Khara Turnbull

Assistant Professor of Education; Research Faculty

  • Ph.D., University of Delaware
  • B.S., Frostburg State University

My primary research interests concern examining children’s language development trajectories (including language semantics, syntax, and pragmatics) to better understand the shared cognitive underpinnings of key foundational early school readiness skills (e.g., executive function, literacy, math, social and behavioral skills). I also conduct research to explore the role of classroom discourse as a primary mechanism for supporting student outcomes, and I examine the overlap between families’ role in regulating children’s sleep routines and schedules and school readiness.

Research and Interest

Classroom Discourse to Support Student Outcomes

Preschool science lessons afford a unique opportunity to examine the bidirectional nature of classroom discourse, given dual emphases on domain-specific as well as crosscutting content and concepts. Inherent in preschool science discourse is a range of potential language forms (e.g., causal connectors), content (e.g., technical vocabulary), and pragmatics (e.g., questions) that likely strengthen general instructional support (concept development, feedback, language modeling), science instruction quality, and children’s outcomes. Yet, there is a dearth of research accounting for reciprocal interactions between teachers and students in examining linkages between classroom discourse and student outcomes, in the context of a rigorous experimental design. I am conducting a study to transcribe videos of preschool science lessons that were conducted as part of a randomized controlled trial to examine the efficacy of MyTeachingPartner-Math/Science (PIs: Kinzie, Whittaker, Pianta, & Williford). The resulting transcripts will create a rich source of data to investigate whether particular features of science discourse contribute to teachers’ general instructional support and science instruction quality, as well as children’s science knowledge and skills. The project has the potential to identify classroom discourse processes that strengthen student outcomes in multiple content areas. 

Sleep and School Readiness

Sleep plays a vital role in physical and mental health, and wellbeing, including memory formation and learning, cognitive function, expressive and receptive language, and social and emotional function to name but a few areas. However, sleep health is relatively understudied in children and has the potential to elucidate variability in school readiness skills. I am conducting a study to collect formative pilot data from a small subset of children (n = 16) participating in an ongoing NICHD-funded study - Understanding the Power of Preschool for Kindergarten Success (P2K; PIs: Downer & Williford). The pilot is examining a comprehensive set of sleep health indicators (e.g., duration, timing, and quality of sleep, and presence of sleep disorders) and family sleep routines and practices (e.g., work schedules; bedtime routines) using complementary methodologies – actigraphy, parent report surveys, and sleep diaries. The pilot will provide preliminary data to guide and refine instrument selection, and inform the design of larger studies to elucidate linkages between children’s sleep health, family sleep practices, and school readiness outcomes.