Understanding Jamaican children’s voices using their drawings

Karla N. Washington, University of Cincinnati, USA (
Corrine Deutenberg, University of Cincinnati, USA (
Rachel Wright Karem, University of Cincinnati, USA (
Cecilia Schwartz, University of Cincinnati, USA (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: More than half the world’s population is multilingual, with the majority of children speaking more than one language. For speech-language pathologists (SLPs), this diversity in linguistic demography necessitates the implementation of tools that permit an accurate understanding of the communicative-experiences of the children they serve. Recent evidence suggests that children’s drawings allow them to express their voices in ways that help SLPs and educators better understand children’s communicative-experiences. Using drawings also makes children active participants in matters that concern them, adhering to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Aim: To characterize bilingual Jamaican Creole (JC)-English-speaking preschoolers’ talking experiences using their drawings.

Method: Typically-developing JC-English-speaking preschoolers (n=23) responded to prompts in JC and English to: (a) draw themselves talking to someone in each of their languages; and (b) answer questions about their talking experiences in context (e.g., conversational partner/setting) using a visual Likert-scale, happy/in-the-middle/sad/another-feeling, to record/elicit responses. Drawings were analysed using a meaning-making approach for three themes and seven focal-points previously identified by Holliday, Harrison and McLeod (2009) capturing expressions, feelings, and experiences about talking. Trained SLP students independently analysed/coded each drawing for themes and focal-points. Responses to questions were analysed based on the visual Likert-scale.

Results: Preschoolers were able to express their feelings about their talking experiences for each of their languages using their drawings and by also responding to questions informing their talking experiences in context. There was agreement between themes (1. express talking/listening, 2. drew ‘self’ talking to family/friends, 3. portray self as happy talking to family/friends) and focal-points (1. portrayal-of-talking/listening, 2. accentuated body features, 3. facial-expressions, 4. colour/vitality, 5. image/sense-of-self, 6. conversational-partners,7. negativity).

Conclusions: Using drawings and questions about the contexts surrounding talking experiences promotes preschoolers’ active involvement in matters that concern them. Importantly, these tools offer SLPs ecologically-valid means for understanding the communicative-experiences of preschoolers from diverse contexts.

Implications for children: Speech-language pathologists really enjoy working with you and are always finding ways to have fun while working with you. They want to learn so much about you and the languages that you speak, so be sure to help them learn more about you.

Implications for families: Speech-language pathologists genuinely care about helping young children and are working hard to ensure that they have a positive experience. But since speech-language pathologists don’t speak all of the languages that young children speak, it can be very challenging for them. When you recognise their creative efforts and hard work, it goes a long way to show them that they are appreciated.

Implications for practitioners: To provide the best experiences and to support positive outcomes for young children who use two languages on a daily basis, speech-language pathologists need to make use of tools and techniques that considers both of their spoken languages. This approach is beneficial not only for the children, but also for the speech-language pathologist.

Funding: The first author is a co-Investigator and the second author is a doctoral scholar on a United States Department of Education Preparation of Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services Leadership Personnel grant. The research was supported by an Endowment to the Jamaican Creole Language Project and a University of Cincinnati Vice-President for Research Start-up Funds.

Key words: children’s drawings, children’s voices, meaning-making approach, bilingual, Jamaican Creole, typical development

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: