Well timed to end the school holidays on an inspirational note, this weekend is the ALEA conference being held in Adelaide.
Literacy & imagination: schools as wondering places and spaces?
The conference started with a keynote from Barbara Comer encouraging us to consider teachers as ‘imaginative designers, weavers and researchers’ rather than bound by templates and programs which restrict us and limit opportunities for our students. It set the scene for the rest of the weekend well – these conferences are always an energetic mix of new ideas and revisiting more familiar but forgotten ones and I always leave feeling full of possibility. So being reminded that, as teachers, we are responsible for researching, interpreting and implementing ideas, woven as an intricate and specifically crafted tapestry was exactly what I needed to hear.
Students with literacy difficulties: Same and different
Anne Bayetto presented about the needs of students who experience difficulties with literacy and the message was both clear and reassuring – on the whole, all students, whether experiencing difficulties or not, have similar needs, including requiring cognitive level tasks and dignified access to a range of aural, visual, print and digital texts.
Most importantly, students who are experiencing difficulty need to speak, listen and read more. Activities involving cutting and pasting, colouring, drawing and, generally, doing ‘busy work’ are not likely to have any impact and will further disadvantage students.
Anne spoke of some great resources to encourage speaking and listening:
- The New York times education section – US based but adaptable and full of rich discussion starters for the classroom
- artist a day which can be used as a starting point for discussion
- silent book contest with acclaimed examples of wordless text
- SPELD-SA with lots of resources to support teachers and parents
Embedding oral language across the curriculum
This presentation was full of both new material and reminders of things I used to do but which need to be revived in my classroom. The concept of ‘hands down’ to ensure all children have an opportunity and an expectation to speak and participate is an important one which needs to be developed as the culture of the classroom and school. Too often, quiet or less confident students are able to fly under the radar during sessions involving oral language, deferring to those who more confidently raise their hands. Sheena Cameron and Louise Dempsey suggested a number of different strategies to encourage greater participation during speaking activities, such as:
- allowing adequate thinking time for students when using ‘think, pair, share’;
- turning it into ‘think, pair, square’ with student pairs becoming a group of 4 to provide more opportunity for student talk;
- compass partners (one name at north, one at south, one at east and one at west) so that students are quickly able to find a partner during oral language activities;
- a listening triad where one student is speaking, one is purely listening/responding and the other is recording.
Another great reminder from this presentation is that, as teachers, we ask a lot of questions throughout our day and this isn’t the only way to prompt and provoke student discussion. Comments and statements can be just as effectively used to get students talking – the important part is that we provide quality and meaningful reasons for them to speak that are relevant to them. It would be frustrating for our students to be asked to talk about thing that aren’t worth talking about from their perspective.
This presentation in particular has given me food for thought – so much so that I went and bought their new book, The Oral Language Book. Looking forward to diving into that one and exploring more possibilities for student talk in my classroom.