The Power of Picture Books

Picture Books: Poetry in Motion

Here’s a brief excerpt from Reading Rockets:

July 6, 2015

“I’ve been thinking a lot about picture books and why some work and are memorable while others just land with a thud when read. I continue to ask myself what is it about those picture books that resonate with readers and particularly those that can be shared many times between adults and children, delighting both….” ders+%28Reading+Rockets%3A+Struggling+Reader+Resources%29


More Than a Gap in Words

Published in Print: April 22, 2015, as Research on Quality of Conversation Holds Deeper Clues Into Word Gap

Key to Vocabulary Gap Is Quality of Conversation, Not Dearth of Words

By Sarah D. Sparks


“The “30 million-word” gap is arguably the most famous but least significant part of a landmark study, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children, by the late University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. As the work turns 20 this year, new research and more advanced measuring techniques have cast new light on long-overshadowed, and more nuanced, findings about exactly how adult interactions with infants and young children shape their early language development.”


Parent-Child Conversations

“This is the challenge of translating science to policy, and when one study captures the imagination of the public, and policy is made based on one study,” Mr. Barnett said. A study “has to be viewed in the context of the much larger body of knowledge about language and family and experience.”


“Conversational turns are vastly more important than the number of words a child is exposed to,” Ms. Gilkerson said.





Another Preschool Literacy Resource I Missed

Sometimes I’m amazed by how many good sites/links I miss.  Here’s another one:

A New-To-Me Resource on Preschool Language and Literacy

Articles from the Hanen Centre, Canada based.

This is a Canadian based web site for parents, preschool educators, and speech-language-pathologists focused on language and literacy development . They have a valuable variety of books/booklets, some of which are moderately expensive. But BEST OF ALL they offer a series of wonderful short articles on language and literacy, many of which I’ve printed for my own library of resources. I’ve listed a few below. Their web site is well worth checking out.


Talking to Young Children Makes a Big Difference!.aspx

Promoting Language with Books

Getting Ready to Read

Teaching Children to Think–Meeting-the-demands-of.aspx

More Than ABC’s—Building-the-Critical-Thinking-Sk.aspx

What Makes Your Child Tick….Communication

Not For Profit Charity

“The Hanen Centre is a not-for-profit charitable organization with a difference. We are a social entrepreneur, operating our business for a clear social purpose – to enable young children to develop the best possible language and literacy skills. Founded in 1975 by Ayala Hanen Manolson, a speech-language pathologist who saw the potential of involving parents in their child’s early language intervention, The Hanen Centre is  dedicated to addressing a pressing social problem – delays in language development in young children, including children with developmental delays and autism.”


What Goes Around Comes Around…and Around…and Around

I woke up (early) this morning thinking about a program I heard on public radio yesterday. It was a rebroadcast of an interview with Governor Mario Cuomo talking about issues of justice, including poverty and opportunity. The broadcast was originally aired 20 years ago. It reminded me of another story that doesn’t seem to have changed much either in the last 20 (or 30 or 40) years—oral language, literacy, and the achievement gap.

I have been reading online and from text a great deal about the achievement gap and its relationship to oral language development and early literacy skills.   The rebroadcast prompted me to go to my library and find a book on Language in Early Childhood Education, edited by Courtney B. Cazden. It was published in 1972 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Although this book does not directly address the relationship between oral language and literacy or literacy and the achievement gap, it clearly focuses on the relationship between home (language)and school (language) and between the role of disadvantage in learning. In this text Cazden and her colleagues analyzed existing language programs used in preschool, and contrasted effective home and school practices.

Another of my favorite “old” references is a book produced by the National Council of Teachers of English written by Walter Loban: Language Development, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, also published in the 1970’s. In that text Loban traces the language and literacy development of the same 211 children from kindergarten to grade 12. His most telling finding is that the children who start behind, those in the lowest socioeconomic groups, stay behind….unless there is specific intervention. These are not children who differ in innate intellectual ability when they start school.

Loban says: “Although various ethnic backgrounds are included in all three groups (high, low, mixed), the same is not true of socioeconomic background. The high functioning group is definitely skewed in the direction of the most favored socioeconomic conditions; the low functioning group members from the least favored background.”

Eternal optimist that I am, I don’t believe that this recycling has to continue. We know a great deal about oral language development, early literacy, and the achievement gap. We need to know how to put what we know into practice and why what we know isn’t put into practice. I hope this blog will offer insights into how to make that happen by high lighting successful programs and practices.

One of the sources I’ve mentioned before is Listening and Speaking for Preschool Through Third Grade edited by Lauren B. Resnick an Catherine E. Snow, Published by the International Reading Association in 2008.

Three other sources I’m reading now and recommend:

Assessing Preschool Literacy Development by Billie J. Enz an Lesley Mandel Morrow Oral Language and Early Literacy in Preschool: Talking, Reading, and Writing by Kathleen A. Roskos, Patton O. Tabors, and Lisa A. Lehnart

Both were also published in 2009 by The International Reading Association.

A third resource, one of the best articles I have read on early literacy is: Common Core State Standards and Early Childhood Literacy Instruction: Confusion and Conclusions by Jessica Hoffman, Katie Pagica and William Teale. I think this is an extraordinarily balanced treatment of the reading standards in relation to preschool learning.

New Standards for Speaking and Listening

Laruen Resnick and Catherine Snow, Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Third Grade

New Standards, 2008, International Reading Association.

In the preface the authors note that speaking and listening are the foundations of reading and writing. They say: “Speaking and listening are to reading and writing what walking is to running.”

And, “The process (of specifying a clear set of expectations for speaking and listening) was an adventure for us, for while researchers and expert teachers know a great deal about children’s language development, no one had translated that knowledge into a clear set of classroom expectations.”   I would add that we are only beginning, after a long period, to pay attention to the importance of speaking and listening to learning.

Resnick and Snow say that there are three important reasons for children to practice and master their native language:

1 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 in the world.

They go on to describe three kinds of speaking/listening standards, with several subcomponents under each type.


^Talking a lot

^ Talking to one’s self

^Conversing at length on a topic

^Discussing books

2 KINDS OF TALK AND RESULTING GENRES: Children talk for a variety of reasons, or purposes. Among them

^Inform, entertain and persuade others

^Present themselves, their topics, or their points of view to others

^Negotiate or propose relationships with others

^Evaluate people, information, or events

^Think, teach, learn

^Getting things done

^Producing and responding to performances


^Rules of interaction

^Word play and language awareness

^Vocabulary and word choice

Because my current focus is on dialogue, I’ve highlighted those standards that are most directly related to dialogue. In particular, I’m going to focus on only a few: talking a lot, conversing at length on a topic, discussing books, kinds of talk and resulting genres, rules of interaction and vocabulary and word choice. These are the aspects of speaking and listening that support the reasons for talking.

Those standards that are most directly related to dialogue are “kinds of talk and resulting genres” and “rules of interaction.”

RULES: “Beginning in infancy and continuing through the elementary years and beyond, children learn the rules of the game of conversation…..sharing the most widely shared rules of interaction….. It is crucial for teachers to understand that the conversational rules they themselves know and follow are social rules… …children who fail to understand them [the accepted rules] suffer academic and social consequences.” People are expected to take turns, be polite, and learn to address people appropriately depending on whether they are superiors, subordinates or equals….”(p 13)

I would add to these guidelines that the rules to be followed in dialogue are also dependent on context, topic, genre, and purpose. There are numerous studies that address these dimensions, for example: “Talking Like an Historian,” “Talking Their Way into Science,” “Mathematical Discourse,” and “Collaborative Conversations.”

A set of widely accepted general “rules” for conversation was proposed by Grice: Conversation should be informative, true, relevant and clear.

REASONS. R and S have outlined an inclusive set of reasons for dialogue. They refer to 4 specific genres: narrative, explaining and seeking information, getting things done, and producing and responding to performance. And under each of these categories they list several variations. For example, under narrative, they list: recounting two or more events, recounting knowledge gained through observation, experience, or text, orienting the listener by giving some setting information.

In the psycholinguistic literature, Halliday’s list of “functions of language” is often referenced as a frame of reference for “reasons” to speak/listen. His list includes 7 categories: instrumental, regulatory, interactional, personal, imaginative heuristic, informative.

REWARDS. If Resnick and Snow are correct, then the rewards for becoming proficient at speaking and listening should include being able to read and write, being smart, and succeeding in school and life. As well, they should be successful in the 4 domains of narrative, explain and seeking information, getting things done, and producing and responding to performance. How these achievements are demonstrated and assessed is the essence of the Resnick and Snow book.

ROLES. R AND S described roles as “superiors, subordinates and equals.” That classification is both basic and simple. The roles are not necessarily specific to teacher/student or adult/child. If we think about roles in terms of context and reason, the role a child plays in one context may be quite different from the role in another context; in some instances the child may become the teacher. In some instances, a child may be, if not the superior, at least the expert depending on the topic. Certainly children take on a variety of roles with one another. Although these standards are only outlined until grade 3, we do want children to adopt a variety of roles as they grow older. One of the things that will impact the roles students play will be the “routine” that are modeled and used in the classroom.

ROUTINES. In the list of standards there are several that suggest that children will need to learn a lot of different speaking/listening routines (and roles): talks a lot, converses at length about a topic, discusses books and chooses words carefully. Here are some examples of what this looks like at the preschool and second/third grade levels. We expect young children to learn a great deal about speaking and listening in a short time.

Talks a lot.

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
Talk daily for various purpose Talk about what they think, read, or experience
Engage in play using talk to enact or extend a story line Explain or speak from another’s perspective
Express ideas, feelings, and needs
Listens and responds to direct questions
Ask questions
Talks and listens in small groups Talk in front of groups on a regular basis

Talk in small groups to collaborate on a project…to facilitate work on a task

Share and talk daily about their own experiences, products, or writing. Talk about ideas or information gained from sources beyond personal experiences

Solicit and provide feedback daily about writing.

Converse at length about a topic

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
Initiate and sustain a conversation with comments or questions through at least 4 exchanges Initiate and sustain a conversation with eight or more lengthy exchanges
Recognize the topic of conversation and make topic-relevant responses Initiate topics within conversations that are in progress
Recognize invitation to converse vs questions intended to elicit a brief response Sustain conversation by extending others’ contribution
Listen to others and avoid talking over Express and solicit opinions
Repair and revert to the topic when necessary

Discusses books

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
Poses and answers specific qs about the text End of 3rd grade has 19 items in this category. Noting just a few
Recites familiar refrains from books that have been heard several times Note and talk about author’s craft
Identify a favorite book and tell why they like it Refer to knowledge gained during discussion
Use information that is accurate, accessible, and relevant
State own ideas with greater clarity when not comprehended
Ask other students qs that require then to support their claim;
Indicate their own/others’ ideas need further support
Compare texts
Capture meaning from figurative language
Analyze the causes, motivations, sequences, and results of events
Use the structure of information texts to retrieve information
Understand concepts and their relationships
Use reasoning and information from within and outside the text to examine arguments.

Chooses words carefully

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
11 items. Some of them 11 items
Sorts relationships among words in knowledge domain Builds word maps
Adds new domains from subjects and topics the are studying Uses specialized vocabulary (academic language)
Learns new words daily in conversation Provides definitions of words
Shows a general interest in words an word meanings, asking adults what a word means or offering definitions Demonstrates flexibility by choosing from word options
Uses some abstract words and understands that these words differ from concrete things Develops a basic awareness of meaningful word parts
Uses verbs referring to cognition, communication, and emotions. Uses metaphor language
Understands antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, homographs and homophones

Can we simply teach each of these elements of speaking/listening-dialogue in sequence or must we figure out how to integrate them? How do we start at a simple level and scaffold the child to the next level? How do we know where a child is at any point in his or her development of language skills?


Learning to Read Should Be Fun

And it can be!

Check this out:

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