Office of Epidemiology and Research, Division of Research

Advancing Applied MCH Research

Bridging the Word Gap Research Network

Project Number: UA6MC27762
Grantee: University of Kansas
Department/Center: Center for Research
Project Date: 9/1/2014
Principal Investigator: Judith Carta

Final Report



  • Perinatal/Infancy (0-12 months)
  • Toddlerhood (13-35 months)
  • Early Childhood (3-5 years)


PROBLEM: The science is clear: Too many children from low-income families enter school with a serious learning disadvantage that emerges in the first months of life - substantially smaller vocabularies than their middle- and high-income classmates. This difference in child vocabulary size is traced to low exposure to talk in children’s home and child care environments. The "Word Gap" in exposure that many children growing up in poverty experience, translates to a deficit in vocabulary growth that grows over time, and leads to disparities in academic achievement and later in earnings and family stability in adulthood. GOAL(S) AND OBJECTIVES: The social imperative is equally clear: We must galvanize efforts to close this gap in experience. The Goal of this project is to create the Bridging the Word Gap Research Network - a collaboration of nationally recognized Word Gap researchers and practitioners. This group will achieve 7 objectives to intensify efforts to close this gap: 1) Develop an interdisciplinary research network to develop and test interventions; 2) Create a national research agenda to advance the science of intervention; 3) Design a multi-level pilot intervention study to kick-start this work; 4) Create a practice-based research collaborative; 5) Disseminate critical information and foster continued education activities; 6) Improve national capacity to carry out this intervention research through development of a data infrastructure, and syntheses of measures, designs, and analytic approaches; and 7) Expand the pipeline of scientists focused on Word Gap research by creating mentorship and other training opportunities for new investigators. PROPOSED ACTIVITIES AND TARGET POPULATION(S): The applicant, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project (JGCP), is the site of the original Hart & Risley word gap discovery, and our local and national network has, and will continue to, build on their discovery by advancing intervention knowledge and practice. Our proposed interdisciplinary network of scientists all work with low-income families in community-based settings. We propose work to achieve each objective in ways that are scientifically rigorous, socially meaningful, and related closely to innovations in intervention and policy. COORDINATION: To achieve these ambitious objectives, the co-PIs and Leadership Team will direct the overall management of the Network. Each member of the Leadership Team will direct one of 6 workgroups focused on key aspects of the research agenda. A national advisory committee representing key stakeholder groups (including researchers, practitioners, policymakers and funders) will oversee progress. Coordination Core staff will provide support to the Leadership Team, Workgroups, and the Practice-Based Research Collaborative. PRODUCTS: Peer-reviewed papers, webinars, summits and presentations describing evidence-based practices for promoting language development in low-income infants and toddlers; and innovative approaches to engaging high-risk families; cutting-edge research methodologies and approaches for assessing children’s vocabulary and monitoring growth will also be generated through this Network. EVALUATION: We describe explicit criteria for monitoring process and progress on each of 7 objectives of the project. Advisory board members representing key stakeholder groups and an External Reviewer will assess the quality of products generated by the network.


Listed is descending order by year published.

Wright CA, Kaiser AP. Teaching parents usign milieu teaching with words and signs using the teach-model-coach-review model. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. 2017;36(4)192-204. doi: 10.1177/027112141561027.

DiStefano C, Shih W, Kaiser A, Landa R, Kasari C. Communication growth in minimally verbal children with ASD: the importance of interaction. Autism Res. 2016 Oct;9(10):1093-1102. doi: 10.1002/aur.1594. PMID: 26824676

Radesky Js, Carta J, Bair-Merritt M. The 30 million-word gap: relevance for pediatrics. JAMA Pediatr. 2016 Sep 1;170(9):825-826. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.1486. PMID: 27379489.

Sherer NJ, Baker S, Kaiser A, Frey JR. Longitudinal comparison of the speech and language performance of United States-born and internationally adopted toddlers with cleft lip and palate: a pilot study. Cleft Palat Craniofac J. 2016 Oct 10 [Epub ahead of print] doi: 10.1597/15-237. PMID: 27723377.

Suskind DL, Graf E, Leffel KR, et al. Project ASPIRE: spoken language intervention curriculum for parents of low-socioeconomic status and their deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Otol Neurotol. 2016 Feb;37(2):e110-e117. doi: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000000931. PMID: 26756142.

Verdine BN, Lucca KR, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, et al. The shape of things: The origin of young children's knowledge of the names and properties of geometric forms [published online March 31 2015]. J Cogn Dev. 2016;17(1):142-161.

Carta JJ, Greenwood CR, Atwater J, McConnell SR, et al. Identifying preschool children for higher tiers of language and early literacy instruction within a Response to Intervention framework. J Early Inter. 2015;36(4):281-291.

Forrest TM, Wallace-Pascoe D, Goldstein H. Developing a principle-based framework for evaluating comprehensive poverty solutions across contexts [published online July 7 2015]. J Poverty. 2015;19(3):330.

Golinkoff RM, Can DD, Soderstrom M, Hirsh-Pasek K. (Baby) talk to me: The social context of infant-directed speech and its effects on early language acquisition. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2015;24(5):339-344.

Greenwood CR, Carta JJ, Goldstein H, Kaminski R, et al. Developing evidence-based tools for a multi-tier approach to preschool language and early literacy instruction [published online April 18 2015]. J Early Inter. 2015;36(4);248-282.

Hirsh-Pasek K, Adamson LB, Bakeman R, et al. The contribution of early communication quality to low-income children's language success [published online June 5 2015]. Psychol Sci. 2015;26(7):1071-83.

Kelley ES, Goldstein H, Spencer TD, Sherman A. Effects of automated Tier 2 storybook intervention on vocabulary and comprehension learning in preschool children with limited oral language skills. Early Child Res Q. 2015;31:47-61.

McConnell SR, Wackerle-Hollman AK, Bradfield TA, Rodriguez MC. Designing a measurement framework for Response to Intervention in early childhood programs [published online April 7 2015]. J Early Inter. 2015;36(4):263-280.

Ridge KE, Weisberg DS, Ilgaz H, Hirsh‐Pasek KA, et al. Supermarket speak: increasing talk among low‐socioeconomic status families. Mind, Brain, and Education. 2015;9(3):127-135.

Suskind DL, Leffel KR, Graf E, et al. A parent-directed language intervention in children of low socioeconomic status: A randomized controlled study [published online June 4 2015]. J Child Lang. 2015;43(2):366-406.

Weisberg DS, Ilgaz H, Hirsh-Pasek K, Golinkoff R, et al. Shovels and swords: How realistic and fantastical themes affect children's word learning [published online January 9 2015]. Cognitive Development. 2015;35:1-14.

Zosh JM, Verdine BN, Filipowicz A, Golinkoff RM, et al. Talking Shape: Parental Language With Electronic Versus Traditional Shape Sorters. Mind, Brain, and Education [published online July 15 2015]. 2015;9(3):136-144.

Guttentag CL, Landry SH, Williams JM, et al. "My Baby & Me": effects of an early, comprehensive parenting intervention on at-risk mothers and their children. Dev Psychol. 2014;50(5):1482-96.


Cognitive & Linguistic Development, Early Childhood Education, Early Intervention, Health Disparities, Home Visiting, Parent-Child Relationship, Parenting, School Outcomes & Services

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