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Book Review: 30 Million Words

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 7/25/2016

During my entire career in education, I have worked with students 16 and up. When I tell someone this, I generally receive wide eyes and a “How can you do that?” comment in return.

However, when I meet someone who teaches the other end of the educational spectrum, those who teach students four and younger, my eyes widen and I make the same comment!

I can't imagine teaching students that young.

And then I met the World's Greatest Nephew. Followed shortly thereafter by the World's Greatest Niece. Upon their arrivals, I started to read more about educational strategies to use with younger children.

This summer, I read 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain by Dana Suskind, MD. The author recounts her journey working with hearing-impaired children and how it led her to learn more about early childhood education.

Thirty pages in, I sent the title to my mother and a preschool teacher friend, basically making them promise to read the book immediately. Three hundred pages and three weeks later, I’m still talking about it. The thesis will probably stick with me forever.

Throughout my career, I have worked with students who are first-generation college attendees and/or students living in poverty, and this book helped me better understand their struggle in school.

In Suskind’s research, students who grow up hearing fewer words prior to elementary school (typically those who grew up in poverty), struggle to keep up with their peers throughout their entire educational career. Students who have a gap at three years old, without interventions, will continue to have a gap as they age.

Suskind started a foundation that seeks to educate parents, caregivers, and teachers on ways to help students decrease that gap (ThirtyMillionWords.org):

  1. “Tune In by paying attention to what your child is communicating to you.
  2. Talk More with your child using descriptive words to build his vocabulary.
  3. Take Turns by encouraging your child to respond to your words and actions.”

I like the simplicity of the three steps. I'm not saying that the ideas in those steps are simple, merely that by breaking down years of research into three steps, adults are more likely to implement the steps while interacting with children in their lives.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who works with children, has children, or knows children because of the ease of writing style and the long-term effects of the actions. Although the ideas are specifically geared toward younger students, I’m certain that the ideas implemented anytime can impact a student. Suskind’s data and anecdotal stories convince readers of the immense impact that words have on a child's life.

Allison Venuto, co-hostess of the podcast Ideal ISD, has been teaching in the Dallas area for 11 years and owns Ducks in a Row Personal Organizing. Connect with her at ducksinarowdallas.com.

Views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ATPE.