It sounds so wonderfully simple doesn’t it? All you have to do to become ‘smarter’ is to know more words. And this ties so perfectly into the learning is memory narrative – memorise more words and hey presto! You are smart. This slide from Ofsted is clever in its very simplicity. A bit like the mantra ‘Get Brexit Done’ it makes something complex seem so very straightforward. And it demonstrates exactly the problem we have with the narrative around learning, memory and research. The fact that children who know more words do better seems at once intuitive and wonderful, but mostly it’s just a fact of the way that we measure learning. Yes, children who do better in exams know more words because that’s exactly the point of tests. You attain highly if you have more knowledge.
But you can’t work backwards like that from research. It makes a nonsense of the vast complexity of the process. Correlation, as we should never tire of saying, is not causation. Sure, there’s a link, but you can’t put the cart in front of the horse. Knowing more words didn’t happen first – you can’t use it as a substitute for best practice in EYFS because it came as a result of something else. Which, in the case of early child development, is what we call ‘serve and return’ conversations, where loving and attentive caregivers pay careful attention to small children in order to support them, within rich and imaginative environments that enable learning. And there ain’t nothing simple about that.