Quantities of Quality Text
This afternoon we were visited by Dr Jannie Van Hees who came to talk to us about language acquisition. She first asked us to consider the literary understandings that our students come to use with and why we need quantities of quality text (both spoken and written). The more books that students engage with, the more concepts they learn about, the more knowledge and vocabulary they acquire. If the texts are too simple, the students will not not learn as much; they need to be challenged with challenging new words and ideas.
Children's language acquisition potential is astounding; they have amazing potential to learn. Thus, we must have high expectations of our learners - we need to keep pushing them, giving them learning in their ZPD or 'goldilocks' zone. However, learners need to do their part to; they can't simply listen or view the words, but they need to focus and notice. They must be metacognitive and be aware of their learning of the vocabulary.
Jannie's tips regarding oral language acquisition
- Use words and ideas that gift your learners knowledge and words - don't waste your time saying things that your students could utter.
- You need to model talking with detail and expect that of your students too.
- We need to move on from question and answer, to students justifying their ideas and sharing their thinking with the whole group (not just the teacher).
When students can talk using full sentences and detail, they will be able to write this way as well. The more words that they use the more opportunities they have to learn new concepts. They need to dig deeper when using vocabulary, often the first word that comes to their heads are high frequency, but they will know some more specific vocabulary when asked to think again. They also need to be pushed to clearly explain their thinking. A child might simply say "I went to the shop yesterday", but there is much more to communicate about this. e.g. "I went to the shop yesterday with my mum. We needed to purchase..."
Another key piece of advice from Jannie was concerned with identifying new words from texts.We need to try to point out clusters of words; words that relate to and are associated with a concept. This will enable the students to use the group of words when describing something in the future; words do not exist in isolation, so we should not teach them this way.