In the world of work, the value of effective spoken communication is almost universally recognised. Job adverts emphasise the importance of being a confident communicator, or a strong ‘team player’.
There is good reason for this. At their best, teams are creative problem-solving units, demonstrating that ‘two heads are better than one’. Research in psychology, linguistics and neuroscience now encourages the view that human intelligence is distinctively collective and that language has evolved to enable collective thinking.
We do not only use language to interact, we use it to think together – to interthink. Contrary to popular beliefs about ‘lone geniuses’, it is increasingly accepted that many of the major achievements of humankind have resulted from effective collaboration and communication in small groups.
Yet poor communication in workplace teams is common, and this can inhibit creative problem solving and lead to poor decision-making. The same applies to communication between staff and customers, carers and their clients, teachers and students, and many other occupational relationships. Good spoken communication skills are also vital for effective leadership.
Why is poor communication so common? The reason is that the ability to use spoken language effectively (oracy) has to be learned; and even highly intelligent people may not have learned how best to use talk to get things done.
It is also important, in a participatory democracy, that all people – not just those from privileged backgrounds – develop the ability to speak confidently in public, to present effective and persuasive arguments through speech, and to examine critically but constructively the arguments presented by others.
We now know of very effective ways to develop young people’s spoken language skills. So it is very unfortunate that, unlike the skills of literacy and numeracy, oracy skills are still not taught in many schools, in the UK or elsewhere. In the UK, oracy is only explicitly part of the school curriculum in Scotland and Wales.
Spoken language is also the main medium for communication for teaching and learning; and schools-based research has clearly shown how the best teachers use talk in their classrooms to maximise their students’ involvement and attainment in education. But such effective, evidence-based, dialogic practice has not yet influenced what goes in in many classrooms, worldwide.
Oracy Cambridge aims to address this situation, by:
- Raising awareness of the importance of effective spoken communication, and ways that it can be taught and learned, amongst policy makers and practitioners, within the UK and internationally.
- Responding to requests from school leaders and teachers to provide evidence-based professional development input on oracy education and dialogic teaching.
- Hosting events that bring together those concerned with understanding and developing effective spoken communication in educational settings, workplaces and communities.
- Collecting and disseminating the results and conclusions of relevant research that should influence educational policy and practice.
- Creating and sharing practical support materials for developing and assessing oracy, in schools and workplaces; and providing ‘talk audits’ for schools on how spoken language is being used in their classrooms.
Littleton, K. & Mercer, N. (2013) Interthinking: putting talk to work. Abingdon, UK: Routledge