Episode 35 - A Guide to Talking with Children with Rebecca Rolland, EdD
Rebecca Rolland, EdD, the author of a recently published book, The Art of Talking with Children, from HarperCollins, which has just been sold in 10 international territories. The book is a combination memoir/guidebook chronicling her journey as a speech pathologist, Harvard lecturer, and mother of two to learn how powerful great conversations with our kids can be. Dr. Rolland teaches educational assessment at Harvard and has expertise diagnosing and treating learning disabilities at Children's Hospital Boston, as an Oral and Written Language Specialist in the Neurology department. She is also on the faculty at the Harvard Medical School.
Her book includes discussion of how to use back-and-forth conversation to get in sync with kids, and how understanding children's temperaments can support more positive relationships between adults and kids. In her career, Dr. Rolland has also helped kids discuss differences and celebrate diversity, with a focus on helping them combat bias in all its forms.
Danielle Scorrano: [00:00:00] Greetings READers. We are coming to you from actually a humid day in New York City in the summer. And it was actually interesting. I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago and it was this cool breezy pleasant day. And I don't know why I'm telling you this, but it's really hot one. And speaking of east coast summers today, I have the absolute joy of interviewing a fellow east coaster from Boston, Dr. Rebecca Rolland, Dr. Rolland, welcome to the READ Podcast.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Danielle Scorrano: Thank you for being here. And I love the way that we connected Dr. Rolland. I think when I interview leaders for the READ Podcast, it is someone that I share a mutual admiration for. And I love that you messaged me on social media about READ. And once I immersed myself in your work, I knew that we had to speak. I mean, you were so gracious in sharing your book with me. I devoured it. Before we get into your background, how are you showing up on [00:01:00] this bright, humid summer day in Boston?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So it's definitely quite warm here as well. It's very nice and steamy. It's funny but we're in sort of summer mode. I think it's where a lot of parents are. I have two children myself, five and ten, and so they're off at camp and we're kind of moving into summer modes, different activities, different schedules. And so I'm also thinking about conversations around that sort of thing as well. I'm so excited to be here and talk through the role of oral language and conversation.
Danielle Scorrano: Absolutely. I love how you started with that because summer is a busy time for families, but it's a different type of busy, whether kids are at camp or even sleepaway camp or day camp or vacation, and then you moved into the school year and then it's a whole different type of busy. And you think about what the role of conversations are with our children, so I'm excited to talk to you. Before we get into our interview, I want share some more for our READ listeners about you, Dr. Rolland. So Dr. Rolland is the author of a recently published book, The [00:02:00] Art of Talking with Children from Harper Collins, which has been sold in 10 international territories. The book is a combination memoir guidebook chronicling her journey as a speech pathologist, Harvard lecturer, and a mother of two to learn how powerful great conversations with our kids can be. She teaches educational assessment at Harvard and has expertise diagnosing and treating learning disabilities at Children's Hospital in Boston as an oral and written language specialist in the neurology department. She's also on the faculty at the Harvard medical.
In this interview readers, you're going to learn about her work and her book on cultivating back and forth conversation to get in sync with kids, and how understanding children's temperaments can support more positive relationships between adults and kids. Finally, in her career, she has done a lot of work in helping kids discuss differences and celebrate diversity, which I know you've done work with kids with learning disabilities and dyslexia, which is something that I bring to the table. And you focus a lot on helping them combat bias in all of its forms. So [00:03:00] Dr. Rolland, this is going to be a fruitful conversation for any adult that has a caring relationship with a child. And I know that listeners are eager to know more about you. So I want to ask you, tell us about your background and your story.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So, it's funny that I come to this book, not just as a lecturer, an educational assessment and so on, but also as a parent and somebody who thinks about this conversation and talking with kids from multiple angles. So I really, in my book and in my work, I bring together really three different hats, so first really as a parent. So I see my children and friends with children developing every day and really in the weeds, having those kind of very practical conversations and thinking about. How do we explain things to kids? How do we actually manage our daily lives? I'm also a clinician, so a speech pathologist. And in that role, I really do think about kind of how do we understand children's development, whether it's their reading [00:04:00] skills, their listening and speaking skills and how it's all really linked together. So my work is really about creating kind of holistic learning profiles of children to understand how we can support them and also how they can empower themselves and understand themselves better.
I'm also a researcher and as part of this book, I went on a journey of understanding. I interviewed dozens of psychologists, linguists, neuropsychologists, and so on to really understand conversation from multiple angles.
Danielle Scorrano: I love how you brought in that integrated holistic approach and shared how this influenced not only the book that you wrote, but also your career and your work in its entirety. As I created this episode, many of our previous episodes focus on disseminating information to mainly educators. There are some that are mainly focused on parents or guardians. We had an episode on navigating special education, knowing more about your child's I E P. And [00:05:00] when you recently published your book, The Art of Talking with Children, you emphasize the audience as, and I should say, quote unquote parents.
And the reason why I say quote unquote, is that you explain that for the purpose of the book, you use the words, "parents". But for readers, You want to make them aware that it encompasses more of this inclusivity, recognizing that families, whether they're parents or guardians or different types of families, are diverse and encompass a multitude of family types.
And so for the purpose of this conversation, as we're talking you, and I may use the word parents or guardians, and I want to echo that language in your book to frame our discussion, using the terms adult, to recognize those folks that are present in a child's life and developing these relationships. So it could be adults working, I guess, mainly with children in a social setting.
I mean, obviously as a teacher, you're working across academics in social settings as well. But when I was reflecting about the ways that I connected to this book, I was thinking about my role [00:06:00] as a teacher, as a coach, as an older sister with a substantial age difference of nearly 20 years as a future parent in whatever capacity that looks like for my family. I wanted to make that caveat that when we use the term parent guardian or adults, it's talking more inclusively about it. So as you approach these adult child relationships, you center your book and your research around rich talk. What do you mean by rich talk?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Yeah. So rich talk is really a framework that I developed to define, what do we mean by having these more meaningful conversations with kids? Because it sounds great in the abstract, but how do we actually make this happen on a daily basis? There's really three components and I laid out what I call the ABCs of rich talk to make it something easy to remember, something you can keep in mind as you're having conversations with kids to check in with yourself.
And so just goes like this: A stands for adaptive. And that really means going with the flow of the child. So that means in terms of their mood, [00:07:00] in terms of whether they're more or less shut down and even longer term. So it's kind of in the moment, but even longer term in terms of say their temperament or how they're changing, say into adolescence. So I've had a lot of parents who say, for example, oh, my child doesn't want to talk to me anymore right home from school. What should I do? ? And when I ask, I find, oh, well actually after dinner, when they go out to play basketball, that's a time when the child has relaxed a bit is more open and able to talk. So really thinking about, when does your family already work well or your classroom already works well in terms of the talk and adapting there.
B stands for back and forth, meaning that whether it's a classroom, whether it's a family, you're always looking for the balance of talk and silence between the adult and the child. So I think we often come at kids without meaning to, with kind of an agenda or a lecture or a point, but really thinking about, well, how can we get as much from children and scaffolding their language and their speaking.
C stands for [00:08:00] child driven. So meaning that a lot of these more meaningful conversations start when we focus on a child's perspective where a child's coming from, what they're worried about, what they're concerned about or what they're excited about, not to say this is doesn't mean permissive parenting or permissive teaching. But really just to get in there and say, well, what is a child's perspective and doing that actually supports you much more in scaffolding them and making learning more meaningful.
Danielle Scorrano: I love how you break that down- adaptive back and forth and child driven. And as you're talking. I mean, I think with any time talking with children is so important, but even in the last two years from dealing with the pandemic and health issues to, I don't even know how to even encompass that, but the multitude, it just feels like I don't know. I mean, obviously I'm not coming from a perspective of a child, but as a human, it's so hard to human right now. And so when you think about these three components, especially from a child's [00:09:00] perspective, you said there's a back and forth and no agenda. How do you balance that? Let's say I'm a parent and I want to talk to my children about, whether it's women's rights or a lot of different social issues that are happening. I don't want to go down too much in politics, or even just in general about what's happening in the pandemic. How do you balance that agenda while ensuring that we are maintaining this child driven perspective?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So I think there's a couple things it's first is just to recognize that we can bring our perspective to the table. So child driven doesn't mean just letting the child entirely run a conversation and entirely not have any input from us. So it's actually finding that balance of how do we give ourselves to the conversation, but equally understand what our child is thinking, what their assumptions are, and even to be vulnerable as adults and to say, well, maybe there's some part of that I am biased and my child has a different assumption or [00:10:00] has a different bias. There might be validity in what they have to say. They might have misconceptions or misperceptions that I can help with and really thinking about it as if we're going to guide gently. If we're going to say, well, let's try to unpack some of those assumptions, that we might learn something about our children and they'll learn something from us. So not to say that we can't come, with our own perspectives. Of course we should. And we can, but that it's really not as effective to just say, well, I'm gonna lay it out and just leave it on the table for you. They're not going to get as much from that. And it's not building the relationship as much as more of a back and forth.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm. I like that. And when you talk about this back and forth too, I'm already getting, the nitty gritty of, how do I get there? I need to know more. And I think a lot of our listeners would have that same question. I'm thinking about the back and forth part of this. How do we as adults ensure that? Or what are some strategies I think that we, as adults can use to ensure that there is this balance back and forth? Should it be a [00:11:00] 50, 50, should children come with more language? Or how would that work in terms of being mindful about this back and forth of the conversation?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So I actually think about this in a way, almost like building a house. So if we're going to do this back and forth with kids, we really do need to set the foundation first. And that's to support kids at really whatever age, even before they're talking or before, they're just barely talking to think about what are the norms of conversation. That means how can we talk, being an active listener, being a reflective listener for us and then for kids. And so that's actually gonna support them as, not only as to listen to us, but to understand their peers perspective. So for example, starting out with things like, well, what does it mean? Let's have a discussion. What does it mean to be a good listener? How can we partially agree with someone while still exploring our thoughts. So things like even providing sample starters, like, well, I agree with this part of what you're saying, but I'm wondering about this part, [00:12:00] or could you tell me more about this? Because I don't think I agree, but I'm not entirely sure so actually showing that we can disagree in part, we can have some misunderstandings. But it doesn't need to end our relationship. It doesn't need to end the conversation. So actually providing those kind of norm setting questions and comments can be really helpful as a start.
And then I think as you move towards sort of building the bigger part of the house, recognizing that we can bring those questions, those comments is guiding us and guiding children, but always recognizing that the conversation may take a turn. So we always wanna be open to the fact that our conversation might not end the way it began. And I think that that is part of, for me, the fun and surprise of conversation and sort of the journey of it. I think if we already have it all planned out and we already have children's responses planned out, we're not really allowing for that kind of learning to take place as much as we could. So I think we do want to guide, but we also want to be open to even having our own [00:13:00] perspectives be changed.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I love how you brought that foundation and the house metaphor. As you were talking, I was thinking about the process of teaching, guiding, modeling, and then the emphasis on the process. What I like when you wrote in your book was focusing on the process of incorporating things like growth mindset. And even when you talked about in your research, focusing on this mastery and the process over the product and the outcome and modeling that and infusing that in conversations is something that is so powerful. So I love that you brought that up. You talked about the ABCs of rich. You also frame the three E of rich talk. So what are these three E of high quality conversations? And can you break down each of these components as well?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So this is really an overall sort of how to guide part of it, which has really come from my work as a speech pathologist and researcher, and the three E, which are really research based so how do we expand [00:14:00] child's children's language and support them in making bigger connections and so on are as follows. So it's first is expand. And that really means to take what children are saying or what they're seeming to say and extending it, making it longer larger, seeing what else you can make of it.
So just as an example, say a child says, "robot broken," young child, and they show you their toy, which appears to be broken. So you might say something even just to make a more complete sentence to show them the way the grammatical sentence works. So, "oh yes. That robot does look broken, or its wheels broken." So you start to actually help the child have more language, but then also to expand on, be more specific about, well, what about it might be broken?
The second E is explore. And that really means going beyond the here and now beyond what's just concrete to emphasize things like, the past, the future telling stories, making predictions, and this really supports [00:15:00] children, especially in academic language. So when they're not always talking about things they see in front of them, but they might be talking about politics or war or something that's more abstract. So it really supports them in getting there and that you could do it even with young children. So in that example, you know, the robot broken, let's see what would happen if we put the robot's wheels on again, what would happen if we took the battery out? So let's explore some hypotheses of what we could do. We can't actually see these things, but we predict what do you think would happen? What might not work? Why might that not work? You start to really explore that.
And the third E is evaluate. So this really means looking at the process, looking at your conversations together with a child and raising their self-awareness and yours not really self critically, but really just thinking together about, well, what worked and what didn't. So in that example, were we successful? What actually of our attempts worked, what didn't work , what could we try the next time? So you're really open to the fact that failing [00:16:00] can be a process, can be a good thing that actually failing differently can mean you're learning something. And that's all part of that mastery approach.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm. Yeah. I like those three. Those are concrete and applicable to take away in every different conversation. And as you were talking about expand, explore and evaluate, there were so many instances that I thought in terms of things that I'm already doing and one, and even examples of oh, you know, I could have approached that situation a little differently, so I really like that. And what I like about this conversation too, is you're so out front in talking about these high leverage strategies, and I think that's something that is needed and wanted by not only myself, but the listeners as well. So as you're talking about between the ABCs and the three E's, you talked about being adaptive the back and forth, child driven, expanding, exploring, and evaluating. What are some other strategies that we can use as adults and perhaps what are we already doing effectively that you've [00:17:00] noticed in your interviews that we can continue to build?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So one thing I think that a lot of people are doing, whether it's educators, parents, that we can continue building, especially is thinking about questions. So I always think about a balance between open ended questions, the questions that don't have one right answer and close ended questions. So questions that are more of a yes or no, or more of a choice. And I think a lot of times we do kind of balance those things intuitively. So we do think, well, that's not working. So let me move to something more open ended or the child says, I don't know, so now I'm going to give them a choice. But that's something we can also be a bit more intentional about at times. So for example, if we're always probing and asking these really open ended questions and a child says, "Hmm, I don't know." Or just sort of shakes their head, we can think about, well, how do we become a bit more specific, a bit more grounded and concrete with our questions. So it feels as though the child has the ability to master that or the ability to [00:18:00] respond more easily. So I think that's one area where I see a lot of good things happening and I think that we can even go further with that.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm. Yeah. That's an interesting point that you bring up questions and I'm someone who's such a fan of this curious conversation. And so, as you think developmentally, can you perhaps provide some example question starters that you might wanna ask at different stages? So let's start with early childhood. What might be something more specific that might benefit a child in early childhood?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah, my general rule is that the younger the child, the more concrete I tend to start in terms of the questions, but I don't end there. So I think you can always get to things that are abstract and that we actually don't always think about doing that with young children. So for example, if you're reading a book, say about frog and toad just as a recent example in my house and you could even say, oh, what color is toad,sort of very standard approach, which I think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you know, what color is the frog? What, [00:19:00] you know, what does the frog look like? How many are there? And that's fine. But I think as we think about expanding our questions, we often realize that even young kids have lots of big ideas and questions that go beyond the sort of counting or labeling and things like that. For example, you know, why do you think that frog is on toad’s head?
You know, why do, what do you think, why are you laughing? What is funny about that? You know, what makes you laugh? What do you think will happen next? Have you ever seen a frog like that? Where were you? So actually sort of generating some stories, making links, making connections, and you can do that with a child who's even, you know, four or five years old.
So I think we often don't think beyond kind of the more simple or, you know, labeling things. And I think obviously it's important for young children to learn colors and numbers and counting and so on, but we can actually get to pretty big ideas even about different emotions from starting small.
Danielle Scorrano: Yes. You mentioned emotions. I'm a [00:20:00] big fan of Marc Brackett’s work as well as Brené Brown's recent work in Atlas of the Heart on naming and labeling emotions because I find it so fascinating that even in the research on emotions, how difficult it is for adults to name and label emotions. And so that was just something I was thinking about, but even in any developmental age, emotion and emotional literacy is important, but as we get to these questions and I, let's actually, I'm going to put a pin in that because I want to return to the emotional aspect of conversations. But back to the question starters between elementary, middle school, and high school. You had said even as children start to develop, and you mentioned that some parents might say to you, oh, my child doesn't want to talk to me right after school. What are some question starters that you might want to incorporate in your conversation as children start to progress through these different school years?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So I think [00:21:00] oftentimes it's funny because parents sometimes say to me, oh, I ask, you know, how was school? And they say fine. And how was your day? You know, it was okay. You know? And so I think those things are what we try to call getting back together, building closeness, connection building, and back and forth. I would never say, oh, don't say those things. I think those are great. Those are ways of reconnecting after a day, but they're not those deeper conversations obviously.
And I think sometimes we expect deeper conversations from those which are really not intended to be deeper conversations. I think a lot of times if we move towards after we do that or something like that, if we ask questions like, well, can you teach me something? Can you show me something I don't know? Can you think of something that probably I've never seen before, or something even what was the- put in an adjective - weirdest, funniest, strangest thing that happened today, that kind of thing. I've played games almost [00:22:00] like I'm going to try to describe my day in three words.
Let's see. Can you try to do that too? So I do these things that are more creative, a bit more stretching of the imagination, and that also involve adult modeling. So I think sometimes if kids don't wanna talk, it can be almost a relief for them to just hear us almost model a more relaxed exploration of our day or just in an exploration of what's going on. And oftentimes we'll get more language back that way than if we feel like we have to push towards getting something from a child.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm. I like how you brought up some of those different types of modeling and gamifying conversations. I think before our conversation, I was worried that I was going to get in the mindset of, I need to be so pre-planned and logical and have an agenda with conversations because language is so important for kids. So what do I do? What do I do and say, and as I'm talking to you and especially, [00:23:00] actually as a teacher and as a podcaster, I'm so happy we're talking and I'm realizing I'm having this aha moment now that why would I even think that way? Right? Because conversation is supposed to be so fun and insightful. And I think as we're talking, too, it's reminding me that learning can be so informal. And so I'm happy we're talking about having this discourse. Here, you heard it first READers, that I am having an aha moment here live on Zoom on the READ Podcast with Dr. Rebecca Rolland. So I appreciate those questions and those examples.
It's actually interesting. You talked about saying, tell me something that was so funny from the day. I had Dr. Lydia Soifer, who's a speech language pathologist, on the READ Podcast in January, and she actually came up with, “Tell me the most surprising thing that happened to you today.” And my younger sister, who's about 20 years younger than me, is entering high school. And I started using that and the things she would share about her day and [00:24:00] the most surprising thing, I could not have expected it. And it was just such a fun way to start a conversation over dinner or as we were even talking on the phone. So thank you for those examples in your book.
Now I want to get a little bit more in the nitty gritty details of these types of conversations and to bring a couple more examples, even though you've already brought so many and enlightened us in your book. You focus on conversations that pertain to seven areas of child development. So you have learning, empathy, confidence, relationships, play, openness to difference and temperament.
Now this episode is releasing, for some of us in the height of the summer, for some of us toward the end of the summer. And hopefully families or adults are listening to this conversation together as they savor the final moments of summer and prepare for a new school year. And I want to give READers with some even more high leverage tools.
I [00:25:00] like to call them small, but mighty strategies that they can incorporate in their daily habits. And so, as I was thinking about these areas of child development, I wanted to get back to more specific ones. So in the beginning of this conversation, I alluded to, or even actually just directly talked about how much we're facing as a world in society, politically, in health over the past few years. And so I would like to know some more practical tips that you can provide for us on how we help children with relationship building, empathy, and openness to difference because to me as an educator, not just in this school, but in the broader education community and talking to families and even parents that have young kids, that seems to be something that they're all wondering about. So what are some of those practical tips that you can share about these specific skills?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So I think it all starts, I want to first [00:26:00] emphasize the fact that this doesn't have to be something that takes up the entire day, something that you stress about or worry about all the time. I would say, even if you wanna start small and think about having these kind of intentional conversations, just almost as check-ins a couple of times a day. So even think about five or ten minute chunks a couple times a day as a way of starting out and seeing what happens. So you oftentimes find that when you do these things, children really do latch on to their routines and rituals because they do feel seen and heard more and they ask for it, which I found in my own family.
So I do want to emphasize it to just try it out in small doses and see how it goes and if you get the ball rolling. One thing just in terms of difference, I think one thing to really start with is to create a culture, whether or not it's your family or the classroom where you notice and talk about differences in a really celebratory way - so whether or not it's differences in skin tone, differences in ethnicity, differences in [00:27:00] learning and thinking - to really emphasize that we are glad it as our family culture, our classroom culture, that we have these differences that we're actually learning from our diversity and really talk specifically about celebrating different histories and celebrating what we all bring to the table. And I think that if you have that as an underlying framework, you are not feeling as though you have to hide differences or say, oh, we're actually all the same when everyone knows that we're not all the same and that there's actually power to not being all the same.
And so I think one thing to emphasize as I often do in classrooms is that we all have differences. We all actually are quote unquote different in some way, and that even goes to our learning style. So oftentimes for example, kids with dyslexia can feel as if they're left out or if, as if they're the ones who have a difference and the other one don't. So I have learned differently and all my friends learn typically, but that's actually not the case. So I also really emphasize the [00:28:00] fact that we could have conversations about all of our learning differences. So for myself, for example, I give the example of, oh, I think I'm pretty good at math. If you say, are you good at math? I'm like, oh, I feel like I'm a pretty good mathematician, but I used to try to play this New York Times game, the tiles with my son, and it's like, you have to match these different patterns and do not have very good spatial awareness, So a visual patterning for me, that's really challenging.
And it always has been, so remember, as a child, I just could not do geometry and felt it was really hard. So, even within the domain of math, my difference is that there are certain areas of math that are really hard, certain that are not. And so I really use that as a model and then talk with kids about, well, what areas of, say reading, are really going well for you and for a child with dyslexia, maybe they are struggling with decoding, but maybe they do bring a strong oral language background so they can comprehend relatively well, even if they're not decoding perfectly. [00:29:00] So there's always something, even if it's a domain that we feel bad about, there's always usually something that's going better. And there are also other areas that are going well for us in terms of learning. So I really help all to recognize their own differences in a classroom and then support them in celebrating the differences of others as well.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I like how you ended with that piece of the learning preferences and the neurodiversity, and also bringing to the forefront, challenges and strengths that exist in the classroom because I think that's really an important point. And one thing that I was thinking about when I was teaching how exciting it was for a child to say, I'm celebrating what they're really, really strong at, and then to say, oh, this sometimes can be challenging for me. Or, you know, coming up with a complex sentence during writing class is really challenging. Well, let's work on this together. So that's integrating that challenge. And again, all READ listeners know, And Dr. Rolland you probably know, I love the term [00:30:00] integration because it does bring this holistic picture as when you are humanizing it or operationalizing it in everyday settings.
And speaking of integration, you had explained in your book that high quality conversations hold this double promise. And when I was reading your book, what I thought was really fascinating was you highlighted this bidirectional integration between cognitive and emotional skill building. And I think it's important for us to note how holistic and integrated our brain is. Specifically in identifying those pieces, I think it's important for the READers of your book and our READ listeners of this podcast for how we look at skill building for our children. So what is that double promise for the cognitive learning and emotional learning that you do offer in these high quality conversations and what are these benefits that we see?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Yes, definitely. So I think it's actually funny that you mentioned that because I was just thinking in a way and talking with a colleague about [00:31:00] how this kind of rich talk really is at the intersection of social, emotional learning and literacy. So we really actually think of this as the braid between social emotional learning and actually learning about reading or learning to read because it actually does do two things. It brings together the cognitive skills and the social skills because a conversation is a relationship, right? And it is building relationships. And so I think as we move towards this double promise, we really do emphasize how all of these things are interconnected. So the first part of the double promise is about the moment by moment, meaning that in the present moment. So while you're having the conversation, you actually tend to be enjoying yourself or at least intrigued or surprised or having an actual journey. So it doesn't feel static. It doesn't feel like a drag or just like you're bored and the child shouldn't feel that way either, ro it actually feels as though you're both engaged and that doesn't [00:32:00] mean you're happy or jumping for joy or anything like that. You might be resolving a conflict. You might be trying to figure out why you don't agree. But you are actually undergoing a journey and really attempting to attend to each other. So that's the first promise is that you'll actually enjoy each other's company more, hopefully over the long run and in the moment.
And then the second part of it is really the accumulation over time. So meaning that over the course of the months and the years that you have these conversations, you actually are building skills in children. So things like their kindness, their confidence, their creativity, and it's because these small moments are always accumulating. So as you're moving children, building those skills in the moment, those social skills and the literacy learning skills, you really are actually over time supporting them to become more playful, more creative and so on, even though you can't always see that at the time.
Danielle Scorrano: I love that. It reminds me actually of the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, I think many people read that book, but it looks [00:33:00] at structures of how to be better workers or how to establish those structures for a workout routine. But it translates a lot to different parts of our lives. I was just thinking when you said that it accumulates, it's atomic, right? And catching those micro moments actually have this mighty effect. And I should say, actually I like that micro, but mighty, that they have these short-term effects and these long term effects. That's a great way to conceptualize it and definitely one that you go into greater detail in your book as well.
I have a few more questions, but I thought we would pause the question and answer portion and actually play a game. You talked about conversations and, and being fun and having this gamified aspect to it. So I thought for our discussion, I've never done this before. We would play a true and false game. And we'll give the READ listeners some wait time that they want to play along [00:34:00] and let's just dive into it. So I'll ask you a question. You tell me if it's true or false.
So I think you already gave this away in the last couple minutes of our conversation, but I would like to know, high quality conversations are embedded in relationships, true or false.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: So, yes, I would definitely say that is true. Whether or not we know a child well, or we are just meeting them for the first time. I think really we are always establishing relationships through the conversation and that we can use the conversation to build bonds. So I definitely think that that is true.
Danielle Scorrano: Very nice. I hope everyone's keeping their score. This is not a test. Don't keep score. We're just gamifying this.
Number Two. True or false? High quality conversations are about learning cognitive skills only. I hope you all were listening to the last five minutes of this conversation, true or false?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. So I would definitely say that one's false. So I think the [00:35:00] fact that we see these things braided, the cognitive and the social emotional means that we're never actually just doing cognitive skills. And I think that sometimes when we do social emotional skills in a box or something like that, we forget the fact that we can do these things in a really integrated way.
Danielle Scorrano: I love that. Thank you. Number three, you need to wait until your child is school aged for high quality conversations.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: That's a great one. And I definitely think that one is false. Yes . So, yes, I think you can really have these conversations. I even talk about in the book, you can have these conversations before your child can speak, you can use gestures, use their babbling, use their eye gaze even six week old infants or matching eye gazes, you know? And so I think we can have conversations, which means back before children can even talk.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm. Okay. So number four, I actually brought these up to my boyfriend and we disagreed on this one. So I'd like to know from the [00:36:00] expert, and I'll tell you why we disagreed after you talk about this, but the next sentence is, most high quality conversations are intentionally planned and scheduled, such as prepared around dinner time. Is that true or false?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: So I think that's a complicated one, but I would say generally that's false. I would go on the side of false. I think conversations don't need to be intentionally planned out or scheduled or structured. I think the open-endedness is great. And just maybe even having down times that children can open up to you is a great start at the same time. I think having routines and rituals where you do make that time, where children feel like, now is the time I'm used to talking such as dinner time or other times that you can make is also important. So I wouldn't go away for many rituals or structures, but I don't think you need to plan them out.
Danielle Scorrano: Yes, that was exactly the way that we talked about it. I said, well, learning can be in conversations and learning can be informal. [00:37:00] And he aired toward the idea of rituals and dinner time, which I liked. I actually used to play this game with my students in a homeroom check-in, which I know a lot of my friends play with their kids at dinner, but high, low, cheers. I actually changed it to high learn cheers, because I wanted to know what they were learning about. I actually pulled that from another podcast. I was listening to Julie Foudy, who is on the Laughter Permitted podcast on ESPN. That just became a ritual, but it could have been something that we talked about at any time. So I like how you broke down those nuances. I think it's important to keep in mind.
Okay. Last one. And this one, I don't know. I mean, I think I use some language to sort of give it away, but there might be some nuances for this one. So as parents, guardians, families, adults, we need to stress actually. No, nevermind. It's not that complex, but let me go into it now. Okay, [00:38:00] we need to stress about having really good questions or interrogate our children to spark conversation, true or false?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Yeah. So I'd say that one is false. Yes, for a couple reasons. So I think first, I don't think that conversation should be a source of stress, so I think we already, as parents and educators, are often, especially now at a general stress maximum, and they would not want to add anything additional to people's plates. So I think really conversation should be a way of reducing stress because you're building connections, you're building bonds, you're building understanding, so hopefully that sense of disconnection and stress can dissipate. The other part is the interrogation. I think, if we ever feel like we're interrogating, you know, it may be because there's something really wrong that's happened and we need to find out what it is. But as a general rule, I don't think we need to do that in our daily conversations.
Danielle Scorrano: Absolutely. High quality conversation is not the same as interrogation. What I do think too, though, questions are [00:39:00] important. Maintaining that learning mindset is important and that had nothing to do with my true or false. But I just wanted to pull out that good questions might be something that spawns good conversation. You would say that. Yes?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely. Yeah. So I do think that, yeah, thinking about what questions you're asking, paying a little attention, really just having a more mindful approach at times, not all the time, but once in a while, checking in with yourself, I think can be a great start.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. And I think, I believe it was an article that I had read that you had written about the power of wait time. And it's something that was so important in creating the sync classrooms and conversations.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Oh, exactly. Yes. I like that. Yeah. And I actually think, what I've seen so much in my own work in classrooms and with other teachers is it often has to do with how much we're expecting kids to answer so even just to expand on what your expectations are. So sometimes even thinking about your question and say, well, what kind of answer would be a quote unquote, good answer to that? It doesn't mean what's the right answer, but am I [00:40:00] thinking about like a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, and just once in a while, opening it up to something that does have a more complex answer or could have a more complex answer and giving kids the time to answer. I think it’s really important.
Danielle Scorrano: Absolutely. Thank you for adding that. And I think that was a really fun game that we played and one that we will use for future episodes. So thank you for humoring me, Dr. Rolland.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Oh, definitely. That was fun.
Danielle Scorrano: All right. Last few questions for you. So as families prepare for a new school year, what should they think about doing to maintain the momentum of high quality conversations even as schedules start to become more hectic?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Yeah. So a couple of things, one thing I think is to reflect. And even, especially if their children are older to even reflect with their children and well, let's think about the summer, like what did we particularly like about what was happening in our family this summer, or in our relationships this summer, and to actually bring some of those things intentionally into the school year so that they don't get lost.
So I know we do often have these more relaxed [00:41:00] days, have more time with our kids, and sometimes there are elements that we can bring, and that sometimes get lost in the rush of the school year. So whether or not it's, oh, I love that 10 minute walk we take after dinner, or, oh, I love the chance that we have just to play a few rounds of UNO or something like that before we go to bed, whatever it is that kind of your special rituals or your special ways of having conversations really intentionally and mindfully bring a couple of those forward, I think is really, important
Danielle Scorrano: I love that again, maintaining that balance between the informal continuous nature of learning and language and conversation with rituals and routines. I love that.
Okay. Last question. So in your research and writing your book, what is one final lesson that you thought you'd share with our audience? Or is there anything that you'd like to share that I haven't asked you in this conversation?
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Definitely I think, I would just say that now I think more than ever, we sort of have a perfect storm of factors. That means that [00:42:00] kids really are longing for this kind of conversation. So whether or not they're telling you, or they're just pulling on your arm or, whatever they're doing, oftentimes actually sitting and intentionally being with a child, even for the 5 or 10 minute periods, can really support them and support you and not feeling as if you're in a million places at once. So this isn't meaning to say, oh, you know, drop everything to be with your child 24 hours.
Definitely not. But even to create that space intentionally and to focus on being there as what I call sort of embodied in person conversations, you're actually there with your child can actually go a long way towards building the relationship over the long term and even towards reducing some acting out or tantruming type behaviors. So I would really emphasize to try it out, see how it works in your family and recognize that every family and every classroom is different. So everyone's going to have slightly different results.
Danielle Scorrano: Oh, I love that. Dr. Rolland, thank you so much for being on the READ Podcast. Dr. [00:43:00] Rolland's book, The Art of Talking with Children is available for purchase through Harper Collins and wherever you get your books. Of course, we will have so many resources and further expertise from Dr. Rolland on the READ Podcast website. Thank you so much for being on this podcast.
Dr. Rebecca Rolland: Yes, thanks so much for having me. It was great.
Danielle Scorrano: Thank you.
Wow. I am enlightened and energized by this conversation with Dr. Rolland. Speaking of the three E’s of rich talk that Dr. Rolland had mentioned during the episode, I have three more E’s for this interview: engaging, entertaining, and enriching.
Dr. Rolland, I admire your work and your ability to share so many strategies and tools for parents, families, and educators, and frankly, any adult who has a caring relationship with a child. To all our READers, I hope you're gaining a sense of how fundamental language is in our child's academic and social development. And it is one of the key focuses of The Winward Institute. As we continue our learning [00:44:00] opportunities this year, be sure to follow along with The WI for our upcoming community lecture, with Dr. Tiffany Hogan, focused on language development and children with developmental language disorders and dyslexia. We have numerous experts from across the country, as well as from our Windward faculty, leading courses and workshops on language and beyond to support teachers and families and empower all of us to be better advocates and educators for our children in any context.
You can learn about these opportunities by visiting The Windward Institute's webpage, thewindwardschool.org/wi. There's also an area on the webpage where you can sign up to be the first to hear more about future events. You can also learn more about READ or upcoming episodes by visiting readpodcast.org. There, you can access my top READ bookmarks or top moments, including resources from this episode with Dr. Rolland, by visiting each episode page on the website. My goal is to continue to connect with and learn from inspiring leaders and advocates [00:45:00] in research and education. If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas of topics and speakers, feel free to reach out via email info, read podcast.org.
I also invite you to like, subscribe, and share the READ Podcast with friends and colleagues. Finally, join me in following The Windward Institute’s social media pages to find out more about upcoming speakers, episodes and events. Until next time READers!
Rebecca Rolland, EdD, speech language pathologist and author of The Art of Talking with Children, joins the READ Podcast to share her expertise in cultivating high quality conversations with children. Dr. Rolland explains the science and art to high quality conversations, which can be used to build better relationships with our kids. She identifies skills adults can use to bring mindfulness, curiosity, and playfulness into daily conversation and offers tools and strategies for both the summer and school year. At the end of the conversation, Dr. Rolland and Danielle play a “True and False” game. The READ Podcast invites any family (kids included) to tune in to this episode, as it benefits any adult with a caring relationship with a child.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
1. The ABC’s of Rich Talk
Episode bookmark: Listen to 6:24 – 8:27 of the conversation to learn more.
Rich talk between adults in children are:
- Back and Forth
- Child Driven
2. The House of Rich Conversations
Episode bookmark: Listen to 10:33 – 13:00 of the conversation to learn more.
Dr. Rolland explains that cultivating rich conversations is like building a house.
- Construct the foundation: Establishing the temperament and approaches of conversations by setting the norms of discourse, showing conversational readiness and a learning mindset, and modeling active listening and openness
- Building the walls: Guiding the back and forth of the conversations with questions and comments, expanding upon language, and maintaining flexibility, curiosity, and reflection
3. The Three E’s of Rich Talk
Episode bookmark: Listen to 13:40 – 16:07 of the conversation to learn more.
- Expand: providing and modeling language to increase specificity and broaden the scope of the conversation
- Explore: connecting temporal markers (i.e., past, present, and future), integrating concrete and abstract aspects of the discourse
- Evaluate: modeling and encouraging self-awareness, assessing what worked and didn’t work about the conversation, using conversations as a tool for learning
4. Dr. Rolland and Danielle play a game of True and False!
Episode bookmark: Listen to 34:00 – 40:00 to join the game.
Danielle asks Dr. Rolland “True and False” questions about high-quality conversations. Listen to minutes 34:00 – 40:00 to join the game and learn the answers of the following statements.
True or False?
1. High quality conversations are embedded in relationships.
2. High quality conversations are about learning cognitive skills only.
3. You need to wait until your child is school aged for high quality conversations.
4. Most high-quality conversations are intentionally planned and scheduled, such as around prepared around dinner time.
5. As parents/ guardians, we need to stress about having really good questions or interrogate our children to spark conversation.
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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 and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.