Teachers’ Literal and Inferential Questions and Children’s Responses: A Study of Teacher–Child Linguistic Interactions During Whole-Group Instruction in Hong Kong Kindergarten Classrooms

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This study investigated the extent to which preschool teachers and children (ages 4–6) used literal and inferential language within the context of whole-group instruction in four kindergarten classrooms in Hong Kong. A total of 20 sessions of videotaped classroom observations of linguistic interactions between teachers and children were transcribed and then analyzed using a coding scheme to determine the cognitive complexity of teacher questions and child responses with reference to four levels of abstraction, representing a literal-to-inferential continuum. The results indicated that the teachers’ questions were predominantly literal in nature (83 %), and similarly the majority of the children’s responses (77 %) were also literal. Furthermore, it was revealed that in an average instructional session: (a) teachers produced significantly more utterances than children; (b) the difference in the quantity of teachers’ questions between literal and inferential levels was statistically significant; (c) similarly, the difference in the quantity of children’s responses between literal and inferential levels was also statistically significant; and (d) children produced a significantly larger quantity of shorter than longer utterances. As there is distinct value in whole-group instruction as a salient context for teacher–child interactive, linguistic engagement in kindergarten classrooms in Hong Kong, it is particularly vital that early childhood educators understand what types of linguistic interactions are occurring there and how to target professional development for teachers to better support language learning in young children.

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Early Childhood Education Journal

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