Gabrielle Cliff Hodges
Within the English curriculum the importance of reading and writing has always been uncontested, whereas the importance of speaking and listening has only recently been fully acknowledged. Before the 1960s oral work was very likely to consist of teacher-led question-and-answer sessions or formal activities such as reading aloud, debates and prepared short talks. However, during the 1960s the influence of educators such as Andrew Wilkinson (cited in Howe, 1997, p. 6) and a growing awareness of the work of psychologists such as Vygotsky led to more systematic studies of the role of classroom talk. New understandings about the relationship between language and learning emerged and led to significant changes in classroom practice. Speaking and listening were gradually afforded greater status and made a compulsory part of the assessment of English at GCSE. Subsequently, 'Speaking and listening' became the first Attainment Target for English in the National Curriculum.
Vygotsky's theories are helpful to English teachers in a number of ways. First, he argues that children learn to think by talking with others, by engaging in a social process which enables them to 'grow into the intellectual life of those around them' (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 88). At a certain stage in the child's development, speech divides into two distinct kinds: 'communicative' speech to be used for communication with others, and 'egocentric' speech or speech for oneself which will eventually turn inward to become 'inner' speech with its own idiosyncrasies of grammar, for individual thinking. Inner speech has different rules from communicative speech: with inner speech, speaker and listener form the same consciousness so there is much that can be taken as read; with communicative speech the need is to be understood by another person so more must be made explicit. Inner speech is not, therefore, a mirror image of communicative speech. It is essentially different because it is serving a different purpose. The distinctive natures of inner and outer speech and the power of the dynamic relationship between them to enable intellectual development are vital to an