Time to debunk the adage that
children should be seen, not heard
by Andrew Shurtleff
Justice is testing the extent to which hearing the spoken
language in preschool helps develop reading skills later.
By Anne Bromley
Justice has visited many preschool classrooms, but the one where
there was not a peep from the kids stays with her.
place like that just makes her want to cry, Justice said. The
teacher gave directions and the pupils did what they were told.
forward in her chair, Justice, an assistant professor at the Curry
School, demonstrated a different approach. A teacher would
say, Good morning, children! in an exuberant voice,
tell stories, include lots of questions to engage the children
and let them respond, give lots of praise and encouragement and
make sure theres singing and reading aloud.
kind of classroom isnt just more fun. Talking to young children
prepares them for reading, too, Justice said.
to talk is a milestone for babies, one of the hallmarks of humankind,
and one of the most important facets of cultures around the world,
she said. Children learn their native language naturally, absorbing
from day one the patterns and rhythms they hear from the people
knowledge of the sound system, vocabulary these are all
natural achievements, Justice said.
children dont hear the language spoken a lot, not only will
it weaken their oral knowledge and skills, but it will also delay
reading development and academic achievement. Its a drawback
not just for children who have hearing impairments, but also at-risk
children children who have other developmental disabilities,
stressful home situations or live in poverty.
is one of seven researchers nationwide to receive a $1.4 million
grant from the U.S. Department of Education to test the intensity
of teaching language skills in preschool curricula and how it
affects student reading level and success in elementary school.
The new four-year study is one of several projects she is involved
in to assess the oral language skills of children at risk and
determine ways for preschool teachers to help students improve
and researchers Alice Wiggins, Robert Pianta, Sara Rimm-Kaufman,
Khara Pence and Karen La Paro are seeking to determine, through
random clinical trials, whether certain preschool curricula work
better than others to boost language, literacy and social skills.
Through Justices project, the Curry School is teaming up
with Culpeper Head Start, Culpeper County Schools and Wise County
Schools to evaluate a specific language-focused curriculum along
with the 10 curricula the schools are currently using.
are hundreds of preschool curricula out there, but no evidence
of their effectiveness, Justice said. This is a more
scientific investigation that will look for what works.
curriculum she is testing emphasizes a language-rich classroom,
as she called it. Recent research has shown that the way parents
and caretakers talk to their children and allow them to respond
in the first three years of life makes a huge difference later
in developing reading skills.
to Justice, teachers who talk to their pupils and allow them to
respond and use language should boost the academic level of at-risk
children to that of more privileged children.
mentioned a groundbreaking book published in 1995, Meaningful
Differences, that examined youngsters exposure to
language. The authors posited that in a years time, children
from welfare families were exposed to 3 million words while children
of professionals were exposed to 11 million words. The latter
group of students had a bigger vocabulary and was doing better
in school several years later.
socio-economic or cultural differences account for the paucity
of language use at home, preschool can level the playing field
and give at-risk children the opportunity to reach their more
affluent peers academically, she said.
and her research team will visit the preschools to pretest students
on language and math skills, will sit it on classes monthly and
document qualities of classroom and curriculum.
the grant offers more benefits to teachers and pupils it
provides for free books at the beginning and end of the yearlong
stands for a lot more than just literacy in a childs world,