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Oral Language

  • Knowledge For Literacy

    Written on May 14, 2015

    Our guest author today is Marilyn Jager Adams, a visiting scholar in the Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Department of Brown University. Marilyn is internationally regarded for her research and applied work in cognition and education, including the seminal text Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. This post is adapted from Literacy Ladders, our anthology of articles on early childhood literacy learning.

    The very purpose and promise of schooling is to prepare students for responsible adult lives—to be civically minded and informed, to pursue higher education, and to find gainful work that allows them to grow and contribute to society. To accomplish this, students must be given ample support and practice in reading, interpreting, and writing about texts as complex as those that characterize life beyond high school. But here lies our great dilemma. Increasing the sophistication of assigned texts, all by itself, is unlikely to do much good. After all, we know that many students are unable to understand such rigorous texts, and nobody learns from texts that they cannot understand.

    What this means is that we, as educators, need figure out how to help raise our students’ language and literacy skills to levels that enable them to understand and gain from complex texts. Working with the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and Core Knowledge Foundation, I recently helped produce an anthology of research essays — Literacy Ladders — that addresses this challenge. Below are a couple of the key takeaways.

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Verbal Ability As The Key To Learning

    Written on April 30, 2015

    We found this 1974 Al Shanker New York Times column to be of interest, both in terms of current debates over variations in "opportunity to learn" and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and in regard to recent research on the importance of oral language development in early childhood (see here for more); we hope you agree. 

    It is regrettable that the important work being done by the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement has received such scant notice, not only in the media but in educational circles as well. It deserves better. Founded in 1959, IEA is an organization of 22 national education research centers whose basic purpose, through use of tests, surveys, questionnaires and other methods, is to develop generalizations for education throughout the world. It has done studies of achievement in mathematics, science, reading comprehension, civic education and foreign languages.

    A good summary of the findings of recent IEA research is provided by Benjamin S. Bloom, Professor of Education at the University of Chicago and one of the founding members of the Association, in his article, "Implications of the IEA Studies for Curriculum and Instruction," in the May 1974 issue of the University of Chicago School Review. Bloom, to begin with, sees as a salient virtue of IEA research that its methods have been developed for the specific purpose of international comparison. In previous cross-national studies, he observes, "the evaluation instruments developed in one country typically showed that country to be superior to the other countries included in the study." The procedures which IEA has helped develop avoid such bias. The IEA studies, Bloom reports, reveal that there are vast educational differences between countries. "If school marks were assigned in the various nations on the basis of the highest nation's standards (where perhaps the lowest fifth might be regarded as failing), then almost 50 percent of the students in the lowest scoring of the developed countries would fail but about 85 percent of the students in the average developing nation would fail." In terms of grade norms, "it is evident that the attainment obtained in one year of schooling in the highest nation requires one and one-half or two years of schooling in the less favored nations. To put it in terms of time and human resources spent, it may cost twice as much for a particular level of learning in one place as it does in another."

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  • Challenging Content In The Early Grades: What's Not To Love?

    Written on June 26, 2014

    The latest issue of The Progress of Education Reform (released a few days ago by the Education Commission of the States) rounds up some recent research supporting the case that "all children need high quality early science learning experiences" and "science supports children's learning and school readiness in other areas" -- see here. The brief argues that even though science has not traditionally received the attention afforded to other preschool domains, such as literacy and mathematics, "science content and skills are critical and do not detract from literacy development; "in fact, [science] contributes to the goal that all children read with understanding by grade 3."

    These statements should come as no surprise. At the Institute, we have long advocated teaching rich, challenging content (including in English language arts, math and science) in the early years. Knowledge, which is what's underneath words and vocabulary, is the foundation for acquiring more knowledge; it's what allows us to read with understanding -- or read to learn. This is important because it means that we must focus on teaching children about a wide range of interesting “stuff” – including, as the ECS report argues, early science. As I wrote elsewhere:

    It's important to start teaching knowledge in the early years and through oral language because children’s preexisting knowledge creates a framework that facilitates the acquisition of new information; knowing more words and concepts scaffolds children’s ability to slot novel information in the “right places," and to learn related words and concepts more efficiently.
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  • Can Early Language Development Promote Children's Psychological Wellbeing?

    Written on May 13, 2014

    We know oral language is young children's door into the world of knowledge and ideas, the foundation for reading, and the bedrock of all academic learning. But, can language also protect young kids against behavioral problems?

    A number of studies have identified a co-occurrence of language delays and behavioral maladjustment, an association that remains after controlling for socio-demographic characteristics and academic achievement (here and here). However, most research on the issue has been cross-sectional and correlational making it hard to establish whether behavioral issues cause language delays, language delays cause behavioral issues, or another factor is responsible for both.

    A recent paper by Marc Bornstein, Chun-Shin Hahn, and Joan Suwalsky (2013) was able to shed some light on these questions concluding that "language competencies in early childhood keep behavioral adjustment problems at bay." This is important given the fact that minority children raised in poverty tend to have smaller than average vocabularies and are also overrepresented in pre-K expulsions and suspensions.

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  • The Wonder In Language

    Written on April 23, 2014

    Our guest author today is Daniela O'Neill, Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. You can learn more about her work here.

    In a wonderful bookNarratives from the Crib, a little two-year-old girl’s talk to herself in her crib before going to sleep was recorded by her parents and carefully transcribed by child language researchers, who then explored and wrote about the many interesting things captured in this self-talk.

    Narratives in the Crib is a collection of the work of these scholars. Emily was the name of the little girl, and her talk was a fascinating window into her mind – into what she was wondering about, thinking about and trying to understand. Many years ago, when I was “listening” to Emily talk as I read the book, a little word caught my attention, because she used it a lot – it was the little word maybe.

    Why did it catch my attention? Because, at the time, I’d been thinking about three- and four-year-olds’ understanding of themselves in time – that is, their understanding that they have a “past-self," a “present-self” and a “future-self," and that these are all connected in time. When children reach three- to four years old, there appears to be a pretty big shift in understanding of this concept, one which coincides, for example, with children beginning to understand and use words like “yesterday” and “tomorrow."

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  • How Much Do You Know About Early Oral Language Development?

    Written on December 6, 2013

    The following was written by Susan B. Neuman and Esther Quintero. Neuman is Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University.

    The topic of oral vocabulary instruction is affected by common myths, which have sometimes gotten in the way of promoting high quality teaching early on. While these myths often contain partial truths, recent evidence has called into question many of these notions.

    We've prepared this short quiz  for you -- take it and find out how much you know about this important issue. Read through the following statements and decide if they are myths that have been perpetuated about oral vocabulary development or if they are facts (or key principles) about the characteristics of high quality vocabulary instruction. Download Dispelling Myths and Reinforcing Facts About Early Oral Language Development and Instruction if you prefer to go straight to the answers.

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