Research has shown that historical and cultural factors help foster strong oral storytelling skills among young African-American children and that children with stronger storytelling skills tend to develop into better readers. Now, in a new study, researchers wanted to investigate whether gender also plays a role in this link.
They discovered that while girls tend to tell more coherent and organized stories in preschool, the oral storytelling skills of boys are more directly linked to how quickly their reading scores increase from first through sixth grade.
“Knowing how to tell a clear and coherent story is an important skill for helping young children to develop strong reading skills, which, in turn, can help them to be successful across a number of different subjects in school,” said researcher Dr. Nicole Gardner-Neblett from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Two years ago, Gardner-Neblett conducted a study that was the first to show an association between African-American preschoolers’ storytelling abilities and their early reading skills in kindergarten. That study found a link between storytelling and reading only for the African-American children, from households across income levels, but not for any other demographic group.
Significant differences in reading achievement still exist between black and white elementary school children, as does a gender gap in reading outcomes, with girls outperforming boys. Because of both disparities in achievement, Gardner-Neblett and FPG researcher John Sideris wanted to investigate whether gender plays a role in the link between African American children’s storytelling skills and reading development.
“We asked preschoolers to tell a story from a wordless picture book and analyzed their skill in structuring and organizing the story,” said Gardner-Neblett. “We examined how boys’ and girls’ storytelling skills as preschoolers predicted their scores on a reading achievement test for each grade, from first through sixth.”
They discovered that the link between children’s storytelling skills and reading achievement was more complex than expected.
“We found that oral storytelling is linked to different trajectories for boys and girls,” said Sideris. “Boys’ storytelling skills had an effect on how quickly their reading scores increased from first through sixth grade. The stronger the boys’ storytelling skills as preschoolers, the faster their reading scores increased over time.”
And while preschool girls initially told more coherent and organized stories than their male counterparts, the impact of their storytelling skills on future reading levels was less pronounced.
“Girls’ storytelling skills appeared most important for their reading achievement during the first years of school,” she added. “In contrast to the boys, storytelling skills were less important over time for the girls and unrelated to how fast their reading scores increased.”
While several studies have looked at factors accounting for low reading achievement, few have investigated the strengths associated with successful reading outcomes among African-American children.
According to the researchers, educators and parents should take advantage of this cultural strength to support reading development.
“Expanding skills for nurturing children’s reading development beyond book reading to include oral storytelling could be crucial for African-American children,” Gardner-Neblett said. “This could help to provide a strong foundation for success — and not only for how well boys and girls do in school, but in life.”