066: Is the 30 Million Word Gap real?

You all know that on the show we pretty much steer clear of the clickbait articles that try to convince you that something is wrong with your child, in favor of getting a balanced view of the overall body of literature on a topic.

But every once in a while a study comes along and I think “we really MUST learn more about that, even though it muddies the water a bit and leads us more toward confusion than a clear picture.”

This is one of those studies.  We’ll learn about the original Hart & Risley study that identified the “30 Million Word Gap” that so much policy has been based on since then, and what are the holes in that research (e.g. did you know that SIX African American families on welfare in that study are used as proxies for all poor families in the U.S., only 25% of whom are African American?).

Then, Dr. Doug Sperry will tell us about his research, which leads him to believe that overheard language can also make a meaningful contribution to children’s vocabulary development.

I do want to be 100% clear on one point: Dr. Sperry says very clearly that he believes parents speaking with children is important for their development; just that overheard language can contribute as well.

And this is not Dr. Sperry out on his own criticizing research that everyone else agrees with: if you’re interested, there are a host of other issues listed here.

The overarching problem, of course, is that our school system is so inflexible that linguistic skills – even really incredible ones of the type we discussed in our recent episode on storytelling – have no place in the classroom if they don’t mesh with the way that White, middle-class families (and, by extension, teachers and students) communicate.

But that will have to be an episode for another day.

References

Adair, J. K., Colegrove, K. S-S., & McManus, M. E. (2017).  How the word gap argument negatively impacts young children of Latinx Immigrants’ conceptualizations of learning. Harvard Educational Review, 87(3), 309-334.

Akhtar, N., & Gernsbacher, M.A. (2007). Joint attention and vocabulary development: A critical look. Language and Linguistic Compass 1(3), 195-207.

Callanan, M., & Waxman, S. (2013). Commentary on special section: Deficit or difference? Interpreting diverse developmental paths. Developmental Psychology 49(1), 80-83.

Dennett, D. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meaning of life. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Dudley-Marling, C., & Lucas, K. (2009). Pathologizing the language and culture of poor children. Language Arts 86(5), 362-370.

Gee, J.P. (1985). The narrativization of experience in the oral style. Journal of Education 167(1), 9-57.

Genishi, C., & Dyson, A. H. (2009).  Children, language, and literacy: Diverse learners in diverse times.  New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hoff, E. (2013). Interpreting the early language trajectories of children from low-SES and language minority homes: Implications for closing achievement gaps. Developmental Psychology 49(1), 4-14.

Johnson, E.J. (2015). Debunking the “language gap.” Journal for Multicultural Education 9(1), 42-50.

Miller, P.J., & Sperry, D.E. (2012). Déjà vu: The continuing misrecognition of low-income children’s verbal abilities. In S.T. Fiske & H.R. Markus (Eds.), Facing social class: How societal rank influences interaction (pp.109-130). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Sperry, D.E., Sperry, L.L., & Miller, P.J. (2018). Reexamining the verbal environments of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Child Development (Early online publication).  Full article available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peggy_Miller3/publication/324839950_Reexamining_the_Verbal_Environments_of_Children_From_Different_Socioeconomic_Backgrounds/links/5aec67fda6fdcc8508b77912/Reexamining-the-Verbal-Environments-of-Children-From-Different-Socioeconomic-Backgrounds.pdf

Walker, D., Greenwood, C., Hart, B., & Carta, J. (1994). Prediction of school outcomes based on early language production and socioeconomic factors. Child Development 65(2), 606-621.


Also published on Medium.

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