Prof. Kiren Khan and Her Research Team Examine Impact of Summer Success Kindergarten Readiness Program

2019 participants of Summer Success Kindergarten Readiness Program

Dr. Kiren Khan, assistant professor of psychology, has been supervising a team of Rhodes students on research related to the Summer Success kindergarten readiness program she co-developed with researchers at The Ohio State University and implemented in Memphis across the previous two summers. Four psychology majors who are members of Khan’s Language and Literacy Lab were involved in summer 2020 research. They are Taylor Duncan ’21, Eraine Leland ’21, Meredith Schoel ’21, and Leticia Rosas ’22.
According to Khan, summer work focused on two main projects within the Summer Success program: (1) examining the impact of weekly story-sharing circles on children’s abilities to practice active listening and to resolve negative emotions in their personal stories and (2) developing content for bilingual storybook readings and supplemental activities in Spanish and English to support preschool-aged children’s literacy skills.
“During the current pandemic, we will be sharing these bilingual storybook reading videos online on various social media platforms so that families may benefit from these literacy activities as well as provide us with useful feedback to help refine the content,” says Khan. “We also hope to build these activities into future summer programs.”
The Summer Success program is designed to develop a comprehensive set of critical skills, including core academic skills in narrative, literacy, and math, as well as socio-emotional skills, motor skills, and interest in creative arts.  The program is in partnership locally with Porter-Leath Head Start center.
Professor of Psychology Dr. Marsha Walton has helped supervise the Rhodes group, and she also worked closely with Khan in developing the story-sharing circles aspect of Summer Success.
Khan’s 2020 research team assisted in coding approximately 10 hours of video consisting of 150 individual children’s narratives shared during story-sharing circles conducted in past Summer Success kindergarten readiness camps.  
“Our study utilizes a strengths-based approach to scaffolding conversations about negative past emotional experiences in a predominantly Black and high-poverty sample of children,” says Khan. “By recognizing, supporting, and building upon a cultural asset they bring to the classroom —namely, a rich cultural tradition of oral storytelling— the present study utilizes children’s linguistic strengths to further support narrative skills, and encourage discussion and resolution of past negative emotional experiences. 

“Results from our analyses indicate that children included emotion and mental state references at a high level in the circles. Some children included upward of 50 emotion and mental state terms in these circle sessions! The present study is also the first to experimentally demonstrate a significant effect of attending story-sharing circles on children’s abilities to resolve negative emotions in their stories, indicating that practicing story sharing in this context can support their emotion regulation skills.”

Khan, Walton, and the Rhodes students have submitted three papers on this work to national research conferences in the fields of psychology and education.

Team members Leland and Rosas developed online content focused on bilingual storybook readings and supplemental activities. “This work is informed by prior research showing that using Spanish as a bridge to learn new vocabulary and concepts in English can be an especially powerful teaching strategy when supporting the language and literacy skills of Spanish-English bilingual children. No prior study has examined this approach in supporting children’s narrative skills,” says Khan.  
“Dr. Khan has been incredibly supportive of our work, and she asks the right questions to get you thinking,” says Rosas. “We are working on making sense of all the data collected from the year prior, and it has been a joy to be part of such a great team.”
“We all have different interests and skills,’ adds Leland, “and the team is a perfect example of the cohesiveness and collaboration that you can find at a small institution.”
Related story: “Summer Success Program Run By Rhodes Faculty and Students Is Changing the Narrative About Kindergarten Readiness”