Oral language development: critical factor for literacy success:
The critical role that strong oral language plays in literacy development has long been well established (Dougherty, 2014; Hart and Risley, 2003; Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998). Oral language involves both receptive language (what can be understood) and expressive language (what can be conveyed). Educators require a strong knowledge of the different components of oral language (semantics, phonological, pragmatics, syntax and morphological) in order to adequately support students’ literacy development.
Students learn language through exposure and interactions. A recent (2018) study by MIT cognitive scientists found that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child’s brain, and that these conversational exchanges are critical to language development. For students entering school who do not have a strong oral language foundation, they often require explicit teaching of phonological awareness, vocabulary, syntax and morphology. They also need to be provided with multiple opportunities to learn and analyse robust language models/texts.
In my school context, majority of the students speak Aboriginal English as their first language. On-Entry assessment data reveals that most students enter our school with below average oral language skills (phonological awareness, vocabulary and sentence structure). In order to support students’ oral language development, we have been implementing Talk for Writing within the Primary School (from K-6) for the past 18 months.
Talk for Writing:
If you aren’t familiar with the Talk for Writing program (created by Pie Corbett), I suggest you read this earlier blog post of mine first. Essentially Talk for Writing includes 3 phases:
- Imitation: students learn a text orally (with actions and story mapping)
- Innovation: students innovate on the original text whilst maintaining the overall structure of the text.
- Invention: Students apply the language techniques and writing skills to their own individual creations.
Recently, I have been working with the school AIEOs (Aboriginal Islander Education Officers) and teachers to create local stories to use as model (Imitation) texts. By creating stories that are set in local settings, students are already engaged and ‘hooked’ in the Talk for Writing process.
In order to incorporate the students’ home talk/language, we have written the stories in Standard Australian English and the AIEOs have added in character dialogue in Aboriginal English. This serves two purposes: it fosters the students’ home language and cultural background and provides opportunities for explicit lessons in identifying the differences between the two dialects (code-switching activities).
I am in no way suggesting this is the only way schools should be incorporating code-switching and Aboriginal culture into their classrooms; it is merely one tool which we have begun trialing this term. We have found stand-alone code-switching programs difficult to maintain in a tightly-packed curriculum, so this is one way in which we can incorporate oral language, speaking, and writing goals while ensuring the content is relevant and engaging for our Aboriginal students.
Example: Talk for Writing story using local setting and Aboriginal legend.
I would like to show you an example of the story we created with our team of Upper Primary AIEOs and teachers. It is set at Tunnel Creek; a local sacred site and Bunuba country. The story makes reference to the famous Kimberley warrior Jandamarra. The moral/main message of the story is about the danger of littering on country.
Tier 2 vocabulary targets:
We incorporated Tier 2 words into the model ‘Imitation’ text and explicitly taught and reviewed these word throughout the Talk for Writing unit. When teaching new words explicitly, we use Isabel Beck’s strategies for robust vocabulary instruction.
Class innovation planning:
Cold and hot task:
We also designed the Cold and Hot task to reflect the experiences of our Aboriginal students. Feel free to use ours as a guide to creating your own (that is relevant to your context): cold-hot task
Although we are in the very early stages of this project- I wanted to share with you our vision and progress so far.. more to come (watch this space!!)