The following four examples (two early learning services and two schools) describe what was happening to support children’s oral language learning and development. The descriptions of practice are supported by evaluation findings from the ERO education review reports for the services and schools.
Topkids Motutaiko is a purpose-built early childhood education and care service that opened in 2009, catering for children from three months to five years. It is located in central Taupō and the centre’s name originates from the island in the centre of Lake Taupō. At the time of the most recent ERO review in 2015, 78 children were enrolled: 38 of Māori descent, many of whom have whakapapa links to Ngāti Tūwharetoa; 32 Pākeha; 4 South East Asian; 2 Asian and 2 whose ethnicity was not identified. There are two age groupings of children in this centre. Babies from three months to toddlers (up to about two years of age) and the older group for children up to five years old.
The centre operates under the umbrella of BestStart Educare Limited, which provides policy guidelines, strategic direction, financial and business management.
Teachers are experienced and have a shared understanding about oral language expectations and children’s language acquisition. Through observations they recognise children’s oral language capability. They skilfully respond to individual children and acknowledge children’s different levels of confidence and engagement. Teachers work closely with parents in this centre, sharing their early observations, what this might mean for their child and possible strategies for support.
Teachers initiate regular, formal interviews with parents of all children in addition to informal day-to-day interactions. Interviews are a key time for conversations, sharing observations and discussing concerns. Children identified as needing additional support with oral language are discussed at staff meetings. Teachers identify strategies and techniques and modify responses for each child.
Individual plans for children include next steps for learning based on their oral language ability and teachers decide learning outcomes based on this. A primary caregiver approach for children up to two years of age means that teachers know children and their whānau well.
The local speech language therapist (SLT) works with individual children and their families. The SLT also works with teachers, providing modelling and coaching for the implementation of strategies, and for them to provide ongoing support for individual children and their family. The early intervention teacher supports a child with behavioural learning needs and oral language delay.
English Language Learners are well supported by staff in this centre who between them speak Tokelau, Hindi, Punjabi, French, Portuguese and Samoan. Children from other language backgrounds and cultures are also supported. Teachers find out basic words from families, especially words associated with care routines to use with children. Centre assessment documentation strongly reflects each child’s languages, culture and identity. Teachers are developing connections with the Thai community, in response to the increasing number of Thai families moving into the area.
The area manager and teachers are proactive in accessing and discussing current readings. A recent BestStart conference included a strong emphasis on oral language, informed by teachers’ appraisal goals.
The appraisal process in this centre is robust and regular. This includes teachers engaging in monthly one-on-one meetings with the centre manager to discuss appraisal goals, progress and next steps. This process is reflective and focused on improving teacher practice and outcomes for children.
The curriculum provides children with opportunities to use language in different contexts such as music and creative expression. Impromptu mat times occur regularly throughout the day and often these are child initiated. They are a good opportunity for children to share and grow their confidence to talk in a group.
Teachers view and support children as leaders of their own learning within these group times. There are many aspects that enhance oral language such as storytelling where children have the opportunity to share their interests and role model from teachers and peers alike. Children are supported to develop their confidence to read from books or share spontaneous learning experiences that are of current interest individually or centre wide. Waiata is a strong medium that supports children’s expressive language and is again often child directed. These group times are evident in all areas of the environment and across all age groups within the centre. There is a focus on reflecting the mixed cultural diversity and richness of languages at the centre.
In the baby room, oral language is consistently modelled by teachers. They use English, te reo Māori, Tokelau and Hindi. Teachers provide appropriate language models including the use of grammatically correct sentences and increasingly complex vocabulary.
Children needing additional support with their oral language development are identified early. Teachers respond with strategies such as commenting, modelling, questioning, explaining, and fostering tuakana/teina relationships.
Children’s progress is regularly monitored through individual assessment records, individual development plans, discussions at team meetings, monthly appraisal meetings and parent teacher interviews.
Our reflective questions allow us as practitioners to reflect on the effectiveness of the teaching strategies we are implementing and to share this with the team. (Teaching team)
Teachers are developing their capability to engage in internal evaluation (self review) that impacts directly on their teaching practice. Evaluations have focused on teaching practice and the extent to which intended outcomes for children are being realised.
Raumanga Kindergarten in Whangarei provides four and six hour sessions for 40 children between two and six years of age. Approximately 90 percent of children enrolled identify as Māori. The kindergarten operates as part of the Northland Kindergarten Association.
The kindergarten’s philosophy emphasises relationships and family participation. A team of four qualified teachers works very effectively together to ensure the programme reflects Te Whāriki, and a commitment to New Zealand’s bicultural heritage.
The Association employs a fulltime Speech Language Therapist (SLT) who is available to support all 22 kindergartens if a teaching team has concerns about a child’s language. Teachers talk with families and the SLT, then visits children at the kindergarten to assess their language before deciding if a referral needs to be made to Special Education for further support. The Association’s SLT also works with individual children at the Association office if they require 1:1 support.
The kindergarten’s 2009 ERO report identified oral language as an area for the (then) teaching team to focus on. In response, teachers developed an oral language procedure to support children’s oral language development. This procedure is regularly re-visited by the current team to ensure they are meeting their intentions and to make any additions based on new knowledge they have gained. In 2012, ERO acknowledged teachers’ progress in supporting children’s oral language and recommended teachers continue to develop strategies to extend children’s language development. The recent 2015 ERO review acknowledged ongoing progress in this area.
In 2015, teachers saw the need to give more attention to oral language and decided to engage in an action research project. Their action research question was “How do teachers extend children’s leadership through the development of oral language?” As part of the research teachers identified how the project could contribute to:
> valuing languages, cultures and identities through oral languages
> improving outcomes for children, families and teachers, based on identifying desired outcomes and progress indicators through oral language.
This research involves teachers discussing and planning learning experiences rich in opportunities for the development of oral language. It also focuses on helping Māori children to achieve success through developing friendships, being able to express their needs and wants, and having the confidence and the skills to speak the language of their heritage.
The SLT provides teachers and whānau with strategies to support children’s oral language learning and development. Teachers have opportunities to observe the SLT’s practice when she works with children at the kindergarten. They use this guidance and their own professional knowledge to identify areas of oral language concern.
The teaching team has developed the following oral language goals for children.
A stable teaching team for the last two years benefits from a sustained commitment to professional learning and development. All teachers have undertaken Incredible Years professional development, a course that provides teachers with strategies to promote children’s independence and competence in social situations. The strategies they have learned help them to promote children’s oral language.
Relevant strategies implemented as a result of this PLD include:
> descriptive commenting, particularly related to children’s interests
> questioning to encourage thinking
> integrating new words into conversations to extend language, including in te reo Māori
> implementing kai routines in a relaxed environment where teachers can model language and engage in meaningful conversations with children
> valuing tukana/teina approaches, so children are modelling language with each other
> providing opportunities for children to re-visit experiences and practise new language.
Teachers work collaboratively to provide a high quality, language-rich curriculum that promotes oral language and positive outcomes for children. They integrate te reo me ngā tikanga Māori to make meaningful connections with children and whānau and for tamariki to hear te reo Māori spoken at kindergarten. Teachers recognise that modelling new language and complex conversations are priorities before they use questioning techniques. The curriculum is responsive to children’s interests so new words and complex language are often used in the context of meaningful play. The kindergarten’s art programme provides a meaningful context for supporting children’s oral language. Teachers use video to capture children talking about their creations and art work and compare this to earlier videos to show progress and development.
The teaching team is highly reflective and constantly discussing their practice. Teachers have very clear assessment information and strategies to inform their practice in promoting oral language. Teachers are committed to the current PLD project and have initiated recent internal evaluation of the impact of changes in their practice. They recognise the need to keep communicating with families, seek external advice where applicable and keep reviewing their practice.
Teachers are also involved in an emergent internal evaluation to find out how well they are achieving the expectations of their oral language procedure – and how they go about measuring progress. The teaching team acknowledge the benefits for all stakeholders when early childhood settings undertake a long term research project. Teachers reflect and celebrate on the successful results and outcomes that came from having a long term focus on oral language learning and development.
Ranzau School is situated in a rural setting near Nelson. The school has seven classrooms and caters for 143 students from Years 1 to 6. Eleven percent of the students identify as Māori.
Teachers know the children and their families well. The new entrant teacher spends time with each child in their early learning service. The teacher finds out from the child what they like, is interested in, is good at, does at home, and does with other children.
The teacher meets with the parents to share information about the child.
This includes information about the child’s likes, interests, abilities and needs. If additional support is needed, the teacher works with the parents to decide on what programmes, support or intervention could be put in place to help the child, particularly with oral language development. The concentrated effort on the development of oral language reflects the school’s strong belief that confidence in oral language is paramount to a student’s learning and holistic development.
Children who are able to converse confidently, are better placed to have their needs and interests met. This lessens frustration and negative behaviours.
Teachers discuss students’ needs at team meetings and draw on the ideas, knowledge and experiences of other teachers to plan any intervention or learning support programmes. Sometimes the expertise of the Resource Teacher of Literacy or the Speech and Language Therapist is sought to provide specialist support.
Students identified with specific oral language needs are placed on the school’s Booster Programme Register where their progress is monitored by the school’s Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO). Parents are consulted by teachers before designing a programme or intervention. Teachers continue to maintain contact with the parents, offering feedback and exchanging ideas to support their child’s oral language development.
Teachers know that students need to be able to communicate through mathematics, science, and music as well as literacy. Providing them with appropriate language is very important. Students learn the language of mathematics to share their learning strategies, and the language of science to describe their learning through experimentation, trial and error.
Teachers learn some of the students’ home languages to support those who do not have English as their first language. This helps students to feel respected and valued and gives them a sense of belonging that helps them to settle and to learn English more confidently. Students have an older buddy who supports them in their socialisation into school life and in their learning. Playing and learning in a group supports students to increase their oral language development, as they learn from the communication skills of other students.
Students learn through storytelling, listening to stories, singing and poetry. They extend their vocabulary, hear their correct pronunciation and with the help of the teacher, learn how to use the words and make them part of their everyday learning.
Students have a variety of opportunities to become confident speakers. They are encouraged to share their news from home, and their knowledge, experiences, ideas and views. These experiences support their acquisition of language in order to communicate well with their peers. Teachers plan experiences that support students to achieve the oral language development goals of speaking with clarity, confidence, fluency and at an acceptable volume. These opportunities go across all key learning areas.
The SENCO provides leadership to build teacher capability in oral language teaching across the school. Staff meetings are used for professional sharing, including the discussion of strategies that work, curriculum adaptation and differentiation, and resources that have proven effective.
School-wide professional development focused on oral language is supporting teachers to develop a shared understanding of the importance of students building competence in communication skills, especially oral language. Teachers are aware of the progressions students are expected to achieve, and there is a concerted effort to support students’ progress in oral language.
Whitikahu School is located northeast of Hamilton and caters for students in Years 1 to 8. At the time of the most recent ERO review, there were 81 students enrolled, 21 of whom identify as Māori.
The new entrant teacher works closely with children in her class beginning with a well-planned transition into the school. Many children starting school are younger siblings of children already at the school and they are familiar with the school.
The teacher values and recognises each child’s language and talks extensively with students, modelling correct language and rephrasing sentences to help them communicate more clearly.
The teacher uses the School Entry Assessment for each child on entry, as well as the Record of Oral Language (ROL), combined with observations in the classroom. Children scoring under 20 in this test are closely monitored and those scoring very low receive additional support. Other assessment tools such as the Junior Oral Language Screening Tool (JOST) are also used as a diagnostic tool as needed.
Students with poor language skills often need support for behaviour and conflict resolution as well.
The school works with specialist agencies and professional providers as well as parents to continue to support children with oral language. Teachers have identified a trend that shows more children are arriving at school with lower levels of oral language capabilities than in the past. Scores in ROL have dropped on average by five to 10 marks in the last three years at this school.
The school has reviewed the way teacher aides are used to support teachers in order to better use teacher expertise to work with children needing additional support.
The curriculum is well designed in Years 1 to 3 to include many opportunities for students to share and build their oral language skills. This includes the use of shared books, poems, novels, picture books, internet research and learning conversations with teachers. Teachers introduce new vocabulary and encourage the sharing of ideas and opinions in class. Parents described conversations around the evening dinner table where the recent experience of following the Waikato River from its source to the sea was shared by both of their children attending the school, even though they were in different classes.
Teachers have developed interesting resources that link to children’s experiences on local farms and provide many opportunities for children to talk amongst themselves and with teachers.
Teachers regularly discuss and reflect on student learning and teaching practice to support and motivate students.
Professional learning has included an ongoing, whole staff focus on literacy. As a result of the professional learning:
> teachers have an increased focus on improving their learning conversations with children
> assessment tools used were reviewed following an audit by the PLD facilitator
> students are kept in class rather than being withdrawn for special programmes.
Focused interventions and focused teaching strategies are resulting in an improvement in students’ oral language ability as they move through the school.