Forget KISS – Keep Your Teacher Talk Complex

My wife is on our school’s Language-Rich Environment team. At one of their meetings, the team showed a video by Nonie Lesaux of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In the video, Nonie Lesaux makes this revelation:

“We found that if the typical teacher using those 60 complex words in a 20 minute span consistently increased those by what we might call one standard deviation — or used 20 more words during that time — we would see almost a year’s worth of growth, extra growth, in reading in that classroom across the year.”

A year’s worth of growth by using an additional 20 complex words within a 20 minute span of class time!

That magical stat was firmly in my mind when I began writing my series of children’s books. I started with an idea – my son is a picky eater – and sat down one night to turn that fact into a cautionary tale. A huge fan of Dr. Seuss’ rhymes, silliness, and big heart, I started putting words down on paper. My initial instinct was to keep the vocab simple – I wanted readers of all ages to understand what I was saying. But, I recalled Nonie Lesaux’ words and immediately changed gears.

  • Instead of personality, I chose demeanor.
  • Instead of weird, I chose bizarre.
  • Instead of break, I chose obliterate.

Just think of the discussions you can have with your child when you read a book full of complex vocabulary together! You can share the definition, think of fun sentences to use it in, and brainstorm how it might have been coined. And, if your child is anything like mine, you will end up (over time) reading the same books again and again and again – further deepening understanding.

I know prevailing wisdom says to “keep it simple, stupid” but it seems that when it comes to developing language, the opposite is closer to the truth.

Have fun reading with your child!

And, if you need any book ideas, feel free to check out my page on (warning: shameless self-promotion!!!).

Ed Ex!

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