Building Toddlers' Language/Literacy Proficiency Through Parental Interventions During the Pandemic: Strategies to Transition From Casual Talk (CT) to Academic Talk (AT)

Building Toddlers' Language/Literacy Proficiency Through Parental Interventions During the Pandemic: Strategies to Transition From Casual Talk (CT) to Academic Talk (AT)

Bonnie A. Plummer (National Univeristy, USA) and Malia D. Pulido-Dahal (Elk Grove Unfired School District, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6952-8.ch008
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This chapter will review research on early language development of toddlers from casual talk (CT) used in the home. Around age two there is the transition to academic talk (AT), which has a significant effect on later academic performance. AT requires embedding academic vocabulary (word level), complex syntax (sentence level), decontextualized topics (discourse level), and analytic and reflective discourse. The process of reading to toddlers embedding written academic language (WAL) can be expanded through encouraging storytelling narratives (STN).
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One goal for our children/students is to be successful academically as demonstrated by the ability to speak, read, and write proficiently. This can be defined by meeting grade level standards from prekindergarten to Grade 12 as established by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) used in 42 states. While states have set these goals and standards, the reading scores for our 4th and 8th grade students have not basically changed in 27 years. “Two of out three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Education Progress” (Greene & Goldstein, 2019, p. 1). To change this profile of poor performance several strategies have been introduced. The past several years has focus on intensive phonics instruction for the early grades, followed by teaching multi-level steps for building academic vocabulary beginning in middle school with the introduction on specific academic content areas. This data vividly indicates these strategies have not resulted in significant academic performance advancement for our students. Focusing on phonics and phonemes in grades K-3 has not changed our reading scores, focusing on vocabulary and comprehension in grades 6-8 has not changed our reading scores. “Only 35 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading in 2019, down from 37% in 2017; 34 percent of eight graders were proficient in reading, down from 36 percent” (Green & Goldstein, 2019, p.1). Average 4th grade scores were 222 on a scale of 500 and a score of 240 to be deemed proficient; average 8th grade scores were 267 on a scale of 500 with a score 280 to be proficient (Nation’s Report Card, 2017, p. 2). The future projections of this data look bleaker based on the Study of Teaching and Learning during the COVID 19 Pandemic.

A new internal analysis from Fairfax County Schools found an alarming increase in the number of students left behind by the switch to online learning. The percentage of middle and high school students getting F grades in two or more classes has jumped a stunning 83% (Blue Virginia Newsletter, p. 3).

Multiple factors can be attributed to this flat line of scores. The diversity of our languages in the homes, the number of English Learners students and the national social-economic-status (SES) percentage can all be considered contributing variable. Nationwide 67.3 million or 21.9% residents speak a language other than English in the home (CIS, 2020) and over 40% of the student in 5 states are English learners (NCES, 2020). For school age children, 18% of families live in poverty (NCES, Nd). These reading scores and the confounding environmental factors suggest rethinking the focus on grade level standards and move to accelerating PreK language proficiency through academic talk (AT) with the goal of students becoming academic language (AL) proficiently in early grades.

The pandemic provides an at home environment to build language and literacy skills during the magic years. Multinational data examining both mothers and fathers who were non-college educated were compared to college educated homes. This data indicated there was an increase in the minutes both mothers and fathers spend with their children in the United States between 1965 and 2010 (Dotti Sani & Treas, 2016). The pandemic provides additional time for spending time with children. In homes with toddlers, using that time for focusing on language and literacy growth is critical.

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