Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Power of Words...a Follow Up

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled, "The Power of Words" in which I described studies showing that the gap in academic achievement between economically disadvantaged children and their more economically privileged counterparts can be reduced by interventions that encourage parents to talk to their infants frequently. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it is but I thought I'd follow up with more description of the types of talking and reading that are very helpful to kids' development. I recently read an article that introduced me to the term "dialogic reading." To be honest, I had never heard this term before, but once I understood what it was, it seemed to be a natural thing that most parents probably do. I think just about all parents know the importance of reading to your child, but how do you read together? Dialogic reading involves not just reading the book from cover to cover, but asking your child questions about the characters, what they are doing, their colors, etc.

What researchers are finding, however, is that this type of dialog should be extended to everyday life experiences as well. Developmentalists encourage parents to narrate their everyday activities to their child. This can mean talking about anything--how you are washing the dishes or shopping for apples or combing your hair. This language-rich environment helps the child learn language sooner and expand their vocabulary and literacy. The impact these skills can have on a child's future is dramatic. Here's an excerpt from the article that sums it up well,

But we need to expand our conceptions of dialogic reading to include the everyday interactions and experiences of young children. The talk that occurs in the course of regular activities (e.g., doing laundry, cooking, walking the dog, watching television) can be every bit as important as the talk that occurs while reading a story. Simply put, we should promote "dialogic living." This concept should extend beyond parents to all those who care for young children -- early learning teachers, home-based caregivers, baby-sitters, and grandparents.

Without dialogic living that centers on rich, positive, and consistent talk, very young children almost surely will not make a strong start toward emotional engagement and early literacy. And early literacy is, perhaps, the single best predictor of later success in school, college, and life.

At a time when the public debate in the United States is riveted on the importance of fixing our underperforming education system, this simple truth -- that helping lower-demographic parents understand the value of talking -- may be as central to educational improvement as any other single move our society could make. As Hart and Risley and other researchers have shown, early talk plays a major role in language and vocabulary development, which has a dramatic impact on literacy, which in turn is a major predictor of long-term academic and professional success. The links in this long, continuous chain of learning and development start to form at the very beginning of children's lives.

Words really are power.


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