The Importance of Speaking and Listening in the Primary Classroom - Reflecting on Experience

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"We need to be much more aware of the learning potential of talk; of the ways in which teaching might assist children's spoken language development; of the best ways of gathering information and eventually making informed assessments of children's talk; and through all this, how our behaviour as teachers in our planning of the curriculum, in our interactions with children and our discussions with other colleagues, can best contribute to the kind of classroom and school climate most conducive to oracy." [Howe, 1997.]

In the 1970's, projects led by linguists and educationalists such as Wilkinson [1965,] Vygotsky [1978,] and Bruner and Bruner [1986,] recognised the importance of oracy in the primary classroom. It was not until The National Oracy Project; [1987-1993,] that the National Curriculum finally advocated the need for speaking and listening to be ‘an essential part of the National Curriculum for English.' Corden [2000, p1.] It represented a third of English in the National curriculum alongside reading and writing. However, in 1998 the National Literacy Strategy Framework [NLSF,] was implemented as a statutory requirement in England and as optional material in Wales. The framework focused on reading and writing, therefore, speaking and listening got overlooked by many schools. It was in 2003 through the Speaking, Listening and Learning [QCA/DfES,] materials that speaking and listening regained its status. It is ‘widely used in schools, the materials actively promote talk at all stages of the writing process.' Grugeon et al [2005, p87.] Alexander notes that his perspective on dialogic teaching, with the key aim to benefit teachers and learners through ‘children's deeper engagement with learning contexts,' as cited by Grugeon [2005, p9,] is prominent in the QCA/DfES publication. And now with the introduction of the ‘Primary Framework for literacy and mathematics' DfEE, [09/2006,] speaking and listening has confirmed it's status highlighting talk as, ‘the underlying key factor in the development of literacy as well as a central feature of any successful teaching and learning.' DfEE, [2006, p17.] This shows speaking and listening have come full circle in the last decade and a half, with it now being at the forefront of language education.

I carried out research at a junior school on the outskirts of Cardiff with a population of approximately 300 pupils in ten classes from year three to six. The last inspection report was in February 2002 in which it states the school is ‘a very good school with many very good features…and the commitment of all staff to school improvement have resulted in significant progress since the last inspection.' Estyn [2002, p1.] With regard to speaking, the last inspection report says ‘pupils speak clearly and fluently. In whole class discussions and during group activities, they express opinions and explain aspects of their work in a number of subjects.' Estyn [2002, p6.] This suggests a good standard of speaking throughout the school. However, it states, ‘listening skills are satisfactory. Pupils generally listen to instructions and respond appropriately…however, in all classes…, a minority of pupils do not always listen attentively.' Estyn [2002, p7.] In this report the first ‘Key Issue for Action' is noted to ‘improve standards in pupils' listening skills.' Estyn, [2002, p33.]

The school has worked hard to improve their listening skills whilst not losing focus of speaking skills. Due to the new appointment of the language coordinator, the school did not have an up to date policy. However, they use material taken from ‘Language Builders,' Elks and Maclachlan [2006.] The material includes guidance on ‘teaching good listening skills,' ‘helping children with listening and attention skills,' ‘developing social skills' and ‘telling and writing stories.' This material includes assessment levels from 1-4 which are not related to the National Curriculum level descriptors...
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