For me it was never an issue. I was brought up with parents who spoke to me about the world and discussed things with in a way that allowed me to never feel out of my depth but always challenged. They encouraged me to share my opinions freely and express myself well. They bred a love of words and an interest in learning in me. Once that base is there, no one can take it away from you - it is there forever. I am eternally thankful to them for that.
There were always books in my home and I read like there was no tomorrow from a young age. I remember never wanting book to end and mourning them once they did. Trips to the book shop became a treasured time that I would yearn for. I vividly remember scanning the shelves and deliberating for hours about which book to choose next. One Christmas spent at Auntie Jean's I spent nearly the entire holiday holed up in the attic reading the box set of books I had received as a present.
Lots of our students don't have this environment at home. They don't have access to books whenever they want to escape into another world. They are not encouraged to share opinions and discuss things openly. They don't have parents who know how to challenge and support them with their expression of language as they themselves were never challenged and supported. This is not an indication of a parent's lack of love for their children and I would never want it to be thought of that way. It is simply a different life experience.
The world today demands so much of our young people when they leave full time education whether that be at 18 or older. If their expression and language use is not developed to a certain standard they are automatically at a disadvantage and life is tough enough out there without this avoidable barrier. Teachers have the opportunity, no the responsibility, to bridge that gap. We have a duty to give them the gift of language and all the power that comes with that gift.
Some Top Tips for developing student's use of language in the classroom:
- No Slang - Never accept slang use in the classroom. Buy that I do not mean tell them off for using slang if the meaning is correct behind the word, but ask them to rephrase to make the sentence formal. Once this is done celebrate their answer. You don't want them to feel embarrassed for using slang but you want them to be able to express their meaning well. Supportive correction is the way forward.
- Exam Talk - Getting them used to talking as if they were writing an answer in an exam is the fastest way to get them writing better in their written work. If you expect them to write in full sentences and formal language in exam answers in your subject then you musty expect them to speak in full sentences and formal language. If they can say it they can write it.
- Amazing Vocabulary - Share brilliant words linked to your subject with your students often. Talk about their meaning, different ways of being used, links to other words, ways it can be used and their origins. Foster a love of words through modelling this love with the students.
- Reading Exposure - Expose students to high quality texts and talk about them openly. Share with them shorter extracts from challenging texts linked to your subject such as articles from The Guardian, research papers, A-Level and degree reading materials, books from different cultures and eras. The importance lies in how you approach these texts and the discussion that you encourage and expect form them on the text.
- Formal Debating - Host a formal debate or two across the year on a question pertinent to your subject. Expose them to the conventions of formal debate and get them fighting for their side in a controlled and eloquent manner. Very powerful.
- Language Displays - Get some beautifully phrased and inspirational quotes highlighting key concepts in your subject up on your walls. Literacy linked displays that can be referred to and used in everyday teaching are great too. Surrounding students with excellent language use will seep into their language use without them ever realising it. Immersing your students in language and inspiration to express themselves better can really get those that are day dreamers and ponderers to up their anti in terms of their language use too.
- Perseverance - It takes time to learn a new language, which is essential what some of our students are doing when we expose them to academic talk and writing. Repeat, remind and encourage regular practise of academic language. Think of different ways to challenge and test them in class and celebrate their successes.
- Vocabulary Journals - It is a great idea to encourage students to keep track of the new words they are collecting in their vocabulary. Keeping a journal of new words learnt can really make a difference and embed the learning of new words. This can be just within your subject in their books but works just as well across subjects on a whole school level in a cross-curricular vocabulary journal that they carry around.
- Language Frames - Provide sentence starters / stems to aid discussion and writing in class. This can take the fear out of formal talk and academic language use. It is important to remove this aid once the students are proficient in using them so that they can develop further.
- Never Dumb Down Your Language - it is important that you constantly model excellent use of language in your classroom and in your subject. If you expect them to do this they need to see that it is possible and you are the best person for this job. High expectations at all times in every way. If they do not understand then explain or express it differently - don't dumb it down.
Other post in the Back to (teaching and learning basics) series are below.