Academic journal article Babel

From Conversation to Oral Composition: Supporting Indigenous Students' Language for Literacy

Academic journal article Babel

From Conversation to Oral Composition: Supporting Indigenous Students' Language for Literacy

Article excerpt


The development of oral language and specifically increased control over literate discourse is critical to students' ability to create and comprehend texts in the early years of schooling and beyond. For students with home languages that differ from the forms of language used in school, the development of oral language through carefully designed teacher-student interactions has particular importance in assisting students to access literacy skills and to display the knowledge required for learning in educational settings. This paper reports a study of two teachers providing an early literacy intervention to two Indigenous students and the techniques used in conversational interactions to scaffold oral language and to compose texts for writing. The conversations are closely analysed to reveal patterns in teacher talk that support students' appropriation of literate discourse. The findings indicate that careful attention to students' utterances and the contingent scaffolding of language by teachers, who clearly understand the ways that context-embedded language can be used as a bridge to the context reduced language of school, supports students" development of language for literacy learning.

Key Words

Indigenous students, language and literacy, teacher scaffolding, bilingual learning contexts


From the outset it is acknowledged that language and literacy are not unitary skills or competencies but rather, complex, multifaceted, dynamic meaning-making systems that individuals draw upon in social situations to communicate (Clay, 2001 ; Raban, 1999; Rogoff, 1990). Moreover, the leverage that oral language gives to literacy learning has been well established (Clay, 2001 ; Dickinson, Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2010; McKeown & Beck, 2004; Hill & Lauder, 2009; Neuman, 2001; Richgels, 2004; Yopp & Yopp, 2000) and researchers have long advocated for a culture of classroom teaching that continues to build on and expand students' language competency and to capitalise on the reciprocity of language and literacy teaching that informs and supports students' learning (Clay, 2004; Raban, 1999). As students develop a heightened awareness of language, they are more able to use language with precision and flexibility, transferring knowledge from known contexts to new as they build and extend understandings (Raban, 2001a).

The relationships between oral language and literacy outcomes are now well established. Snow, Burns and Griffin refer to children's 'overall language ability' (1998, p. 111) as related to literacy learning. Similarly, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network (2005) suggests that oral language, conceptualised broadly, impacts on students' literacy learning as they transition to school. Likewise, the National Early Literacy Panel Report Developing Early Literacy (2009) report the aspects of oral language they found related to literacy outcomes. This report notes 'complex aspects of oral language, such as grammar, definitional vocabulary and listening comprehension, as having more substantial predictive relations with later conventional literacy skills' (p. 78). Ultimately, reading and writing involve the construction and reconstruction of meaning. To achieve this, students must have mastery over language as well as knowledge of the world (Dickinson, et al., 2010).


Parent-child interaction plays a significant role in early language development (Bruner, 1984; Fleer & Raban, 2007; McNaughton, 2002; Raban, 1999, 2001a, 2001 b) with a child's desire to communicate their needs and wants, and the motivation to imitate and experiment with language. Tomasello (1999) suggests that this experimentation results in the creation of novel utterances 'tailored to the exigencies of the particular communicative circumstances' (p. 1). …

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