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Need for Oral Language Development in Early Literacy

Oral language forms the bedrock of early literacy.

It is one of the greatest predictors of a child’s success in school.

Oral language development plays a critical role in early literacy because it provides the foundation for reading and writing. 

As children acquire more words and learn to use them in meaningful ways, they are better able to understand and use written language.

Beyond the foundational role of oral language, early language skills are in fact predictive of later reading comprehension development. 

Grade 5 students with poor reading comprehension despite adequate word-reading skills – showed weak language skills as early as 15 months of age

Studies show that children with unresolved specific language impairment in kindergarten are at a higher risk for reading difficulties, particularly in phonological processing and reading comprehension.

Given the crucial stature of phonological awareness and reading comprehension in evidence-based literacy, mastering oral language early on is key to reading successfully!

 

How is Oral Language Acquired?

How is Oral Language Acquired?

Babies begin to acquire language within months of being born and by age five, they can master basic sound system structures and grammar. 

Young children develop their oral language skills through conversations with their caregivers, exposure to a rich vocabulary, and opportunities to practice their language in different contexts. 

Thus, for the acquisition of oral language, It’s important to provide high-quality early learning experiences which contain such interactions, exposure and opportunities to practice. 

Oral Language is a skill practiced all the time with teachers, educators, parents, peers and members of the community. If well-supported properly, it encourages reading and writing.

Thus, there also needs to be a high-level of parental involvement and community participation, where adults in the child’s life are taking the time to speak to them and encouraging them to speak also. 

Cultural relevance can make a huge difference in strengthening early learning, especially in how it promotes oral language acquisition. Culturally responsive content helps students to see themselves in what they are learning. Connecting with words and concepts is easier, and learning is more fluid.

Having understood the need for oral language in early literacy and its acquisition process, how do the aforementioned practices translate into practice?

 

What Should your Early Literacy Program Look Like?

What Should your Early Literacy Program Look Like?

Since few children entering kindergarten can read words, early literacy programs should look at oral language skills that develop word recognition and/or decoding ability. 

When taught in combination with language comprehension, concepts such as communication and vocabulary leads to reading comprehension.

Thus, whether it’s a program for preschool, kindergarten, or the early elementary grades, it is very important that early literacy programs teach both word recognition and language comprehension. 

Besides the actual teaching content focusing on oral language, the following considerations should also be made for maximizing oral language growth. 

 

Holistic Learning for Constant Exposure to Oral Language

Early learners should be exposed to oral language activities holistically, in all aspects of life. 

It’s important that an early literacy program engages caregivers as well. Students that have caregivers actively engaged in their learning do better in overall educational outcomes, grades and academic achievement.

Holistic learning is a large topic which Sprig has covered previously in multiple blog posts. It should be used in early literacy where a child has more than one person to practice oral language skills with, and more than one environment where such practice can take place.

 

Early Assessments to Gauge Oral Language Requirements

Assessments of oral language skills are important to identify children who are likely to need more intensive instruction to achieve reading success.

By identifying and working with students across all literacy levels early, educators can be proactive in ensuring that students meet or exceed academic expectations.

Early and frequent assessment of children’s oral language abilities provides educators and caregivers with a clearer picture of student learning. 

Holistic learning also plays an important role in early assessments of skills which digs deep into each student’s needs, strengths and interests.

Such assessments conducted regularly early on as these traits are being formed, are called formative assessments. It’s another topic that is covered extensively by Sprig. Holistic formative assessments are great for assessing oral language skills early and frequently.

 

Making the Connection Between Oral Language and Other Foundational Reading Skills

Oral language is paramount for early literacy, not just on its own accord, but because it has such strong ties to other foundational reading skills that result in reading proficiency. 

For example,

Children learn to recognize and manipulate speech sounds through activities such as rhyming and segmenting words into individual sounds. 

This is phonological awareness, and its development can be encouraged by teachers by encouraging children to play with sounds in oral language.

Also, children develop comprehension skills through conversations, discussions, and storytelling, where they learn to understand and interpret the meaning of oral language. 

Teachers can support reading comprehension development by asking open-ended questions about the text  and encouraging children to make predictions about what will happen next. 

These language comprehension skills come in very handy for reading comprehension. 

Similarly for vocabulary acquisition, children build their vocabulary knowledge by being exposed to a variety of words and phrases in different contexts in oral language.

Teachers can support vocabulary acquisition by using rich and varied language in their own speech and reading aloud high-quality books that use sophisticated vocabulary.

 

How to Ensure Oral Language Development for Early Literacy

How to Ensure Oral Language Development for Early Literacy

Children who have strong oral language skills are more likely to develop strong reading and writing skills, while children who struggle with oral language development may experience difficulties with literacy. 

Therefore, it is important to provide young children with rich language experiences and opportunities to develop their oral language skills to support their early literacy development. 

Oral language development is an ongoing process that occurs over time, and it is best supported through a combination of explicit teaching, rich language experiences, and opportunities for children to engage in meaningful conversations and interactions.

Sprig Learning offers two solutions that deal with oral language development. 

Sprig Language does a deep dive on the fundamentals of oral language for Pre-K to Kindergarten students, working on things such as pragmatics and syntax. 

Sprig Reading also covers the fundamentals of oral language, but dovetails this one component of early learning with other foundational reading skills that are needed to turn a child into a confident and proficient reader by Grade 3. 

Traditional Early Years Assessments VS Holistic Assessments

Student assessment is one of the most critical aspects of early learning. So critical in fact, that Sprig has dedicated an article to just assessments in early childhood education.

Educators who consistently use formative assessment strategies are shown to double the speed of learning for students in their classroom. 

While the link between assessment and early learning is clear, there is a lot left to be desired with the data that is being collected.

Traditional assessments only capture two perspectives: the teacher and the student. This leaves a gap in our understanding of early learning that occurs outside of the classroom unidentified. 

They are also prone to bias which has a negative impact on learning during the formative early years of learning.

There are many key people supporting student learning outside of school, so how can these perspectives be included and understood?

How can the potential of biased data be mitigated?

Holistic learning provides an answer to both of these questions, by way of holistic formative assessments.

Holistic learning integrates multiple learning components in its thinking, focusing on the whole learner. It pays significant attention to experiential learning and aims to help students reach their maximum potential. 

Holistic assessment engages key actors and can inspire communities and caregivers to participate in a child’s learning so that children can reach their greatest potential. This benefits both students and educators by promoting caregiver and community participation.

 

What Does Holistic Assessment Mean for Future Learning?

What Does Holistic Assessment Mean for Future Learning?

A child’s early life experiences are proven to have a lasting impact on their development and future learning success. For this reason, early years assessment data needs to be collected accurately and holistically.

Every stakeholder in a child’s learning benefits from comprehensive assessments. 

Caregivers are empowered to help their children learn well, and instructors benefit from caregiver and community support while receiving access to better data that enhances instruction.

True personalized learning can finally be realized with improved data, an ambitious goal that education institutions throughout the world are aiming to meet. 

With personalized learning still in its early stages, a comprehensive approach to assessments can hasten its progress. 

In order for personalized learning to be effective, accurate and comprehensive information is required to define the needs of the learner. 

A holistic approach to assessment enables this in three ways.

 

Increased Breadth of Information

First, by broadening its scope to identify learning in the home, community, land (and school), holistic assessment always provides new insights into a child’s learning. New information emerges about each learner that may have never been asked or identified, and supports instruction in the classroom.

 

Mitigation of Bias

Second, a holistic assessment provides more accurate information through its more natural and formative approaches. Through the provision of culturally enabling tools and implementation, holistic assessments are able to break down explicit and implicit biases during the assessment, creating a more natural and supportive environment for students to demonstrate their skills and abilities.

 

Coverage of All Foundational Skills

Third, holistic assessments not only include learning from multiple places and from multiple perspectives, but it also focuses on the essential skills, which greatly enhance student performance. 

Literacy and numeracy, for example, are foundational; thus, holistic assessments look at all of the foundational skill sets that go into language, reading and math acquisition.

 

What Research Supports Holistic Education?

What Research Supports Holistic Education?

The holistic approach is rooted in Canadian First Nations teachings and the lifelong learning model – both products of research from the Canadian Council on Learning

Indigenous people in Canada have long understood the role that learning plays in building healthy, thriving communities and despite significant cultural and historical differences, Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people share a vision of learning as a holistic, lifelong process.

 

“We have constantly measured the wrong things against a different paradigm — leading inevitably to an assessment of failure.” – Canadian Council on Learning

Though developed with and for Indigenous peoples in Canada, the holistic approach can be applied to students of all cultural backgrounds. 

 

In fact, two of the top performing education systems in the world thrive using aspects of the holistic approach and lifelong learning model. 

Education systems everywhere are teaching a lifelong learning mindset so students can keep up in a fast-paced, digital world. It’s perhaps time learning systems adopt the same mentality for early years assessment.

Technology is an important component in ensuring that a holistic approach to assessment and learning is applied effectively. Technology makes it simple for teachers, caregivers, and community members to stay up to date on where and how their students are learning. Assessment findings may be aggregated and curated by technology, making them conveniently available to all learning influencers.

Furthermore, from the standpoint of a student, connecting with technology in early assessment is critical to establishing the digital literacy that is necessary for future academic, social and economic success.

 

Why Should Teachers Advocate a Holistic Approach to Early Years Assessment?

Why Should Teachers Advocate a Holistic Approach to Early Years Assessment?

With more comprehensive and accurate information available, a holistic approach assists in identifying each student’s learning strengths. 

It encourages instructors to help students in using their talents to overcome their obstacles in various educational settings. This enables instructors to differentiate instruction for every child.

A holistic approach to assessment yields better results and distributes the responsibility of educators by engaging caregivers. 

In fact, the positive impact of caregiver involvement has long shown to produce higher student achievement. 

By connecting caregivers and the community to learning in the classroom, caregivers are able to complement the child’s learning path with community and home-based activities.

For more information about a holistic approach to assessment or holistic education, send us an email at letstalk@spriglearning.com.

Defining Parent Engagement in 2019

Elise Twyford

Elise Twyford

Teacher

Elise Twyford is an early-years educator and lifelong learner. She is currently running the Sprig Learning Oral Language Learning Program in her classroom in Toronto, Ontario.

What does parent engagement look like in 2019?

Parents spend countless hours caring for their child — they are the experts on the little person that you meet in your classroom. They send their hopes and dreams into school with their child, and every parent wants to see their child succeed. As educators, we get the privilege to spend a few hours a day helping their little learners build the skills they need along their path toward academic success.

But while we know that relational trust between schools and parents is linked to higher levels of student achievement, how much time are we as educators dedicating to actively nurturing our relationships with parents and caregivers? How can we create a welcoming and responsive classroom culture, one where engagement is initiated and led by parents, caregivers and community members? And what does parent engagement look like in the culturally responsive classroom, particularly in communities where trust in the education system is lacking, oftentimes because of historical trauma?

What does it even mean to engage parents in early learning?

We tend to evaluate parent engagement by the number of parents who attend parent-teacher interviews, or how regularly we communicate directly with the home. These numbers, although important, are often more representative of a parents’ busy schedule than their meaningful engagement with their child’s education.

Because we lack the framework and tools we need to discuss and describe parental engagement, we as teachers often find ourselves unable to analyze and assess the true fruits of our efforts. We know that we are doing “something” to get parents engaged in our classrooms—but is it enough?

Ken Leithwood argues that we need to shift away from the current model of trying to get parents into the school, and towards a model where parents and caregivers can support learning in the home. After all, this is where half of the learning that we are responsible for as educators happens.

The Ladder of Participation

Roger Hart (1992) developed the Ladder of Youth Participation to describe levels of youth engagement. At the bottom of the ladder, you can see an engagement model that is providing information. At the top of the ladder, you see a model that has ideas initiated by youth and both adults and youth sharing in the decision making.

Could this same framework be used to think about how teachers engage parents in classrooms?

https://healthyschoolsbc.ca/healthy-schools-bc-resources/healthy-schools-network/

Typically, when we think of parent engagement, we think of the communication that happens through emails and calls to the home. We think of parent representatives on school committees, parent volunteers in school-wide activities, and parent-teacher night. The common thread here is that engagement happens on the school’s terms rather than the parent’s. From Hart’s ladder, this would look like the bottom 1-5 rungs (if we were being generous).

But what if we imagined a more engaging approach, one that supports parents to direct, define and lead the engagement?

This is especially true when looking at the culturally responsive classroom of 2019. For example, in speaking to culturally restorative practices at the First Nations School of Toronto (Parent Discussion Night, January 23, 2018), Estelle Simard described engaging Elders, parents, and community members in how culture should be taught in school, and the importance of creating meaningful engagement that enabled families to both initiate and define how they engage with their child’s school.

Estelle provided an example of a community where the Elders wanted regalia making, the creation of traditional and sometimes sacred clothing and accessories, to be a component of the school’s curriculum. The school then aligned curriculum and opened the door for the community to share their knowledge on the subject, creating a community of sharing and mutual respect.

Building Bridges between the Home and the School

We work hard to build relationships with our students. In order to increase parent engagement, we need to further that hard work by building relationships with parents, caregivers, and the community. So how can we honour this in our own classrooms and begin building bridges between home and school? 

  • – Attend community events – and don’t be shy about engaging with parents. Even a small wave or nod will start you on the path to building trust and a positive relationship with parents.
  • Create a classroom culture that encourages constant dialogue between yourself and your students’ caregivers, and work together to determine how to best support their child. Remember, the dialogue must be reciprocal. At the end of the day, parents are the true experts when it comes to their child.
  • – Most importantly — listen.

One of the benefits of working with the Sprig Learning Platform has been that it provides me with the opportunity to connect my classroom to every one of my students’ home lives, and to provide parents and caregivers with the tools they need to reinforce learning in their own homes.

 
 
   
 
 
 
We started out with a classroom birthday party for a haptic-enabled moose puppet named Antle, who is the star of Sprig’s Learning and MK Education’s Oral Language Learning Program. We invited parents, grandparents, and caregivers into our classroom, and encouraged them to learn more about the literacy learning that happens every day at school.
We interviewed each caregiver on the iOS-based caregiver survey, and parents and caregivers gave us more information about the literacy learning that happens at home and in the community. We all had such a great time at the party, and the small interactions that took place really built trust and strengthened our relationships with the families. Even better, we established a two-way dialogue between the home and school, both in-person and through the Sprig Learning online platform. Our students’ parents can now see activities that we recommend to further learning in the home, and trust that we are both working together to lead their little learner down a path to success.

Parent-Teacher Partnerships Lead to Success

The lasting effect of parents and teachers working together is clear when we see these students grow into healthy, confident, and curious lifelong learners. It’s important to find the approaches and strategies that work best for your classroom, but always remember to listen, be open-minded, and to have fun.

 

This guest post on the Sprig Learning Blog was contributed by  Elise Twyford, a teacher and lifelong learner based out of Toronto, Ontario. You can follow Elise here.

For more information about a holistic approach to assessment or holistic education, book a demo today or send us an email at letstalk@spriglearning.com.

Culturally Responsive Teaching for the Digital Age

Children of all backgrounds should have role models to admire. Most young children have heroes and they’re often quite literal in the rationale behind their choices. Race and gender are often deciding factors and while pop culture is responding by diversifying content and characters, we’re seeing a similar shift in the education space.

Just like role models play a vital part in education, so too does culturally relevant content. Culturally responsive teaching has been a topic in education since the 1970’s, so it’s a wonder why many education systems continue to use the ‘melting pot’ approach. Learning is proven to be enhanced when children can relate to lessons on a cultural level. Before this can happen though, it’s important to understand what it means at a teaching level. 

Switching from Melting Pot to Mosaic

Culturally responsive teachers may have to abandon old ideas about cultural deficits. They must be careful not to convey judgment that might reflect upon students’ families, friends or histories. This often means looking inwards to address their own assumptions about behaviours, like the caregiver who forgot to sign the student’s agenda or missed a parent-teacher interview.

A culturally responsive teacher is grounded in pedagogical practices. They teach ideas and social relationships that enhance learning by relating the curriculum to students’ backgrounds, establishing connections with families and communities, understanding cultural experiences, creating shared learning experiences, and recognizing cultural differences as strengths.

By acknowledging a child’s specific needs, beliefs and backgrounds, curriculums could shift from the traditional ‘melting pot’ to a more inclusive ‘mosaic’ approach. But before making the switch, it’s important to understand culturally responsive teaching spans deeper than just culture.

According to Gloria Ladson-Billings, culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically. Adopting culturally responsive teaching in your own practice means getting to know students in a way that is personal and individual. It’s important to embrace a student’s racial or ethnic background, but it’s only a fragment of their identity. Recognizing and respecting students means learning how they learn and about their areas of interest.

To be effective, teachers must show courage, confidence and capability in the classroom. 

Responding to The Need For Change

What makes culturally responsive teaching so important is how it filters content and teaching through cultural frames of reference. For example, if you ask a young Indigenous student in northern Saskatchewan what sound a subway train makes, they may have never even heard of one. Ask a Caucasian student from Toronto the same question and it’s a different story. The same could be said for an African-American student being taught to revere the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, an explorer known to have African slaves. Students whose lives and cultures are not treated as equal are less likely to buy into learning, whereas those who are empowered and feel valued will be ready to learn.

“While “caring about” conveys feelings of concern for one’s state of being, “caring for” is active engagement in doing something to positively affect it.”

– Geneva Gay, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice 

With a culturally responsive curriculum, it makes room for learning opportunities that connect students to different cultures inside and outside the classroom. These connections can be made through something as simple as teaching a lesson through pop culture, movies or music the class will enjoy. The goal of culturally responsive teaching is to empower students and to expand their capabilities in other spheres of learning by making their own skills, languages and attitudes meaningful in the classroom.

The best way to establish meaningful, culturally responsive teaching is through collaboration. Connecting educators, caregivers and members of the community in student learning encourages sharing their wealth of cultural knowledge with students. Not only that, but when students see collaboration and mutual respect, they’re more likely to buy into their own education in meaningful ways.

Encouraging the use of native languages in class is another way to be culturally responsive. Encouraging students to use their native languages in class can result in students’ to be fluent in both the standard classroom language and native languages.

Connecting Cultural Responsiveness With Current Curriculums

What it boils down to is culture and heritage are two things that no one chooses. They are an unconditional part of being human and should be treated with the same respect and privilege that education commands.

Without engaging cultural responsiveness, it’s inaccurate for educators to claim that they can attend to the needs of different students. Keeping up with current ‘melting pot’ academic practices will continue to influence students in divorcing themselves from their cultural backgrounds.

The key to connecting cultural responsiveness with curriculums is technology. It’s no secret that technology is a fantastic tool at making connections in education, but the important part is finding technology that connects caregivers, students, educators and community to bring cultural context to the classroom and enhance learning for every student. 

For more information about a holistic approach to assessment or holistic education, send us an email at letstalk@spriglearning.com.

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The mission involves facilitating successful learning experiences by presenting proven strategies that have worked for various schools, families and communities.

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