Thursday, March 10, 2016

Busy Town

As I walking the dog this morning, the world was full of activity: robins bobbed on greening grass; squirrels scampered and scurried up and down trees in sets of two and three; young professionals checked their smartphones as they waited at the bus stop; children practiced soccer on the field up at the school.

Something about it reminded me of Richard Scarry's Busy Town, a book my brother, sister, and I loved when we were little. In fact I half expected to see a calico cat in a white jacket delivering milk. Scarry's books were a combination of large-scale illustrations of complex scenes in between pages with explicitely-labeled single images from the big pictures, and looking back on it, I learned a lot of vocabulary from them. For example, I never rode a train until I was 14 years old, but I knew what a conductor was. Likewise, I was familiar with a toboggan and a trowel, and a lot of other things that gave me a foot up on reading comprehension.

Yesterday our language arts meeting was focused on authentic vocabulary instruction, and the presenter mentioned the 32-million word gap that many children in low-income families experience by age four. In essence, researchers found that the affected children heard on average 8 million fewer words spoken to them a year, so that by the time they were four and ready for preschool, they already had a 32 million word deficit, which translated into both a more limited vocabulary and a more limited capacity for learning vocabulary.

We didn't talk about it, but one instructional intervention to help those kids catch up with their peers is to use visuals alongside key vocabulary whenever possible. The situation also may explain the rise in popularity of graphic novels, particularly among below-grade level readers.

That Richard Scarry was really on to something!

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