In my private practice, I am working on an amazing project at the moment. We are partnered with kindergartens, schools and a foundation to bring a focus on oral language and phonemic awareness into the classroom.
This project has everyone inspired and working towards the common goal of better outcomes for children in lower socio-economic communities. We are providing targeted, point of need intervention for language and phonemic awareness. Schools are working on enhancing oral language in the classroom and weaving it into all aspects of the curriculum. There is a big smile on my face as I type this – it is truly a feel-good project.
Ever since I saw the statistics by Hart and Risely (1995), I have always been interested in the word gap (whether you believe it is 30 million or 4 million, it’s a lot).
I often talk to families and teachers that children come to schools with what has been called the ‘invisible backpack’. Some come with their backpacks full of experiences and vocabulary and others come with a backpack with less.
”Children from a low socio-economic background have a working vocabulary of two to three thousand words at the age of six, whereas a child from a middle-class family where both parents have university degrees will have a working vocabulary of between 10 and 20 thousand words,”
Now I absolutely acknowledge that:
- Not all low SES families provide linguistically under-nourishing environments
- Not all high SES families provide linguistically enriched environments
- Language skills are related to human and social capital, not just economic capital
Besides this, there is plenty of supporting evidence regarding SES and language outcomes beyond Hart & Risley’s work.
So what are we doing?
We are using books; loads and loads of books. Books are wonderful because they provide visuals, context and often repeated exposure to concepts and words. We are finding that the children are tuning in, interacting and talking more with their peers and facilitators. To consolidate and extend we are coupling the books with hands-on activities. We are making paper plate boats to go with Who Sank the Boat, we are completing action sequences for We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and we are delving into onset-rime circles when reading rhyme books. Throughout the program, we are all using Marion Blanks levelled questions to ensure that we are targeting everyone at their level as well as providing a bit of challenge.
In all the sites we have marvellous teachers and teaching assistants who are continuing the work between visits. To structure our sessions and the ones which occur when we are not there, we are using a program from Ohio University. This program has been adapted for the Australian Curriculum by Speech Pathologists in Queensland. It has been well received by all. Check out the link here.