Friday, October 16, 2009

language dancing

Still reading Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and I've gotten to the good part. First we know that putting computers in classrooms, and attempting to layer them over the responsibilities teachers have in the first place hasn't worked to expectations. And as described by the authors, the greatest promise of computers in education will come as they sneak in from the edges, not by displacing concerned teachers in the classroom, but by meeting needs yet to be imagined.

Now, chapter 6, the authors, Christensen, Horn and Johnson are discussing a thing they have termed "language dancing." It seems that research has shown that children in the ghetto are spoken to as infants, a rate on average of 600 words per hour. Children in upper class households are spoken to at a rate of from 1,500 to 2100 words per hour, and much of the exchange isn't in the form of "business language," as in "Put that down," or "what do you want?" but in exchange at an adult level related to evaluation of things, hopes, desires and reflection on events, that the authors call "language dancing".
Interestingly, the most powerful of these words, in terms of subsequent cognitive achievements, seemed to be those that were spoken in the first year of life--when there was no visible evidence that the child could understand what the parents were saying. The children whose parents did not begin speaking seriously to their children until their children could speak, at roughly age 12 months, suffered a persistent deficit in *intellectual capacity*, compared to those whose parents were talkative from the beginning.(*intellectual capacity as understood in the narrow definition, based on standardized testing of linguistic intelligence.*)
So we have a system in place which evaluates, measures and thus determines children's success based on their linguistic comprehension, while those currently in poverty are caught in a cultural chasm from which emergence is based on energizing the linguistic exchange rate at the most basic household level. Let me assure you that hands-on creativity and capacity are also encouraged or discouraged at the youngest age... by activities present in the household. It would certainly be best if children were talked to enough to develop their vocabularies and literal comprehension and engagement, and it would make sense for their creative capacities to be encouraged as well. You wonder how to do that? Throw out the TV. Engage with your child in making things. The linguistic exchange that takes place during the exercise will push your child's linguistic capacities over the top. Cook, make, create, plant, sew, fix. It will give you and your infant a lot to dance about.


  1. Jim Trelease's book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook," speaks to the same problem- a language disparity between children who are spoken to often and those who aren't by the time they reach kindergarten. It definitely opened my eyes and inspired me to speak and read aloud even more my children now 7,6, and 1.

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading your posts!

  2. Thanks for reading and for the lead on another book. I'll look for it. Many of our young mothers in Eureka Springs are into signing with their toddlers inspired by the baby signs movement. And I am curious whether you have investigated that as well.

    It seems that many in education are beginning to agree with Froebel and Pestalozzi that children's intelligence should be nourished long before they are able to speak. Froebel said that it should begin when they first distinguish between light and darkness. Which I would assume is at birth or before. Given what we know we should be making a major push to get young parents talking intelligently with their kids, and reading, too.