Whether you are a parent or a teacher the suggestion that conversation can change “the brain and boosts its response to language, spurring lasting literacy skills” is worth taking note of. The research completed in early years needs to be viewed through the usual caveats about causation, single study, transferability … it’s interesting rather than definitive.
Part of my interest is that it challenges the conventional wisdom of the word gap; the additional 30+ million words children from affluent homes with well educated parents hear compared to those from disadvantaged homes with less well educated parents. The four minute video below provides the basic information:
A short report summarising the video is here.
The research suggests that what really makes the difference is not the number of words heard by the child rather the number of conversational turns; it’s the Chuckle Brother Effect. “From me to you” conversational turns where a child has to listen to what is said, comprehend it then respond by building on it or asking further questions. It’s a natural part of some children’s lives and it seems to make a difference.
The research links to what our experiences would suggest is important in a parent or teacher:child relationship. Speech, language and oracy are the mainstay of many early year classrooms; keep the communication channels open with teenagers. The real power of this is that it is a nudge; an attempt to change people’s behaviour in a certain way with minimal effort and expense. People can ignore the nudge but the best nudges are like yeast; producing effects far beyond the effort expended.
Working with poorly educated parents living in economically disadvantaged homes suggesting they try to speak 30+ million more words to their child is overwhelming; understandably they would soon give up. However, showing and training them to turn a statement to a child into a conversation is much more achievable. Whether you’re walking down the street, in the playground, shopping or watching television the same “from you to me” and back again and again process could be employed.
Acknowledgement: @TeacherToolkit Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (PPPB)
Taking this into the classroom; some people may be familiar with PPPB by @TeacherToolkit. I once made these into bookmarks (well, someone actually did this for me) and distributed them to all teachers; it was one of my nudges. There are some wonderful nudges in this simple PPPB process that can be easily implemented to enhance classroom dialogue. Could they help develop the Broca’s Area and lead to long lasting improvements in literacy!
Nudge 1 – allow think time; then start to extend it. A pupil thinks about the question for ten seconds and then discusses it with a partner for one minute. Put in a system to create conversational turns; pupil A makes a suggestion but then can’t say anything else until pupil B has added an idea or asked a further question or disagreed and given an alternative view. Then back to pupil A. There are a number of co-operative learning structures that can be used, if you are familiar with them eg. rally robin.
Nudge 2 – Having circulated the room you will have a pretty good idea which ideas might lead to a rich classroom dialogue including common errors or misunderstandings. Bounce and then bounce again and again; facilitate and manage the conversation around key ideas and points of learning. I’d need to be careful I didn’t but in at every opportunity; you might be naturally more disciplined. Conversation is a useful means of assessing pupils’ current understanding.
I sense this kind of dialogue may be particularly powerful at the beginning of a topic and also at the end. The initial conversation might be around brainstorming ideas or assessing prior learning. The latter conversation potentially flows from a much deeper knowledge of the subject area but would also allow for a reflective metacognitive aspect of learning. Planning the big lead in questions is critical.
It’s easy to adopt enhanced classroom dialogue in the next lesson you teach; focus on quality of discussion rather than quantity.