Hearing rich, sophisticated language in preschool continues to pay dividends for kids years later–with effects showing up on reading comprehension and word recognition tests in 4th grade.
That’s according to study in the journal Child Development digested on the website futurity.org. David Dickinson, professor of education at Vanderbilt University, and Michelle Porche of Wellesley College looked at the language experiences of children from low-income homes when they were in preschool and found “robust relations between early classroom support for language and later language and reading ability.”
“The frequency of sophisticated vocabulary use during informal conversations predicted children’s kindergarten vocabulary, which correlated with fourth grade word reading. The teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary also correlated with children’s kindergarten print ability, and through that word reading skill, the early vocabulary exposure indirectly affected fourth grade reading comprehension.”
The takeaway? “We need to take very seriously the importance of teaching language in the preschool years,” says Dickinson. We pretty much knew this already, but it never hurts to have more evidence. Likewise, it’s not news that the principal cause of the achievement gap is a language gap. The implications of this research are that oral language matters a lot, and that effective use of school time, if started soon enough, can mitigate some of the worst effects of the achievement gap. If a child from a relatively language-poor, low-income home is exposed to a rich verbal environment from the earliest days of school (a key rationale for the Core Knowledge Language Arts program, by the way) with quality preschool followed up by a strong, rich kindergarten and elementary education, the gap-closing results can–and should be–pronounced.