The article I have linked to above from the Education Week newsletter (February 5, 2013) titled “Students Must Learn More Words, Studies Say” focuses mainly on the issue that children who enter kindergarten with a small vocabulary don’t get taught enough words in the classroom to close the achievement gap for the Common Core State Standards for vocabulary. Children of poverty, who enter school knowing 10,000 fewer words than their peers from higher-income families, were discussed as being at a significant disadvantage during early literacy instruction in kindergarten because of this verbal gap. The issue of vocabulary deficiencies in children was made even more clear when the article referenced the landmark 2003 longitudinal study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley which found that by age 3, youngsters from well-to-do families have a working vocabulary of 1,116 words compared with 749 for children in working class families and 525 words for children on welfare.
Here is what a couple experts quoted in the article had to say about vocabulary:
1) “Vocabulary is the tip of the iceberg: Words reflect concepts and content that kids need to know. This whole common core (state standards) will fall on its face if kids are not getting the kind of instruction it will require.” –Susan B. Neuman, a professor of educational studies specializing in early-literacy development at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
2) Expanding students vocabulary is “the key to upward mobility.” –In an essay published in the Winter 2013 issue of City Journal, E.D. Hirsch Jr., founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and a professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia
The article goes on to say that the consensus among researchers and educators has been that students must close such vocabulary gaps to succeed academically and deal with rigorous content. The problem is: there isn’t enough time in a day to teach vocabulary to a child from a poor neighborhood who arrives to kindergarten with 10,000 fewer words than the kids from high-income families. No matter how fabulous a school’s curriculum or a state’s core standards are, how qualified a teacher is, no matter how willing and motivated a child is, there simply is not enough time in a kindergarten year to make up the vocabulary deficit that these children have, especially while also working to meet the standards for math, science, history, physical development and health, art and music.
The Operation Ready By 3 (ORB3) Infant-Toddler Curriculum that I have developed offers a fun, practical, inexpensive, immediate solution: give children the language skills and vocabulary that they can and should develop from 0-36 months! Why wait until kindergarten to start addressing the vocabulary deficit? The only real solution is to give 0-36 month old children from poor and working class families what children from wealthier families get: words, words and more words. Waiting until kindergarten or even Pre-K or preschool is simply too late, since there are so many other skills to acquire from 3-5 with regard to pre-literacy and pre-academic skills. The task for all of us should be to come up with real solutions for the 0-36 month old crowd, who aren’t (or shouldn’t be) focusing on pre-literacy or pre-academic skills anyway and should be focusing on talking, listening and doing fun activities that are language-based.