is difficult to underestimate the crucial importance of language development on
the future well being of any child. From the beginnings of educational
psychology, language has been an important benchmark in ascertaining
intellectual and social development. Since Alfred Binet first added language
tasks to tests of intelligence in 1905, language development has been
recognized as an important factor in intellectual development.
federally sponsored Follow-Through research program of the 1970s, still the
largest educational study ever done in the Western world, involved hundreds of
thousands of children over more than twenty years at a cost of more than two
billion dollars. It compared sixteen different methods which claimed to assist
underprivileged children to succeed at school. Only one model exceeded all
expectations. That method, Direct Instruction, was developed by Siegfried
Engelmann and his colleagues at University
of Oregon. It
incorporated a formal language program as an important part of the remediation
of children at risk of school failure in the primary grades.
recent book, Meaningful Differences, by Hart and Risley contains
extensive language development research over many years. It clearly describes
the effects of different levels of language acquisition on the learning and
language of young children. As expected, there is a direct correlation between
the richness of the language environment and the educational and social well
being of the child. Children from enriched language environments succeeded
while children from impoverished language environments lagged behind in
educational and social skills.
often wonder if they are doing enough to ensure that their children learn
language skills well. They are also constantly looking for ways to ensure
adequate language development especially in the early years.
are some of the strategies used in the Oregon
model to assist language development.
children learn to speak in complete sentences enhances their language skills.
Statements can be modeled for them about everyday events or as part of a more
formal language class. Answering simple questions in complete sentences
provides abundant opportunity for informal language development. (E.g. Look at the pony. What is the pony doing? Eating
grass. Listen. The pony is eating grass. Say that.
The pony is eating grass. Good
speaking in sentences. What color is the pony? etc.)
demonstrate that they understand language concepts by following simple
instructions. Touch your eye. Good.
Tell me what you are doing. I am touching my eye. Good, now touch your eyes. Etc. As
children become competent with simple instructions, more complex ones can be
introduced. (E.g. Stand up and touch
your eye. Good. Say a sentence about what you did. I standed up and
touched my eye. Yes, you did.
Listen to me say that. I stood up and touched my eye. Say that with me. Good.
Now say that all by yourself. Nice going). Such actions can also be used
to teach different tenses. (e.g. What
are you doing now? I am standing up and touching my eye. Very good. What were you doing? I
was sitting down).
can be used to teach concepts by teaching examples of the concept and non-examples
of a concept. (e.g. Are you standing
up? Yes, I am standing up. Am I standing up? No, you are
are numerous action songs that children love to sing that can be used for
teaching them to follow simple and complex instructions.
are lots of reasons for children to learn a wealth of personal information.
Simple statements like their full name and address, (e.g. My name is Michael
Maloney, I live at -) their age, birth date, telephone number, parents'
names, school, are useful if they should ever become lost. Other more elaborate
personal information gives the better connections to their environment, family,
and culture. Lists of personal facts can easily be constructed and taught to
kindergartners as part of their language development.
Parts and Wholes
to name objects and their parts adds a lot of information to a child's language
base. It allows them to express themselves more specifically and to understand
more complex ideas. Part-whole statements can involve simple objects like a
toothbrush or complex objects like a car. Pictures of the objects from
catalogs, flyers and other books provide a ready store of examples. (E.g. Look at the toothbrush. Touch each
part and say: Let's name the parts of a
toothbrush. A toothbrush has a
handle. Say that. A toothbrush has a handle. Great. A toothbrush has bristles. Say that. A
toothbrush has bristles. Yes, and
what do you call the whole thing? A toothbrush.)
Classes and Classification
need to be able to classify objects and events into categories in order to
better understand their expanding world. Sesame Street types of
activities which display examples and non-examples of a class help children
learn to classify objects, ideas, and events. A presentation of birds and
animals which are not birds teaches children to discriminate between animal
types and to classify animals into groups. Sometimes a rule about the group to
be classified helps as well. (e.g. Listen.
All birds have two feet and a beak. Most birds have wings. Is this a bird?).
learn language best when they are provided good language models and when they
are listened to as they attempt to express themselves. Learning a language is
at times frustrating to them, because it is difficult, and there is so much to
learn. Be gentle. Be patient, and above all, listen.
Michael Maloney, M.A., is a former public
school teacher, principal, and educational psychologist. He is the best-selling, award-winning author
of Teach Your Children Well, creator
of the award-winning software series Scholastic’s
Math Tutor, and creator of the Teach
Your Children Arithmetic Well software series. He was a winner of the National Literacy
Educator Award in 2001.
Originally appeared in Spring 2003. Used with
The Old Schoolhouse