Sunday, September 20, 2009

baby talk

in the second chapter of whatever it takes, paul tough looks at the history of the debate over poverty, both in the political world and through research. he discusses research i've heard before, and maybe even have written about here before, but every time i read something like it i'm filled with the desire to run out and just talk to babies.

in the 1980s researchers hart and riley looked into the reasons behind the achievement gap between children from poverty and children from the middle class. they found that on iq tests children's iqs were strongly correlated to their vocabulary. the iq among children from families of professionals was an average of 117, and the iq of children from parents on welfare was an average of 79. hart and riley investigated the reason behind this gap at such an early age. they found that this discrepancy came from the language the children heard at home.

"in professional homes, parents directed an average of 487 'utterances'- anything from a one-word command to a full soliloquy- to their child each hour. in welfare homes, the children heard 178 utterances per hour. by age three, hart and riley concluded, welfare children would have haerd 10 million words addressed to them, on average, and professional children would have heard more than 30 million."

they then looked into the kind of words children heard.

"by the age of three, the average professional child would hear 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. for the welfare children, the ratio was reversed: they would hear, on average, about 80,000 encouragements and 200,000 discouragements."

the thing is, this isn't labeling parents from welfare families as "bad" because they don't talk to their children. if no one talked to you as a young child, and you haven't observed anyone talking to their children, there is no reason to think this would be important, or even realize it is what some parents do with their children. we follow the models before us. it's also a matter of time- families i work with are working 3 jobs. they want to do the best for their children, but they literally do not see their children enough to have long conversations with them.

in the book, geoffrey canada starts "baby college" for parents of young children and expecting parents. he teaches them the importance of using language with their children. canada found that it was only a matter of getting the information out there. it wasn't necessarily a cultural issue- once parents had the information they put it to use.

we have this information. we know what works. we know talking to our children, and talking to them early works. by the time they come into a kindergarten class the language difference is already there. and language is what we use to navigate the world. it's what we use to reason our way through- decide why we can drop blocks and they'll land in a certain way, etc.

i've heard before that when you're upset you should think in a different language because it will calm your thought process since you simply don't have as many words to think with, you literally can't think as much. if our children don't have the words to think with in any language- what does that mean for their ability to problem solve and rationalize their world?


The Science Goddess said...

The Title I district I worked in a couple of years ago had a sizeable grant to produce outreach materials for this very purpose: get parents to talk to their pre-school children.

The most common reason for parents in that district gave for why they didn't talk to their wee ones? The wee ones don't talk back...and the parents were pretty sure the kids didn't understand what was being there's not much point in talking to babies. An interesting insight for us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insight. It really makes me think, and encourages me to keep working on my master's project about content vocab and the ELL child.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insight. It really makes me think, and encourages me to keep working on my master's project about content vocab and the ELL child.I got an open id error, but this is kirchy and I follow your blog regularly.

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