Transcript of Oral language development and tuning in!

Vanessa Dimitroulas (Vanessa) – Hi my name is Vanessa Dimitroulas and I am a P-2 Targeted Programs Advisor working at state office and I’m joined today by Janice.

Janice Gorrie (Janice) – Hi Vanessa and hi listeners. My name is Janice Gorrie and I’m the P-2 Initiatives Officer based in Moree.

VanessaAnd we have devised a number of podcasts around the subject of how students become literate in the preschool to year 2 age groups.  Today's podcast is about the oral language development of children and how it is shaped by their early experiences and interactions with peers and adults and also considering how we as teachers can build an understanding of the child and help them to develop.

The title we have given to today’s podcast is Oral language development and tuning in! This title has been based on the research from Dana Suskind. She emphasises the three T’s: Tune in, talk more and take turns as ways of interacting to build students oral language skills. This is important as it is often stated that there is a huge gap between the oral language skills of children due to prior experiences and exposure. I think a good starting point for today Janice would be defining oral language.

JaniceYeah Vanessa that’s something that we can really think about because it really consists of groups and combinations of words and it’s a prime means of communication between people. And it’s not, not only the only means of communication because we have gestures and expressions and we can break it down into expressive and receptive language. What do you think Vanessa?

VanessaMmm yeah I think it is a great consideration to think of that language is not just about communicating orally it’s also about the interactions but it’s also about the listening as well. It’s um yeah you have to be able to listen well and understand language to be able to interact with language as well so you know it’s a whole um, a whole scheme of things, it’s not just about you know communicating orally.

JaniceYeah ‘cause it’s amazing when we talk about ah it consists of groups of words and how those groups of words come together and I mean you think about it from 0-5 ah how does that happen? So if we look at the whole child, and think about um, particularly if we can perhaps think about 0-5 and the brain is really um at a place where it’s ready so ready to learn, learn language.

Vanessa – I think that whole concept of brain development and being in the early years is quite an interesting concept um when we’re thinking about development of students orally because it really is how um students are, ah well I should say children, how children are interacted with from a very very early age and that is an important aspect that we need to consider here because the more interaction with a more knowledgeable other really shapes the student’s development or children’s development over time. So knowing that I think you know we can key into some of um Nathan Wallis’ research here and some of his thoughts, thinking about the importance of the thousand days and the journey and the neurodevelopment of stud, children um earlier on and you know that whole concept of that learning processes for thought is more important than knowing and rote learning things too. I think it’s that concept of while they’re young and their brains are forming, let’s helps students and children to understand this process of learning and interacting orally and extending that.

JaniceYeah ‘cause it’s the richness of the experiences and having those prolonged responsive interactions within those experiences and those experiences must be responsive so that the children have that ability to engage with the content and they can process the content so that they understand.

VanessaI think that’s a really important point and I think it’s really nice to think about experiences that children are engaged in and interested in and motivated to learn about at that point in time too because I think that helps children to understand um better than something that’s you know, I sort of think about it when you see that lovely interaction with a mother and a baby and the cooing backwards and forwards and that’s a really nice interaction and it’s not contrived. You know when you start to see those contrived situations like we’re saying with the Nathan Wallis work where you know where children learn to rote, it’s not really you know a degree of processing in the brain that’s happening there rather than a quick connection whereas when they’re involved in the learning they’re interested in it we’re going to get more of a clearer pathway of learning but more complexity there to how the brain thinks.

JaniceIt’s the quality of these really responsive interactions that builds the young brain and that’s Ted Meluish and he was in the EPPE study um, that was one of his comments that he said that interaction builds the brain. So that’s very significant and like you said we want that rich interaction and that rich language experience because he says that makes a difference for children in that 0-5 period.

VanessaAbsolutely and that um, then makes me ponder then, especially from as I’m a primary school teacher, that concept of you know, what has shaped this child prior to coming to school and you know what’s the um background influences that this child’s had in their lives so thinking about that concept of family and community shaping um how this child um listens, understands and then how they communicate effectively. Um I think it fits well with um you know the um Bronfenbrenner, (Janice: Yes) who had that social theory that you know that we learn within a community of learners and we learn how to effectively communicate with where we are positioned within that. And then when we go to school, it’s sort of a different level of communicating with people.

JaniceYep. So we can think about, think about the rich experiences that’s really governed by the culture of the family and the culture of the community. So everyone’s experience is not going to be the same but that doesn’t mean that they’re not rich experiences. And I mean as the children get older they will engage with lots of other people in their community and their family, it might be their extended family or they might be in the community, they might be going to a day care centre, they might be going shopping with mum, they’ll be different and they might be going shopping with mum in inner city Sydney or shopping with mum in rural NSW, they’ll be quite different. So the language that they develop and the vocabulary they develop through those experiences will be different.

VanessaHmm, absolutely. And I think too it’s interesting to consider that um there are different levels of demands of language on children in that like we’re saying within the household how they communicate would be different to actually how they go and communicate at the shop or how they communicate with people out in you know a different context, how they communicate with other children in the playground but it also makes me consider about then the differing demands of language when they come to the classroom or they’re coming to the preschool and um what are your thoughts on that Janice?

Janice Yeah ‘cause that’s another dimension isn’t it because we now are putting children in a much more formal situation. And a situation where for some children they have not experienced it. So these experiences that they have are really going to be made explicit and they are going to have to be taught the protocols of the experiences and also then we use language in a very different way at school don’t we, because it’s a lot about functions you know we talk about explaining and um challenging and telling stories and you know it’s just so different to what a child might have experienced at home.

VanessaAbsolutely and I think you know, background experience shapes how a child interacts but it’s also um, like, it influences the vocab that they’re able to use and the vocab of school is um so different to the vocab that we use when we’re communicating with our parents and family at home. So I think as teachers, at times we need to remember that and, and really like we were saying the title of the podcast is tune in and really think about how to tune in to these children and know, acknowledge what they’re bringing from home but then go well here’s the language demands of what we’re considering in the school environment and this is what I need to build in the children by listening to how they are communicating but also thinking about not just about are they communicating meaningfully but what vocab are they using, how do we need to you know build up that vocab knowledge and what do they need to know.

JaniceThat’s right. And going back to the tuning in and tuning in is important for young children whether they’re learning the first words or whether they’re in school because without tuning in we can’t gear our, our instruction or our conversation to that child so we don’t want it to be too easy or we don’t it to be too hard, we want it to be just right and so that’s the tuning in and that’s why it’s so important that we know our child and we know about their child and their background so that we can get that teaching spot on for them.

VanessaAbsolutely. It makes me then think, the way you just said that Janice of Goldilocks but on top of that it always um makes me think um about the zone of proximal development as well and really acknowledging that these children are all starting with something um and it’s knowing how to tune in and hear what they are bringing but then knowing well ok to help this child develop further these are the next steps that we’re going to take because that what sits within their learning propensity, that we’re not making things too hard for students to grasp we’re making it just right. I think have you got a little story to share with us too Janice?

JaniceAh that’s right yes. I did work with a little child from Bangladesh in a child care centre and of course you know when children come into your classes they, this little child had spoke her home language, she has no English whatsoever, and they always say don’t they that if they’re very competent in their first language then it’s an easier shift into their second language and so I wondered whether this child had competency in her first language and I travelled home on the bus and this little girl was there with her mum, oh my goodness when I listened to that conversation she was more than competent in her first language. So that gave me an insight in to that bridge then into the second language. So you know it, you can be looking anywhere, any place to find this information about children, isn’t it.

VanessaMmm absolutely. And I think that being a teacher, that is our job to open up those opportunities and I think it’s also considering how, because I’ve had students that have come to school and been selective mutes, so it’s how can I open up an opportunity for this child to be able to communicate with me or maybe even that I see them communicating like you did Janice with mum on the bus or that I can see them communicating with other children in the classroom or when they’re playing out in the playground, how can I get evidence of what this child is bringing and for me I always like finding that way in but it’s knowing what their interests are, what their motivations are because I think if we can really pinpoint that in students and know what’s of interest to them then I think that’s the way in to getting students engaged and talking with students when they are engaged and developing language that way.

JaniceThe playground’s a really great place to observe children isn’t it because you find out so much more about them. But I’m thinking now then about, in the classroom particularly how we create spaces for children to develop their talk you know, what is it that we need to have in our classroom that will foster talk because we do know that oral language is, is the basis for later reading and writing so we need to make sure that that platform for later literacy development is solid and very firm and very supportive of future learning.

Vanessa Oh absolutely. And within those um creating spaces it’s nice to have that informal interactive space to work with students as well or like we said before it could be peers so they could be working with friends in little spaces and not that you’re going to be hovering over the top of children but you’re listening and you’re aware of what children are saying and bringing to conversations and you know even being that, role of being the knowledgeable other as a teacher but also um engaging in a way to keep conversations going with children too.

JaniceAnd as I’ve been reading, the literature’s telling me that many interactions in the classroom are the IRE, the initiate, respond, evaluate and that doesn’t allow the environment for children to do a lot of talk or to have that sustained talk so that might be just a pondering point for people to think about – are there periods of sustained conversation where children use their language for functional purposes like questioning and um interacting and um expanding on information, describing.

VanessaIt’s quite interesting you say that um Janice because sometimes I’ve reflected on my teaching as well and its like have I actually allowed opportunity for children to ask questions or you know expand on their knowledge or am I actually opening you know asking open-ended questions as well ‘cause I do think sometimes in the classroom we tend to get into a bit of a habit where we know we’ve got information we need to share and we tend to ask questions just to you know get a response and it’s like when you get to that point you do start to ask those closed questions which I guess we can all put our hands up to at times but it is that asking open-ended questions as well and allowing children to respond in the way that they want to respond and really making note of that response as well.

JaniceI think that’s a good point and Vanessa I don’t think you’re alone in thinking about your classroom and what you do because you are under a lot of pressure.

VanessaAs teachers I think it’s really important to use reflective practice as well as consider how we can extend our students oral language. Bridie Raban in her article “Talk to think, learn and teach,” says children do not learn language by imitation. They learn to talk by talking to people who talk to them, people who make efforts to understand what they are trying to say. And I really think that’s an important part that we acknowledge what children bring to school and we work with that and develop that in the classroom.

VanessaSo who are you now wondering about in your classroom um that you’re unsure about their oral language skills? And what opportunities could you offer in your classroom to take note of the oral language of your students?

So remembering that the child needs to be engaged in something that they’re interested in to learn about for you to really take a good note of um the oral language that your students hold and control independently.

I think oral language is such an important aspect and it’s great to reflect upon and I’ve loved um talking to you about it Janice.

Janice – Until next time Vanessa we’ll sign off, bye.

Vanessa – Thank you bye.

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