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  Weekly Feature (July 4, 2010)
 

 

 
Brad's Weekly Feature
Teaching Oral Language

 

The curriculum is clear:

Oral language helps students build more sophisticated understandings, explore relationships among ideas, and explore questions in their reading and writing. (117; English Language Arts 8 to 12: Integrated Resource Package 2007 published by the B.C. Ministry of Education and implemented in 2008 for B.C. Schools)

The Ministry suggests that teachers in senior grades use between 15 and 25% of their marks allocation to evaluate students’ oral language. In my classes, I have chosen the higher figure (25%) in order to emphasize the importance of oral language to a student’s eventual success. Based on the experiences of my own children in B.C. universities, it is essential that a graduate intending to go on to post secondary study is comfortable speaking and listening in the English language.

And, if my son’s sympathy for those who struggle is any indication, those who gain entrance to university without these essential skills are at a serious disadvantage. He has said to me on more than one occasion that he “feels sorry” for students whose first language is other than English during a presentation or class discussion. My wife, a Human Resources Manager, tells me often that a lack of fluency in speaking and listening has prevented an otherwise competent employee from gaining a higher, and more highly paid, position.

What does this all mean for a teacher of English in 2010? For me, it has meant a substantial change in my teaching approach. I place students in groups extensively through the term: to solve a problem collectively, to discuss a difficult text, to respond to a multi-media presentation. No matter what the materials selected, students will disagree and meet with a range of ways of looking at the world and ways of interpreting meaning (especially given the diverse ages and backgrounds in my classes).

Perhaps the best way to convince the readers of this Weekly Feature of the importance of oral language is to quote a former student expressing her feelings at the end of a recent term (at our student blog): “I’ve never experienced a class that was so interactive. I found myself speaking up in many of the class discussions, when I have normally kept silent in the past.”

If she, and other students of mine, can experience a positive change in confidence in a safe, teacher-led, classroom of ideas, I have done my job in keeping with our Ministry’s resource package. To other teachers I say that making these changes has lead to improvements in the atmosphere of my classes and to students truly getting to know what others think and learning, at the same time, to defend their own interpretations (or to change their thinking!).

I encourage all teachers to increase the oral component in their classrooms, especially those working with the diverse and complex population found in adult programs.

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