Growing in Language and Literacy

Did you know that conversational turns are powerful? Conversational turns are simple back-and-forth alternations between a child and an adult. A turn has occurred when an adult speaks and a child follows, or vice versa, with no more than five seconds in between. Through Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program, early childhood educators across Memphis are learning about the daily impact of these conversational turns on the brain structure/function and socioemotional development of children in their care. This fall, the Teacher Excellence Program has a cohort of sixty early childhood educators, teaching children ages 6 weeks through 4 years old, who are collecting data through the LENA Grow program so they can better assess the interactions happening in their own classroom.

These educators are motivated to become active participants in their own professional development — both for their own future and that of the children in their care. Through LENA Grow, TEP is giving early childhood educators the tools they need to improve language environments equitably and to truly connect with each and every child in their care. Students wear vest with recording devices that count the number of conversational turns used in the classroom. LENA Grow not only enhances communication through the classroom teachers, but LENA Grow also makes a huge impact in our students’ communication as well. By utilizing the fourteen Talking Tips along with the Conversational Starters, teachers are able to set Early Head Start, Pre-K and Preschool classrooms on the right path for meaningful conversation throughout the day. LENA Grow allows educators to set and accomplish goals related to language and literacy. Students gain the opportunity to listen and practice oral language skills. The curriculum encourages students to form relationships with each other, strengthens classroom community, and encourages strong habits that lead to better quality language skills and more effective learning.

Our students looked forward to becoming “Super Communicators” when placing on their LENA vests. LENA encourages more quiet students to thrive and engage all days even when they are not wearing their special vests. LENA Grow gives classrooms a more personal touch with each and every student. This professional development opportunity is made possible with support from the Urban Child Institute. Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program is thankful for their investment in early childhood educators.

Contact Marilyn Donaldson, Teacher Excellence Program Manager, at to learn more about the Teacher Excellence Program!