Oral language focus boosts learning

Issue: Volume 98, Number 7

Posted: 2 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9tgc

By enabling all students to communicate their thoughts, feelings and questions effectively,
a Christchurch primary school is making sure students are reaching their learning potential.

A talking strip helps students to introduce themselves.

Initially aimed solely at new students who needed a little extra help, Burnside Primary School’s pedagogical focus on oral language is now extending to the whole school.

Team leader Trudi Browne says the aim is to help all students move forward with their learning by helping them communicate their individual learning needs to teachers.

“We’ve developed a toolkit that has got an oral language framework with some goals around seven key areas, so the teachers know some next steps, but the students can also look at them and see where they need to move on to,” she says.

“It’s all linked back to the literacy learning progressions and effective literacy practice, trying to get more talk in the classroom, almost giving teachers the licence to put oracy and talking at the top of every curriculum area, in every lesson. We’ve found the more our children talk and the less the teacher talks, it increases their learning in all areas.”

The goals of the project link to making meaning, learning the code, thinking critically, talk as interaction, performance, fluency and pace, as well as an audience and feedback component.

As students move throughout the school, they are able to build on what has happened the year before and know the areas they need to work on, says Trudi.

“It’s getting the children to understand their feelings, their opinions and know how to articulate an argument or how to express and explain ideas appropriately,” she says.

“We start with our new entrants and are looking to continue the programme through to our older students. Helping students understand the way they speak is helping them with their thinking and that thinking is helping them with their learning.”

Cross-curricular relevance

Louis shares his goal using a visual resource from the toolbox.

The pedagogical approach is not specific to a singular curriculum area, which helps to build teacher capacity, she says.

“We’re trying to do it across the curriculum, not teaching it as something separate. We are involved in DMIC [Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities] professional development this year and a lot of what we do in oracy is reinforced through that as well.

“We’ve had a lot of children involved in the language learning intervention through the Ministry’s speech language therapist, but the PD we were getting was only sticking with the teachers in the junior school. It also helps us understand all of our children and gives us ways of helping them move forward with their learning.”

One example of the pedagogy in action is the use of talking strips. These strips are cards with sentence prompts and icons, which help students to answer questions and increase their vocabulary.

“We have students with retention issues so they are now able to remember the pictures better. Those pictures relate back and are common across all the strips,” says Trudi.

“There’s one to introduce themselves: ‘Hi my name is... I am five years old, I go to Burnside Primary’.

“They’ll say ‘I can’t remember what to say but I can see it’s got a person’ so you can say to them: ‘If it’s got a person, what do you think you need to talk about?’ ‘Oh, I need to say my name!’ ‘Great, tell us your name’.”

The school has developed a range of talking strips to guide students and is working on creating more as oracy becomes a feature in all lessons.

“As people are doing different things in the curriculum more are being developed. So, for example, we put the visuals onto the DMIC frame that they use for talking.”

Identifying a need

Teachers saw a need for the pedagogical focus after reviewing the results of junior oral screening tests.

Teacher Louise Ibell plays a listening game with Mila.

About 70 per cent of new entrant students were not able to label their body parts, says Trudi.

“We had looked at that for quite some time from the junior oral screening tests and said, ‘Well, we need to be doing something different’. Around that same time we were moving into a more collaborative setting; we were trying to encourage the children to talk more and for us to talk less and so a lot of our programme turned into them building that student agency and being able to choose activities and talk with their friends a lot more.”

While teachers noticed some improvement from this approach, they wanted to ensure all students were benefiting from the change in focus.

“So the teaching as inquiry for the next year was around what we can do to help those children who still, at six years old, are not able to answer those things, and achieve in our junior oral screening test and in their learning”

After examining research around oracy, the school developed their current framework and extended the approach to all students in the school. The framework has also been inspired by School 21 in the UK, which developed its own oracy framework for older students.

“We looked at their results and said, ‘Well, if it’s making that big a difference for their older children, imagine what would happen if we started this earlier?’,” says Trudi.

“We used a pre-curriculum from TKI called ‘Fuel and launch for literacy’, so we’ve incorporated those goals for our students with ORS funding for our students who arrive at school (which is a really high proportion of ours) and can’t access the curriculum yet.”

“There’s goals in there at each level of the curriculum, so the students can work where they need to be.”

Students developing resources

Students have been involved in developing some of the resources available and are now able to express what they need to do to achieve, says Trudi.

“We’ve used a lot of talking strips and a lot of prompts to increase their vocabulary and they’re saying to us can we please have a talking strip for this because we’re not sure what we should be saying or how to say these things.”

In particular, teachers have received positive feedback on the talking strip related to mihi and are also learning how to give feedback more effectively themselves.

“They all want to take them home to practice them, so they’re increasing their oracy practice at home as well as at school. They’re wanting that stability of having a framework themselves and knowing their goal and knowing they’ve achieved it,” says Trudi.

“They’re getting effective feedback whereas before maybe we weren’t spending so much time telling them what they were doing that was good in terms of talking.

“We’ve done a lot of work on ‘Great, you were able to use a good pace when you were talking,’ or ‘You’ve worked really hard on your ‘th’ sound’.  We’re incorporating that now for all students.”

Bright Spots Award

Burnside Primary School’s oracy focus received a Bright Spots Award in 2018. The aim for this year is to extend the programme to include all students from Years 0-6.

“They are learning to talk and also learning through talk. I think it’s just elevating the status of it in the classroom.”

Applications for the 2019 Bright Spots awards open at the beginning of Term 2. For more information, visit the Education Hub(external link) website. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:58 am, 2 May 2019

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