Oracy: Part 2

Courtesy of the Reading Sage, who is a wonderful resource for a wide range of links related to language and literacy.

Oracy: The Literacy of the Spoken Word | Edutopia
Teaching oracy is instrumental to better reading and, in particular, writing. In developmental terms, humans acquire oral language first — a …

Developing oracy skills | Class Teaching
Some simple strategies that can be tried out to develop oracy skills: … number of oracybased teaching ideas – developing dialogue toolkit.

Why teach oracy? | University of Cambridge
Through our own research and that of others, we know there are some very effective ways of teaching oracy skills, which are already used by …

Oracy Assessment Toolkit : Faculty of Education
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need to help young people develop their abilities to use spoken language effectively. Employers …


An Approach to Being “Open to Learning”…for Educational Leaders

Leading Students to Success in School


A few short excerpts that I hope will gain your interest and willingness to read and consider the whole 12 page document!  You may find it helpful to start with this 5 minute video:



“The model of communication that informs this module is that of “Open-to-learning” conversations. At the heart of the model is the value of openness to learning – learning about the quality of the thinking and information that we use when making judgments about what is happening, why and what to do about it. An open-to-learning conversation, therefore, is one in which this value is evident in how people think and talk…. …Leaders may want to address what they see as a performance issue yet believe they can not do so without running an unacceptable risk of increased stress and conflict. In other words, they feel that they can not address the performance issues and maintain relationships with the staff member…”

“… The dilemma between concern for the person and for the task is irresolvable in both these examples,           doc4-cooperation                    because the leader leaves no room for a shared or co-constructed evaluation of the reading programme.


In the soft sell strategy, the leader discourages debate by failure to disclose her evaluation of the reading programme. In the hard sell strategy, the leader discourages debate by assuming the truth of her views. Neither strategy will produce the type of conversation that is necessary to reach a principled agreement about the quality of the programme and about whether change is needed….”

“When leaders seek to impose their views rather than invite debate and co-construction,

they face the dilemma of how to do so without creating negative emotional reactions. The key to resolving this dilemma is not, as we have seen, to hide one’s own views in the hope that the other party will express what the leader is reluctant to disclose….”

“Guiding Values Key Strategies

  1. Increase the Validity of Information • Information includes thoughts, opinions, reasoning, inferences and feelings
  • Disclose the reasoning that leads to your views
  • Provide examples and illustrations of your views • Treat own views as hypotheses rather than taken for granted truths
  • Seek feedback and disconfirmation
  1. Increase Respect • Treat others as well intentioned, as interested in learning and as capable of contributing to your own….
  2. Increase Commitment • Foster ownership of decisions through transparent and shared processes,,,,”








Adult Communication that Impacts Student Success in School

Up to this time, this blog has focused on language development and use by children.  The idea was to focus on the ways in which children do and can develop the language skills that help them to be successful learners.  There is a wealth of information “out there” as well an on this blog about ways to do this.

It is time for a new focus: the communication of adults that impacts children’s success in school and beyond.  Teachers and parents talk about children and their success or lack of success in school, administrators and teachers talk about children, special educators and teachers talk about children.  Support staff members and “outside” experts “communicate” about children and their success or lack of success in school.  What do we know about how these “stakeholders” (is that the correct term?) talk to each/one another about children’s success in school?  How much of their conversations address the reasons for children’s success or lack of success and what each adult does/can do to ensure that success.

I am going to start with a very brief video (4+ minutes) featuring an expert on adult communication about children’s success in school.  I “found” this video when I googled the topic “open to learning.”  Here is my starting point: exploring what this well respected expert has to say.  More to follow.


Here is a follow-up video with more detail about “Open to learning communication.”


Ritchhart Part 4: The Languages of Identity and Initiative

The Language of Identity

Ritchhart raises the question of roles students take, depending on how we, as teachers, introduce a lesson/topic.  Do we tell them what they will learn about or should teachers introduce a lesson by saying: “Today as scientists we are going to be investigating how chemicals react under various circumstances.”  In the first example, students are likely to take a passive role as receiver of information, rather than taking on a new role.  “This [new role] includes not only discipline-based roles (scientists, artists, historians, and so on) but also process-based roles (thinkers, researchers, data collectors, analysts, commentators, advocates, inventors, and the like). (p. 75)(bolding mine)

Ritchhart says that the field of literacy instruction has already identified learners as readers or writers. “For decades, those involved in literacy education have embraced the language of identity and have come to refer easily to students as readers writers, authors, poets, and so on as a matter of course.” (p. 74)

Clearly, students have the ability, even at a young age, to identify themselves as active learners in a specific domain  and to use the language of learning:

I have heard a 4 year old distinguish between “teached” and “learned” in a conversation about learning.

I have heard Kindergarten children refer to themselves as “readers’ and “writers.”

And I have heard a middle school student refer to herself as a learner after having a “coach” say, “You’re learning.”

I can’t help but wonder at what age children come to see themselves as “learners” and have the vocabulary to talk about their learning.  What role do parents and teachers play in providing the vocabulary of learning?  One road to seeing oneself as a learner is the “initiative” that children are able to take in their learning.

The Language of Initiative

There is so much in this section that it will be difficult to do it justice.  But here are a few examples of what Ritchhart offers.

“Contemplating the skills and dispositions required for success in the twenty-first century, we saw the need for flexible, independent learners able to demonstrate initiative and innovation emerge as a common demand across multiple constituencies.”… (p. 75)

“If we accept that initiative is indeed an important goal for education in the twenty-first century, then we need to know what actually develops when we foster initiative.  A key aspect of initiative, or what researchers in sociology and psychology sometimes refer to as “agency,” is the ability to make choices and direct activity based on one’s own resourcefulness and enterprise….” (p. 76)

To help students develop this initiative,

^Teachers can use language to direct a student’s attention to the strategies they employ:

*”Tell me what you just did.”

*“What is your plan for tackling this?”

In contexts where students are given the opportunity to use initiative, students’ language reflects that:

^Students’ use of “agent” language includes:

*Use of hypotheticals:  If we do this…” or “let’s imagine…”

*Use of modals (would, could, should) as ways to identify option for consideration.

In describing such contexts, Heath (1999) “notice that both leaders and older members of the group regularly used the language of initiative, thus providing new members the opportunity to internalize it.” (p. 78)

Ritchhart ends this section by saying:

“Our goal as educators, parents and mentors is to encourage those whom we are trying to nurture to be the thinkers and see themselves as thinkers, planners, and doers.” (p. 78)

The language we use can encourage or discourage students to/from being “agents” and “thinkers.”

A Rich Source of Ideas for Developing Language Skills

In the next two weeks, I am going to offer some ideas taken from an excellent book for teachers:  Language Development: A Reader for Teachers by Powers and Hubbard.   The first article addresses the functions of language, based on the work of Michael Halliday.

Pinnell: Functions of Language

Halliday’s 7 functions….what we can do with language:

Instrumental: I want an ice cream cone.

Regulatory: You have to read the book first.

Interactional: Do you want to play with me?

Personal: I like riding my bike.

Imaginative: Once I saw a super hero.

Heuristic: Why doesn’t that work?

Representational: It rained all day yesterday.

In addition to these functions, Halliday/Pinnell highlight the following principles of learning to use language effectively:

*Form FOLLOWS function.

*Learning in CONTEXT is critical.

*Understanding PEER language is key.

*Working TOGETHER on REAL Problems is essential.

*ATTENTION to a RANGE of functions, both social and cognitive is the challenge.

*Children need to EXPERIMENT/PRACTICE the language skills they are learning.


Using Dialogue to Learn

When do children start to use “dialogue for learning” in a school context?

I’ve been cleaning out my collection of text books and was prompted to see how many of my books on language–language and development, language and learning, language and literacy, language and school success–were outdated.

With my interest in dialogue and its relationship to school success, I stopped to skim several old texts that still seem relevant to me. Here are some examples:

The Language of Learning: The Preschool Years by Marion Blank, Susan A. Rose and Laura J. Berlin, Grune and Stratton Publishers, 1978

“Regardless of differences in orientation (toward teaching thinking in the preschool), one factor that almost all programs share (with the notable exception of Montessori) is the importance placed on the verbal exchange that occurs between the teacher and the child.” (p.3)…

Talk for Teaching and Learning, Joan Tough, Ward Lock Educational (from Britain), 1979

“The project was first established under the title Schools Council Communication Skills in Early Childhood Project. During the development stage many teachers (of the 1000 who participated) felt that teachers who worked with older children should also be aware of the part that talk should play in children’s learning and in teaching.” (p. v)

Does talk, dialogue, language still play an important role in learning? Only for preschoolers?

Consider some contemporary sources:
Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Third Grade, Lauren Resnick and Catherine Snow, International Reading Association, 2008

“Speaking and listening are the foundations of reading and writing. A child who does not have a large and fluent vocabulary will have difficulty with every aspect of reading, from recognizing or sounding out words to making sense of the story or set of directions. A child who can’t tell a story orally will have trouble writing one. Parents and educators know this instinctively,but they have had few resources to rely on in determining what speaking and listening abilities they should expect from children at different ages.”

Comprehension Through Conversation, Maria Nichols, Heinemann, 2006

“..Allington’s assertion that conversational talk was still under researched was the impetus I needed to begin broadening my own focus on talk.” (p. vii)

Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understanding, Jeff Zwiers and Maria Crawford

“I didn’t know what I knew until I talked about it.” Seventh-grade science student.

What do educators know about the speaking and listening abilities students need to succeed in school? How do we teach those speaking and listening skills? What role does teacher modeling play? Are there specific contexts, resources, approaches that will help children develop these communication/dialogue/language skills? When should we begin? When should we stop teaching/learning about language, communication, dialogue skills?