30 Million Words

Recently, I caught part of an interview Nora Young did with Dr. Jill Gillkerson, on the CBC radio program Spark.  The interview was about a vest that children up to the age of three can wear that records and measures the types of conversations parents and young children are having throughout the day.  The data is then given to parents to motivate them to increase interactive talk with their babies and toddlers.  As Dr. Gilkerson pointed out in the interview, “Research has shown that talk in early childhood, in the window from zero to three, is the single most important factor that drives both brain development and kindergarten readiness.”

The interview related much of the same information that Dr. Dana Suskind wrote in her book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.  It seems that research is repeatedly showing that the best thing parents can do for their child’s future success is talk to him or her.  Personal evidence from spending my days with kindergarten students supports the thesis, and proves that the unequal exposure to spoken words is often a deficit that’s difficult to overcome.

So, how do we get the word out to the young parents who need to hear it?  The people most in need of the message probably aren’t listening to documentaries on CBC, or reading a lot of nonfiction.

I’ve long thought that, in my province, it would be valuable for the education and health ministries to work together more closely.  Very few parents miss their child’s regular immunizations.  Is there a way to incorporate having a teacher on hand, working alongside the nurse, so that when parents have to wait the 15 minutes following the immunization, some parent education around talk and reading can be taking place?  Can parents go home with their updated immunization records, and two or three new songs and games to play with their toddler?  Could a new or gently used children’s book be a “treat” for each child who gets their needles?

Or, should parent education about talking with your child begin much sooner?  Eighteen years ago, my husband and I dutifully attended prenatal classes, as most people do.  We learned quite a lot about what to expect with labour and delivery, but had no idea how to bathe our daughter when we got home (I know, it’s embarrassing how ill equipped two professional people were to care for a baby!!).  Should a little more education, including information about the importance of talking to your baby, be given during these prenatal classes, so that parents are as well-equipped to deal with the nurturing of babies after they go home as they are for the actual birth?

I haven’t met any parents who don’t want what’s best for their child.  We all need guidance and encouragement when we’re raising children.  Having more parent education about the importance of interactive talk with babies and toddlers is an important area we need to focus on in order to maximize brain development, and maximizing human potential.

The Best PD

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been taking an ed psych class for the past month.  One of the unexpected positive consequences of it has been the collaborative problem-solving time I’ve had to spend with colleagues in my school.  As I’ve worked on collecting data and developing a functional behaviour assessment and positive behaviour support plan to help a student who is not in my classroom, I’ve had the privilege of observing the teachers who work with her on a daily basis.  I love seeing how different people approach situations and topics, the cues they give, their mannerisms, hearing their comments and explanations, and watching how the whole package they bring to teaching works.  I can’t express how much these short observations during the past three weeks have tweaked my own practice.

And then, as serendipity would have it, two stories about the value and power of teacher collaboration landed in my Twitter feed and mailbox for my Sunday reading pleasure.  In “Tapping Teachers’ Intrinsic Motivation to Develop School Improvements” , Katrina Schwartz describes how team coaching among triads of teachers in a former school region in Melbourne, Australia was a large part of improving teaching and student achievement in that region.  In A. J. Juliani’s blog post for today, he comments that “we know teachers learn best from other teachers”, and offers a creative solution he has come up with to keep making that happen, in spite of how difficult it often seems to carve out teacher collaboration time.

Sharing and collaborating with colleagues is powerful professional development.  And so I have questions for myself:  How do I encourage it in my building?  Do I make my classroom open and welcoming for colleagues to drop in?  Am I able to accept coaching without taking it personally?  Am I willing to give coaching in a way that the other person will hear the spirit of it?  Can I be that leader, that change-maker?

I’ll try.


Changing Behaviour

I’ve been taking an ed. psych. class this past month.  Its focus is on functional behavior assessments and positive behavior support plans, and in amongst the lectures and assignments and reading, this is one of the things that has stuck out for me:

The plan’s effectiveness is determined by the extent to which it results in change in the behavior of the staff and family implementers; and to which those changes in the behavior of staff and family result in change in the behavior of the person receiving support.  (Functional Assessment and Program Development for Problem Behaviors, O’Neill et al.)

This isn’t new information, but how often do I as a teacher get stuck in the trap of thinking it’s only the student who has to change his or her behavior?  Probably more than I’d care to count.  Its been a good reminder to me that change of behaviour doesn’t start with the student at all.  It is up to me, as the adult, to become pliable and change what I’m doing and saying, my actions and reactions.  My behaviour needs to change before I can consider expecting a student’s actions to become more acceptable.

It reminds me of the Haim Ginott quote I always keep near:  “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom.”  I must remember to change my behaviour in order for those around me to change theirs.