The Importance of Oral Language

Article excerpt

While teachers of both younger and older children work hard to provide their students with the best literacy experiences, oral language is often neglected in the classroom. The following articles on oral language development were selected and reviewed by Lynn Kirkland, associate professor of early childhood education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Director of the Children's Creative Learning Center, a summer enrichment program and graduate practicum site for the university.--J.A.

Oral language is crucial to a child's literacy development, including listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. While the culture of the child influences the patterns of language, the school environment can enable children to refine its use. As children enter school, they bring diverse levels of language acquisition to the learning process. Therefore, teachers face the challenge of meeting the individual needs of each language learner, as well as discerning which methods work most effectively in enhancing language development. Conflicting messages regarding methodology in oral language development have resulted in a heavy reliance on programs and "quick fixes," inhibiting the use of authentic, contextualized language experiences in classrooms.

Most recently, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has placed an overemphasis on using standardized means of testing children, while holding schools accountable for systematic progress during the year. Although NCLB emphasizes scientific research based teaching methods, many of these methods primarily promote the teaching of discrete pieces of information and a fragmented curriculum (Aldridge, 2003). The development of oral language, which ultimately affects all aspects of curriculum, has been relegated to a mere incidental byproduct of many classrooms, in order to allow time to drill children on test items. Additionally, as curriculum is pushed down into the primary grades, teachers feel the need to spend time on academic content, rather than allowing children opportunities to build language.

The journal articles chosen for this column represent current conversations in the education field regarding innovative ways to encourage practitioners to overlay curriculum, with a focus on the development of oral language.

LET'S TALK: A Different Approach to Oral Language Development. Woodward, C., Haskins, G., Schaefer, G., & Smolen, L. Young Children, 2004, 59(4), 92-95. Teachers in Buffalo, New York, were concerned over finding a two-year deficit in language among their kindergarten children. Knowing that oral language is a predictor in the literacy development of children, the teachers implemented "table talk" in their preschool and kindergarten urban classrooms. After participating in professional development regarding the development of oral language, the teachers introduced the "Let's Talk" approach to facilitate children's interactions. Using the Brigance screening test to identify children with low language skills, these children were paired with classmates who had higher language skills for 15 minutes per day. The role of each teacher was to manage the centers, which comprised boxes of carefully selected dramatic play toys, and stimulate conversation, if needed. Pre- and posttest results showed positive improvements across such survey factors as vocabulary, comprehension, information, main idea, and gesturing.

As teachers engaged in ongoing professional development designed to provide feedback about the program, they reported growth in many areas related to oral language development in all the children chosen for the project. The teachers also felt more confident in refining the planning and implementation of oral language activities in their classrooms.

Several factors seemed to contribute to the success of the Let's Talk approach to oral language development:

* Children worked together in designated pairs at the tables, with little intervention from adults. …