Friday, December 30, 2011

Language Experience

One of the most important aspects of language acquisition has to be experience. When I first began teaching, we would only do our written language based on language experiences - we would invent an experience for our class and would base our talking and writing on this. For example, my new entrant class were learning about prepositions, so I found the book called 'Rosie's Walk' by Pat Hutchins to use as our starting point. We read the story, talked about the prepositions in it and then went on Room 1's walk around the school. We practiced going 'under, over, through, around' and so on. We went around the different parts of the school, to familiarise ourselves with the parts of the school (since they were all new to school). This way, we were able to learn about prepositions but also able to apply them to real life - an experience that could be recalled and recounted. This then formed the basis for their own writing - "We went for a walk today and I went under the swings, over the rope bridge and around the library" and so on.

Something that we have moved away from a lot is this element of language experience. The older the children get, the less importance we seem to place on what the children know and have experienced as well as what they haven't.

Step back for a moment then and consider this: when I was at high school, I studied Art History and also Classical Studies. One of my teachers (art history) took us to art galleries and talked and talked, asked question after question and drove the learning with what we could see and experience. The other teacher (classics) opened text books and told us to read. He expected us to make links with words, not with experiences. I did ok in the exams I guess, well, I scraped through anyway with classics but I did really well with Art History. Why? It's simple. I had made connections to authentic learning experiences.

However, if I was to sit that exam now for Classical Studies, I can assure you the result would be very different. I have been to Pompeii now. I have roamed its streets, smelt its smells and heard its sounds. I have walked through the Acropolis ruins in Greece. I have run around the Colosseum and wandered around the Pantheon. I have been and seen all of the places that the text told me about.

Don't think that I am suggesting that we take every teenager to Rome and Greece for a quick pitstop before exams, but what I am suggesting is that we use the tools of our time to 'take' them there instead. We can use google maps and google earth to take virtual tours. There are a million websites to utilise that can provide them with experiences which they won't find in a book. Although reading is an incredibly powerful tool, we have to make a connection with ideas for it to last in our memory and for synthesis to occur.

So, back to the classrooms of today. I teach year 3 & 4 children, some of whom have dyslexia and some who struggle to make new connections. The BEST way to ensure that they are able to learn, at their own level and own speed, is to give them genuine learning experiences which they can then talk about, think about, ask about, read about and write about. Then, the extension of this can be to ask new questions about and to create new ideas from.

1 comment:

  1. @ Kimberley,

    I agree with everything that you've said. Having taught 5 year olds for the last 2 years, it is SO important to have that language experience. One of the programs that I really love at my school is our developmental play-based program (we call it Investigations) - which allows students an hour of structured 'play' followed by a writing session about their experiences during Investigations.

    It can be easy, as an adult, to take for granted the ability to process and relate experiences and information. Those experiences are necessary for children to make their own connections.