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September 21

Gail Brown

Early language affects reading and comprehension!

  • Mon 7th Jan 2013
  • Gail

This post overview some Weblinks, Youtubes and a Ted Talks about the importance of oral language and vocabulary with very young children. One TED talk is by Anne Fernauld, who was the director of the Language Learning Lab at Stanford University in 2004, when she presented. Anne’s 2004 TED Talk is 20 minutes and a second Youtube overviews some more recent research, in 2010, that is only 2 minutes long. These both focus on vocabulary in different ways. In 2004, Anne focusses on the home environment. In 2010, Anne focusses on fluency of responses, and how this affects learning, and this is reported in research  Together, these may provide some confirmatory or new ideas for classroom teachers to support reading comprehension.

Anne highlights that support from the environment from parents and how this affects their children. She uses wonderful terms like “Linguistic nutrition”, and “mental exercise” that parents provide their babies and young children. Maybe we can think about how these wonderful terms apply in our classrooms?

Anne showcases quite an old study, by Hart & Risley, that documents a 30 million word gap between some students and others when these children enter school. Anne suggests that this means some children may be behind by 2 years in their language development by the age of 4 years old, based on income levels of parents.

No one can change what parents earn. However, what teachers have the power to change is the richness of the environment in their classrooms. Anne shows the growth in brain structures of very young children, and discusses how this impacts on students ability to learn later. She confirms that oral language is so important, and that’s what provides the basis for further learning.

Anne focusses her 20 minute Ted Talk on the “Inadequate opportunities for early learning” that might happen in homes, and with families. Again, classroom teachers can’t change this, it’s history by the time any child enters school.

Anne shows video of 2 young children, one who hears 100 words and one who hears 5 words, and compares the language environment of both. Both children are well loved, but she makes the point that this may be what leads to differences in language development and vocabulary across different children.

The consequences of this, over years and in schools, are that there are some children who have lower levels of vocabulary, and this impacts on their reading comprehension. Early intervention is overviewed and suggests how parents can support their children before they enter school, in the Thirty Million Words Initiative, with a 7 minute You Tube. Parents don’t have to pay and subscribe with this paid intervention, just check out some of these strategies on this short video.

This should confirm and remind us all that vocabulary is an important foundation for comprehension and learning in school. Rich oral language in classrooms in early grades would support all students, and many classroom teachers know this already. In later grades, preteaching difficult words in texts, and rich instruction in the meanings of these words, can lead to much more successful reading comprehension performance, especially in content area instruction, like Science.

Often, in the busy day of a teacher, it’s easy to forget what we already know, having a listen to these Youtubes and Ted Talks can jog our memories, and lead to more effective instruction, using what we already know.

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