To the Editor:
Children of poverty clearly have slower vocabulary development, and this appears to be related not only to the quantity but also the quality of their interaction with parents (“Research on Quality of Conversation Holds Deeper Clues Into Word Gap,” April 22, 2015).
Rather than intervene and give parents “conversation training,” as is described in your article, we might consider simpler solutions.
First, despite the fact that Susan Neuman, a New York University professor of education and department chair, has misgivings about read-alouds, there is substantial evidence that even a modest effort to provide books and basic guidance in read-alouds has a substantial effect on vocabulary growth. Especially interesting are a series of studies using the methods undertaken by the literacy nonprofit group Reach Out and Read, in which books and guidance are provided during well-child clinic visits.
Second, we can encourage self-selected free voluntary reading as soon as children can read independently. A recent study by Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown of the Center for Longitudinal Studies at the University of London confirmed that we can increase our vocabulary by reading at any age: The impact of reading on vocabulary development in older readers is independent of the level of poverty of their parents.
So-called “late intervention” is powerful. A child of poverty who becomes a dedicated pleasure reader will rapidly close not only the vocabulary gap, but the literacy gap in general.
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as Reading for Pleasure Can Close ‘Vocabulary Gap’ at Any Age