when the teacher told the child to put on his hat, the child may have attended more closely to the word hat. Javier and Emilio experienced 16 and 28 baseline probes respectively before entering intervention, making them particularly sensitive to this type of incidental learning. A design which might reduce the effects of practice opportunities would be a multiple probe design.

Another limitation of this study was the lack of control over vocabulary introduction in other settings. For example, although the OWL curriculum did not explicitly teach vocabulary, it is possible that the incidental teaching of some words overlapped the pictured objects used in this study or that some of the study words were introduced to children in their home or community.

Although children were able to identify many new object pictures in English, the use of a randomly ordered set of 200 words on a 3-min fluency probe meant that the learned words, available to the child during the probe, could vary greatly depending on the random distribution and how quickly the child moved through the probe. Individualized word lists and fewer total words would have increased the likelihood that the children would contact a larger proportion of learned words and better reflected the steady gains. Additionally, some of the children had difficulty focusing on the naming task required by the probes. For example, one child attempted to talk about the object or use gestures rather than name it, affecting his fluency. Another limitation to consider is the potential for bias during the social validity interview. The interview was conducted by the experimenter with the assistance of an interpreter. The mothers may have felt more comfortable answering the interview questions because they were familiar with the experimenter and the interpreter, but it could be worthwhile to have an individual not associated with the intervention conduct the social validity interview.

It is interesting to note that although the authors expected that the children would need multiple practice trials each session in order to learn the English labels for objects, they progressed well with a single introduction, one practice opportunity, and a test each session. In addition, the error correction procedure used by the mothers included only one additional practice opportunity, rather than the three additional opportunities that were planned. This suggests that the tutoring procedure was robust even when truncated. The sessions were very brief, approximately 5 min, but were still effective. Although praise was included in the training sessions, the mothers in this study chose not to give verbal praise, but signified correct responses by moving to the next picture. Parents reported that they would have liked additional words for tutoring. Given the brief and simple nature of the procedures it may be very feasible to introduce more than 10 new words each week. Additional research related to the number of words that can be learned in a set is needed.

There are several practical implications of this study. First, it raises the possibility that parent tutoring may help to remove the barrier between families with LEP and the schools where the children attend. Anecdotally, it was clear in this study that these parents wanted to be involved and, when given a clear strategy and support, worked consistently with their children. Additionally, these initial results suggest that electronic devices such as the TPA can provide an inexpensive, mobile, time efficient, and effective means of supporting a parent tutoring intervention. Also, this tutoring tool could also be used in the classroom to provide additional practice of skills learned during whole-group instruction. It could be used as an explicit way to teach content vocabulary to students in upper elementary grades or as a means of providing steps in a task analysis for students with more significant disabilities.

This investigation raised several questions appropriate for future research. First, given the limited experimental control demonstrated, a replication of the study with similar participants would strengthen the case for the effectiveness of the procedure. Second, the study could be replicated across other types of participants within various settings, including in the classroom (special education and general education). Additionally, future research might consider the impact of this intervention on parents' involvement with their child's school. Due to the lack of baseline data on identification of real objects collected prior to intervention, the actual gain in identification of generalization items is unknown. Future researchers could accurately determine gains in generalization by collecting baseline data prior to implementation of the intervention. It would also be interesting to investigate the generalization of both children and parents. Finally, future investigations could examine the use of other audio prompting aids or with various types of skill instruction including word reading for students with LEP, vocabulary definitions, math facts, and task analyses.


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Nancy L. Cooke, Sara Moore Mackiewicz, Charles L. Wood, and Shawnna Helf University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Correspondence to Nancy L. Cooke, Ph.D., Department of Special Education and Child Development, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28223; e-mail:
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Title Annotation:Talking Photo Album
Author:Cooke, Nancy L.; Mackiewicz, Sara Moore; Wood, Charles L.; Helf, Shawnna
Publication:Education & Treatment of Children
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
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