Life is a spiral of experiences, lived through the linearity of each day.
A long, detailed and very interesting Twitter “conversation” with a very experienced teacher of English as an Additional Language, Di Leedham (@DiLeed), gave rise to thoughts that broadened as the discussion developed through the medium of 140 characters.
I had written a post about the importance of talk in learning and Di, having read and agreed with the substantive points, extended the dialogue.
There was discussion about the quality of talk in classrooms, with an exploration of whether schools with substantial numbers of children from other heritage languages, by dint of the need to immerse their children in English, provide a significantly richer language environment than other schools. Di pointed me in the direction of an EAL publication, Talk like an Expert, which I will seek out and mentioned Shirley Brice Heath, an American anthropologist, who writes about multilingual classrooms. New recommendations are always welcome.
Interest in the difference between the monolingual and multilingual classroom led me to speculate that perhaps there is a difference in the general culture of the classroom, in that a child from a different heritage is seeking to put the new language into the context of earlier learning, so may be indulging in an analysis of the comparisons/contrasts between the languages, or, more simply, they might be having to work a little harder to make sense of everything.
However, it does give rise to considerations of how we impart/share language to/with children. It is easy to fall into the role of being a language dispenser, so that children learn what they are taught and then have to repeat this in their own work. In that way, the commodification of an approach, into a utilitarian/mechanistic approach, might actually become a barrier to broader learning, or enable learning for oneself. It could be argued that the learning of English, in itself, has become more challenging, and possibly less accessible, simply by the importation of more academic language vocabulary. Letter shapes and sounds become graphemes, morphemes and phonemes.
An overuse of pseudo academic terms can embed a deficit model onto learners, with a side issue of self-esteem and social/emotional fall-out.
The value placed on learning, both in the school and in the home, will impact on personal effort and rehearsal between lessons. The home aspect is unique to the school community. It is essential for schools to understand their community well, to be able to tailor any demands to the ability of parents to support.
An exploratory approach to language learning, with children being required to play with language, to analyse, to make sense of language in use, orally, in reading then to embed their understanding in their written efforts. It’s worth reflecting on the French word “essaie”, which means to try. Most children’s speaking, reading and writing is in “essaie” form, with opportunity for development.
So, how is it possible to become more analytical in approach?
Where a sentence is read or written, discuss the use of specific words in the sentence. What alternative words could have been used, to subtly change the meaning?
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The words can be explored for grammatical aspects, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, order and organisation. Switch the sentence around, start from a different point. The playing with the sentence, in itself, gives rise to further opportunities for discussion and clarity.
Using cloze procedure to come up with a list of alternative words, to discuss their merits or otherwise, not just find the “right” word.
The ……….. brown fox …….. over the ……. dog.
Word, or letter, frequency can link literacy and numeracy, exploring text for details.
Fundamentally though, the essence of all good English teaching is the articulacy of the teacher and the learners. As a collective they need something of worth to think about, to talk about then to record appropriately, recognising the benefit of revisiting to revise and refine.
Life is a series of lived narratives, linear and sequential through time and space. Mindscapes and language experiences add further dimensions to the developing experiences.
It’s just got to make sense.