We Need to Talk…
…Encouraging conversation and debate in children can increase vocabulary development and help students achieve academic success.
While the ability to read confidently is vital to effective home-schooling, what is perhaps overlooked and undervalued is importance of mastering verbal language development. The confident use of language plays a vital part in school-life and its correct use should be given special attention – particularly if English is not the student’s mother tongue. Simply memorising the English language is not enough to encourage mental and verbal development. Conversation and the active use of language plays a much larger role in learning than is often credited.
A new study from researchers at MIT, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania has shown that it may not be the sheer accumulation of words that builds children’s brains and their verbal and non-verbal skills. Instead, ‘conversational turns’ or back-and-forth banter proved to be much more predictive of a child’s language development.
The study has proposed that merely providing children with opportunities to experience language through educational apps or TV programmes needs to be expanded upon through real-world, interactive language use. “The sheer amount of language children heard spoken by adults wasn’t linked to children’s brain responses, but the number of conversational turns was,” said Rachel Romeo, lead author of the study.
Using this study as a guide, conversation within the home-school needs to be incorporated in your daily routine and should play a very important part in your children’s learning process.
Additional research by Jeff Zweirs in his book Building Academic Language has suggested that when learners are exploring a concept for understanding, trying to answer a question, or trying to solve a problem, they are more successful if there is an opportunity to engage in dialogue with another person. It supposes that children are much better equipped to write their ideas down once they have discussed them, as talking helps them to gather their thoughts, process information and commit it to memory.
While traditionally this would happen with fellow students – with whom they can share ideas and practice, this is not does not mean that these techniques cannot be brought into the home-schooling world. As a learning coach you should take the opportunity to discuss what is being learned on a daily basis – not only to gauge how well your kids are doing, but also to help them do better.
But conversation has been proven to have benefits away from the textbooks.
Socialising for home-schoolers is a hot-button topic, and one that parents are often drawn to. While it is true that home-schoolers do not have as much ready access to the types of social stimulus that would typically be provided by a traditional school, there are plenty of ways for home-schooling parents to give students the opportunity to engage with peers when school hours are over. The notion that home-schooled children are socially isolated is far from the truth, but the socialising process can also be leveraged to achieve academic success.
While socialisation is more typically framed as a tool to help kids learn to interact with one another through play and exercise – both of which are vital to childhood development – social engagement to encourage conversation is also important. Conversation with peers can help expand vocabulary, develop rationalisation and reasoning mechanisms, and encourage mental agility.
As a home-schooling parent you are much freer to schedule social engagements and interactions, which means you can occasionally provide an underlying academic rationale to social engagements – killing two birds with one stone so to speak. Perhaps arrange a book club with other home-schooled children, where they debate and discuss the themes and plots of the book. Perhaps have your child join an after-school club with a team element, or where ideas should be discussed – be it sports teams, a robotics club, or an art class.
No matter how you achieve it, you should lead your children in conversation. Have them talk to you about what they are learning – if they are enjoying the subject matter, what they are struggling with. It doesn’t really matter what shape the conversation takes or what avenue it follows, but talking to your children has relevance that cannot and should not be ignored.
There is merit in conversation and it is a tool that all parents have in their kit – better still, it is absolutely free.