Inclusion through Oracy
Seeds of Tellers is a project about using tales and cultural heritage to promote oracy in young children.
Oracy is an essential skill to develop for any child, but it is also a good way to promote the inclusion of pupils with Specific Learning Disorders.
As we have already seen in previous articles, oracy is an essential developmental component during childhood. Indeed, it is even the very first tool babies have to communicate as they draw their first breath. It is also one of the very first skills they develop to interact with their environment during infancy. From this angle, it stands to reason that the correct development and promotion of oral skills should be a central point throughout the educational pathway of young pupils.
However, the reality is that oracy is still often left aside to favour the development of other skills such as reading and writing. While reading and writing are essential skills as well, their very basis is oracy. And without a sound foundation in oracy, it is difficult to build further competences up, especially for a pupil with a reading/writing-related SLD.
For a long time, in many school systems, the place of the oral language in school was mostly limited to the realm of pure rhetoric or of the teacher’s discourse only, without necessarily addressing the development of oracy in children as such.
In recent decades, trends have increasingly shifted towards a more explored, and more valued, oracy. Basic academic competences at school include oral skills and there is a formal willingness to teach oral skills to pupils from the earliest grades at school.
However, in practice, the presence of oral language practice in the classroom in Belgium is still relatively uneven today. In concrete terms, the place of the oral language in the classroom is mainly in the domain of the teacher. In fact, the teacher generally gives classes orally with visual and written material on the side. Students answer questions and ask them orally as well. However, the speaking time and control over speech remain at the teacher’s discretion. They control who, what, when, and how at any given moment.
Additionally, as the curriculum to be covered is often extensive, the time allocated to learning oracy in the classroom as a learning object in its own right and not as a tool for another subject becomes increasingly reduced as pupils move up the grades, simply because of a lack of time.
While some activities entirely dedicated to oral skills are organised by teachers to develop these oral skills in class, these activities often consist of presentations, recitation, or sometimes poems in the lower classes. Although “oral expression” is the norm, it is often only oral presentation or recitation exercises prepared in advance, and often by rote (although the trend on rote is downwards) and therefore, not very spontaneous.
Some teachers will sometimes organise debates or open discussions on certain subjects seen in class. This will train students, but more in rhetoric in the sense of “convincing the other” than in oracy in general. Again, this is contextualised oracy. Unfortunately, “learning to speak” is still little explored in its entirety and is often confined to specific discourse disciplines at school.
Storytelling sometimes has its place in lower classes, and ‘story time’ is increasingly popular with younger teachers and in libraries. Nevertheless, this story hour is most often dedicated to telling stories to children, and rarely to listening to them in return. The instances where stories are used at school, told by children, are more often by rote than spontaneous. However, a real interest in orality among young children is evident in school and parental spheres.
As oracy skills are the very basis on which pupils will develop their writing and reading skills. It has been proven that pupils that have been stimulated to speak and exposed to a lot of rich vocabulary, do better later on in literary and written works than pupils whose oral environment was poor in early childhood. Additionally, the richer the vocabulary, the richer the thought processes, and the more varied the ideas.
Development of oracy is also one of the ways to include different kinds of pupils, especially pupils with Special Learning Disorders. For pupils with SLDs who may face additional challenges with reading and writing, developing oracy early can be essential in helping them with those challenges later.
Oracy itself can be a challenge for some pupils with an SLD. But even there, telling tales offers a wide variety and flexibility of materials and exercises, such as sensory stories for example, which may help pupils with SLDs to develop their skills in oracy in a safe environment.
Telling tales also has an additional positive effect to make them like tales and make them like telling tales, and by extension, speaking. Motivation is often one of the most powerful tools at hand whenever facing a challenge. Helping pupils with a Specific Learning Disorder to like areas in which they may face challenges due to their disorder is akin to giving them the motivation necessary to pull through and find which strategies work best for them.
Therefore, in Seeds of Tellers, we are doing our best to promote oracy. We have already uploaded a pedagogical guide on our website that will help educators and parents to find the right tools and methods to promote oracy through tales. Please don’t hesitate to check it out at https://seedsoftellers.eu/guide-introduction/!
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