Episode 29 - The Power of Language and Learning with Lydia Soifer, PhD
About Lydia Soifer, PhD
Dr. Lydia Soifer is a language pathologist with over 45 years of experience in clinical and private practice, as well as university teaching. For its highly respected and valued 25-year tenure, Dr. Soifer was Dr. Soifer continues to provide educational consultation and advocacy services to families on behalf of their children, in coordination with other professionals and schools. As a parent educator, teacher trainer, and staff developer, she specializes in the role of language in the development of children's learning, literacy, behavior, and social-emotional development. Classroom Language Dynamics ©️, the teacher training program Dr. Soifer designed is used in a variety of school settings to empower teachers and invigorate learners of all kinds. A frequent presenter at local, national and international conferences, Dr. Soifer focuses on guiding all educational professionals to answer the essential question, “Who is this child?” She is also the author of a chapter entitled, The Development of Oral Language and its Relationship to Literacy for a textbook published in September 1999 by Brookes, Multisensory Structured Language Teaching: Theory and Practice, now published in a 4th edition, as well as a contributor to local publications. A respected educator, Dr. Soifer is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, CT and the Gateway School of New York, in New York City. Additionally, she is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and faculty member in the Early Intervention Training Institute (EITI), both at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Danielle Scorrano: [00:00:00] Hello to all of our READers. Good morning or good afternoon, whenever you were listening to this podcast episode. I am delighted, I can't even, I don't even know, there's so many adjectives to describe how I feel right now, because I am joined by the one and only Dr. Lydia Soifer.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: You are too kind. You are too kind. It's my great pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me, Danielle.
Danielle Scorrano: I mean, the pleasure is mine. The gratitude is mine. I could go on and on. And in fact, in our introduction I just completed about you, Dr. Soifer. I went on about the expertise you have offered to the Windward community. And I remember when I first joined the Windward community, I think back in 2013, I was taking some professional development courses. And it was this aha moment about how integrated, and I don't even want to say integrated, how language is at the forefront of teaching. I know you've been a longtime friend and [00:01:00] expert of the Windward community and for our READers that don't know much about you, I'd like to know more about your background in education and the direct language services that you provide to children.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Oh, that's my great pleasure. I have been a part of the community for about 30 years, uh, now. I remember the original building, and watched the edition grow. And we were always, always amused by walking from one side to the other where the air conditioning was not quite as cold. I truly remember when the Head of School's office was in the master bedroom was a beautiful staircase.
Part of my good fortune was having it recognized that language was an essential part of all education. And I don't know that all school heads understood that in the way it was understood at that time. Now there's more of an appreciation of that truth. It's, it's really a very basic concept that is missed by far too many. [00:02:00] Language is the vehicle that drives the curriculum. It's part of what makes us human. When I'm teaching, I'll often use an image of a bright red Corvette convertible, zipping across the slide, because in fact it is completely, regardless of what you teach, if you're teaching phys ed, if you're teaching art, if you teach in music, if you're teaching chemistry or earth science, you're using language to communicate. And I think that part of what happens for people is that the concept of language becomes oh, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, as opposed to the extraordinary complexity and nuance of language. So I've been a lucky duck, as I say, because I started my career after getting a master's degree in speech and language pathology at, get ready for this Danielle, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Rose F. Kennedy Center, which [00:03:00] was the Rose F. Kennedy Center for research in Mental Retardation and Human Development in the brand new, in that building, children's evaluation and rehabilitation center, which is known to this day as CERS.
And here's why I was lucky. It was 1972. The clinic had been open for exactly one year and somebody got pregnant and I replaced her, lucky duck. Why was I a lucky duck? Because the concept of interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary in the seventies didn't really exist. Everybody did their own thing, and children were not seeing as a whole, but rather as parts and with my new masters, my title was pediatric developmentalist slash language pathologist.
And that was true for every single member of the team upon which I was placed. We were all pediatric developmentalists, psychologists, [00:04:00] neurologists, psychiatrists, reading teachers, special educators. The pediatrician didn't treat kids. Those kids got sick. They canceled the appointment because these people were looking at children developmentally. And so what I learned then in sitting in those meetings was to look at a whole child. And I learned to hear with the psychiatrist's ears, I learned to see and feel and understand from such an integrated, multifaceted way. And I was never, ever a related service, which is often what happens to people in this profession.
I was an integral part of it, of a team of people who took a child apart and put them back together to make a whole, so I I've been really lucky and that's how I came to understand the power of, of language, the enormous complexity, and with kids how it's an [00:05:00] integral part of how they function in school. It really is. It mediates social, emotional interactions. It mediates all academic interactions. It's, it's crucial and it's not French German or Spanish. Everything I'm saying is true in all of those languages. And then some.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, I like how you said that you weren't a related service. If you ask any speech language pathologists from my friends, to my colleagues at Windward to you, to any speech and language pathologist that I speak to, I find that your role is so integral in the school systems, not even just for direct related services, but for providing the professional development to teachers.
And in fact, I learned so much from you and our colleagues at The Windward School about language. And specifically from you, every time I'm in a learning opportunity with you, I'm smiling because it's every time I sit down and I'm smiling, waiting to learn from you, but you always start every presentation with the question, who is this child?
Okay. Thinking [00:06:00] back then to your experience sitting at that interdisciplinary table, you identify then these three broader categories that make up how our children learn. So that's neurology, temperament and personality. What do you mean by who is this child, and those three components?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Thank you so much for asking, because it's what I want every educator, every educator, every physician, every psychologist to be asking him or herself, the, who is this child image is a part of the program that I created called classroom language dynamics: the effective teaching model, and what will, we can start with that who is this child? Many years ago, a little boy came to our office who had been cruelly misidentified as intellectually limited, emotionally disturbed and with a severe attention deficit disorder and a learning disability. Well, a lot of that wasn't true. And when we [00:07:00] started identifying here for a language evaluation and when we started identifying all of what was going on for him, what we were able to see was, oh, yes, he had a terrible attention deficit disorder. But as a consequence, he had severely disrupted executive functions. I started teaching executive functions at Windward about 15 years ago. And he had virtually such a disrupted working memory. It was very, very frustrating to see his executive functions, working memory, language impaired. He was the kind of kid who couldn't wear jeans or socks with the seam because they irritated him. His sensory motor system was all disrupted and he made a decision. He couldn't learn, they didn't know how to teach him the way he knew how to learn. So he made an emotional decision. I would rather be seen as a bad boy than a stupid boy. So there was all of those [00:08:00] pieces fit together.
And my colleagues and I looked at each other and said, I said, They have no idea who this child is. And so some, I always tell people, if you look on my website, you see that fellow, he and I are standing there, arms around each other, smiling broadly, when he graduated from high school, the one who was going to end up, they said, as a low level, low level worker. And I always, I'm always very proud of him because he was grouchy after his first year of college. He was complaining to me, his GPA was 3.84. And he wanted a 4.0, so we put that together for my, my background at CERS and then meeting this kid and creating a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary team.
But there was one thing that didn't change. Your neurology is your neurology. Lady gaga is not wrong, born this way, that way, you know, that was true for this fellow, but then there are the issues of [00:09:00] temperament and personality that surround all of those other seven circles. So what we understand is that your temperament or the different aspects of your personality, that manifests as maybe an introvert maybe and an extrovert, they are innate they're in born, those temperamental characteristics. They're, they're not learned. What your personality, your personality is what arises within you as an individual and it's made up of certain characteristics, like your behavior, like your feelings, like your thoughts. It's, it's acquired on top of your temperament. So fundamental characteristics of your personality might be consistency. As you know, I have fraternal twins, one, rock steady, serious mind, on the path. The other one, he's still working on it. All right.
Danielle Scorrano: Yes.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: [00:10:00] And so then you come to the world a certain way. That's your neurology, right? I have multiple degrees from good schools. I still have to look at my watch to know this is my left hand. All right. It's that's the way I'm wired. I get it. I can't reverse an image in my head, but I've been able to compensate because by personality I'm dogged. I'll keep working. So I always have to respect that in a kid. And then there are those other seven circles, and I'm trying to teach that to teachers to understand the dynamic between the two. I always think of my friend. He really wasn't a bad boy, but he couldn't stand to be seen as stupid. And he knew he wasn't, but he didn't know what to do about it. So that's the premise that surrounds that who is this child in image and then those seven concentric interlocking circles.
Danielle Scorrano: Where does language fit into all those pieces then?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Everywhere. When you look at that, though, when you look at that image, you see that all the circles are [00:11:00] overlapping and, and that's really important. What people want people to fully understand is that as a human being, we are intentionally communicative. We, we can't help ourselves, even if we want to shut somebody else up and not be involved. We communicate and languages of vehicle for communication. I can't give you an arched eyebrow young lady, although we're on a podcast and you will know that I am not pleased. I don't have to say that to you, but I can say very calmly, Danielle put that down, or I can say Danielle, put that down and communicate different intentions. What is my intention? What is the purpose of what I'm saying? What words did I choose and how did I choose to say to them? That's the content, use, and form conceptualization that [00:12:00] is, um, uh, truly the brilliant work of Lois Bloom and Margaret Lahey. It's been my good fortune to have learned directly from Dr. Bloom and to have taught it for years and years to teachers to help them understand the power of the language that they use.
Danielle Scorrano: Hmm, I like that you brought that up and it's truly just so powerful to have that conceptual model. So if you think about this model that you've, that you've spoken about, you think about you're integrating language as the vehicle. The main question is the number one question. And the one that I wanted to know when I stepped into your class, my first year at Windward is then what are the implications for teaching? How does this translate to teaching in terms of how we're approaching the child, how we're approaching language? If language is the vehicle that drives the curriculum, what do we do?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: You have to know how to drive different kinds of cars. I think you have to drive differently [00:13:00] according to the road that you're on. Many, many years ago, I had the good fortune of being in Italy and I was driving a rental car along, I guess it's perhaps the Autostrade, if I remember correctly. And I didn't really know where I was going, I was looking for a landmark to make a right, and every car on the road was passing. Every car on the road was passing me. Why? Because I was doing the speed limit, which apparently is not the way it's done in Europe. And so I had to drive carefully and slowly because I didn't know where I was. I had to monitor very carefully. And then we made the turn because we were heading to a marvelous city called Daruta, which led us to a Asisi, which led us to Speleto. All the time, it was raining, then sleeting, then snowing, then hailing. So I was driving very thoughtfully and very carefully and conscious all the time. If I am [00:14:00] using language to teach a group of children who do not have the neurology, the gift that so many of us have of taking in an understanding quickly, easily and freely, I have to drive my course the way I drove that car, thoughtfully, mindfully, carefully, intentionally. So I don't say to a group of children or when I have children who are included into a class of others with all levels of intellectual ability, with all levels of language ability, with all levels of attention ability: okay, guys, let's get ready.
Danielle Scorrano: Right.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: I don't. Instead I assume my teacher voice because I'm not their friend, I'm their teacher. They don't like me. They get to go home. It's all right. All right.
What I say is, everybody pause. Look up at me, everyone, eyes up here, such [00:15:00] an important notion of parsing your words into grammatical phrases. It gives the kids more time to make sense of what they hear of using a vocal tone that demands attention, but doesn't scare the socks off little kids. I can say everybody look up here. What I do, what I do, or I could say everybody come on. I was up here and everyone. But I hear teachers do that. I have to try and forget my Brooklyn background.
Um, instead I say, everyone. Look at me, get ready. The first thing we're going to do, first, is read the aim and agenda. The second thing we're going to do, and I'm holding my fingers up. Look at me, watch my fingers. You know, I control the pace. I use my voice consciously. I rarely tell them, I love when you do that. I say, it is so [00:16:00] excellent that you rephrase that question. You know why everybody, it helps your memory. So I am always teaching them strategies while I'm teaching them content. And I'm consciously using the language by volume, by pace, you hear me doing it now.
I will use a technique that I refer to as sandwiching. I want everybody's focus on me, your attention, your eyes up here, your focus on me. These are the kinds of things that teachers can be taught. To do, they can be taught different levels of questioning. They can be taught how to repeat and rephrase. They can engage the challenge. Now the process of repeating and rephrasing, they can set up preperatory sets so that somebody knows their turn is coming so they don't get anxious.
There are so many things because language is a part of every single day and classroom language is not buddy. [00:17:00] It's not the talk of the playground. And you are, the other thing that I tell teachers. Remember, you're asking questions to what you already know the answer. The kids don't. So it's a different, it's a different communicative environment and teachers, I don't in my experience, the special ed teachers that I've trained, or general ed teachers get one course in language development disorders and they use language every second of every day at school.
Danielle Scorrano: Right. I like the, actually, when you were talking to me and you were providing examples of instructional language, even holding your fingers up and giving those steps, I'm reminded of students that were having difficulty following more than one step directions. Or I noticed that when you were calling attention, for children that were having attention issues, those strategies were helpful for them to attend to the instruction you were saying. To the children that were having working memory issues, I noticed that the specificity of your language and the way you were parsing helped those students.[00:18:00]
The one piece I thought that was interesting, that you talked about was questioning. And when I was in grad school, my master's thesis was on questioning techniques. And I noticed from the data that I was gathering that universal, I shouldn't say universally, because now I'm in a doctorate program. I'm like, let me talk about the data in a way that a researcher would talk about it. But I noticed that there was sentiment from the teachers that I was interviewing and surveying about the lack of information and professional development that they were receiving about questioning. And what is it about questioning that's so powerful? And why do you think teachers perhaps don't have the right tools to effectively lead questioning in their classrooms?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: I don't think that they're properly taught. There are volumes and volumes and volumes. I've done entire courses on questioning techniques and how to raise and lower the level of questions, according [00:19:00] to the child who you are addressing. And also I can remember doing this with Windward had a high school and we've done it all through the years on questioning techniques.
You can ask open-ended questions. You can ask closed questions. You can ask wh, simple wh questions. I can say, what color is your hair? All right. I can say, um, how do Americans travel? That's a big, big, big question, as opposed to who, what, where and when, how and why can then be reduced. So when I'm training teachers, I'll say, tell them, you can reframe your question, everybody, listen, please.
I'm going to ask you a thinking question. I set them up. Why, let's it's pretty outside today. Why is the sky. All right. Now, some of us know the answer to that, but I can then say, why is the sky blue? That [00:20:00] means, tell me a reason for the color of the sky. Why is the sky blue? There's that sandwich. And then you can go, so you've got this open-ended question. You've got the WHS at different levels, then you have, yes, no question. And when push comes to shove, you have, what's called a tag question. Your, your, your bike is behind you, isn't it? And I can shake my head in your direction so that every kid gets to answer. Those are basics. Teachers aren't taught how to question. There's no course in questioning techniques. Language therapists know all about that. There are whole volumes and being that supple as a teacher to address different levels of questioning to this child versus that child. If I'm working with a kiddo who I know can answer basic wh [00:21:00] questions, who, what, where when, and then I will say to him, or to her, Danielle, I'm going to ask you a why question next. Remember, give me a reason, until she connects why with reason. And then I can start asking her why questions, simple ones, where the answers will, why did Harry fall off his bike? What reason was there that Harry fell off his bike? Right. And then if she gives me a face, I can say, was it that he hit a stone or that he saw a pretty girl and looked away so I can take the why, bring it to reason. Move it to a lower level choice and start moving the kid up because the goal is to teach them to the next level. So teachers don't learn this in my experience. This is very linguistically oriented and it's not easy, but it's eminently teachable. [00:22:00] I could teach it to teachers and would, and they would be able to differentiate instruction truly differentiate instruction, as opposed to some of what we read about differentiated instruction and the rationale for all that I just said is very, very simple, but extremely crucial. And it doesn't always happen. I want these children remediated, not simply supported. And if I always lower the level of my question, because she can't answer why, she's not going to learn how to answer why.
Danielle Scorrano: Right.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: So I see that as very potent for teachers to understand the power and the flexibility of the language that they use and how to raise a kid to his or her highest level of ability by teaching them what they need to know, teaching it how the kid can learn it [00:23:00] and understanding why the kid has to learn that way. That's part of the effective teaching model.
Danielle Scorrano: I liked that you said that. That's really powerful. And again, as you were speaking, I noticed the way that you were differentiating your questions, the scaffolding, some rephrasing, and these were all strategies that I learned as Windward teacher. I will admit when I was learning questioning techniques, it was really hard. You had to practice and practice and rephrase and think about how you were delivering that piece of feedback or that questioning technique. And I promise there's a question to this story, but I will say that one year, I was practicing my ,feedback to students and I was learning about the specificity of feedback and how you want to match what the child was doing with the strategy and the skill they were working on. And I was teaching a fifth grade group and I had Nicole Berkowitz, our speech language pathologist, coming to observe me. And I was so, I was on it. Right. My questioning seemed on point and at [00:24:00] least to me, and at the end, she says, well, your feedback was very specific. And I said, thank you so much, I've been working on my feedback. And she said, however, you notice your, your children, a lot of your children have a lot of working memory challenges. I'm not sure they understood your feedback, and keep in mind that your feedback is only as powerful if your children are understanding it and using that feedback to move forward their learning. And that to me, was really powerful because I learned that in all, you know, I could work on my sense of feedback, but if the child wasn't understanding it, it really wasn't that as effective as I wanted it to be.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Yeah, right. She's absolutely. I any, no matter what school I'm in, if I'm in a mainstream school, a special ed school, it doesn't matter when I'm training teachers. I put the automatic kibosh on good job. The red circle line through it. No good job, because that doesn't matter. I love when you, don't love anything, be specific.
I [00:25:00] used to hang in my, my office stop think plan, be specific. The kids, you still laugh about it cause it was a mobile, but good job doesn't mean the thing. And, and your colleague, Ms. Berkowitz was very, very correct. When you give feedback, it has to be specific, clear, and easily processed. It was excellent that you answered my why question in a full sentence with a reason. Everybody, that was excellent. Full sentence. Reason why question requires that. That's it. And that takes 10 seconds.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Well, my, my thought then is though, for a teacher that was teaching for a few years at the time and something, obviously we always have skills to work on, but when you go back to questioning and feedback and even draw in elements of working memory and language deficits, how does a teacher move forward [00:26:00] in providing that effective questioning and feedback? I know you could teach an entire course on this, but what are some key principles that you often offer to teachers about how to deliver effective questioning and feedback and paraphrasing and scaffolding all in the classroom?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: It's actually it's an easy answer. It's a complex task.
Danielle Scorrano: Mmm.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: And I remember I'll start with a little bit of a story. I did a course on questioning years ago. And, one of the, one of the things that I did that really made everybody want to hear me, because every, every teacher thinks he knows he or she knows how to question. I counted and categorized the questions of each teacher I observed.
Danielle Scorrano: Mmm.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: And when a teacher asks 43 questions in a 43 minute period and the majority of those questions are what and where questions, and then on the test, [00:27:00] he, or she asks a lot of why and how questions and the kids don't do well on the test, and that is an unbelievable shock. I can remember. I can see the teacher's face looking at me and saying, oh my goodness. I didn't realize, I didn't realize I was asking so many questions and doing so much talking. Second, I didn't realize I was asking so many of the same kind of questions and no wonder I didn't teach them why and how. That was the end of that. You know? So the answer to the question is it's massive work. It means while you are preparing your lesson, your aim, your agenda, the procedures, you also have your text, a copy of which I do this all the time, I get teachers with whom I work, but I'm training. I have them do it all the time and I work with them.
There's your page copy of what the children are, reading what you are reading together, for example, and in the column [00:28:00] it says Danielle, and I know what kind of question I'm going to ask you. And then, two lines later, it says, Lydia, I know who I'm going to ask, what kind of question and why I'm going to ask that kid that kind of question. That requires a great deal of preparation, but in the end, as an educator and as a student, the return is so much greater. I know how much time people spent on lesson plans. And doing it right requires a lot of, a lot of work. One of the metacognitive pieces I have to include once, what aspects of form of content of use, what content, what memory techniques am I going to teach them the mnemonics to remember the great lakes, whatever it is. But I asked different children, different questions at different levels for different purposes, and I planned that in advance for every lesson. That's the long answer to your question. It's work.
Danielle Scorrano: Queue every teacher listening to this. I've heard you say this, [00:29:00] every teacher is a language teacher. about how powerful that would be in a science textbook or a social studies textbook, or even when I was teaching math, that is the exact practice I did to help, to fuel the instruction that I was teaching because math instruction to with, with the specificity of vocabulary and content area knowledge, it's overwhelmed, it can be overwhelming for a child.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: And when you're teaching math, what people don't realize, I did a presentation, down at the New School and I did it also for NYSAIS on Math Land. And the idea of the language of math is replete with multiple meaning words. So you have to switch, one of the things that I changed teachers to do is say to the children, all right, you're leaving, you're leaving history. Turn off your history brain. You got 90 seconds before you have to go into math. And then I have a teacher say, turn on your math brain. I think in math terms, because you have to help them shift [00:30:00] set. Some of these kids don't do that automatically. And I remember the concept of mathland. I took it from a Windward teacher, I was observing in a math class and one of the children read the number, I know what the number was. It was 114.7 and she asked him to read it. There were eight or nine kids in the room, and he said, 100 fourteen.seven. And the other children laughed.
We didn't laugh at anybody in Miss Plaskett's class. So she, she looked at them and said, no, we're all going to learn something. Now she erased the board and she said, what language do they speak in France? And I looked at her like she was nuts. What language do they speak in Spain, Spanish? What language do they speak in Germany?
German? Like crazy teacher. And then in giant letters, she wrote across the board math land. When you walk into this class, you are in math land, and we speak the language of math. That dot, [00:31:00] we can say 114.7, four and seven tenths. That's the language of methadone and then called on the kid and said, now that you know, you're in math land, honey, let me hear you say that again. 114.7 and she deliberately fed it to him so nobody was going to laugh. So we, the language of instruction is really, really different in the language of math is, is murder because it's filled with multiple meaning words. It's something for teachers to remember. I say this to teachers all the time when I'm training them, tape record yourself once on a Friday because then when you listen to it on Saturday morning, you'll have the rest of the day and Sunday to recover. When you, when you hear what you are saying, we just get into the mode, we got to get through this lesson, but especially when you're teaching children with slower processing speeds, with disrupted language systems, with inattention, with [00:32:00] anxiety, curriculum that they may not have sufficient foundations, you really have to think about who is this child and what do I have to do as a teacher? So the questioning is, is every teacher is a teacher of language. Language is a code. It's a means of communicating our ideas about the world through as Bloom and Lahey say, through a conventional system, arbitrary for communication. I, when I go into nursery schools and I train those teachers and I have watched them teaching the children, the letters of the alphabet, I know. You don't read the alphabet. You read the sounds that the alphabet represents and not all teachers even know that. Not all teachers know that. You're talking to an old language therapist long-winded and passionate. Sorry, did you have another question.
Danielle Scorrano: I love that, no, I love this [00:33:00] because all of the things that you're saying, you know, every, every point that you are making brings us back to, first one speech and language services, as you said, are not related, they're essential to the classroom. Then every interaction an adult can have with a child as an opportunity to build language. And, you know, I'm thinking of some of the children I've taught or just teachers and families that are listening to the READ Podcast, many of them have children with a language based learning disability. Many have children with dyslexia or developmental language disorder. What are those implications for how we teach language for those children that do struggle with language at an early age?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: One of the things that I was taught a long, long time ago by the late Dr. Lawrence Taft, who was a developmental pediatrician, we all learned it from him and I was saying this and I, I want to be very clear that I'm not bragging. I have never ever encountered a child and I've seen tens of [00:34:00] thousands of children over the course of what is now almost a 50 year career. I have never had a child not talk with me because of what Dr. Taft taught me. Dr. Taft taught us a long time ago, and this is particularly true for children with language based learning disabilities with disordered language systems is this, you have to differentiate between the child's chronological age and her developmental age. Where is she developmentally? So I've had people say to me over the years, what are you doing? I never heard her talk that way. Why? Because you're talking to her like a five-year-old and her language system is much more like that of a three-year-old. And how do I know that? Because I watched the level of her play. I watched the nature of her interactions with others. And I brought my language down to her level without talking to her, like she was a baby. That's the complexity of the [00:35:00] emotional, the attentional, the linguistic, the language parts, of who is this child? Her neurology has her functioning linguistically at a lower level. And that has made an enormous difference. Here in New York, We say KISS. Keep it short and sweet, and the real New Yorkers know what that actually stands for, but keep it short and sweet and don't sing. So is that your bicycle? If you pumped down to somebody, and so the difference is I talked to five-year-old Danielle and say, Hey, is that your bike? I talked to three year old, Danielle, and I say, I see a bicycle. The bicycle, is it yours? Your bike? Is you, you adjust to, to the, to the kid. And that makes a world of difference. And for parents who have to adjust the way they talk, it makes a [00:36:00] stronger social emotional connection because mommy understands and I feel safe. And that's what I tell all the teachers. You have an obligation for your classroom to be a safe place. And in order to do that and not have anybody feel intimidated or threatened, you may have to adjust what you say, how you say it and why you say it that way. And that's what I'm telling. I mean, that's so much a part of the effective teaching model. I can't stress it enough because our obligation as teachers is to teach the content and services, the skills, especially for the impaired learners. For parents, talk to your kid where your kiddo is.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: And he'll feel safer and she'll be closer to you. It makes a big, big difference. Over the weekend, the other thing that I had learned was I met the four year old daughter of the dear colleague. I'd not met the child before. She apparently [00:37:00] is, would talk the wallpaper off the wall, but like all four year olds, when she
Danielle Scorrano: Sounds like my child. Well, I don't have a child, but a child I would have.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: So I know the name of the game. The worst and most foolish thing for you to do is walk up to a four year old and ask the four year old a question. I'm telling you, this is not supposed to be an interrogation. And I tell it to teachers and I tell it to parents all the time. You ask questions, you get answers if you're lucky. If you make comments and observations, you're more likely to conversation. And that's what I did with her. I looked at her mom and then I looked at, I said, I just shook my head. And look, I said, what is the name of your cat? I've seen the cat on Haley's lap. I can't remember that cat's name. And I said to my colleague, Mary, and what is that cat's name? I, and she gave me the cat's name, which by the way, everybody is Mouse. And I said, oh, right, that was Mouse sitting in your lap. I remember. Yeah, I can't imagine is Mouse [00:38:00] heavy when she sits on a lap? I don't, I wouldn't have her sit on my lap. And then I looked at the kid and she's just smiling at and that was it. So I didn't say oh, what a pretty dress, where did you get it? What grade are you in? That's that's conversation killer. That's like who? The days when we used to stand in the, in the singles bars, come here often? Oh my gosh. You know, say, you know, say so. I, I talked about my dog and he sat in my lap. And soon she talked about her cat who sat in her lap, make conversation. This isn't an inquisition.
Danielle Scorrano: What I'm hearing from you is you're bringing in this level of engagement. We were meeting last week and you were talking about how it's not interrogation, it's engagement. And when I'm also hearing from you as you were being transparent, that language is integrated in relationships.
And oh, like to talk about safety and trust, all in language. That to me is the biggest takeaway. The last question that I have for you, I [00:39:00] could talk to you all day. And fact for the we, we, we talked to her a good half hour before we actually started recording. When I started READ, we've been going on for almost two years now, a lot of what I've been thinking about READ is, the main theme is this theme of integration. How do we integrate research, education and advocacy as a whole to treat and to really not just treat but empower the whole child? And as I've been listening to you from the start of your career, sitting in the multidisciplinary team at that table, to now talking about the whole child and the implications for teaching, you are integration. So I was going to ask a question about how we move forward and integrate in 2022, Lydia. You know, I think you have captured it. So the, the last question is really the floor is yours. Is there anything that you want to tell our listeners that I haven't asked you that you think knowing as we move forward and as we finished listening to this [00:40:00] episode, take all our notes and move on to the world and interact with our children?
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Um, well, let's say if we order lunch, we can probably get everything I want to say out and have a little snack in between. There's what I want to say. There's just so much to say. Language is a part of everything that we do as people, language for communication. And the language of the classroom is very different than everyday language. There are different registers. I remember years ago doing a community lecture for Windward on the different levels of language, different communication styles. And I what I want teachers to understand, what I want parents to understand is how every time you open your mouth to talk, every time you alert yourself and turn your ears on to [00:41:00] listen, you are engaging with another human being and the words you choose and how you choose to deliver them, can make a child feel home and important and meaningful and positive and motivated.
What can stop that kid dead in his tracks. And there are so many words and so many tones and so many meanings. Nobody in the world sits and talks at dinner about the Battle of Hastings. They just don't, unless they're a particularly kind of family, but in school, you have to do that. And so that's why I want teachers to be alert to the fact that they have help the kids turn on their history brains, help them be alert to the vocabulary that we will be using, teach them how to use those words and [00:42:00] encourage them to do so by having the words available, plan all of your questions at dinner, moms, dads, what'd you do in school? Nothing. It's always amazes me. How all of us have these degrees.
And when our parents asked us, what did you do in school today? The answer was nothing. In our family, we didn't do that. We do two very different things. One was, we would choose who was going to go first. There are four of us. And then we would say, I would say, well, how about if we start with the weirdest thing that happened today?
Danielle Scorrano: Oh, I love that.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Right. So tell me which kid in your class did the absolute weirdest thing today. I will tell you who in the office did the weirdest thing. We would pick, who did the most annoying thing instead of what'd you do in school today? How. If you get, if you ask a question, like how much homework do you have a lot?[00:43:00]
So which homework? So how come the math homework is so annoying? Because we did it in school all day. So what can we do with this teacher? Let's think of some things we can, you know, something that, and this is effort parents, to think. But if you ask that question, you know what the answer is, what'd you do in school?
Nothing. So that's number, number one. Think about the language that you're using. And if you want, for those of you who have children with a difficulty listening and attending who you want to have, acquire a bigger vocabulary in the context of just being. This was a game we used to play, which was, um, and I, I do it in classes. I remember, I don't what made me think of it was Danielle, you used the phrase down the rabbit hole. She didn't want to go down a rabbit hole. I wrote it down to help myself remember it. That's a strategy. Write it down. I don't care if you don't know how to spell rabbit, draw bunny ears, help yourself [00:44:00] remember. It's a memory technique. So I would deliberately use a word that I knew nobody knew and I'd stop and say, um, Hey everybody know what conflagration means? No, you gotta catch me guys. And I'd say it to the kids in my class too. And I would do it on purpose and I would keep score. You, students are on a roll today. You caught me four times. We have four new vocabulary words. And by the way, there's a prize for the person who uses that word in a sentence appropriately. What's the prize? You get to shake hands with Dr. Soifer. Whatever it is, it's not a reward that's, that's, you know, a quantity, it's an acknowledgement.
You go. All right. So that's what I would say to people. Think about how you are using words. Think about how you are communicating the message. And never for a single, single second, forget the [00:45:00] enormous power of the words you choose and the words you use when you were looking at some little ones and working to answer the question for yourself, who is this child, and how must I teach him so that he can learn and really love learning, feel good about himself.
Danielle Scorrano: am speechless. I am empowered. I know it's not great to be speechless on a podcast. I would just end there. I am so empowered by you. You teach me, every single time I speak to you, Dr. Soifer. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. For our READ listeners, dr. Soifer does offer a number of classes at the Windward Institute. So if you're curious to learn more, it is on our website, you can check out all of Dr. Soifer's classes. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much, Lydia, for being on the READ Podcast.
Dr. Lydia Soifer: Very welcome. It's my pleasure. The more, the more people I teach, the more children I reach, and I have this enormous sense of obligation to in any [00:46:00] way I can, leave the world a better place than when I found it. And if I taught anybody anything today that makes the kid's life better, thank you. very much.
What is the role of language in our schools and curriculum? Simply put, language is everything. In the words of this episode’s guest, Lydia Soifer, PhD, “Language is the vehicle that drives the curriculum.” Dr. Soifer is a renowned language pathologist and literacy specialist with over forty-five years of experience in clinical settings as well as in professional and parent education. She explains a multidisciplinary approach to child development, offering immediate, actionable strategies for teachers and families.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
1. Who is this child?
It takes a multidisciplinary approach to understand the development of a child, especially when assessing challenges and deficits in academic and personal life. Dr. Soifer identifies three components of a child’s learning as
"Speech and language services are not related. They are essential in the classroom."
2. Components of Language
Language by nature is complex, whether it is being spoken or written. Understanding the patterns, rules, and nuances of language holds crucial implications for classroom instruction. At the foundation, language consists of three main components: form, content, and use.
Bloom and Lahey (1978) identify these components:
- Form: the structure of language, including parts of words, sound-symbol correspondence, sentences, and compositions
- Content: the meaning of the language being communicated
- Use: the social aspects of language (i.e. how it is being communicated and received)
"Language is the vehicle that drives the curriculum."
3. Implications for Teachers
Acknowledge: Language mediates every social and academic interaction of the classroom environment and drives student learning. Teachers should acknowledge the power and responsibility they have to leverage the use of language to meet the students where they are and drive their potential.
Learn: There are many facets of language, cognition, and social development that extend beyond any curriculum or content area. Teachers can harness language use in their instruction by learning about effective, research-based strategies including planning questions to monitor comprehension, think alouds, scaffolding, and feedback.
Teachers can also learn more about characteristics of learners with language-based difficulties and disabilities such as students with dyslexia and developmental language disorders who may have difficulty with executive functioning, language processing, or working memory.
Plan: Lesson planning should include the language components such as pre-planned questions and comments as well as strategies that support language and facilitate steps of the lesson and assessment activities.
"I want teachers to understand the power and the flexibility of the language that they use and how to raise a child to their highest level of ability by teaching them what they need to know, teaching it how they can learn it, and understanding why the child has to learn that way. That's part of the effective teaching model."
4. Implications for Parents, Guardians and Families
Understand that language development begins before the child has entered formal classroom instruction.
While oral and written language are not the same, certain challenges in oral language can contribute to later difficulties in learning to read.
Learn more from Dr. Lydia Soifer at upcoming courses & workshops with The Windward Institute
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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.
About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.