Find out Why You'll Want Your Students to Talk in Class

By Melvin, Sally | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Find out Why You'll Want Your Students to Talk in Class


Melvin, Sally, NATE Classroom


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At the National Literacy Trust we know when the public hear the word 'literacy' they generally think of reading and writing. But 'literacy' is really the potent combination of four essential skills which all support each other--reading, writing, speaking and listening. Despite the fact that research (see Employability skills explored by R. Martin, Learning and Skills Network) reveals speaking and listening are the skills most used in the world of work, these skills are sadly often overlooked. When reading newspaper articles with employers bemoaning the lack of young people's communication skills, I have often wondered how these skills can be best supported in school. As a former teacher, I know that historically there has been less clear direction in terms of supporting these skills compared with reading and writing. With this in mind, myself and my colleagues at the National Literacy Trust were delighted to launch our new speaking and listening pilot in schools--Words for Work--in April this year. The aim of the project is to ensure youngsters develop the speaking and listening skills they need for a successful career and a happy life.

Words for Work, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Wates Foundation, enabled us to run a national pilot with year 9 pupils in two schools located in disadvantaged areas. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to gain the skills and confidence to present themselves well in job interviews. Business people from local businesses volunteered to work with the students as they undertook a journey to investigate and develop their speaking and listening skills. The first two schools to take part in the project were Bishop David Brown School, Woking, Surrey and Rosedale College, Hayes, Middlesex.

Firmly rooted in Key Stage 3 English programmes of study, with an additional emphasis on enabling pupils to develop their functional skills (levels one and two), the project ran as a series of ten workshops divided into two phases. The first part promoted pupil discussion, encouraging pupils to think about their current communication uses and needs, why speaking and listening are such vital skills and how communication can help them in their present and future lives. The second part involved a number of business volunteers working in teams with pupils to consider communication in the workplace through discussion and project work. The volunteers shared their experience of communication in the workplace; acted as positive role models for the pupils; and tasked them to engage in a 'real-life' workplace situation.

The pupils taking part in the project developed and improved a range of skills including adapting talk for a range of purposes and audiences; listening and responding constructively to others taking different views into account; and taking different roles in organising, planning and sustaining talk in groups. For me personally, the best thing was watching the young people becoming more confident and putting the communication skills they learnt into practice. At the end of the pilot, a young pupil told me:

'I thought communication was important but I didn't realise how important and how much of a difference it makes. I use body language and eye contact more now I'm aware of it. I've learnt you've got to give and take, talk and listen--now I've got some skills I'm using them, like at home, instead of shouting, I've started talking more and getting on better. …

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