Quality Conversation

Engaging Your Child in Conversation

  • A 20 year old study about the direct benefit of quality conversations between parents and children and its affect on the child's vocabulary development has been revisited in an article in Education Week. "The '30 million-word' gap is arguably the most famous but least significant part of a landmark study, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children, by the late University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. As the work turns 20 this year, new research and more advanced measuring techniques have cast new light on long-overshadowed, and more nuanced, findings about exactly how adult interactions with infants and young children shape their early language development."

    The important message to take away from the study is the importance of creating opportunities for young children to interact with rich language. In a culture where our children are turned into electronics for a good portion of their at-home time, those quality conversations about the world around them are not happening.  Recently, my class was reading an article in a student news magazine about ten words in the news with which they should be familiar.  When I read ISIS, there was laughter.  Another word was sanction. Most students had no background knowledge to hook onto in order to understand or discuss these words.  Discussing current events in a developmentally appropriate way is one way to have a quality conversation and work in cultural vocabulary.  Bonding over sports is another, and they have little understanding of space ("We're in space?")  I know the familiar, "What did you do in school today?"  "Nothing" routine.  I'll admit it's difficult to get your child to sit down and have a conversation, but vocabulary development is suffering while we allow them to slink off to their rooms, eat in front of the TV, or connect to their earbuds.


    A quality conversation has at least 30 turns--the back and forth, give and take of ideas that constitute conversation. As we read the novella, Hiroshima (which some students thought was sushi), we are developing questioning techniques that encourage that quality conversation that has to take place in vibrant book discussion groups. The bomb has been dropped, and the students have just read about the devastation it caused.  They have lots of questions, and I can't wait for them to use their Thick, Thicker, Thickest questioning techniques when they meet next week. I anticipate some invigorating discussions.

    Quality conversation won't happen overnight, but as teachers, you and I have to help our children connect to the real world out there, not the computer generated, celebrity-driven escapism that allows children to retreat rather than engage. It's not too late to start.


    Ideas for discussion:

    • space - Hubble at 25, expanding universe, life out there
    • sports - value of instant replay, challenge and review rule, ethics of althletes on performance enhancing drugs, playesr from your generation vs theirs
    • atomic bomb
    • the Body Clock and teens
    • music
    • natural world
    • prehistory
    • generational talk with grandparents (they'll be happy they did some day)
    • fears
    • civilizations