As a teacher in low-income schools, I frequently hear about how my students have not been exposed to as many words as their wealthier peers, and this leads to relatively poor performance in school. In fact, I have seen the effects of this in my classroom (with some exceptions), as well.
That's why, when I saw Esther Quintero's article in The Washington Post titled “The ‘early language gap’ is about more than words,” I had to stop and take a look.
Not only does Quintero acknowledge the vocabulary gap in terms of quantity of words, she points out that there is a gap in the quality of words that we must address, as well.
It’s just that the messages that have, thus far, made their way forward are predominantly about quantity – i.e., exposing children to more words and more talk – paying comparatively less attention to qualitative aspects, such as the nature and especially the content of adult-child interactions.
Quintero includes suggestions for teaching children that encourage children to use their new vocabulary, explore new knowledge, and construct mental frameworks that provide context for what they are learning.
This is not about teaching vocabulary for vocabulary’s sake, but about introducing children to concepts in ways that facilitate independent learning. When children learn words in isolation, with little attention paid to how they words fit within broader ideas, they tend to forget them just as quickly as they learn them, because they do not understand their relationships.
Visit “The ‘early language gap’ is about more than words” for teaching ideas.