Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Story Telling: Developing Language and Literacy Skills

Telling a story about telling stories

This is a 6 minute video from PBS demonstrating how story telling facilitates development of oral language and literacy in preschool.

A short excerpt:
APRIL BROWN: This classroom is where Lori Espinoza brings stories to life, as her pre-K students are eager to go along for the ride.
Espinoza teaches at the school’s OWL Lab, the Oral and Written Language Laboratory, which uses storytelling and dramatic play to get kids talking. It builds on research that shows a storytelling curriculum can significantly improve vocabulary and literacy. That’s especially important for students whose families don’t speak language at home, where language skills first develop…
DEBBIE PAZ, Rice University: We know that oral language is the foundation for everything that will happen later on. It’s what they will need for reading and writing later on.
APRIL BROWN: Debbie Paz is the associate director of early literacy and bilingual programs at Houston’s Rice University, which worked with the school to create the OWL Lab five years ago….”

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Still Need to Work on the Achievement Gap

 5 Classroom Strategies

We ignore these ideas at the expense of children who need our ONGOING SUPPORT!

Some short excerpts:
·         “A vocabulary gap between children from professional families and children from families on welfare is a major contributor to the achievement gap
·         In a child's early years, the quality of conversational opportunities is just as important as the quantity of words spoken
·         Teachers can foster better conversations in the classroom to help close the achievement gap and encourage academic success for all students”
Classroom strategies to boost conversation
“How can teachers help close the achievement gap? A careful focus on exposing all students to high-quality conversational give-and-take and varied vocabulary can make a big difference. Teachers of early learners in kindergarten through third grade should consider incorporating the following 5 activities into their daily routines:
1.    Model appropriate conversation, including asking questions and taking turns. Children without much experience in give-and-take discussions at home will need support in engaging in deep conversation….”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns: 30 Million Words To Grow On

I encourage/implore you to read about and listen to Dr. Dana Suskind as she talks about the urgency of helping young children learn by talking!  I have recently purchased her 2015 book, Thirty Million Words and will offer future posts on her work and ideas from the book. 

Dr. Suskind’s 50 minute video on 30 Million Words

A few additional resources
Dr. Dana Suskind, a surgeon at the U of Chicago and founder of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, as reported in USA Today/Burlington Free Press on Sunday October 18 2015.
 A short excerpt from the article by Kim Painter.
 “In a new book, Thirty Million Words: Building a child’s Brain, Suskind says she first encountered the apparent effects of the word gap among deaf children she treated with cochlear implants.  In general, she says, those from poorer homes struggled much more to develop language and other skills.
Her hope is that teaching parents and other caregivers to talk more, and talk more effectively, will help all sorts of children reach their potential….”
As a starting point, she recommends three simple guidelines:
“Tune In:  Notice what the child is focused on and talk about that.  Respond when a child communicates –including when a baby cries or coos.
Talk More:  Narrate day to day routines, such as diaper changes and tooth brushing.  Use details “Let Mommy takes off your diaper.  Oh, so wet.”
Take Turns:  Keep the conversation going.  Respond to your child’s sounds, gestures and, eventually, words—and give him or her time to respond to you.  Ask lots of questions that require more than yes or no answers.”

Dr. Suskind’s interview on public radio

Q and A with Dr. Suskind

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Too Small To Fail"...But NOT Too Small to Talk

Everyday activities can give children the opportunity to learn.  Here's one small example:

A short excerpt:
“Wash Time is Talk Time” will deploy resources to 5,000 laundromats in underserved communities to help families use laundry time as meaningful opportunities to talk, read, and sing with their young children
Oakland, CA – Today, Too Small to Fail launched “Wash Time is Talk Time” in Oakland, California. Today’s launch is part of its 2015 Clinton Global Initiative “Wash Time is Talk Time” Commitment to Action — made in partnership with the Coin Laundry Association (CLA), the Laundry Project, Jumpstart, First 5 Alameda County, University of Arkansas, and Encore.org — which aims to reach parents in underserved communities nationwide. 
Research finds that the average laundromat visit takes two to two-and-a-half hours — making laundry time a valuable, yet often overlooked opportunity to engage in language-rich activities. Today’s events at Advantage Laundry and A1 Laundry in Oakland, California, include resources for young children and families to engage in early learning and development activities. Additionally…”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Watching Kindergarten Mentor Teachers Share Their Knowledge of Literacy and Learning

Teachers Talking about Literacy in Their Kindergarten Classes

Video is about 30 minutes: With Sharon, Bonnie Angela and Jonna—mentor teachers.

Lots of wonderful do-able ideas about early literacy

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Language Rich Preschool Classroom?

Creating Language Rich Preschool Classrooms, Laura Justice (2004)

A short excerpt

Do children at your preschool have strong language and literacy skills?

Do children with language disabilities participate in general preschool classrooms?

Do educators at your school collaborate in language-rich curriculums?

Do you have sufficient funding for a quality preschool program? These are broad, ambitious questions,

and we hope to set you on your way to answering them and ensuring the success of all the children in your

preschool program.


What Does the Literature Say About Language-Rich Classrooms

It is, of course, one thing to know what a language-rich classroom environment looks like and another thing to put one’s ideas and intentions into everyday practice….”



High quality input

Adult responsiveness

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Conversation and Reading

Brain Development and Bed Time Stories

Dr. Perri Klass on family health.

A short excerpt
“A little more than a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth.

That means pediatricians taking care of infants and toddlers should routinely be advising parents about how important it is to read to even very young children. The policy statement, which I wrote with Dr. Pamela C. High, included a review of the extensive research on the links between growing up with books and reading aloud, and later language development and school success”

Dialogic Reading:

Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers  By: Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst
A short excerpt:

“Dialogic reading works. Children who have been read to dialogically are substantially ahead of children who have been read to traditionally on tests of language development. Children can jump ahead by several months in just a few weeks of dialogic reading.  From Reading Rockets

Over a third of children in the U.S. enter school unprepared to learn. They lack the vocabulary, sentence structure, and other basic skills that are required to do well in school. Children who start behind generally stay behind – they drop out, they turn off. Their lives are at risk.

Why are so many children deficient in the skills that are critical to school readiness?

Children's experience with books plays an important role. Many children enter school with thousands of hours of experience with books. Their homes contain hundreds of picture books. They see their parents and brothers and sisters reading for pleasure. Other children enter school with fewer than 25 hours of shared book reading. There are few if any children's books in their homes. Their parents and siblings aren't readers….”
Some video examples of Dialogic Reading

One with One Reading: “Machines at Work”

Small Group Reading:  “Something From Nothing”

 Reading stories to 2 and 3 year olds:  “Goodnight Gorilla”   



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Brain Development and Bed Time Stories

Brain Development and BedTime Stories

Dr. Perri Klass on family health.

A short excerpt

“A little more than a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth.

That means pediatricians taking care of infants and toddlers should routinely be advising parents about how important it is to read to even very young children. The policy statement, which I wrote with Dr. Pamela C. High, included a review of the extensive research on the links between growing up with books and reading aloud, and later language development and school success”

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sentence Development in Preschool

Tools for Measuring Sentence Development: Some unanswered questions.

Unanswered questions from the August 13th posting:

What tools are there for monitoring language development across all 4 levels—sounds, words, sentences, discourse?
How often should we monitor progress?
What do we do with the information we gain from monitoring?

Standardized Tools for Monitoring Sentence Development

1 Developmental Sentence Scoring

Research Report on the DSS by Laura Lee, 1970, giving a very detailed description of what this tool entails.  It involves collecting via audio tape (perhaps now video tape) 50 samples of a child’s spontaneous speech, for children ranging in age from 3-0 to 6-11.  This article gives a very detailed description of the range and complexity of sentence production skills.  I suggest this tool not so it will be used as a formal test, but because it offers a very detailed listing of all of the sentence structure (syntax/grammar) elements.

2 Here is another standardized commercial tool with multiple measures of language, including sentence knowledge: Preschool Language Assessment-5

3 For a more recent tool see Appendix B of Anne Toolen Rowley’s dissertation:

4 American Speech Hearing (Language) Association Annual Convention

Got Grammar?  An Easy Way to Review Grammar and Syntax



For the most part, the tools noted above were designed for Speech/Language Pathologists.  At the same time, the information presented in the tools provides good insight into the range of syntactic knowledge norms we should pay attention to in preschoolers (0-5) language development.  Many of these tests are for children 3 to 5 or 3 to 7.  We will need to pay attention to sentence development from 18 to 36 months.  In this age range, knowing the developmental norms is critical, since so much of syntactic development occurs between 18-36 months.  Although even in the 3-5 range, some syntactic elements are more complex than others.


Laura Lee’s DSS test is especially informative.  Because so many language development authors suggest that “syntax” or “grammar” knowledge/skill is essentially complete by age 5, it is easy to assume that there is little need to pay and to the more sophisticated elements of syntax: embedded clauses,  auxiliary verbs and secondary verbs, use of conjunctions, and question forms.  These syntactic elements may tax a child’s cognitive, processing, and memory skills.



In addition to monitoring sentence grammar, we need to pay attention to the pragmatics of language at the sentence level.  Do children understand and use sentences for the full range

of purposes?  There are several ways of talking about “using” sentences to communicate: pragmatics, functions, speech acts, communication purposes, intentions.  Researchers have studied babies’ communicative purposes even before the babies can put words together to make sentences.  Hoff describes the work of R. S. Chap showing a wide range of “speech acts” at the One-Word Stage, including labeling, repeating, answering, requesting action, calling, greeting, protesting and practicing. (Hoff, p 103).  Nino (l995), cited in Hoff, lists “communicative intention” by a 1-1/2 year old, including, greetings, agreeing, refusing, disagreeing, asking a yes/no question, disapproving and expressing surprise.


Although addressing function relative to older children, Pinnell (in Power and Hubbard’s Language Development: A Reader for Teachers) suggests using Halliday’s seven categories for language function to assess children’s repertoire of language functions: instrumental, regulatory, interactional, personal, imaginative, heuristic, and informative.  In that same text, Halliday describes each function in detail. For further details, see https://classroomdiscourse.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/sentences-function-part-3-of-3/   We will come back to the “functions of language” topic again as we move to the discourse level of language.



As with other levels of language, given that children start to develop 2 word sentences as young

18 months, it is important to start tracking their progress and pace of development on a regular basis from age 2 on.  The data tell us that the typical development of sentences (grammar, syntax) is essentially complete by age 4 or 5.  That being the case, it seems reasonable to suggest tracking progress every 4 to 6 months between 2 and 5.  Again, we don’t want to miss tracking those “optimal” periods of development only to find that a 4 or 5 year old child is well behind the typical milestones.  We have too much information and research that tells us that children who arrive at kindergarten with under-developed language skills are likely to struggle to keep up as they go through school.


One study that highlights the role of “sentences” in the “readiness for school” literature is an “old”  monograph study: Language Development, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve Walter Loban, NCTE, 1976.  I quote this study here because of the insight it gives us on the importance of   sentence structure.  The following are direct quotes from the text:


“In the elementary school, the members of the High group were superior in tentativeness or flexibility of expression; they avoided the flat dogmatism of the Low group, the stark statement without possibility of qualification or supposition.  They used more subordination than the Low group, thus reducing the number of communication units by combining them in complex fashion.  Even so, the High group still exceeded the Low group in number of communications units in oral language.”


Although all subjects knew and used all the basic structural patterns of English sentences, the High group had a much greater flexibility and repertoire within the pattern of a sentence: that is, they had more ways to fill slots like the subject, the modifiers, the objects.  Their usage was also more conventional that the rest of the group.”


“Both in reading and in written composition, the proficient (High) group excelled and they were superior in using connectors--like meanwhile, unless--in a test which showed their median to be almost double that of the Low group.  The High group also excelled in the use of adverbial clauses of concession and condition.  On listening tests, those who were superior with oral language ranked highest.  IT IS OF SPECIAL NOTE THAT THOSE SUPERIOR IN ORAL LANGAUGE IN KINDERGARTEN AND GRADE ONE BEFORE THEY LEARNED TO READ AND WRITE ARE THE VERY ONES WHO EXCEL IN READING AND WRITING BY THE TIME THEY ARE IN GRADE SIX.  OUR DATA SHOW A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP OF SUCCESS AMONG THE LANGUAGE ARTS.”

Loban goes on to note that these differences are not attributable to poor cognitive development.



If Loban’s study were inconsistent with current data on the “Achievement Gap,” perhaps we could ignore it as old data.  It is not inconsistent with the current attention to the Achievement Gap.  Too many children are still arriving at kindergarten without the oral language skills that they will need to succeed.


Backtracking to our discussion of both sentence structure (grammar and syntax) and function, we need to look at both of these dimensions of sentences in determining how to use the developmental data gleaned from standardized tests, formalized checklists or naturalistic observations.


I would suggest that the easier starting place it to note to what extend the child uses all of the functions of sentences (as per Halliday).  In those instances where a function is not being used to an appropriate developmental level, then we might look more closely at the syntax/grammar of the utterances. 


At the same time, when a 3 year old is not using fairly complete basic sentences or continually lags behind the developmental norms, we should determine whether more attention, more stimulation or scaffolding or more direct intervention is needed.


The next set of questions:
What do we know about monitoring discourse?
How do we write/talk about discourse?
What are the tools, timing, and uses for monitoring discourse?













Monday, August 17, 2015

Sharing Books With Toddlers

Sharing Books with Toddlers, The Hanen Way

By Lauren Lowry, Hanen Certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Hanen Staff Member


A Short Excerpt

”Toddlers (aged 18 months – 2 ½ years) have figured out what books are all about, but may or may not  be ready to hear a whole story. They enjoy holding a book, turning the pages, looking at the pictures and talking about what interests them. They often have their favourite books, which they want to read again and again!

When reading with a toddler, the main goals include:

  1. Developing his interest in books
  2. Having him interact back and forth with you
  3. Learning some interesting new words
  4. Having fun!

Types of Books for Sharing

How to Share a Book

Adding Language During the Reading

Make A Book
















Friday, August 14, 2015

Monitoring the Development of Sentences

On the August 6th blog, I ended the post with the following questions:

Should we approach monitoring of progress at each level of oral language development (sound, word, sentence, discourse) in the same way?
How much knowledge, skill or training is required to monitor progress?
Are there other factors that influence monitoring progress?
How well do we use the data from monitoring progress?

That posting focused on monitoring at the “sound” level of language, with specific reference to the type of skill “sounds” represents.  Using a reference from Hoffman, Teale and Piagia, I noted that “sounds” reflect a “constrained” skill.

“In discussing the Common Core State Standards, Hoffman, Paciga and Teale point out that some literacy standards (“Foundational Skills” which they call “constrained” skills) are relatively easily conceptualized in terms of component parts that follow a fairly linear trajectory.  …. https://www.academia.edu/4622466/Common_Core_State_Standards_and_Early_Childhood_Literacy_Instruction_Confusions_and_Conclusions

Words, sentences and discourse are “unconstrained” skills: that is, we continue to develop these skills throughout our lifetime and development of these skills is more challenging to trace beyond an initial level of “mastery.”  At the same time, by the time children reach “school age/kindergarten” we have a pretty good sense as to whether or not these skills are developing at a “typical” rate.

Before tracing development at the sentence level, note that the same “guidelines” for monitoring progress apply:  tools, frequency of monitoring and use of the data.

Tools:  Standardized, formalized checklists and naturalistic observations.


*concerns of teachers and parents about the “pace” or “rate” at which the skill is being developed by individual children,

*meeting the goals of the specific curriculum (assuming there is a specific curriculum),

*sensitivity to the predictive power of the skill (for subsequent development of other skills).


Using data to plan instruction and timely intervention. Yes!, we should use the data--assuming that we know what the monitoring tells us about what we need to change about the curriculum, the teaching/learning, the context, or our understanding of the child.  Even if we don’t see anything to change, having a record of the child’s development is useful for both teachers and parents.

Sentence Development

The developmental norms for sentences provide a great deal of information about when sentences develop, what those sentences consist of, and how the sentences are used.

When and What Develops?

First, let’s note that the basics of sentence structure (syntax, grammar*) begins around 21 months or when children have acquired a basic 50 word “vocabulary” and are completed by the time children reach 4 or 5.  Hoff says, “The last major syntactic development is the production of multiclause sentences.  This course of development usually begins some time before a child’s second birthday and is largely complete by the age of 4 years.” (p 228)

Hoff (pp 228-244) gives us lots of examples of what develops, showing examples of a child’s two word utterances: possessives (daddy coffee; mommy book), property-indicating patterns (big shell, ho sand), recurrence number and disappearance (more raisins, two shoe, all gone), locatives (sand ball (on), ball daddy (to), actor/action (mommy sit, daddy work) and “other combinations”.

Hoff also describes morpheme development and sentence type development: negative forms, question forms, and complex sentence forms.  These sentence forms become increasingly important as we help children engage in the “extended” conversations that reflect and predict a critical dimension of school success—the ability to elaborate and engage in more abstract language.

Roger Brown, an early researcher on language development gives us additional information of sentence development, including embedded and co-joined sentences.  Brown traced sentence development from 12 to 47+ months, noting that “and” appears between 22 and 26 months, and “ but, so, or and if” appear between 31-32 months.  See the link below for a more detailed outline of Brown’s work.

Sentence Function or Use.  While children are learning to produce sentence grammar (structure), they are also learning how sentences are used to convey meaning.  Michael Halliday gives us a list of the “functions” of sentences.

Instrumental: I want a banana

Regulatory:  “First I … you need a rake and you have to build over the rake.”

Interactional:  “Do you like cricket too Henry?”

Personal:  “I know that song ‘cause we sang it at Kindergarten.”

Heuristic:  “We could make a water thing to tell how much rain we got.”

Imaginative: “Alice the camel has one hump, one hump, one hump.”

Representational:  “It is raining really heavy and heavy all day.”

This chart from Michael Halliday is from a 1969 article in Educational Review titled “Relevant Models of Language,” which appeared in Language Development: A Reader for Teachers edited by Brenda Miller Power an Ruth Shagoury Hubbard, Merrill Prentice Hall, 2002

To see the more detailed blog post:

Three other important notes about sentences.

Sentence comprehension.  According to Hoff (p 247), although it is harder to measure with naturalistic observations, “the sequence of grammatical development that occurs in comprehension is like the sequence in production, but it occurs earlier.”

Sentence complexity.  Sentences can be more or less complex (orally or in writing) because of three factors:  (1) features of open class words (nouns and verbs) and their relationships. (2) number and types of syntactic operations (usually reflected in sentence length) and (3) type of syntactic operation (order of main and subordinate clauses.  See Scott (pp 342-344) in Handbook of Language and Literacy edited by Stone, Sillman, Ehren and Apel.

Sentences and smaller and larger units of speech.  Sentences are not independent of the prior level (words) and the next level (discourse). In order to understand and use sentences, you need to know the words that make up the sentences and the larger unit into which the single sentence fits.  Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek point out (pp 157-8):

    “Babies find the units in the language stream.   Where are the words? The phrases? The clauses?  Although babies have to find these, this doesn’t mean that they have to be able to name the units.  In fact, they can’t…At some unconscious level, however, babies need to be aware of these grammatical units if  they are to learn to produce grammatical sentences….”


Should we approach monitoring of all levels of language in the same way?  No.  What we are monitoring will be influenced by the complexity of the skill, the rate at which the skill “typically” develops, at what age development is largely complete (constrained vs unconstrained skills), how complex a task the monitoring is, and the tools we have available.

How much knowledge and skill are required?  Lots… especially important is the knowledge of language development, including a sense of the rate or pace at which the child is developing the language skill.

Are there other factors that influence both the development and the monitoring of the skill?  Yes, specifically important are the context in which the monitoring takes place and the task the child is engaged in.  Some contexts will be more typical for the particular child, some less.  That needs to be judged and noted.  Some tasks are more difficult (in general and for a particular child), some tasks less so. It may be necessary to monitor several types of tasks to get a complete picture.

How well do we use the data collected?  Ideally, we are monitoring how well a particular child is progressing on a schedule that will allow us to intervene at an optimal time .  We need to share the information with parents and other important persons in the child’s life (teachers, para-educators, supervisors, specialists).  And, most importantly, we need to intervene if the child is not progressing at a pace that will allow him or her to be successful.

I will need to save the following topics for the next blog post, continuing with Sentence Development
Tools for Tracking
Frequency of Monitoring