Dr. Helen Perkins - Literacy & Language Development in the Early Years

Research indicates that children who enter Kindergarten with a plethora of oral language skills often have strong reading and writing skills. Oral Language development should consistently be encouraged even in the earliest stages of a child’s development. This presentation will provide researched-based best practices to promote language development in children.

J. Helen Perkins, Ed. D., is an Associate Professor of Reading and Urban Literacy in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership at the University of Memphis. She has published several articles, chapters, a book that offers content literacy strategies for teachers and a children’s book. Helen is also, a Common Core Author of Journeys (K – 5 Literacy Basal series). Her research focus is on children of poverty and their literacy acquisition and enhancement while working with urban, suburban and rural communities. Helen has over 37years in education, serving as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, literacy coach and various other capacities; she is also the former Editor of The Reading Teacher. Presently she serves as the President of the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers and Board Chair for Porter-Leath. Also, she serves her community by conducting workshops for parents and professional development for educators and administrators in the U.S. and other countries.

Transcript of Dr. Perkins’ Lecture

Dr. Fred Palmer: So Helen Perkins is an expert in child literacy. She’s done a lot of interesting things, written a lot of articles. She’s published a children’s book even. She got her PhD at Oklahoma State University. She was at SMU, Southern Methodist University in Dallas before coming here to the University of Memphis where she’s an Associate Professor. She’s just done a lot of really wide-ranging activities with regard to child literacy in the town and in the country as well. I think her focus, we could say, is urban literacy. I think right now, you’re the Principal Investigator and Project Director for the Memphis Literary Academy. Is that right? Okay. There you go. Literacy & Language Development in the Early Years. Dr. Helen Perkins, please.

Dr. Helen Perkins: I didn’t want you all to catch me saying something that I shouldn’t be saying. I don’t do that. But yes, I do. All right, so Scott contacted me a long time ago. Where’s Scott? He’s not here. He contacted me a long time ago last year and he asked me if I could come and speak. He gave me directives as to what he wants me to share with you tonight. He was very clear, “Helen, I want for them to be able to leave with some practical strategies to enhance oral language development.” So your takeaway tonight is that you can’t leave unless you have at least one strategy. Somebody’s going to be standing at the door and that door, so when you try to leave, you can’t leave unless you can name at least one strategy that will impact the child in their oral language development. Because I promise you, I will share several with you.
You started my timing? I’ll share several with you, and you will want to make sure that you share those with a child, a teacher, a tutor, a lot of people that impacted children. Because we know that if a child does not have the literacy that they need to be functional in the classrooms, then poverty, we’re not going to be able to end poverty. We’re not going to eradicate poverty. That’s what we want to do. Literacy plays a major part in eradicating poverty.

So do you know what choral reading is? Yay! I’ve got some people that know what choral reading is. We conduct it. We had a grant for $60 million. The FED said, “Do something with sixth, seventh and eighth children and their teachers.” We were able to identify 12 really best practices that way. They hired outside researchers, research for better schools to come in and do the research, so we went and skewed the data.
One of the things that really came out was choral reading, even in high school. So we have middle school and high school teachers actually using choral reading. You know why it’s effective? Because listening vocabulary is our highest vocabulary. So I may not be able to actually read that world history or that science passage, but if it’s choral read, I’m going to pick up some information while it’s being choral read. So guess what we get to do together? We get to choral read. I’m the teacher. I’m going to establish the pace. Without questioning, you come and join me, okay? Without question, education . . .

Audience: . . . leads progress and prosperity of the United States today. Whether fair or not, educational opportunity and academic achievement are directly tied to the social positions associated with the race, ethnicity, gender, first language and social class. The level and quality of educational attainment either opens the doors to opportunity or closes them.
Dr. Helen Perkins: That’s a powerful statement, right? And very, very true. Thank you for bringing prosody in the house with you tonight. The way she read with expression, so prosody came in with you. Thank you for bringing her in. Notice I said she’s a female. Okay, the importance of oral language. Children arrive in kindergarten with huge discrepancies in oral language development. The gap that is between language advanced and language delayed children grows throughout. It does not close. It grows throughout the elementary school years.

I’m going to give Scott my PowerPoint. I’m very sure it’s going to be available, so don’t kill yourself writing. You can have it. Okay, you guys know this. You know the research. The current wave of research emphasizes longer recognize connection between oral language and future reading and writing. When I’m in the grocery store and I hear a two-year-old talking, I can make a sure prediction of where that child is headed because of their language. Solid oral language skills are crucial. If I don’t have the language, how am I going to visualize the picture and comprehension? So I have to have the language and understand the language to be able to even visualize the picture.
Oral language practice with supportive adults contributes to reading success. Book language. Now, I don’t like to say, and I think I talked about this a little bit. I don’t like to say, “Standard English.” I like to say, “Book Language.” Let me give you a hint as to why. When I was in the fourth grade, my parents were seventh grade education level, right? They valued education, but they only had a seventh-grade educational level, both of them. So when I went to school, I was in the classroom, Ms. Black at elementary school fourth grade, she asked a question and I used my dialect, because that’s the way my parents talked at home, right? She pounced all over me and she said, “We don’t talk that way in this classroom and don’t let me ever hear you talk that way again in this room. This is my room.” I still don’t like her and she’s dead.

“We speak standard English in this classroom.” “That’s okay, Ms. Black. Calm down. Calm down.” I won’t tell you the names I called her later on in years as I got older. But anyway, I like to tell my students “book language.” When you’re talking, your language ought to sound like the book, right? Because when we have them reading sentences, when we have them reading stories in the book, it’s book language. So when they say, “I ain’t going go,” show me in the book where it says, “I ain’t going go?” “I can’t find it.” So then, they start to think, “Oh, book language. It’s got to sound like the stories and the language in my book.” We have to be real careful that we don’t demean our children by saying, “We don’t talk that way in here.” What way?
So Hart & Risley did a study. I think you’re going to talk more about it, so I’ll shut up. But what they found out was children of professional parents have vocabularies of about 525 words. This was age three. But children in homes that were considered economically deprived had vocabularies of only 117 words. You’re all shaking your head because you’re like, “We know that.”

Families who spoke more words to children made the difference. The use of complex language stimulated the cognitive growth. Reading and being read to increases vocabulary learning. Books provide challenging ideas, colorful descriptive words and concepts and new knowledge and information about the world in which we live. So now, let’s think about some activities, some practices. I tell teachers, because I get to really run my mouth all over the world. Isn’t that something?
When I was growing up, my mother would do this when I was a little girl. She didn’t hit me. She just put her hand on my mouth. I’m, like, “Why are you doing that? Stop doing that.” She said, “Your mouth is the source of our problem right now.” So now when I leave an event in New Zealand or wherever I am and I get to talk and people want to hear me talk, I’m looking up to heaven going, “See mama, I told you.”

I was getting ready when I was a little girl, and she didn’t even know it. Okay, so when we think about infants and toddlers, all of these activities that you see on here are activities that really will move children in the direction we want them to go in. But they’ve got to be done. I’m working with the tutors. I’m working with faith-based. We have a lit - literacy in faith-based training. What we are working with on Saturdays, we’re working with Sunday school teachers, we’re working with pastors. Those that are working with our children in church, because we know that they’re going to church.
Mom is and going to church. She’s singing in the choir, so they’re going to church on Wednesdays. They’re going to Sunday school, so why not get the faith-based people to do the same thing in church that these teachers are doing in school? Really, really helping our children.

So read to infants for at least 30 minutes a day. Read stories or poems, and they don’t care. When I worked with teen fathers here at the Urban Child Institute, I’ve had teen fathers that have babies in zero to three. One said, “Well, can I read my Bible?” It doesn’t matter what you read as long as you are reading. Well, wait a minute. What are those sexual…?
Man: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Dr. Helen Perkins: But anyway, it’s important to read to toddlers. While reading to toddlers, turn the pages. Talk to infants about what you are doing. Talk about changing the diaper. Talk about washing hands. Talk about putting on shoes. Use short and simple sentences. When I’m changing my 11-month-old Taylor Grace, I talk about, “Taylor, Nana’s changing your diaper. Taylor, blah blah blah. Taylor, you’ve got to put your clothes on. Taylor, your belly sure is fat.”
Taylor was a preemie and only weighed 2.7, but bet to showed up and showed out. Now, she’s at 20 pounds, so she has a belly that’s fat. Name the surrounding objects. Pronounce the names of objects that surround the baby. The baby. I’m not talking about two-year-olds and three-year-olds. I’m talking about infants. We should be doing this with our toddlers, but now I’m talking about infants. “This is your bottle. This is your diaper. This is your table.” Be close enough so that they can see your mouth. You guys are going, “We know that.” We know that, right?”

Look and listen. Talk about what you see and hear. When a baby drops a spoon, for example, “Did you hear that? Your spoon hit the floor.” There’s that book language that we want to make sure that they own. There is that book language. The more they hear it, the more they will use the language themselves.
Here’s something that I know you all don’t ever really, probably haven’t, you maybe, maybe not. In a child’s head, in their brain, when they continuously hear, “I ain’t going go,” and then the sentence says, “I am not going,” there is actually a fight in the brain. Did you know that? Where’s all my brain, people? There is actually a wrestling in the brain where the child’s dominant sentence is trying to overtake the sentence that’s in the book. So we don’t want them to struggle with that. We want them to speak, “Please go and get your cat. Yes, you’ve got your cat. Now you can put it on your bed.” The more we do that, the more we provide that role modeling. Then the more they will do it themselves, and then it becomes ownership.

Engaging activities. Play follow the leader. See, I’m talking about things that’s not going to cost you a lot of money, right? Follow the leader is just an activity. It doesn’t cost any money. Encourage children to follow you around the room and name each object you touch.
Research says that if we just spend 15 to 30 minutes a day, intense 15 to 30 minutes a day, it could really make a real difference in the paths of our children. Talk about family pictures. Ask open-ended questions and frame them that would require a child to answer with several words and not yes or no. Getting them to talk, promoting talk. If you wanted to have more fun in this play yard, how would you change it? What did you do at your grandmother’s house yesterday? Be sure to listen. Be sure to listen when they respond. Too often, we ask and never really hear what they said. My daughters say I’m guilty of that, but they’re grown women. A rule of thumb is to begin with the W-H words - who, what, where, when and why.

My husband’s a high school world history teacher at Cordova High. Years ago, we figured out that those high school kids really didn’t. You tell them to read and to respond, they didn’t know how to respond. So now, the rule is, who, what, where, when and why. That’s just simple journalism, right? Where’s my journalists? Yeah, that’s just simple journalism, but it gets to them knowing what they need to glean from that text. So we’re doing that in high school - who, what, where, when and why.
Encourage children to talk and to begin to explain their answers, they will use more words. Sometimes, they will use words they didn’t know were in their vocabulary. You praise them for that when they do that. You say, “Look at all this head shaking. I love it. High-five me in the air.” They’re just going like, “I heard you say she’s crazy.” Who said that over there?

Talk and listen. While walking to the play area, while in the play area, while getting ready to go home, encourage the children to talk. Identify every food item. Talk about pictures. Praise the child. You can get so much out of them if we praise them. We can get so much out of them. Expand the child’s sentence by adding a few words to their sentence. For example, if a child says, “I like the dog,” then you say, “I like the black dog playing over there.” So the more you expand, then the more they will improve in their language and add. Okay, you know that vocabulary refers to words children recognize as speaking or listening. They must have a receptive and a listening and a talking use of oral language so they could become successful readers.
Children learn the meaning of most words indirectly. Indirectly. So you don’t have to say, “Okay, sit down. I’ve got to teach. Research says I’ve got to teach 30 minutes. Sit down. You pay attention. You look at me because I’m teaching.” We don’t have to do that. It clearly says that children learn the meanings of most words indirectly. Meaningful talk is powerful. Meaningful talk is powerful. Children between the ages of two and six learn an average of six to ten new words a day.

Most of that is indirectly. If they’re in the environment that supports indirect, right? Because if you’re in an environment where all they’re being told is sit down, shut up and leave me alone, they’ll learned those words. They’ll learn a lot of words that we don’t think. That’s not book language, right? When four to five-year-old children hear a single book reading, their expressive vocabulary significantly improves. No child wants to hear you read a book, “I like black dog. Sit down. Shut up. I like the black dog. The black dog is playing.” No prosody. Nobody. I don’t care who you are. If you are reading to a child, you should be using prosody. She’s so much more fun than just reading like that but you’re expressive reading.
I tell teachers all the time, “If she’s not with you, go get her. She’s outside waiting on you to bring her in.” Because no child wants a teacher or a parent or anybody reading to them in a tone that is not engaging, that’s not fun. How are you going to engage the brain when you’re in monotone mode? You ain’t gonna engage in my brain if you’re in monotone mode. But if you are really enthusiastic, if prosody. If you are reading with prosody, you’re going to engage and my vocabulary is going to improve.

Talking leads to learning. There’s nothing wrong with reading the same story several times, except I hide some of those same stories. After I’ve heard it a few times, I am so blessed with five grandchildren. They all read extremely well. They’re in clue. You all know what clue means in Memphis? But anyway, I’m like, “If I have to hear that story one more time,” but we know that it is a very good thing. Kids will ask you to read the same story over and over and over again. Everybody’s shaking their head. I’ve been known to hide “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I don’t care.”
I’ve been known to hide that book a few times. I wrote a children’s book, “Casey’s Lamb,” that has done amazingly well. They’ve added to more programs. But anyway, it’s my youngest daughter and she’s raising a lamb. She took lambs to stock shows and showed them, and then put them on a truck to go be killed. She sold them. But anyway, “Casey’s Lamb,” and kids love that book. I’ve gotten people from all over saying, all over the world, “Write another one.” No, writing a children’s book. I’d rather write a research book than a children’s book because writing a children’s book is very complicated. It’s hard because they want to argue with you on the text in, “Who’s the literacy expert here?”

So anyway, kids love that book and my kids love it. At first, they would stare at it because it was their mom. “How is my mom in this book?” But we have several copies floating around everywhere because they love to read it. Now, something that we weren’t very much aware of is that it depicts a black child on the front of a book.
Struggling readers in Dallas worked really hard to read it. I was like, “Man, look at you all working so hard.” It’s just a pre-K book. “Look at you all working so hard to read it.” “Well, Dr. Helen Perkins, it’s got a person that looks like me on the front of the cover. Can I take care of animals like that?” So I did some research. There’s not a lot of books of non-white children taking care of lambs. Mary had a little lamb. There’s not a lot of books. So that’s something that really motivates children to read no matter how old they are.

I have a friend. His daughter is six and she’s autistic. He said, “Helen, I love you, but “Casey’s Lamb” has got to go.” Really, it’s a book that kids can relate to. When they can relate to it, then what are they going to do? Read it regardless. Then they’re going to want you to read it and practice with it. Little kids are loving it. Okay, so the more children’s oral language mirrors the written language they encounter, the more successful they will likely be in reading. Is that rocket science? No, that’s the book language I’m talking about. The more my language sounds like the language of the book, the easier it is for me. When texts relates to oral language experiences, children quickly discover that written and oral language are parallel forms of language that serve similar purposes for communication.
Using books to stimulate. We do have some homes in Memphis where they don’t have a lot of books. Our push is to get more books. Because the more books they have, the more they can read and be read to, so it’s important that they have those books. High-quality books we were talking today. Just because the book is a dollar the supermarket.

What kind of Canada store? Kroger’s. We have Kroger’s. What do you have in Canada? We have Kroger’s. But just because it’s a dollar in Kroger’s doesn’t mean you ought to pick it up because it might not be the quality of books that we are wanting our children to have. So we do need quality type of literature about topics that relate to children, animals, places and things. Choose books that positively reflect children’s identity, their home language and their culture.
When my daughter was in fifth grade. She teaches first grade now here. But when she was in fifth grade and we were in Texas, she just yelled out to the teacher, “I am so tired of reading about dead white men and animals.” So ring, ring, ring. “Helen, Casey just yelled angrily at me saying, “I am so tired of reading about dead white men and animals.” I said, “Okay, we’ll talk about it. I’m teaching just like you. Just let me get off work and we’ll talk about it when I get off work. But let me ask you something. Please think about what Casey is saying to you. She did not say it appropriately, right Sandy? But just please think about what Casey is saying to you.”

So when I drive up to school to pick Casey up, we call Casey Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. When I got to school to pick her up, the teacher was running out there. I thought, “Oh my God, what has Malcolm and Rosa done now?” The teacher ran and she said, “No, no, no. It’s okay.” She said, “I thought about it.” She said, “We’d been reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle. You all familiar? “We’d been reading about George Washington, President. We’ve been reading about all these other people, but none showed Casey. I am so sorry. I will do better.” I said, “Yeah. But isn’t it sad that a fifth grader had to challenge you? That’s why she got angry, because she’s tired of it.”
So make sure that the books reflect the culture. Discuss the story before, during and after reading. Discuss the title. There was a major issue with common core and schema and background knowledge, right? Common Core said we didn’t need to do background knowledge. We didn’t need to worry about schema. But after arguing with a lot of professors and us talking about it, it’s clear we cannot negate schema. We cannot neglect prior knowledge. Because in our brain, we’ve got those file folders. Piaget taught us that a long time ago. We have schemas and we have file folders. So when we do brought background knowledge, when we discuss the title, all we’re doing is helping them locate a folder.

Now, a lot of our children in poverty don’t have that folder, so we’ve got to help them title a folder in their brain so that when they are learning the information, then they will have a folder to put it in. Sometimes when you are trying to remember something and you can’t remember it, well I’m past 50 so that happens all the time. But young people, when you’re trying to remember something and you can’t remember it, it’s probably because you stored it in the wrong place. Retrieval is very difficult if we don’t put it in the right file folder, right? Because our brain is like Google. When we hear a word, our brain immediately starts searching for that word. If the brain can’t find it in the folder that it should be in, that’s the reason why word sorts categories. We talked about that this morning during candle conference.
Doing word sorts. Helping kids figure out how to put words and language in categories is very, very good. The problem that Common Core had with schema, background knowledge, prior knowledge, is that teachers were spending an hour on background knowledge, and the kids never got to the story. But you don’t have to spend that much time, five or ten minutes helping them to locate. Do I have any knowledge in my brain that I can connect what she’s talking about or what we’re getting ready to study, what we’re getting ready to learn? So you’re helping them find that folder and helping them. Then they will store it in the right place. Then, when it’s stored in the right place, when you need it, they pull it up. It’s real easy when they pull it up.

I worked with college students, freshman, and help them to outline, sort things and put them in categories. Do you know that they - and this is no lie - they went from Ds and Fs to As. I had college parents stopping me at SMU saying, “I don’t know what you did, but it worked.” And all I helped them to do was to make sure they were filing things away appropriately so that they could retrieve it when they needed it. No big deal, right?
Point to pictures and talk about them. Help children relate words to their prior knowledge and experience such as taking a bath, eating or playing outdoors. Read in a natural way as if you were talking. There we go, prosody again. I know you all are like, “Why does she keep doing that?” Because it’s so important. If you want to maximize the cognitive engagement of a child that you’re reading to, if you read with prosody and if you’re animated, you’ve got them.

Then not only do you have them, but they are hooked. I wish you could hear some of my grandkids. They’re going to be that kind of reader. They’re going to be the reader that reads with prosody and with expression, and they’re going to be very animated. So it’s very important that we do all that. We’re like, “Oh, I’m not the elementary teacher. I don’t want to act like that.” Yeah, you do. Yeah, you do. Yeah, you do.
Pause to explain unfamiliar words. Don’t do too much pausing because you’d steal the story. Encourage parents to take advantage of time in the doctor’s office. Think about all the places we wait. You’re getting all this? Okay, good. The baby is getting it too. Encourage parents to take advantage of time in the doctor’s waiting room, the laundromat, by talking and reading to children. One thing that really makes me angry. I said this is more than I think. I’ve done so many presentations. I’m, like, “I’m thinking I said that. Maybe I said that in another place, another time. Who knows?” But it’s to see a mother or a father in the grocery store talking on the phone.

The child is either right beside them or in the basket, and you’re talking on the phone? Who do you think you are? The only person that ought to be doing that is President Barack Obama, and he doesn’t even do that. You should not to be talking on the phone. You’re missing all these wonderful opportunities to talk to your child. Do you see any letters on that box of cereal that you recognize? You’re not going to ask me back again, right? I just felt it just now. I felt it. He’s not going to invite me back again. Scott’s heard me before, he is. But I felt it just now. You shot it at me.
Man: That’s a wrong feeling.

Dr. Helen Perkins: It’s just so important. If you know somebody. You may not have children, but let your parents know. When you’re at church, talk to parents that have little children. Tell them, “You are missing golden opportunities to develop and enhance and grow your child’s vocabulary.” Talking on the phone and they’re with you right after school? Right after you pick them up from the daycare? Just think of all the things you could be talking about when you just picked them up at the daycare, right? Head Start, Porter-Leath. Head Start. We have 4600 Early Head Start and Head Start children at Porter Leath. Don’t we all? Porter-Leath in the house. No. I’m the board for Porter-Leath. We are the largest Head Start in the state of Texas, and we are doing it. Tennessee. I’ve been here 10 years. I should be saying Tennessee right now, shouldn’t I?
Man: Like the state that we’re in.

Dr. Helen Perkins: We are in Tennessee. Head Start has 4600 Early Head Start and Head Start children in the state of Tennessee, and we are the largest in the state. That’s a lot of kids, and we’re doing all this stuff. At least we better be.
Woman: We are.

Dr. Helen Perkins: I knew it. I knew it. Okay, pause and reflect. We’re not going to do too much pausing and reflecting. But how can we give all children the opportunity to become truly free? Literacy is the door to social justice. It’s a sacred task. The parent, the caregiver, the tutor and the reading teacher must begin, if then thinker and problem-solver. If the child is not doing this, then what should I be doing to help that child to move forward? These people, the parent, the caregiver, the tutor and the reading teacher, they cannot be on the sidelines. They’ve got to be engaged. It’s an active and ever-changing task.
In Shelby County Schools, we have a program that’s called CLIP - Comprehensive Literacy Improvement Plan. What we’re trying to do is make sure everybody is teaching reading, right? So yesterday evening, I was presenting and she had everybody there. Of course, the math teacher. You know what test makers tell us? What’s killing us on the test on the state assessments is not the computation. They can’t read the problem to figure out the computation. So just think, if we did word sorts, just something real simple. If we took addition words and subtraction words, put them on an index card, and gave them to a kindergartner and said, “Sort these words and figure out what they mean.” They know what they mean. They can do that.

So if they sort the addition cards, you can help them, and they sort the subtraction cards, what have you just given them? You’ve just given them a file folder with addition vocabulary, a file folder with subtraction vocabulary. Here’s what happens. When they’re reading a problem, what happens? The brain goes straight to addition because you’ve given them those trigger words. Oh wow, I’m supposed to do addition because this is the addition folder.
Then word sorts is so simple. When I talk to teachers about word sorts, “Oh my God, I never thought about that.” Word sorts in math. Even in high school, word sorts is great because you help them store the vocabulary in the right folder. You help them label the folder, right? Yeah, what are some addition words?

Man: One plus one.
Dr. Helen Perkins: Now, words. Vocabulary.

Woman: Plus, minus.
Woman: How many are left?

Dr. Helen Perkins: Well, that’s subtraction. How many more. Susan had three apples and she had two bananas. How many did she have in all? Addition. Susan has six bananas and she gave four away. How many are left? But see, if we teach them to put the language in the subtraction folder, put the language in the addition folder, and these are just our little kids, they will go to that folder because those words will trigger their brain to go there. We don’t have to tell our brain to go, “Brain, okay, look at these words. I think that these might be addition. Is that right, brain?” We don’t have to. When you are looking at the words, it’s Google. The brain is searching for the words. “Oh, that’s a file folder. You’ve got a folder on that.” I’m not doing a schema lesson. Stop, okay? You’re not even supposed to be asking questions right now.
Man: You looked at me, so I thought so.

Dr. Helen Perkins: Well, you had that look. Okay. You had that look. Reading aloud to help children is I can’t say enough. We know from research. It confirms that reading aloud to children positively impacts their overall achievement. That’s a given. Reading aloud to promote enhanced language development. Here’s all what reading aloud does. All we’ve got to do is just read aloud to our babies. Are you reading to your baby? Okay, good. Creating meaningful context for learners to promote language development using visuals, objects, diagrams; for visual learners, diagrams. Labels, stimulations, gestures. We ask all our daycare providers and people that have little children, label the bathroom, label the sink, label the soap, because they’re going to learn it. They have the visual, there’s the word.
We were able to take an elementary school in Memphis and move them up 14 points on the state assessment, because we put the words at the water with the water fountain. We put the words where they clean their hands. We put the words everywhere. We were vocabulary overdone, because vocabulary is killing us, the lack thereof, right? Our children are so language-deprived that it’s really hurting us. A sampling of pre-reading skills, they understand. Concepts about print. They understand the function of the book. They recognize that print represents spoken language. I’m not going to read all those. They distinguish between letters from words. See, this is the kind of stuff that we assumed.

But when we’re reading a book to a child, this is the front of the book, this is the title of the book, this is the author, this is the illustrator. Not this is the person that drew the pictures. This is the illustrator - use the language. You can say, “This is the person that drew the pictures. They’re called an illustrator,” but use the language, okay? Kids are looking for talking marks on a state assessment because that’s what the teacher use. She didn’t call them quotations - true story, I’m not lying - she didn’t call them quotations, she called them talking mark.
Ain’t no assessment got talking marks on it, it’s got quotations. I know, shouldn’t have said ain’t. It’s got quotations on it, so we use the language. This is the illustrator. This is the photographer. We’re building language, so use the language, but you could always use a synonym afterwards or use a synonym before, but use the language. You know how many brain cells they have? How many brain cells do they have? They’re born with how many? They’re born with how many brain cells? A hundred million. Billion.

Man: Billion.
Dr. Helen Perkins: Billion, yeah. A hundred billion brain cells. By the time they’re three, what happens by the time they’re three? I know I’ve got a lot of Urban Child Institute. What happens by the time they’re three? Their brain is at the capacity, 80% at the capacity is going to be as adult, right?

Engaging activities. You all get the PowerPoint. Nature walks. When was the last time you took a child outside and talked about, “Oh my, you hear the birds? You hear the car? What color is that truck?” Very simple, but it’s just building, building, building language. Okay, I’ve got to go. Write notes. Notice prosody. You don’t have books at home, you’ve got them in the library. Do puzzles. When my girls were going up, we would leave a puzzle along the kitchen table. Everybody, my husband was determined to fix the puzzle. There’s “Casey’s Lamb” at the bottom of the screen.
Reflective practitioner academic engage time is the time when children are actually attending and doing the activities at hand. I’m not going to tell you what the research says about that. Maximizing their cognitive engagement, here’s just some things. The brain loves color. Use color, the brain loves it. Real simple things to do and get them cognitively engaged. Okay, I’m quitting. Okay, there, I am quitting. See?

Man: Right on time.

Dr. Helen Perkins: If a child can’t learn the way we teach, what should we be doing? I taught that. But 70% of them didn’t get it, you didn’t teach it, right? Okay, thank you guys.

Dr. Fred Palmer: Do you have any questions? Anybody have any questions? We’ll do a short question period right now for five minutes or so, but you’ll have a chance to talk to her again after Danielle is through. Go ahead, yeah.
Woman: I have a question on [inaudible 00:43:03] gender [inaudible 00:43:04] in oral language development. Are there any gender-based differences in how girls or boys process and learn oral language?

Dr. Helen Perkins: Now, come on. We know that girls are smarter, right?
Dr. Helen Perkins: We know that girls have a lot higher language vocabulary because we hear it, don’t we? Boys are just quiet. It’s not that they don’t have the language and the vocabulary, they just don’t care to share it.

Dr. Fred Palmer: A comment to those in the overflow room, if you have questions please write them down and we will get them to the speaker in the next after the next speaker.
Dr. Helen Perkins: Right.

Dr. Fred Palmer: Other questions? Yeah?
Woman 1: Do you have any suggestions? I work with someone in the home environment, in a poverty-stricken home, and his parents don’t speak [inaudible 00:44:01] and so thanks for making all those concepts and suggestions. How to cope with that situation [inaudible 00:44:10] way?

Dr. Helen Perkins: See, that’s why I say book language. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a parent about book language, okay? You’re not gonna change that, maybe not. But there’s nothing wrong with learning about book language and saying it would be great if their language sounded like the book. But get tapes. Try to get the parents. You can buy tapes with the books everywhere. That’s what I used to do all the time with my children. Let them listen to the story, because then they’re going to hear it. They’re going to hear it. Then eventually after they hear it and hear it and hear it. Then I didn’t hear. You talk about pragmatics, but I didn’t hear you talk about code switching. I was just wanting to talk to you later about that. We may be calling each other while you’re in Canada and I’m in Tennessee. I’m in Tennessee.
Woman 1: Sounds good.

Dr. Helen Perkins: But anyway, because there’s nothing wrong with them learning the code switch, get me around a bowl of chitlins and I don’t even sound like Dr. Helen Perkins. So there’s nothing wrong with that, but I would definitely make sure they had books with tapes, CDs.
Woman 2: Yeah. Good evening. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth and knowledge. I really appreciate it. I wanted to know, do you have any suggestions on curriculums that you found to be really effective for that elementary age group, specifically kindergarten and first grade?

Dr. Helen Perkins: I’m not going to answer that, but the Basal series, “Journeys,” that the district is using, the whole Shelby County. It’s the number one Basal series in the state of Tennessee. I just happen to be co-author on. It’s called “Journeys,” but the whole district is using it. It’s sold. Mississippi, Florida, it’s sold.
Woman 2: Okay, thank you.

Dr. Fred Palmer: There’s a question over here. Okay. Yeah, we’ll do one more now.
Woman 3: Hi, I’m a new mom, and I was just wondering your thoughts on baby talk and how that would impact their or her development? Don’t do it?

Dr. Helen Perkins: No to baby talk, okay? No.
Dr. Fred Palmer: Well, we can do one more.

Dr. Helen Perkins: Goo-goo, ga-ga? No.
Woman 3: More with the tone rather than…

Dr. Helen Perkins: Oh, no. The tone is fine. No, no, no, no, the tone.
Woman 3: Yeah, sorry. That’s what I was afraid, with the tone. Like Cadence and that whole …

Dr. Helen Perkins: Oh, no. That’s prosody. That’s actually prosody. Talking with expression in language that they know, that sounds like the book language. Give me an example.
Woman 3: My husband, a lot of the times, he talks to her. He’s like, “What are you doing?” He’s [inaudible 00:47:14].

Dr. Helen Perkins: That’s called prosody, and that’s perfect. Give me your number because I’m going to let him know that you told us that, okay?
Woman: Yes, call me.

Woman 4: Hi, thank you so much for the information. I’m bilingual. My husband is bilingual. So we’re trying to teach Spanish to our daughter. She’s 16 months old. I want to just speak Spanish at home, but my concern is probably she’s going to have mixed words. So what would you suggest for me to do?
Dr. Helen Perkins: Both. Both at home.

Woman 4: For example, when I say, “Oh, there is a table,” and then say it in Spanish, everything.
Dr. Helen Perkins: That’s perfect. That’s perfect. Our four-year-old knows Spanish, she knows English, and she knows sign language. That’s how my daughter taught her from birth. It was using all three. More language? It’s great. It’s great for the cognitive development of the brain.

Dr. Fred Palmer: Great. Thank you so much, Helen.