Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Talking to One's Self and Others

Talk Blog on Speaking and Listening for March 21

I began this series of posts reviewing Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Third Grade by Resnick and Snow by outlining  the 3 types of Skills that children need to develop: Habits, Kinds of Talk and Resulting Genres and Language Use and Conventions.  Then, with an introduction to Habits, I focused on the first of 4 kinds of Habits: Lots of Talk.  In this post I’ll address the next two:  Talking to Oneself and Conversing on a Topic.

Talking to Oneself

I’m sure that “talking to oneself” is not limited to children.  We all “talk to ourselves.”  Sometimes we call that thinking, or remembering, and sometimes “thinking out loud.”

For children “talking to oneself” is an early and essential language skill.  The authors maintain that “Talking to One’s Self" about words and meanings as they read, rehearsing steps to solve a problem, and reciting information they have learned or memorized.  They point out that “During free play at preschool, about 40% of children’s talk is directed at themselves…”  (More later when I take up this topic again as it applies specifically to preschool).

Conversing at Length on a Topic

The authors note that between the ages of 3 and 8 children become increasingly skillful at staying on and extending a topic, a critical skill for becoming successful learners as they engage in “curriculum-based” topics beginning in kindergarten.  “Children talk about what they are learning.  It is critical, then, for the curriculum to include good topics that foster engaging talk with new words and ideas…..” (p. 7) 

“Focusing on children’s interests to promote learning is particularly important in the preschool years.  A curriculum that capitalizes on children’s curiosity and helps them expand what they know about the world gives them new ideas and the words to go with them…..  Children need time to linger on topics and explore them deeply at their own pace…. For example, preschoolers are not likely to hear words such as hose, pump, ladder, engine, and oxygen unless they are learning—and talking—about firefighters (in the context, say of a field trip to the neighborhood fire station). (p. 7) And, they are not likely to actually learn and use those words unless they have multiple opportunities to do so.

The authors offer a set of ways to help children become “word collectors”: for example,

*Giving students new words to describe what they are doing or learning

*Rephrasing students’ remarks with more sophisticated vocabulary

*Playing word games

*Encouraging children to keep personal dictionaries of new words

*Creating a word wall with action or description words pictured

The next post will focus on “Discussing Books Leads to Meaningful Topics”, the 4th skill in the Habits category.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Language Development and Talking Habits

In this and the next post I will summarize Resnick and Snow’s introduction to the “Habits” of talking.

“Habits” includes 4 goals:

Talking a lot

Talking to one’s self

Conversing at length on a topic

Discussing books

The authors begin with a general discussion addressing all of the 3 age groups (Preschool, K-1, 2-3).  As parents, grandparents, and teachers, some of us might think that our young children already talk a lot, by themselves, to themselves and to others. And that is certainly true for some children.  Other children need the context and opportunity to grow in their language/conversation skills. The Introduction to this topic offers too many ideas to cover adequately (thus the need to buy the book), but here are several ideas that might be offered a starting point in paying increasingly more attention to the amount and kind of talking young children do.

*Children learn most of what they know by hearing other people talk…and expanding their own language skills—“learning words (semantics), putting sentences together(syntax), and practicing the “rules of talk” (pragmatics) such as taking turns in a conversation.” (p. 3)

*Children “learn from the back and forth of conversation—even when they are on the receiving or listening end.  They learn by observing how other people react to what they say…. The best talk comes when children listen attentively to what other people say and then connect their responses to what they have heard.” (p. 4)

*Children learn by listening to other people’s knowledge, insights and different points of view.  Purposeful talk about a topic can occur only if children listen to one another.  Listening during a book talk, for example teaches children the important lesson that readers react to books in different ways….(and)  Suppose a child hears a new word—insect, for example—when the teacher reads aloud a book in class….if the word insect pops up over and over in carefully planned classroom talks, the word becomes familiar….  When children hear insect again and again and have a chance to use the word themselves, they are more likely to remember it.  The word becomes part of their working vocabulary….” (pp. 4-5)

Before addressing the 4 topics of this section specifically, Resnick and Snow offer several considerations:

Meaningful Differences and Implications for Schools and Teachers addresses the 30 million word gap between advantaged and “disadvantaged” children.

Different Culture, Different Rules addresses the idea that “different social groups share different rules for talk….”

Settings That Get Children Talking. “Talk happens in many places and social situations, and each setting changes the possibilities for the conversation. Every setting is different, depending on the following:

*Who gets to talk?

*What are the rules?

*What is going on, and where?

Talking a Lot—An Introduction

“Research shows that certain kinds of talk—discussing, collaborating, and problem solving with peers—help children learn academic subjects.  These kinds of talk put children in situations where they can

*Observe how other people react to what they say

*Hear and respond to other people who ask them to clarify what they say

*Hear their own ideas reflected in other people’s comments

*Hear children and adults repeat, revised, or improve on what they say

*Learn the rules of speaking and listening, such as taking turns.

“Children need both “air time”—opportunities to talk—and “ear time”—the attention to fluent, response adults—to develop language skills.  Even the best schools do not give students enough opportunities and attention to engage in interactive conversation…” (p. 5)

One way teachers can take note of children’s “talks a lot” skills is by noting when, about what and to whom children talk.  The authors suggest that preschoolers “need to feel comfortable talking in small group…to expand their conversations from one-on-one exchanges to small groups.”

By kindergarten and first grade, the expectation is that “children also should be able to talk about their own writings and drawings, present an event or object to the class, play and learn with others, each and learn new techniques from others, read aloud, and listen and respond to questions and comments about books they have read or books that have been read aloud to them.  Second and third grade children should be able to speak in front of larger groups, such as the whole class or a parent audience.   They can recite poems, perform in plays, give a book talk, and present a science project.” (pp. 5-6)

Specifying the growth of a variety of language skills at different ages highlights the importance of keeping pace with language skill development.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Third Grade: A Book Review (l)

Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Grade School, a book review

One of the most informative and practical books on early language development that I have seen in the past several years is a book for teachers written by Lauren Resnick and Catherine Snow.  It was published by the International Reading (Literacy) Association in 2008.  It has a wealth of practical suggestions and includes a video to make ideas even more helpful.

I begin this multi-post review with an overview of the topics:

Introduction:  Learning How to Speak and Listen

1 Habits

2 Kinds of Talk and Resulting Genres

3 Language Use and Conventions

Subsequent Sections are devoted to

Preschool: Exploring and Playing with Language

Kindergarten and First Grade: Discovering New Words and Concepts

Second and Third Grades: Using Language for Real-World Purposes

The authors preface the book with this statement:

“Speaking and listening are the foundations of reading and writing.  A child who does not have a large and fluent vocabulary will have difficulty with every aspect of reading, from recognizing or sounding out words to making sense of a story or set of directions.  A child who can’t tell a story orally will have trouble writing one.  Parents and educators know this instinctively, but have had few resources to rely on in determining what speaking and listing abilities they should expect from children at different ages.”…

They offer 3 reasons children need to develop language skills, beginning early and continuing through their primary school years:

L Speaking and listening are the foundation skills for reading and writing.

2 Speaking and listening make children smarter.

3 Speaking and Listening are academic, social, and life skills that are valued in school and the world.

I would add a 4th:  When children begin “behind” in developing speaking and listening skills, it is difficult for them to make up “lost time” and that “lost time” has serious consequences for their success in general and in school.

Here is a preview of topics covered, for each age group, under the headings above.


^Talking a lot

^Talking to one’s self

^Conversing at length on a topic

^Discussing books


^Inform, entertain, an persuade others

^Present themselves, their topic, or their point of view to others

^Negotiate or propose relationships with others

^Evaluate people, information, or events

^Think, teach, and learn


^Rules of interaction

^Word play and language awareness

^Vocabulary and word choice

Friday, March 4, 2016

Great Books to Read to Infants and Toddlers

NAEYC is such a good resource that I had to post this today in addition to my usual Monday blog post.

“Many families are familiar with classic books like Goodnight Moon and read them over and over with their very youngest children. Here are some more recent titles and reissues you and your baby will both love. (Note: Many of these books are available in Spanish, and can be purchased as a hardcover, paperback, or board book.)”

NAEYC has a great wealth of resources for parents and teachers.

If you live in Vermont, you might also want to follow the Lets Grow Kids site