English in the Primary Classroom

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There are many aspects of a typical school day that underpin a child’s literacy development. Speaking and listening develops a child’s vocabulary through all of the curriculum subjects. The DfES (2006) affirm that “speaking and listening, as well as being important skills in their own right, underpin reading and writing development,” adding, “the four aspects of communication are interdependent. ” There is no dispute to the importance of speaking and listening with such remarks as “it is the bedrock on which all formal learning is based, not least the learning of literacy skills” (Palmer & Bayley, 2004, p. 7).

It is harnessed in a variety of ways, from a form of assessment, to a way of understanding a text, to developing ideas for a science experiment, the list is endless. It is not only a means to encourage language development and formal communication but also a way of enhancing teaching and learning (DfEE, 2006). I have witnessed various children’s confidence grow in writing, as a direct result from speaking and listening opportunities within many lessons. This was noticed when the pupils were undertaking a literacy project regarding Mr Men stories. The pupils had to generate ideas to enable them to create their own Mr.

Man character and to produce their own story. Through the teachers demonstration about generating ideas, the children came up with lots of ideas for very imaginative stories. When the time came to plan and draft their stories, the adult members of staff present in the class were asked to spell numerous words and/or scribe for those with SEN and/or EAL. The imaginative ideas would not have been generated had the speaking and listening activity have previously taken place. Employing speaking and listening exercises in the classroom has distinct advantages.

Chambers (1993, p. 24) explains, “the public effect is that by pooling our thoughts we extend our individual ability to think,” adding that, “talk itself often generates new understandings (and) increased appreciations. ” (1993, p. 25). Goodwin (2001, p. 27) furthers this by stating that, “there is plenty of evidence to show that when tackling new ideas….. articulating the different operations as you go enhances the quality of the learning. ” Recent developments within education saw the introduction of the ‘Primary National Strategy’ (‘PNS’) (2006).

This framework seems to have redeemed the importance of speaking and listening within lessons, by having four of the twelve strands dedicated to it. This equates to a balance of importance between speaking, listening, reading and writing. It is the cognitive potential of speaking and listening that is capitalised in modelling and ‘scaffolding’. “Learning is a process of interaction between what is known and what is to be learnt” (Wray & Lewis, 1997, p. 18).

Vygotsky’s (1988) theory of social learning, discussed by Wray & Lewis (1997, p. 2), is based on the principle which he termed the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is the “distance between the level at which children can manage independently and which they can manage with the aid of an expert. ” This is the model which many of the activities designed to promote speaking and listening are based. Vygotsky, (1988, p. 188) establishes, “what the child can do in cooperation today he can do alone tomorrow. ” Bruner (1978) introduced the idea of ‘scaffolding’ to emphasise how teachers ‘lend’ their knowledge in order to support the learning of the child.

The term itself uses the metaphor of structure that provides essential support, but can be removed once the construction of knowledge is in place (Dawes, 2001). It is the way in which the child’s knowledge is expanded from what they know to the desired learning outcome. The DfES suggests a variety of strategies to achieve this, examples of which being shared reading and writing. This method of ‘scaffolding’ was first promoted in the National Literacy Strategy, but its importance is reiterated in the Primary National Strategy, being consistently mentioned in suggested teaching sequences.

Clark (2001, p. 89) confirms, “talk is an important tool for crafting ideas for writing, and for following shared supports in how to write. ” It allows for teaching at the point of writing, sharing decisions, choices, options and reasoning. It enables teachers to support children by ‘scaffolding’ some of these decisions (DfEE, 2000, p. 12). Another benefit is that it takes away issues of scribing such as handwriting and spellings in some cases, this was frequently mentioned in writing interviews (Appendix A), as an aspect of writing that children, amongst two year groups, found most challenging.

This allowed them to concentrate on the basics of the text type, in effect, it removes the barrier to learning. This is supported by the DfEE (2000, p. 12) who concur, “often, most of their attention is taken up by spelling and scribing, leaving little mental space to think about the compositional aspects of their writing. ” This, in turn, has a negative effect on confidence and makes “increasingly reluctant writers. ” This also stresses a way in which speaking and listening can support children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and/or English as an additional language (EAL).

However, the true effectiveness of both model reading and writing depends on the skills of the teacher to recognise when this particular type of scaffolding can be removed (Goodwin, 2001). In the case of my current mixed class of year three and four children, it is imperative that for many children, this scaffolding is maintained though additional support. (Appendix B) This is viewed by Wray & Lewis (1997, p. 22) as an advantage as it allows children to work at their own pace. Teachers have to consider the additional varying needs of those children with SEN and/or EAL.

The DfES (2005) states that these children “benefit from orally rehearsing writing. ” The ‘National Curriculum’ (p. 37) goes as far as saying, “talk is used to support writing in all subjects. ” A major role of the teacher is to interrelate work across speaking, listening, reading and writing so that each area supports the other. Grugeon et al (2001, p. 19) explains, “reading and writing can enhance spoken English by providing visual models of their language, while the experience of hearing and participating in talk…. familiarises pupils with the vocabulary and concepts they are likely to meet.

Therefore the children will benefit from gaining experience in every aspect of English. The DfES (2005) support this adding, “children need to experience language being used in order to be able to use it effectively themselves. ” First Steps (1997) adds that children with SEN and/or EAL may require longer term ‘scaffolding’ and that this will vary over time in relation to the task, context and complexity. During a recent literacy project I witnessed this whereby a child with both SEN and EAL received more ‘scaffolding’ in order for him to complete the given task.

However, in many ways I feel the child was ‘spoon fed’ the information and ideas therefore he is not fulfilling his potential from the additional support he receives. A child with just a SEN, received less support that the child mentioned above and I feel that this was the right level of support to result with the desired learning objective. Examples of three pupils work can be seen in the Appendix C (work from a child with no SEN and EAL, and a child with just a SEN and the child mentioned above with both SEN and EAL).

The child with both a SEN and EAL has a very well written final draft, and on first appearances it may seem that his is of a much higher ability level, however it is only from witnessing the planning processes, and help from support staff that that the child received that it becomes very apparent about why the final draft is exceptional. The child had very good ideas, and it was his speaking skills that enabled him to indicate to the support staff what he was trying to convey, however, the support staff did ‘feed’ his ideas and imagination.

There was a lot of scribing for the child in the stages of planning. For the first stages of planning, the support staff filled in the blanks for the child, the child then simply typed the story up on a laptop. My experience of this topic within the classroom would indicate to me that the role of the teacher is to recognise the degree of ‘scaffolding’ required at particular times so that the child is supported and confident, but is also learning in the process.

My philosophy is that everything should begin with speaking and listening because it makes many tasks, especially writing more accessible for children, in allowing them to explore ideas and share their knowledge. The DfEE (2001, p. 13) confirms, “writing should start from talking – discussion which helps capture content and purpose. ” Talk can also be used for teachers to asses a childs current knowledge and therefore aids planning for ‘scaffolding’ as the ZPD is clearer.

Des-Fountain and Howe (1992, p. 46) determine the importance and effect of speaking and listening on reading and writing as it encourages readiness to learn, pupils working on ideas together, opportunities for pupils to make sense of new information, social support for the learning process and allows for tentatively expressed thoughts to become clearer. I believe that teachers have to be fully responsible and aware of the role of speaking and listening and ensure that this effective tool is used in the correct manner and to an extent, not overused as I feel it was with regards to the child with SEN and EAL.

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