Mind the gap

by Wendy Lee |

Learning to talk is the most complex skill any of us will learn. It’s tricky learning to combine the various language components needed, with speed and accuracy, and to know how to use these complex formations in the right place, with the right people, to achieve the outcomes we want. Oh… and to know what to do when the whole thing breaks down, which so often it does.

Image: Pixabay

It is a miracle really that so many of us can learn these skills with such ease. However, even when we have our basic toolkit intact, we need to be able to use these skills effectively…

Oracy is about using these complex language skills to think and to learn and just like literacy or numeracy, it is something we can teach our children to do with great effect. Teaching these skills is about levelling the playing field a little, allowing the majority of children access to these important skills. However, these are not easy skills to teach; we’re not talking about “chatter” in the classroom. We’re talking complex communication skills, interaction and “inter-thinking” between children that can take their understanding and learning forward.

We have a lot of evidence about the importance of the spoken word for learning and for life; evidence that demonstrates the positive impact a focus on Oracy can have on many children’s thinking and learning and on their attainment [1].

In my various roles, I’ve had the privilege of working with countless teachers and support staff in hundreds of schools across the country. I’ve seen wonderful teachers creating learning environments where children are thinking and working together, where children from all social backgrounds are excited to engage and interact with each other and the learning process. Classrooms where the buzz of talk is palpably taking children’s learning forward.

Image: Pixabay

I’ve also seen teachers provide explicit structures and guidance for how children can work together in groups, modelling language for those children who are struggling, with the highest expectations for excellent work. Teachers who use talk, not just to give instructions and information, but to scaffold learning and weave opportunities for talking and listening into their lessons.

However, despite research evidence and examples of good practice, spoken language continues to play the very poor relation to the written word in our educational system. Many teachers aren’t aware of how important these skills are for learning or the strategies available to support them.

Teachers receive little initial training in the links between language and learning. The curriculum has minimal focus on spoken language. It isn’t the focus of accountability systems in our schools. It isn’t the number one priority for most senior leadership teams when considering their school development planning. It isn’t a regular element of professional development. This makes it difficult for teachers to give it the attention it needs.

And yet, spoken language is so important for thinking and learning. It is important in life.

Despite the challenges, there are very good reasons to focus on these skills. For many of the children we work with, a gap in good use of language can mean a gap in attainment and a gap in life chances.

Some schools are really making this happen; often it is down to senior leaders making Oracy a priority and sticking with it; training and professional development is key, as is bridging the gap between evidence and practice. It isn’t easy, but is a journey well worth going on.

Image: Pixabay

[1] http://thinkingtogether.educ.cam.ac.uk/publications/

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