With each chapter, I find myself wondering, “How am I going to whittle down all these things I’ve starred and underlined (and underlined twice) into one concise post?” And then I remind myself that you are hopefully reading along as well, with stars and underlines (and double underlines) as well. I’d love to hear what caught your eye.
To make an attempt at rolling so many “A-ha! moments” into one, I’d say I was struck by the fact that a chapter on communicating had so many references to literacy. Not really surprised — there’s a reason why we often link language and literacy into one skill group, and the true essence of literacy is communication — but seeing it all lined out made quite an impression.
For me, it starts with the research about the importance of talking to and with children. I really appreciated the explanation of infant-directed speech, and how babies’ brains are wired to attend to it and learn from it. But perhaps more so, I appreciated the emphasis on expanding that speech as children get older. I’ve mentioned it before in my post Speak UP! Why We Should Use Big Words with Little Kids, but there are few things that get under my skin like an adult using baby-talk with a preschooler. I felt like the research backed up my very strong personal opinion that speech is certainly something that should be adjusted to be developmentally appropriate, but too often is adjusted too far on the low end.
I loved reading about all the ways responsive conversations with our children from infancy into childhood make a big impact on their developing vocabularies and ultimately on the way they view the world and communicate that perspective. I appreciated the emphasis on not just talking at our children, bathing them in words, but in the true process of communication — the give and take, the “dance” as it has been called. And that responsiveness comes not just in the words we trade with them, but in acknowledging even their gestures and what those gestures communicate. That research was a powerful reminder to me again of the importance of being attentive and responsive. Contrast that with the use of flashcards which, as Ellen Galinsky points out several times in the chapter, are not as effective in building language skills. It seems to be the opposite of responsive.
I also was struck by the many mentions of the importance of not just introducing new words to young children, but in exploring ideas with them in our conversations. I’ve tried to articulate many times before, my concern when I spend much time in a classroom where most of the conversation is not only teacher-dominated, but when there is so little discussion about ideas. One such experience inspired the post, “How Do You Talk When You Teach?”, my attempt at outlining the type of communication I was hearing, and more importantly, what was missing. I just wasn’t hearing those expansive questions: “What might happen if…….” “How is it different when…..” “When have you felt like……” “What do you think happens after……”
From now on when I find myself in classrooms that bring on that concern, I will refer the teachers I work with back to this whole chapter, but particularly to the section beginning on page 130, where the research of the Home-School Study of Language and Literacy Development is being summarized by Catherine Snow. Among the three factors that predicted children’s literacy skills, the first was teachers using “cognitively engaging talk”. The second is the more obvious task of using sophisticated words to build vocabulary, but the third comes back again, outlining that in a “content-oriented curricular plan”, the children were engaged in discussions that not only covered the direct instruction but also learning “about the world, and about how to analyze and think”.
I’ve always felt very strongly about the importance of how we talk to children and how we engage them in discussions. It was so exciting for me to read about research that backed up those opinions.
At the risk of making this post entirely too long, I also have to point out how much I appreciated the list on pages 132 and 133 entitled, “Ways to Encourage Literacy Skills in the Early School Years“. It summed up so much of my own beliefs about how to build literacy skills. It’s always nice to get some reinforcement that says you’re on the right track!
There was just so much in this chapter that resonated with me. But how about you? What were your favorite parts in Chapter 3? Add your thoughts in the comment section!
Next Week — Chapter 4: Making Connections