The term ‘oracy’ meaning:
‘the ability to speak fluently and articulately and to understand and respond to what other people say’.
was first used by Wilkinson in 1965 (Definition, Microsoft Encarta World English Dictionary).
Since that time the fact that it is central to all aspects of the learning process and activities in which children engage in school has been increasingly recognised. The development of talking and listening skills is central to the reading process and to participation in all curricular areas.
This term my focus was teaching oracy and literacy to year 4 children in an interactive and communicative environment created through the use of drama.
By the end of the series of lessons I wanted children in year 4 to be able to identify social, moral and cultural issues in stories. Drama was employed as a tool to create roles showing how behaviour could be interpreted from different points of view.
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I shall present a discussion of the rationale behind the activities I have chosen, the ways in which the children engaged with them and the success of this approach to the teaching of oracy. I shall support my work with research evidence in the areas of talking and listening, the wider area of literacy, and research pertaining to effective teaching and learning generally.
I will discuss what I found when I assessed the progress made by the children and the implication this has for my future role as a teacher by linking my work with the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial Teacher Training.
The acquisition of language, a complex process, is essential for effective communication throughout life. Creating opportunities for the development of oracy in the classroom is essential if children are to develop the ability to communicate. With research showing that children are increasingly spending time in solitary activities related to computers (MacGilchrist et al., 2006, p.12), thereby reducing opportunities for talking in the home, it is essential for schools to act as facilitators in the development of talking and listening.
The National Literacy Strategy defines literacy thus:
‘Literacy unites the important skills of reading and writing. It also involves speaking and listening which, although they are not separately identified in the framework, are an essential part of it. Good oral work enhances pupils’ understanding of language in both oral and written forms and of the way language can be used to communicate. It is also an important part of the process through which pupils read and compose texts.’
(National Literacy Strategy: Framework for Teaching, p.3).
The lack of reference to talking and listening as a separate area has been addressed in later recommendations with an acknowledgement that ‘language is an integral part of most learning and oral language in particular has a key role in classroom teaching and learning’ (DfES, 2003, p.3). The document is highly prescriptive in the means through which contexts for talk should be established.
This paper will present work carried out with a year 4 class in respect of oracy taught through drama. I will evaluate the opportunities given to children for developing oracy and the ways in which children responded to the tasks.
The role of talking and listening:
For the past fifty years researchers have been making a clear case for the importance of talk in the learning process. The psychologists Vygotsky and Bruner have demonstrated the fundamental importance to cognitive processes and learning of speaking and listening (Lambirth, 2006, p.59).
Talk is both a medium for teaching and learning and one of the materials from which a child constructs meaning (Edwards & Mercer, 1987, p.20). I wanted the talking and listening activities to act as a medium for teaching and learning through the children’s interaction. My aim was that they would be teaching and learning from each other through their discussion group work. Their construction of meaning would come about as a result of their understanding of the text and the dilemmas faced by David (see appendix 2).
Opportunities for developing talking and listening:
Developing talking and listening skills is a complex process which must be carefully managed in the classroom. In all curricular areas oral skills should be constantly being developed through a range of activities and, like other areas of the curriculum, should be differentiated to allow for a range of abilities within the class (see appendix 2). Different subjects offer opportunities for different kinds of talk (DfES, 2003, p.4). It is therefore a very important feature of effective teaching to give children as many opportunities as possible to engage in a variety of types of talk. Children make sense of the world as they learn the communication skills to interact with others in their culture (Lambirth, 2006, p.62).
Light and Glachan have shown that children working together and sharing their ideas orally can develop solutions to problems that they could not manage to solve independently (Light & Glachan, 1985). Carnell and Lodge suggest that more school learning should be based on talk and dialogue between pupils as ‘it has the power to engage learners in learning conversations, keeps them open to new ideas and requires both honesty and trust (Carnell & Lodge, 2002, p.15).
Planning the activities:
When planning the activities I sought to involve the following aspects:
- Modelling appropriate speaking and listening;
- Encouraging sensitive interaction;
- Ensuring goals are set with clear criteria for success;
- Planning opportunities for children to investigate, apply and reflect on language in use.
(DfES, 2003, p.19) (see planning appendices 1 & 2).
I chose to provide opportunities for talk in the context of drama, giving the children opportunities to engage with one another. Research has shown that children learn more effectively when given opportunities to share ideas. Grugeon points out that this is a skill, like others, and must be taught. ‘Children who are expected to work together in groups need to be taught how to talk to one another. They need talk skills which enable them to get the best out of their own thinking and that of all other members of the group (Grugeon et al., 2001, p.95). For this reason I modelled the activities for the children so that they would have a clear understanding of what they were required to do and how best to go about the tasks in hand (see appendix 2). Some of the children were tentative in respect of their engagement at the beginning of the exercise but the group work gave them opportunities to develop their confidence and self esteem.
Developing appropriate talking and listening:
It is important to be aware of the difference between incidental talk, in which children engage in the course of an activity, but is not directly related to the learning intentions, and talk which is a main focus of the activity. In my drama activities, I wanted children to be focused on their talk through appropriate activities which would engage them and hold their interest. When planning the activities I was aware of the need to engage pupils on the basis of their prior knowledge ‘To prompt learning , you’ve got to begin with the process of going from inside to outside. The first influence on new learning is not what teachers do pedagogically but the learning that is already inside their heads (Gagnon, 2001, p.51). It was with this in mind that I decided on David’s dilemma. I felt that the children would have sufficient previous knowledge of the ideas presented to be able to identify with the characters and the dilemmas faced by them (see appendix 2).
In all conversations there are rules, for example, only one person talking at a time. Cordon suggests that ‘ children receive little help in understanding and appreciating the ground rules for group discussion’ (Cordon, 2000, p.86) an issue that I felt it was important to address through the establishment of guidance for the children. This is vital to the process so that all children have equal opportunities to participate in the talking and listening activities.
My aims in the drama activities were:
- To encourage purposeful talk, the skills associated with which the children could later transfer to other areas of their learning.
- To develop children’s ability to work in a group.
- To enable children to develop the confidence and competence to present their work to a group of their peers.
- To develop children’s skills in forming opinions, responding to other children’s opinions and oral presentation skills.
Drama as a tool for developing talking and listening:
I chose to approach the teaching of speaking and listening through drama as it affords many opportunities for children to develop their speaking and listening skills. Drama helps children to understand their world more deeply and allows them an opportunity to find ways to explore and share that understanding (Wyse, 2001, p.213).
Research about learning has shown that children learn most effectively when learning is meaningful to them. Learning happens in the process of coming to new understandings in relation to existing knowledge (MacGilchrist et al., 2006, p.52). For this reason I gave children the opportunity to create their own scenarios in acting out David’s dilemma. In the group activities I wanted the talk to be open-ended so that the children could question, disagree with, extend and qualify each other’s utterances (DfES, 2003, p.7).
After their group activities children had the opportunity to share their ideas with the class, giving them important experiences in presenting their opinions and listening to the views of others. Children were actively engaged in tasks which gave validity to all of their ideas and opinions. When given opportunities, children are keen to engage with issues on text and challenge the conventions of the story (Baumfield & Mroz, 2004, p.55). I wanted children to have experience of challenging the ideas they were faced with by developing their own responses to scenarios and the behaviour of characters.
Links with reading:
The development of effective talking and listening skills is vital to the reading process. Before their oral work, children were finding main ideas in the text to support their viewpoints (see appendix 1). Only after the children had established the supporting information they wished to use, were they in a position to verbalise their ideas. Reading and talking were also linked through the requirement that the children orally summarise the salient points in a written argument. Through a discussion of the ways in which authors are able to develop their ideas children can develop ways in which to present their own ideas to an audience. Effective questioning was essential to this part of the process to provide a framework for the development of the children’s ideas in the correct context. As children have more experience and gain more confidence in this type of activity they are able to act as effective peer questioners, a very useful aspect of pupil self-assessment. Through this process children can measure the success of their own learning. Baumfield and Mroz advocate the development of a community of inquiry to develop pupils’ critical analysis of text (Baumfield & Mroz, 2004, p.58).
Developing opportunities for talk:
In the classroom a variety of types of talk occur throughout the day. The ways in which children interact with each other is very different to the way in which they interact with the teacher who does 70% of the talking in the course of a day
(Baumfield & Mroz, 2004, p.49). This clearly means that children are not being given sufficient opportunities to develop talking and listening skills critical to success in all other areas. To enhance the role of talk in shaping and developing learning requires a reduction in the teachers role as classroom controller and a shift towards an enabler of talk for thinking (Myhill, 2006, p.19). After the initial modelling and discussion, it was important for me to let the groups work, as far as possible, along the problem path independently.
It was my intention to give children a variety of opportunities to engage in different types of talk. They had opportunities to talk in small groups when working on their scenarios and afterwards had opportunities to present their work to the whole class.
Talking in groups:
Working in groups has been shown to develop a sense of belonging in children, something which I regard as very important in the classroom. Osterman has pointed out that, ‘There is substantial evidence showing or suggesting that the sense of belonging influences achievement through its effects on engagement (Osterman, 2000, p.341). She goes on to say that children with a well developed sense of belonging in school tend to have more positive attitudes to school and each other. As shown in appendix 3 some of the children were lacking in confidence in the initial stages of the activities, something which I would seek to develop in children through more exposure to this type of activity.
Resnick has pointed out that while the majority of learning in schools is individualistic in its nature, this is contrary to other aspects of life such as work and leisure activities which are much more social in the nature (Resnick, 1987). It is essential, therefore, that children develop the skills needed for group work so that they have ability to engage in participatory aspects of education. When planning the group activities for the children I was conscious of making sure that each child had a part to play in the development and presentation of each activity. Francis has pointed out that the majority of talking and listening activities involve the teacher doing most of that talking with the children interjecting at suitable gaps in the teacher discourse (Francis, 2002, p.29), something which I wanted to avoid by giving the children ownership of the activities. This would ensure that all children were engaged in the process and less likely to be passive. At the same time children had to be able to quietly listen to the views of others, thereby developing strategies for turn-taking. All the children engaged in the process very well.
Assessment for learning is a very important aspect of the teaching and learning process and from the point of view of my own professional development the ability to effectively assess pupil learning is a very important competence to have. As Dann has pointed out, ‘if assessment genuinely seeks to give some indication of pupils’ level of learning, pupils will need to understand and contribute to the process’ (Dann, 2002, p.2). In assessing the effectiveness of the activities it is important to assess the appropriateness of the children’s talk for the task. The children participated in the assessment process through their involvement in the plenary sessions. This was coupled with my observations of children’s success on the task (see appendix 3). All of the children achieved the objectives and reported that they enjoyed the activities. Children’s talk is a very good indicator of their understanding of a task. The fact that all the children experienced success with the tasks and were able to carry them out using appropriate language was demonstrative of their understanding of the characters and dilemmas with which they were faced. Talking and listening is very valuable to assess understanding particularly with children who have special educational needs and may have difficulty with written tasks.
Myers has presented research carried out in primary schools which suggests that children who participate in group work enjoy the experience of working with others and find it very helpful in the learning process (Myers, 2001, cited in MacGilchrist et al., 2006, p.159). My evaluation of the drama activities leads me to agree with this, particularly in light of the comment made by one of the children ‘I wish we could always do drama with English’(see appendix 3).
Children’s language, like most of their learning, responds to encouragement (Fontana, 1994, p.78). This is an important idea to bear in mind when giving the children feedback and it is important to praise their efforts at contributing. I would hope that this would encourage the children who were initially reluctant participants in their efforts in the future.
What I have Learnt:
I have developed a greater degree of understanding of the role of talking and listening in the curriculum as well as an understanding of how children progress in this area and what they should be expected to achieve. I hope to build on this in my future development and feel that I have made progress in terms of the standards laid out by the Training and Development Agency.
Appendix 2: Lesson Observation Sheets:
Evaluation: Week 2
All groups were very engaged and enjoyed the task. They said that they wished they could always do drama with English.
Possible action to be taken:
More use of drama when teaching English.
|√||Very animated – leader of group||Speaking ad listening skills|
|√||Tentative at first – more engaged with script||Confidence building|
|√||Good directional skills
Use of props (desk)
Good team player
|√||Works well in her team.|
|√||Tentative – very aware of being stared at.||Confidence building|
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