What OurPlanet believes about learning language
The need to communicate is instinctive. The development of language is fundamental to that need to communicate; it supports and enhances our thinking and understanding. Language permeates the world in which we live; it is socially constructed and dependent on the number and nature of our social interactions and relationships.
The learning process simultaneously involves learning language—as learners listen to and use language with others in their everyday lives; learning about language—as learners grow in their understanding of how language works; and learning through language—as learners use language as a tool to listen, think, discuss and reflect on information, ideas and issues (Halliday 1980). An appreciation of these aspects of language learning may help teachers better understand and enhance students’ learning. However, these three aspects are so inextricably linked they are best not thought of as discrete processes.
Language plays a vital role in the construction of meaning. It empowers the learner and provides an intellectual framework to support conceptual development and critical thinking. In the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), it is recognized that the teaching of language should be in response to the previous experience, needs and interests of the student, rather than the consequence of a predetermined, prescriptive model for delivering language. Fragmenting learning into the acquisition of isolated skill sets can create difficulties for learners—for example, learners may be able to read, write and spell words correctly in isolation but may not be able to read, write or spell those same words in other contexts. Learners’ needs are best served when they have opportunities to engage in learning within meaningful contexts, rather than being presented with the learning of language as an incremental series of skills to be acquired.
The complex processes involved in language learning represent a series of developmental continuums. A teacher is able to identify where on those continuums a student is positioned to better design appropriate, contextualized learning experiences—to move the student from one development phase to the next. In this way, the learner is able to build on established skills and understanding, while being supported to meet appropriate challenges to extend their learning within their “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky 1999), which may be represented by more than one phase.
Language instruction and assessment is organised around 4 strands/skills:
- Oral Language Listening and Speaking
- Visual Language Viewing and Presenting
- Written Language: Reading
- Written Language: Writing
The learning continuum for each strand is represented in 5 phases of development.
Language in a transdisciplinary programme
Language is involved in all learning that goes on in a school, in both the affective and effective domains. Learners listen, talk, read and write their way to negotiating new meanings and understanding new concepts. In the “knowledge” area of the PYP, language is the most significant connecting element across the school’s curriculum, both within and outside its transdisciplinary programme of inquiry. At OurPlanet we take the responsibility to provide authentic contexts for language teaching and learning in all areas of the curriculum that are a reflection of, and relevant to, the community of learners, and to the educational theories underpinning the programme. Literacy, including oral and visual literacy as well as the ability to read and write, becomes increasingly important as greater demands are placed on learners as participants in the learning process.
Language provides a vehicle for inquiry. In an inquiry-based classroom, teachers and students enjoy using language, appreciating it both functionally and aesthetically. The love and enjoyment of language through the integration of literature into student inquiry is an indicator of good practice in a PYP classroom. For example, this may include: a series of books read as an author study; regional fairy tales as part of a unit of inquiry with a particular social studies emphasis; discussing a scientist’s biography or a newspaper article to front-load a science investigation; early years counting stories as reinforcement for mathematics development; and the comparison and practice of illustration techniques to encourage the development of art skills.
The programme of inquiry provides an authentic context for learners to develop and use language. Wherever possible, language is taught through the relevant, authentic context of the units of inquiry. The teachers provide language learning opportunities that support learners’ inquiries and the sharing of their learning. Regardless of whether language is being taught within or outside the programme of inquiry, it is believed that purposeful inquiry is the way in which learners learn best. The starting point is always the learners’ prior experience and current understanding.
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