I know new parents are prone to going overboard with baby pictures, but Deb Roy, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Human Speechome Project, has perhaps the most thorough home movie collection on the planet, and it could have interesting ramifications not only on what we know about language development, but eventually on how we study instruction and student engagement, too.
Roy and his family wired up every room in their house and collected more than 230,000 hours of sound and video from the time his newborn son came home from the hospital through the toddler’s first three years. MIT researchers then used massive data-mining software to cull patterns and connections between the timing of his first use of particular words and the things going on around the house.
The team found that particular words were associated with various “hot spots” in which they were used by adults around the house— “water” was most often used in the kitchen, for example. Researchers are now exploring the connections between the context in which children hear words and how quickly they learn them. It would be fascinating to look at this sort of data in a school environment, to determine whether students’ academic language develops in a similar way, or how different teachers speak to students and what effects that has on student engagement.
Granted, I doubt many principals or teachers would volunteer to wire up classrooms for this sort of research experiment, but this kind of massive data culling and analysis is gaining ground in education research, and the tools for individual teachers and principals to use are becoming steadily more powerful, too.
You can watch Roy’s TEDTalk, giving an overview of the project and its implications for media research below:
The MIT research results also provide detailed evidence backing the role of child-directed speech, what most folks call baby-talk, in language development. In the recordings, both the parents and outside caregivers changed their speech patterns subconsciously as the boy began to use individual words, switching at first to very simple sentences using the new word and gradually returning to normal speech complexity. Forthcoming studies may also provide more nuance on the development of speech and language disorders.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.