Teachers Use Technology Too!
Language acquisition is a complex process that involves many stages. During the first few years of a child’s life, the ability to acquire language is at its highest. Throughout this time, adults play an important role by providing models of language and by engaging in back and forth conversation that helps build the child’s language brain (Romeo et al., 2018). During this critical period, every sound that a child hears and every conversation the child participates in contributes to the development of language processing skills in the brain and benefits the child’s ability to communicate using language in the years to come (Romeo et al., 2018).
As a first year teacher at a preschool for children who use listening and spoken language, I was eager to put my university training into practice. I chose to participate in a study on the teacher’s role in classroom conversation and how teachers might study their own behavior in this crucial activity. My classroom consisted of eight two and three year olds with hearing losses ranging from mild to profound and varying degrees of language ability. Language facilitation was individualized so that each child received the specific instruction needed to help build language competency.
My personal goal for this study was to measure the amount of conversational turns between my students and myself and then to increase those turns toward a richer language environment for my students. To measure the amount of conversational turns, I used a Language Environment Analysis device (LENA), which is a device that is worn around by an individual (mostly children) which records the amount of words heard and produced by the wearer, as well as the number of conversational turns the individual participated in during a specific period. Typically a young child wears the LENA in a pocket on a special vest made by the LENA organization. In this instance, I wore the LENA device in a pouch on a cord around my neck.
Over the course of my study, I wore the LENA to get information on how many words I spoke to the children in my class and the number of conversational turns we had during a specific hour of the day when I was alone in the classroom with my students. This one-hour period included my lesson, music time, and lunchtime. The study took place over the course of six weeks.
My first step was to get a baseline measure of my conversational turns during that one-hour. I was surprised to note that only eight conversational turns were recorded on that first day. This result showed that I was doing most of the talking in the classroom. After my baseline was determined, I asked myself the question, “What would be the best way to promote conversational turn taking during this hour long period each day?” I came up with three strategies that fit into our typical routine – call and response songs, interactive book reading, and lunchtime conversational prompts.
Call and response songs are a great way to create interactions between a speaker and listeners. In call and response songs, one person sings a phrase and the others respond by singing it back. In this way the activity mimics a conversation. One popular song that I used with my students was a song by Laurie Berkner called, “I Know a Chicken.” Other examples of call and response songs include, “Down by the Bay,” and “Miss Mary Mack.” I would incorporate these types of “call and response” songs throughout my lessons each day, along with picture books that allowed me to cue my students to form verbal responses.
Reading time was another way to encourage back and forth exchanges. One popular book that I used around the holiday season that enabled the students to formulate verbal responses was, “The Gingerbread Man.” As the story moves on, one line that is used continuously throughout the book is, “Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man!” After the first couple of times that this line was read, the students were able to predict what the gingerbread man was going to say. Right before the line, I would pause to allow the students time to fill in the blanks. Even if the students were not able to fully recall what the gingerbread man was saying, they were able to fill in pieces of what they remembered.
Lunchtime was one of my favorite times of the day because this was the time when language was used through natural conversations. I would begin lunchtime each day by holding up a lunch box and asking, “Whose lunch is this?” This encouraged the students to answer my question and recognize other friends’ possessions. I would then ask my students the question, “What do you think is inside?” They would often respond, “Open it!” After allowing them to respond, “Open it,” each time, I would then ask them the same question, “What do you think is inside?” For a while, they would still respond with the same answer, “Open it.” I then provided them with choices of what could be inside each lunch box in order to provide examples of responses. I then varied the questions by using different forms, such as, “Do you think you have a sandwich today or rice?” In addition to modeling vocabulary, these question types also allowed the children to form predictions about what may be inside each lunchbox. Before opening each lunchbox, I would show excitement in my voice that would keep the students engaged and excited.
After each child received his or her lunch, I would try to incorporate more use of vocabulary, such as concepts of “the same.” I would often comment on who had the same types of lunches. For example, I would state, “Oh, I see that has a yogurt and has a yogurt. It’s the same!” After a couple of days, my students began to pick up this concept and would notice spontaneously who had the same items in their lunchboxes.
After each week that I wore the device, I analyzed the data to make note of how I was increasing the amount of conversational turns between my students and myself. There was a steady rise over four weeks, and then the conversational turns were maintained for two more weeks after upon my final measurement. By the last day of my study, conversational turns had risen from eight to 58.
By participating in this study I learned a lot about how to keep data as I implemented my professional growth plan along with how critical language exposure, particularly conversational turns, is to young children. The more that we engage with young children by using language, the more likely they are to pick up on the language and use it in their everyday conversations.
Rachel R. Romeo, Joshua Segaran, Julia A. Leonard, Sydney T. Robinson, Martin R. West, Allyson P. Mackey, Anastasia Yendiki, Meredith L. Rowe, John D. E. Gabrieli (2018) Language Exposure Relates to Structural Neural Connectivity in Childhood. Journal of Neuroscience 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0484-18.2018