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The Utility of Dynamic Assessment of Phonological Awareness for Bilingual Children in Singapore


Early detection of reading difficulties is crucial in order to facilitate early intervention efforts. However, it may not be as straightforward to identify reading difficulties in children from bilingual backgrounds. This may be due to the considerable variability in their home language environment, and the fact that some difficulties faced by English language learners may present as similar to those with language learning disabilities. Dynamic assessment provides a potential mechanism to disaggregate these factors. In contrast to standardized assessment procedures, dynamic assessment allows the examiner to modify a prompt or provide extra scaffolding following a student’s response, which helps to clarify the types of supports needed for the student to undertake a task successfully. Dynamic assessment has been lauded as a viable alternative for use with culturally and linguistically diverse populations because it may provide a more accurate measure of the young child’s potential and response to instruction.

This study was conducted in Singapore, a multicultural society, with 99 preschool children (ages 4 to 5) from diverse language backgrounds. Parents and teachers filled in a Language Background Questionnaire and the children were grouped according to whether their family was Balanced Bilingual, English-dominant, or L2-dominant, depending on the languages spoken in the home. A battery of tests was administered to assess the children’s receptive and expressive language in English, as well as a standardized and dynamic test of phonological awareness. Four to 6 months after the initial assessment, the children were again assessed on letter and word reading outcome measures.

Results demonstrated that both home language background as well as the child’s receptive and expressive language in English impacted independently and significantly on phonological awareness. Hierarchical linear regression analyses indicated that prior letter identification/word reading explained close to 88% of the variance in the word reading outcome measure. However, the dynamic assessment task was found to be useful with children who had not yet learned to read at the time of the initial assessment. This study reveals the importance of language-specific skills for phonological awareness, highlights the importance of early intervention in reading, and supports the notion of the differential predictive validity of dynamic assessment.

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