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Teacher’s view: Communication and language

In this video, teaching experts discuss the importance of language development for children in schools, and what adults can do to help.
Language is about speaking, listening, reading and writing, and all four components are essential to learning and development. Patrick, what skills do children need to bring to the learning situation in terms of language? I think first of all they need social skills, they need, they need to be able to take turns, to listen, they need to able concentrate and they need some experience of talking with people, so they can read body language and that sort of thing, and get all those social cues before they can really start. And how do you do that Patrick?
I think with the younger children, we give them plenty of opportunities for talking and with very skilled adults working in the school, you help and guide the children through their own discussion and through their own talking, to come to an understanding, you know, so it’ll be that, that really careful pause, that an adult will do rather than jumping in with an answer, sort of thing. Plus you give them an environment that really stimulates them, and engages them, and gives them heaps of interest, so that they are motivated to talk and tell you about something and explain something. Could you give an example of a nice learning experience that you’ve done, where it created a lot of talk?
Yes, something that we do regularly in school, is that we grow, grow ducks every year and that’s, that’s a really brilliant experience for children because it’s all consuming for the child, from the moment the eggs come into school, and then 28 days of watching the eggs in the classroom every day, and then on a duck cam from home, the first pip when the, when the ducks are trying to get out, and then later on their, their development, when they take them on their first swim.
All of these things are really extraordinary for the child and it’s just full of interest, and so they are, they find it very difficult to contain themselves they want to talk about this, you know, because it’s, because it’s so exciting and that’s a really good example where the child is motivated to talk, and then the adults job then is to just guide them through some of the things that are happening, you know, and to drop in that vocabulary. I think it’s important for the adults to answer a question with a question as well. So, if they’re saying why didn’t this egg hatch but the other ones did?
Instead of just answering that question giving them the knowledge that you’ve got, turn it around on them, why do you think that egg didn’t hatch? What do you think is wrong with this one egg, as opposed to the other ones who have hatched? You’ve got to give them the opportunity to think through their understanding, and then that will come through their verbal communication. I think often they’ve already got that knowledge and they’ve got an idea, and they’re just asking you for reassurance or because that’s traditional to ask the adult. Because if you ask them and you turn it back on them, as Michelle said, they’ll give you an answer straight away.
Building on that, why is oral language development - that’s talking and listening - why is it so important? I think we use language for everything we do in our life. We talk to people we meet and greet people. If you haven’t got the oral development, you haven’t got the research skills, you can’t read, you can’t write. You need to develop your vocabulary, it all just builds up on each other. If you haven’t been able to develop those skills at an early age, you’re going to find it a lot harder as you progress through the school.
I know there’s research about the number of words, to pick up on the vocabulary, the number of words that children know at various stages of their life, and what, what indicators that gives really, you know, for future success. I think that it’s really important to just expose your children to as much vocabulary as possible and in so doing, you’re exposing them to ideas and you are just helping them to make those different connections between different things. I just think it’s crucial for children, and children who have a paucity in vocabulary, you know, they, they, you can, you can understand why it’s so difficult for them later on in school.
So, for adults working with children, what would be one thing you would say for them to do? I’d say, sorry, I would say that they should not shy away from using larger words and what you would think of as being an adult vocabulary. Give children the exposure to these longer words that are a bit more tricky to pronounce, that have got a bit more scientific knowledge about them because children are going to learn them in their life.
You might as well teach them when they’re young and they’ll really enjoy having that large vocabulary that they can go home and say to their mums and dads ‘Oh look, I’ve learnt this word today, I know what photosynthesis is’ you know, why wouldn’t you teach that to a five year old if they’re interested in it. I would talk to children about word origins and tell them the stories, if they’re very young, tell them stories about the words, you know, why is October called October, when it’s the tenth month, that sort of thing, and you know, with those sorts of interesting stories, this sticks, history sticks and the word sticks, spelling sticks and all sorts of other ideas.
So, as Michelle said I wouldn’t be frightened to tell them about any of the words, but also have somewhere in your classroom where you put those words and you put them up to remind them through the year. And maybe they are words that are not in your spelling list, you know, they’re not in any sort of, they’re not on a curriculum anywhere. They’re just words that you encounter, really bring some joy to language. Why do we? Why Is October October? Because it was before the Julian calendar, it was the eighth month. But Julius, erm Augustus Caesar added two, two extra months, one named after him, Augustus, and one named after his uncle Julius Caesar.

In this video you hear again from Patrick, Michelle and Helen in our last round table discussion of the course.

Patrick and Michelle discuss with Helen the skills children need to bring to a learning situation to help them with language development. You will also hear their thoughts on the importance of language development for children in schools, and what adults can do to help.

Do you think you will try any of the tips Patrick and Michelle suggest? Are there any tips of your own or any others you would like to try? Share your ideas in the discussions below.

Please note filming took place in 2019. Patrick Pritchett is now at Floreat Montague Primary School.

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