Jen and Naomi from Speech Language Literacy Lab are headed to Boulder, Colorado this weekend to speak on behalf of LENA Technology, made available to us thanks to a large parent fund grant.
Closing the achievement gap using LENA technology has made headlines in many prominent publications recently.
The idea is based on research from the longest running study on the achievement gap, conducted by researchers Hart and Risley. Hart and Risley spent over a decade recording families and then transcribing language. Their key findings were:
1. The variation in children’s IQs and language abilities is relative to the amount parents speak to their children.
2. Children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten are attributable to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three.
3. Parents of advanced children talk significantly more to their children than parents of children who are not as advanced.
The question arises, if researchers know that early language experiences are one of the most crucial factors to later school success, why aren't we closing the achievement gap by targeting these experiences?
The answer is simple. Up until this point, we have just been telling parents to "talk more." "Talk more" is too abstract, and it does nothing to change parent-child behavioral patterns that may have been passed down for generations.
To solve this problem, the LENA foundation created a concrete data-driven solution to encourage parents to talk more to their children. LENA has a digital language processor (DLP) that acts as a language pedometer. Children wear the DLP tucked inside a t-shirt. The recorder is given back to a school or research facility, that plug the device into computer data analysis software. The software prints out an hour by hour a count of words, including child language, adult words, and turn-taking. One of the possible reports looks like this:
This information is provided to parents, along with comparisons of how much language is needed to be ready for school success. Recent research has shown that the data feedback alone has increased parent language by up to 55%!
Closing the Achievement Gap
In addition to our moonlight hour job at Speech Language Literacy Lab, Jen and Naomi are also speech language pathologists at Madison School in Skokie, IL at District 69. We work with at-risk preschoolers that attend our State Funded Preschool for All program.
During the 2013-2014 school year, we piloted a parent training program using LENA with families participating in play based special education assessments. Our District 69 parent fund recently awarded us a grant to expand this parent educational program to more families during the 2014-2015 school year. We provided the parents with research to support the effectiveness of the LENA technology and with economic benefits of early education investments. The grant was one of the largest ever awarded.
Our plan is to use the Pre-Kindergarten Language Benchmark Assessment (Pre-KLBA research edition, in print) with all our Pre-K children. We will identify the children who fall into the bottom 25% on this instrument. Then, we will contact families and encourage them to participate in short parent trainings as a way to boost their child's language. In addition to coaching parents to talk more, we also teach how to improve quality of interactions, as more recent publications also show that quality of interactions is equally important.
This year, we found that simply telling families that, "we want to look the amount of adult language in the home" was not enough to motivate parents to participate. This year, we hope that discussing looking at "overall child language", will get parents more interested. During trainings, we provide data feedback and discuss how adults can help children improve, by increasing turn-taking and increasing adult language. The LENA Foundation is also currently developing short video modeling clips as part of parent training. We hope to incorporate this as part of our program next year as well.
Skokie School District 69, under the guidance of Jen and Naomi, is one of the first school districts in the country to use LENA tools to prevent an achievement gap.
If your school wants to learn more, please feel free to reach out to us at: email@example.com
In addition, here are some resources that we used in order to secure grant funding:
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