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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