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Teacher’s view: Communication and language

In this video, teaching experts discuss the importance of language development for pupils in schools, and what adults can do to help.
Language, that is talking, listening, reading, and writing, are crucial skills for all understanding and learning. Can you explain how language is important in your subject?
Well for me, language is immensely important in science. Erm, because essentially science is about exploring the world and finding out how the world works. But also about communicating those ideas. The scientific community is all about, communication, and education, and peer review, and learning from each other and with each other. So, you know as, as a, as an entire subject, as an ethos, it is about communication of ideas and you know, children have to be able to communicate ideas very well. Erm, in terms of actual language, literal language, it can be very difficult for students in my subject because a lot of the language commonly used by parents, laypeople or the public, actually contradicts the language we would use in science.
For example, students use words such as breathing and respiration interchangeably, as if they’re synonymous with each other. And the thing is, actually they’re very very different processes in science. Another example would be mass and weight, you know a child’s parent may stand on a scales and say they’re weighing themselves. Actually what they’re doing is measuring their mass, weight is a force and it’s, it’s an entirely different concept.
So, these notions of words and language are huge in science, and it’s, it’s really important that as a teacher, you are very clear with the words that you use when you teach because you do not want to confuse the children, or take them or reinforce those misconceptions actually, that are inbuilt, you know just from general life. Thanks. What about you Luke? I find that it’s, in my subject specifically, in drama, oracy is, it’s our bread and butter. We’re dealing with it all the time. Now oracy is talking and listening. Talking, listening, making sure that they can communicate their ideas, they can follow a script, take on a role and then project their voice, and use different vocal skills.
But we find that the, the difficulty there is when you start trying to form-formalise it. So, when you’re saying ‘Actually, I’d like to respond in a certain way’ so we can all sound like actors, or we can sound designers ‘I’d like to use some key language. Can you put that in with criticism as well but make it a polite criticism?’ When you start formalising and that’s when the, the, the problems or misconceptions start cropping up. Naturally, how we talk formally, how we present our ideas verbally to other people, so everyone can understand them clearly and then sometimes they can use terminology, you think ‘Oh great, they’re using terminology’, but then actually,
did they know what that means? Cos they, they can hear you parroting those terms left, right and centre, but do they actually understand it? And when you probe further, do they fully get it? And do you have misconceptions in your subject? Yeah. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the subject itself. So, when you kind of say ‘Oh what do you think about this? How did this work? Can you explain that?’ and they’re like ‘Oh it’s special effects’. No, no it’s not. No, we’re doing something here. Something is being done.
So, getting them to understand that and then being able to verbalise it and then you take it a step further when it gets harder, when they start writing things down, that’s a whole different ballgame because it’s a whole different set of rules, and then writing in a very specific style. So, it’s difficult, it’s tough. It’s what one thing would you say to adults that work with you in your subject, your subject that you’d like them to do in terms of language communication? I would say for my subject to make, the relevance of why you’re getting them to talk or write in such a way, clear.
A lot of the times I can find that they’re saying why do we have to speak like this? Why do we have to respond in this way? Well actually it’s so we’re all, we all have the same understanding and there’s no misconception. So the adults, other adults in the class need to kind of get that? Yeah. OK. I would say definitely one of the major things in science, you know is that often you are very highly educated yourself in science and the language that you address the students with, is often at a level that maybe they’re, they’re not able to access.
And so, it’s finding that balance between explaining things clearly in pupil speak, in ways in which they can access and understand, but also not dumbing down the subject and watering down and making it very silly, and almost you know very young childlike. So, you want to challenge them by using terms, you want them to hear you modelling scientific language and scientific terms. But at the same time, you need, you need to make sure they’re following what you’re saying. So, you know sometimes, using a word and then reiterating with what that means or maybe ask someone, you know I just use a word there - what did it mean?
So, you’re bringing everybody in with that language and then that becomes part of your vocabulary and part of your conversation naturally. But you have clarified it for them because so many teachers I think, just deliver, speak a language, pretend, you know, as if they’re speaking to adults and then not realising that, you know that the children are kind of not accessing what you’re saying. So, it’s yeah, it’s quite a big thing in science, I think.

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

Janine and Luke discuss with Helen the skills pupils 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 pupils in schools, and what adults can do to help.

Do you think you will try any of the tips Janine and Luke suggest? Are there any tips of your own or any others you would like to try?

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