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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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  • Talk, Talk, Talk

    Written on January 9, 2014

    Our guest author today is Douglas Yeager, President of the Nancy M. and Douglas M. Yeager Family Foundation, a non-profit established in 2001 focused on programs delivering or supporting childhood development. This focus is based on Nancy Yeager's lifelong interest in and commitment to early childhood education. Her love of teaching inspired her family to establish the Foundation.

    Talk, talk, talk – odd as that may sound, a growing body of compelling research shows this to be a very effective strategy to reduce early language gaps among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. And, fortunately, it doesn’t cost a cent.

    If caring parents want their child to be ready for school (and for life after school), they should talk with that child at every opportunity. And, of course, it is also fundamental to listen and to respond appropriately. Conversations, after all, are two-way.

    That said, parents need to be the ones initiating the practice, persisting in it, and never giving up. It means so very much to children, and it pays off big-time. As my colleagues at the Shanker Institute like to say: “You don’t need a lot of money to give your child a head start; conversations and ideas cost nothing."

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  • More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood

    Written on December 16, 2013

    Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

    With all the chatter in 2013 (thanks in part to President Obama) about expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, I have high hopes for America’s children finally getting the strong foundation of knowledge and vocabulary they need to do well in—and enjoy—school.

    When children arrive in kindergarten with a broad vocabulary and a love of books, both of which come from being engaged in conversations with caregivers daily and being read to frequently, they are well prepared for learning to read and write. Just as important, their language comprehension makes learning through teacher read-alouds and conversations relatively easy. The narrower the children’s vocabulary and the fewer experiences they’ve had with books, the tougher the climb to come. Sadly, far too many children don’t make the climb; they mentally dropout in middle school, and are physically adrift soon thereafter.

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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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  • Can Knowledge Level The Learning Field For Children?

    Written on November 20, 2013

    ** Reprinted here in the Core Knowledge Blog

    How much do preschoolers from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds know about the world and why does that matter? One recent study by Tanya Kaefer (Lakehead University) Susan B. Neuman (New York University) and Ashley M. Pinkham (University of Michigan) provides some answers.

    The researchers randomly selected children from preschool classrooms in two sites, one serving kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, the other serving middle-class kids. They then set about to answer three questions:

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  • Words Reflect Knowledge

    Written on November 8, 2013

    I was fascinated when I started to read about the work of Betty Hart and Todd Risley and the early language differences between children growing up in different socioeconomic circumstances. But it took me a while to realize that we care about words primarily because of what words indicate about knowledge. This is important because it means that we must focus on teaching children about a wide range of interesting “stuff” – not just vocabulary for vocabulary’s sake. So, if words are the tip of the iceberg, what lies underneath? This metaphor inspired me to create the short animation below. Check it out!

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  • The Word Gap

    Written on October 31, 2013

    ** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

    It is now well established that children’s oral language development is crucial to their academic success, with the documentation of profound differences in word learning and the acquisition of content knowledge between children living in poverty and those from more economically advantaged homes. By the time they enter school, children from advantaged backgrounds may know as many as 15,000 more words than their less affluent peers. This early language gap sets children up to be at risk for other all too familiar gaps, such as the gaps in high school graduation, arrest and incarceration, post-secondary education, and lifetime earnings. So, what can we do to prevent this “early catastrophe”?

    If a child suffers from malnutrition, simply giving him/her more food might not be sufficient to alleviate the problem. A better approach would be to figure out which specific foods and supplements best provide the vitamins and nutrients that are needed, and then deliver these to the child. Recent press coverage on the “word gap," spurred by initiatives such as Too Small to Fail and Thirty Million Words, suffers from a similar failing.

    Don’t get me wrong, the initiatives themselves are hugely important and have done a truly commendable job of focusing public attention on a chronic and chronically overlooked problem. It’s just that the messages that have, thus far, made their way forward are predominantly about quantity – i.e., exposing children to more words and more talk – paying comparatively less attention to qualitative aspects, such as the nature and especially the content of adult-child interactions.

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