Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Elizabeth Hadley

January 18, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 2 Episode 18
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Elizabeth Hadley
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Elizabeth Hadley talks to us about responsive interactions with young children through the academic and social language in preschools. Liz is known for her work in the areas of oral language development and vocabulary in preschool classrooms, and she works to understand the connections between oral language in early childhood and later reading comprehension skills. Dr. Hadley is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of South Florida.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Jan 18). A conversation with Elizabeth Hadley. (Season 2, No. 18) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests. DOI: 10.5240/56A9-A3CC-FE58-58A4-A5F4-6

Lindsay Persohn:

Education research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. But the questions and challenges from teachers practice sometimes don't become the work of education researchers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In a new episode every other week, I talk with an education researcher or a classroom teacher about what they have learned from their work in education, and what questions they still pursue. In this episode, Dr. Elizabeth Hadley talks to us about responsive interactions with young children through the academic and social language in preschools. Liz is known for her work in the areas of oral language development and vocabulary in preschool classrooms and she works to understand the connections between oral language in early childhood and later reading comprehension skills. Dr. Hadley is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of South Florida. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite morning drink and join me your host, Lindsay Persohn, for Classroom Caffeine, research to energize your teaching practice. Liz, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the show.

Elizabeth Hadley:

Thank you for having me. It's so exciting to be on the podcast. Thank you. So from your own experiences and education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now? Sure. So I started my career in education, at least on the teaching side, as a high school English teacher in Washington, DC, just outside of Washington, DC in Prince George's County. And I taught high school English and at the time, you know, my students were amazing, they were so much fun and I love literature and I love teaching them about literature and teaching them about writing. A lot of my students really struggled with the kinds of texts we read in high school English class. And I felt like I did not have the skills to really help them. And most of my students, they didn't have trouble with decoding, they were able to read the words on the page, they really struggled at the time, I would have said, what many of them were struggling with with vocabulary. I felt like you know, a lot of the words in the text we were reading were different from the way that they talked in their everyday life or the text that they're reading outside of school. And they just really struggled to make meaning from these more complex, dense, more sort of academic texts, academic, I guess in like kind of a literary sense, right. Now that I know more, I think what they were really struggling with was sort of academic language, literary language, it was really like the sentence structures, the discourse patterns. It was at the word level at the sentence level, and it kind of the text level. And at the time, I didn't really understand how to unpack that for them. And so, you know, I was, I was interested in how I could better support my students with these kinds of language and comprehension skills. So I went to graduate school interested in learning more about that and I met my graduate advisor, David Dickinson, who really convinced me that language development occurs very slowly over time. And it starts very early. And I just kept backing up backing up backing up until I got to the early childhood stage. And I became really convinced that it's when kids are young, that we need to begin supporting them with these different registers of language and help give them really explicit support for understanding the kinds of language registers that we need to not only be successful in academia, but also successful in different areas of life as well. What a journey to go from a high school and trace that all the way back to early childhood education. But certainly that makes a whole lot of sense. Often, I think later difficulties for students are rooted in very early experiences in their lives. Yes, I mean, if you look at just like correlations between kids early language and later language, I mean, it's like, .7 or .8, you know, and in some ways, I find that sort of discouraging because it means that we're not doing a lot in school to move the needle. But I also think it shows that, you know, there is there is kind of a trajectory that students are on and that with good instruction and with support, we can shift students trajectories, and we can begin doing that from a really early age. It's rather coincidental that we're having this conversation today, because this morning, I actually watched a documentary called No Small Matter, which is all about early childhood education and the opportunities that we have in early childhood here in the US, and, and just what a wonderful trade off that might be if we could divert some of the funding that goes to things like prisons, and and those sorts of social services. If we could divert that to early childhood, we might live in a very different kind of world. So Absolutely, as long as it's as long as they're high quality early childhood programs. Absolutely. Yes. Yes. And that was loud and clear in that documentary as well. But it must be in our a quality program. Yes.

Lindsay Persohn:

So Liz, what do you want listeners to know about your work?

Elizabeth Hadley:

You know, my work is really about what we can do in early childhood classrooms to support young children, especially children, who come from communities or families where they're living in poverty, how we can help support their language development, so that they can be proficient readers later on in their lives. So I think a lot of it comes down to the kinds of conversations that teachers, preschool teachers in particular, and children are having in classrooms. I really see it as like, there's two kind of like registers or strands that are at work and preschool classrooms. And I really think preschool classrooms are like a unique space, you know, they're not, they're not kindergarten, not yet, although people are trying to make them kindergarten, right. They're not daycare, they're not home, they're kind of a blend, I think of them as like a hybrid space that combines some of the features of home, like warm, responsive interactions, there's support, there's more like socio emotional support in many preschool classrooms, than they would be in the elementary grades. But then it also has some features of kindergarten classrooms or first grade classrooms, right, where we do care about academic content and even you know, there's more of a push for standards and preschool as well. So I think teachers, preschool teachers have this kind of unique role, where they're kind of at the crossroads of home and school, right, where they're welcoming children into this new language community. But they're also, you know, engaged in these really responsive, nurturing relationships with children. And hopefully, they're learning about kids, they're understanding the kinds of language practices that they're bringing to school, they're listening to them, and then they're also scaffolding them into these new I consider, I call them like emergent academic language practices. And I even even hesitate to call it academic language, because in preschool, it's really things like, you know, using more sophisticated vocabulary words, talking about books, talking about science content, that kind of talk can really be driven by the content, right? So I think of it as preschool teachers focusing on those two main strands. I talked about it as like emergent academic language, which I think you can kind of get at through having really content rich experiences in the classroom, like having units on topics around science, which young kids are really naturally fascinated in, by talking about books and reading books regularly, both fiction and nonfiction. But then there's also the piece I call it like bridge talk, or bridge language, where teachers are kind of serving as that bridge, from home to school. But part of being that bridge is really understanding where children are coming from. There's a lot of great work really, in like special education. Ann Kaiser has work on EMT [Enhanced Milieu Teaching] that really focuses, it's intended for kids with disabilities or different kinds of language learning problems, but it's really focused on joint attention, on responsive interactions with kids, listening to kids, figuring out where they are, and then slowly bringing them along, right. So I think that piece is really important too and sometimes we feel like we don't always have time for it in the classroom. But so much of conversation is about like understanding where your conversational partner, what they know, where they're coming from. And so it's really hard to have a good conversation with a kid, unless you've taken the time to listen to them, and understand a little bit about their own individual language practices. So so much of what I hear, when I talk with folks who are experts in early childhood, it all has to do with social learning. I think once we take the social aspect out of learning for young children, we're not left with much, right and it's social interactions with peers, it's social interactions with the adults in their lives. And a person who came to mind as you were talking it is Renee Dinnerstein who I recently spoke with who does a lot of work with choice time and play and just how important that is in the lives of young children so that they can develop that oral language, so that they can problem solve, so that they are curious about what they're learning, and so that they are really driven by their own questions in the world. And I think that speaks to the high quality programs, preschool programs we were talking about. I know you are involved in a couple of studies of early childhood oral language development right now, is there anything in particular that you're learning from those studies that you'd like to share with listeners? I think the first thing to say is that what I just said about like the two kind of strands or registers of talk in preschool classrooms, that actually has come out of a meta analysis that I just did on teacher language practices in early childhood classrooms. So I looked at so many studies, we ended up having, you know, about 30 studies total that were in the meta analysis, but we looked at the correlations between different kinds of teacher talk, and preschool and kindergarten classrooms. And these are the two kind of strands that emerged as kinds of talk that we're most related to each other. So that's kind of like a big picture view of the field, I think, I'm also doing some work around teacher talk and preschool classrooms and how they're related to children's outcomes. So what kind of talk is related to growth in kids vocabulary and kids oral language? And what I've found in a couple of studies now, is that it really does appear to be those more responsive language practices that are related to kids outcomes, right? I even have found that like, you know, in the context of studies where we're teaching kids new vocabulary words, if the teacher is talking too much, and giving too much information, it's actually not related to kids vocabulary growth, right. We need a little bit of that we certainly need some explicit instruction. But it seems like if there's too much kids start to tune the teachers out, and that those more responsive interactions where kids are asking about a word, and then teachers supply information, or where kids offer some kind of information, and then teachers build on it, that's really powerful for word learning. And it may be because it just shows kids engagement and what's going on, it's it's sort of a marker that kids are interested in what's happening, and they want to be talking about those words. So those are two, two kind of recent projects that I've been working on. I'm also working on a project where looking at the impact of COVID, on preschool children. So we're comparing children who are in preschool when COVID hit, so they missed essentially, like nine weeks of preschool instruction to kids who attended preschool before COVID. And then we're following them through first grade, which is the end of this year. And it's interesting, we actually have not seen a lot of learning loss so far, which is surprising and contrary to the hypothesis that I had. But I also think that many kids were at home with parents, I think in the district we're studying, the district did a really great job of mobilizing very quickly and sending home resources. One troubling piece of the data that we're seeing so far is that there are huge numbers of kids who have language disabilities who were not identified during that COVID period. So you know, whereas if there were like 700 children with a specific type of language impairments in the pre COVID cohorts, the post COVID cohort, there were maybe 100 Children, right. So it seems like one impact of COVID is that many children who need additional support in the area of language in particular, were not identified during that time. So may have missed out on some of those resources that they should have been getting through their IEP. What an important discovery because I feel like in all of the conversations I hear about, quote, unquote, learning loss and COVID, that seems to be an omission from the conversation, just the services... I agree.

Lindsay Persohn:

...that students may have missed out on. Because you're right. I mean, I think if we work to flip that script a little bit, kids did spend a lot of time probably having some very important, deep, and meaningful conversations with the people in their lives. But yeah, to think that they've missed out on an opportunity for additional support or services, I think is a really good way to turn our attention for the future to help support this kids.

Elizabeth Hadley:

Absolutely. Yeah. Especially for those young kids school is like, you know, school is the central hub through which they receive many services, right? And many of those services, it's difficult to deliver them virtually. I know SLPs and behavioral therapists, they have pivoted, like we all have and have figured out how to make it work. But ultimately, it's difficult when you're trying to like, you know, strengthen the muscles in a kid's mouth, for example, to do that virtually over Zoom can be really, really challenging to do. And just the identification of kids, preschool is the first time where a lot of children are diagnosed with some kind of learning difference, kindergarten as well. So it does, it has had some real consequences in that way. But I agree with you, I think it's, you know, the narrative has been there is and will be and has been massive learning loss. And of course, many people have complicated that narrative and pointed out what does that really mean? You know, I tend to be somewhat traditional in that, I feel like, I get very worried when children miss 10 weeks of school when I know how important pre k is, especially for kids in poverty. So I think I was happy to see that at least on a standardized measure of literacy and language, those kinds of massive learning loss did not seem to be present, at least, you know, and that seems to have been echoed in other districts in Florida as well. So I think that is somewhat encouraging. Of course, it doesn't capture everything, but Right, but really helping us to define what the problem actually is, Absolutely.

Lindsay Persohn:

... is really, it's always a positive first start to

Elizabeth Hadley:

Yep.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, to recovery in, you know, I use recovery in a very broad sense when it comes to COVID. Because I think we're all recovering in a variety of ways.

Elizabeth Hadley:

Yes.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah. Your work reminds me quite a bit of my conversation with Susan Newman and a lot of the work that she's done in early childhood, and she talks about teacher talk and how that's all related. So I just wanted to make that connection for listeners also, because that might be a good reference point as well for another perspective on early childhood oral language.

Elizabeth Hadley:

Absolutely, yes, Susan's work is amazing. And her work is definitely always serve as mentor texts for me. She's been very kind to me, and her work has really inspired some of my own work. So I think that's that's a great connection. I listen to her podcast interview on Classroom Caffeine also.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you. So Liz, given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Elizabeth Hadley:

I'm really concerned about teachers right now. I think right now, I'm, I'm not doing work that's asking teachers to change their instruction at this particular moment in time. I think teachers and healthcare workers and others who've been on the frontlines are just really tapped out. I think they're exhausted, I think they've been criticized, they've been asked to do more than they really should. They've had to pivot to this online space when many of them aren't really comfortable with that. So I think right now, I'm trying to do some more observational work this year. I'm working in some Headstart classrooms where we're really we're assessing kids, we're doing observations, and we're really trying to partner with teachers to ask what some goals they have are for improving literacy instruction and for making, making changes or improvements over time, but really looking to be guided by them. And also trying to look at all the different kind of levels. I think a lot of times we're asking teachers to change their instructional practices. But there's so many other, especially in early childhood, where it can be really like almost a community center for that local neighborhood. There are a lot of other services being provided, whether it's book distribution programs, health care clinics or programs, family intervention programs, so we're really trying to understand like the whole ecosystem, and some various points at which we could potentially help out, right? I think sometimes we come in with interventions, not fully understanding what's already going on. And then we can replicate efforts, which isn't effective, or the intervention just gets layered on top of all the other stuff that's happening. So I'm really trying to take a minute and understand where teachers are emotionally and in terms of their practice, and in terms of where they feel their families are. I had a head start teacher the other day, say, like, I would like to improve my literacy instruction, but children are not coming to school this year. So I think it's just like some of those baseline things. Sometimes we forget about like, we have to get them to school, if they are going to learn about emergent literacy, right. So I think and I think especially in times of COVID and neighborhoods and families that have been especially impacted by COVID, both medically and financially, there are some of those baseline things that we really need to take care of. So I think that's, that's sort of where I am in my, in my own work. And also in thinking about, like, what teachers might need right now is just trying to trying to better understand this post COVID, post COVID context and where we kind of go from here. And with all that being said, it's also, you know, it's also a challenging research climate and that many schools aren't comfortable having people come in, understandably, and are also you know, administrators are stressed too, right. Coaches are stressed too. It's really kind of functioning at all levels. So, yeah.

Lindsay Persohn:

I think that's such an important takeaway for researchers and for teachers really, that it this is a time of understanding a new context, this is a time of figuring out what school looks like. Now, now that there are so many things that have changed because of COVID. And I think there are some real hints in the world that some of that will never quite revert back to what it was before COVID. So that's, I think that's so smart, just to pause and say, What is this now what does school look like? And how can we best move forward, while reflecting on what we know from the past, but also bearing in mind that this is a different context for people emotionally, sometimes physically, and and certainly the workload has changed. Teachers have always been busy, and their focus has always been stretched to the max, but we've added a lot of new monkey wrenches to that with with COVID. So yeah, I think that's such an important reminder that we do need to just stop and take stock of what things look like in this moment. Well Liz I thank you so much for your time today, and I thank you for your contributions to the field of education.

Elizabeth Hadley:

Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Lindsay Persohn:

Dr. Elizabeth Hadley is known for her work in the areas of oral language development and vocabulary and preschool classrooms. She works to understand the connections between oral language in early childhood and later reading comprehension skills. Her work has been published in The Reading Teacher, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Journal of Child Language, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Journal of Cognition and Development, and Reading Research Quarterly. Her work was recently funded by the Spencer Foundation. She served as a Scholar in Residence at the David C Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching at the University of South Florida, where she worked to build partnerships with local school districts. Dr. Hadley has received several fellowships from the Institute of Education Sciences, and Vanderbilt University. She serves on the editorial board for The Reading Teacher and Reading Research Quarterly. Liz is a graduate of Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University. Dr. Hadley is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of South Florida. For the good of all students, good research should inform good practice and vice versa. Listeners are invited to respond to an episode, learn more about our guests, search past episodes, or request a topic or conversation with a specific person through our website at ClassroomCaffeine.com. If you've learned something today, or just enjoyed listening, please be encouraged to talk about what you heard with your colleagues, and subscribe and review this podcast through your podcast provider. As always, I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.