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(615) 343-4792
Wyatt Center 263
VU Mailbox: 230


Ed.D., Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1982

Curriculum Vitae

David Dickinson

Professor, Dept. of Teaching & Learning

Research Areas

Professor Dickinson is interested in: 1) understanding mechanisms of language learning and the interaction between language and early literacy development; 2) identifying factors that support and impede language and early literacy development in early childhood classrooms; and 3) developing methods that help teachers change their practices in ways that foster learning among children from low-income backgrounds. Currently he is developing an intervention designed to help preschool teachers teach vocabulary through using effective book reading methods combined with teacher-supported play. The project is seeking to help teachers and teaching assistants employ language-facilitating strategies during book reading and while playing with children.


After graduating from Oberlin College and while working toward his M. Ed at Temple University, he taught elementary school in the Philadelphia area for five years. He taught African-American children from working class homes and became interested in the role of language in literacy. He pursued his interest in language and cognition as he worked on his doctorate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

He has long been interested in understanding how children construct language from different types of linguistic input. In early work he examined fast mapping - initial word learning that occurs after a single exposure [1]. At that time he also examined the interaction between word learning and conceptual development in a study of children’s learning of words to name the material kind of objects (e.g., “wood”).[2] Currently he has returned to an examination of word-learning processes in a series of studies of the effects of varied types of book reading and adult-supported play on word learning and story recall.

Dickinson also has sought to understand the patterning of interaction in preschool classrooms. Early in his career he noted that preschool teachers read books using different styles and found that stylistic preferences[3] and the content of teacher-child talk during book reading have implications for children’s language and comprehension growth.[4] His description of reading styles sparked investigations by many others with interest in how books are read in classrooms and homes. He and colleagues investigated how multiple aspects of language are shaped by context using transcript data from 52 Head Start classrooms.[5]

Dickinson was among the first to study early literacy development among preschool-aged children from low-income homes and to report the relationship between social economic class and phonemic awareness, print knowledge and vocabulary.[6] He and Catherine Snow sought to understand the impact of the differential home and classroom supports that give rise to early discrepancies in language and literacy learning by conducting a long-term study of development among children from low-income homes. They followed low-income children from age three into middle school, with Dickinson studying children's classroom experiences.[7] He and colleagues found correlations between specific kinds of classroom experiences and children's language and reading comprehension in fourth grade. [8]

Throughout his career he has engaged in research that has examined the hypothesis that early language is critical to long-term literacy success. He and colleagues articulated this position in a paper calling for a comprehensive approach to early literacy development.[16] Recent analyses of data from a study that followed children from preschool through first grade provide strong support for the hypotheses advanced in the earlier work. He has been an outspoken advocate for an increase in the intellectual level of preschool classrooms, [17] for the need to recognize the pervasive impact of language on literacy development [18], and recognition of the complexity of the challenges associated with changing practice in ways that will result in enhanced learning.[19]

Much of his work has been directed toward seeking to find ways to improve the quality of preschool classrooms. In the 1990’s realizing the pressing need to enhance classroom support for language and early literacy, he led a group from Education Development Center (EDC) in creation of a professional development intervention that was delivered throughout New England. It was the first widely implemented professional development intervention for fostering language and literacy development among children in preschool classrooms.[9, 10] While at EDC he also helped create the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO),[11] a widely used tool for describing classroom supports for literacy and language, and the Teacher Rating of Language and Literacy (TROLL), a tool used to describe children’s language use in multiple locations in the United States and Australia.[12]

As evidence mounted that preschool classrooms too often lack sufficient intellectual challenge and intentional support for language, Judith Schickedanz and he co-authored a comprehensive preschool curriculum [13]. He studied its effectiveness by conducting a randomized control trial study with Ann Kaiser, and, with Deborah Rowe, directed an Early Reading First project in Nashville that used the curriculum. These efforts have provided evidence that the curriculum combined with coaching can help teachers enable children to make substantial growth in language and literacy skills,[14, 15]. To see this work you may view:

Currently he is leading efforts to establish a preschool in Abu Dhabi in which instructional practices are implemented that result in children developing language, literacy, mathematical and science-related abilities in Arabic and English. The following link takes you to a video that shows the work being done in Abu Dhabi in the preschool he is supporting and the primary grade school that others at Peabody College are working with:


  • 1. Dickinson, D.K., First impressions: Children's knowledge of words after a single exposure. Journal of Applied Psycholinguistics, 1984. 5: p. 359-373.
  • 2. Dickinson, D.K., The development of a concept of material kind. Science Education, 1987. 71: p. 615-628.
  • 3. Dickinson, D.K. and R. Keebler, Variation in preschool teachers' book reading styles. Discourse Processes, 1989. 12: p. 353-376.
  • 4. Dickinson, D.K. and M.W. Smith, Long-Term Effects of Preschool Teachers' Book Readings on Low-Income Children's Vocabulary and Story Comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 1994. 29(2): p. 105-122.
  • 5. Dickinson, D.K., et al., Factors Affecting Teachers’ Support for Academic Language in Head Start Classrooms. under review.
  • 6. Dickinson, D.K. and C.E. Snow, Interrelationships among prereading and oral language skills in kindergartners from two social classes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 1987. 2(1): p. 1-25.
  • 7. Dickinson, D.K. and P.O. Tabors, eds. Beginning literacy with language: Young children learning at home and school. 2001, Brookes Publishing: Baltimore, MD.
  • 8. Dickinson, D.K. and M.V. Porche, Relation Between Language Experiences in Preschool Classrooms and Children's Kindergarten and Fourth-Grade Language and Reading Abilities. Child Development, 2011. 82(3): p. 870-886.
  • 9. Dickinson, D.K. and J.P. Brady, Toward effective support for language and literacy through professional development, in Critical Issues in Early Childhood Professional Development, M. Zaslow and I. Martinez-Beck, Editors. 2006, Brookes: Baltimore.
  • 10. Dickinson, D.K. and L. Caswell, Building support for language and early literacy in preschool classrooms through in-service professional development: Effects of the Literacy Environment Enrichment Program (LEEP). Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2007. 22(2): p. 243-260.
  • 11. Smith, M.W., et al., The Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Toolkit (ELLCO) 2002, Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.
  • 12. Dickinson, D.K., A. McCabe, and K. Sprague, Teacher Rating of Oral Language and Literary Development (TROLL): Individualizing early literacy instruction with a standards-based rating tool. The Reading Teacher, 2003. 56: p. 554-569.
  • 13. Schickedanz, J. and D.K. Dickinson, Opening the World of Learning: A comprehensive literacy program 2005, Parsippany, NJ: Pearson Early Learning.
  • 14. Ashe, M.K., et al., Cross-site Effectiveness of Opening the World of Learning and Site-Specific Strategies for Supporting Implementation. Early Childhood Research Services, 2009. 3(3): p. 179-191.
  • 15. Wilson, S.J., D.K. Dickinson, and D.W. Rowe, Impact of an Early Reading First Program on the Language and Literacy Achievement of Children From Diverse Language Backgrounds. under review.
  • 16. Dickinson, D.K., et al., The comprehensive language approach to early literacy: The interrelationships among vocabulary, phonological sensitivity, and print knowledge among preschool-aged children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2003. 95(3): p. 465-481.
  • 17. Dickinson, D.K., Shifting Images of Developmentally Appropriate Practice as Seen through Different Lenses. Educational Researcher, 2002. 31(1): p. 26-32.
  • 18. Dickinson, D.K., R.M. Golinkoff, and K. Hirsh-Pasek, Speaking out for language: Why language is central to reading development. Educational Researcher, 2010. 39(4): p. 305-310.
  • 19. Dickinson, D.K., Teachers' language practices and academic outcomes of preschool children. Science, 2011. 333.

Current Project: Read, Play, Promote Learning (RiPPLe)

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