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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Complexity and coherence in the narratives of kindergarten children with and without language impairments Pontin, Anna Nicholls


The telling of a fictional narrative involves the integration of cognitive, linguistic, social, and cultural knowledge. The integration of these skills, and narrative ability in general, is a prerequisite for literacy acquisition. There is abundant evidence that children with language impairments have difficulty with the narrative task and, consequently, are at risk for developing deficits in literacy skills, but the existing research fails to pinpoint the source of the difficulty. This thesis reports an investigation of narratives told by kindergarten-age children with and without language impairments using a variety of complexity and coherence measures. A goal plan analysis was used to examine the complexity and coherence of the narratives produced by 11 normal-language and 7 language-impaired kindergarten students. Data from 10 normal-language 4-year-olds, collected for an earlier study (Gibney, 1995), were also included in the current study. All of the participants were asked to examine a wordless picture book, Frog, Where Are You? (Mayer, 1969), then tell the story. The analysis comprised one complexity measure and seven coherence measures. It was predicted that the normal-language kindergarten students would produce more complex and coherent narratives than both the language-impaired and 4-year-old children. It was also predicted that the narratives of the language-impaired group would be developmentally immature and, therefore, more closely resemble the narratives of the 4-year-old children. Recent research has shown evidence for a working memory deficit in children with specific language impairment. The narration of a story that includes both local and global goal plans, like Frog, Where Are You?, involves working memory. A correlation of working memory with the plot measures was conducted to determine the relation of a measure of working memory and real-time language processing. The normal-language kindergarten students performed significantly better than the language-impaired group on five of the coherence measures. The results of the 4- year-olds were inconsistent: their narratives resembled those of the normal-language kindergarten students on some measures, and those of the language-impaired students on others. The working memory correlation failed to reach significance; however, working memory was observed to correlate more strongly with two of the plot measures: complexity (positive) and proportion of nongoal units (negative). It was concluded that the language-impaired children had significantly more difficulty narrating a coherent story than their same-age peers. Consequently, they may be at risk for deficits in literacy ability and academic achievement. The most discriminating measures were the proportion of nongoal units and the proportion of narrators who told a complete nonfrog episode. More research needs to be done in this area in order to develop effective narrative assessment and therapy tools for the preschool population in order to prepare them for school entry and literacy acquisition.

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