A new school year has well and truly started, and my 2 classes of 26 children are settling in nicely...
No more tears at drop off...tussles over favourite toys diminishing...friendships developing.
Initial assessments done...an Ofsted visit successfully completed.
Lots of niggling issues in my head...why hasn't the new EYFS Framework reduced my paperwork?...why am I now doing more assessments than ever?...do I really have to start singing Christmas songs now!
But one issue in smacking me in the face at the moment....literally.
We have a language issue. Ofsted noted it, and my Development Matters assessments show the children to be an average of 9 months behind. To find out more I tested the children using the BPVS Standardised vocab test, and discovered they are a year behind on average.
The problem is clear on an average day in class. Many children use gesture to support communication, and that's a good thing. However, the way children demand attention seems to be getting a little out of hand. Getting your sleeves pulled, your shoulders tapped, and even your feet trodden on is all part of the job. But when they start actually grabbing your chin and turning your head to face them, or even slapping your face with a giggle you know you've got a problem! Basic manners and etiquette can be taught, and we are getting there slowly, but I think this hints at a deeper problem.
Keen to look more deeply into the issue and bearing in mind Ofsted's March 2012 report on 'Raising Standards in Literacy' (Which suggests that Nurseries and Primary Reception Classes should develop structured programs to develop communication skills), I set up some workshops...
I ran 2 small workshops with family groups of children (from Nursery to Year 6), to see how older siblings help their younger ones learn language. I observed them helping their Nursery siblings to read books, write their names, and during 'small world' play. It's hardly a professional
research project, but it revealed two key points :-
1/. The family groups with poorer language skills interact mainly with 'directive' language, whereas the family groups with good language skills use questioning effectively.
2/. The family groups with good language skills used context and 'real life experience' when interacting. e.g "Do you remember Tilly when we stayed at the farm?...she was a
sheep." The other groups don't seem to have a bank of real life experiences to use as context.
Hence I'm now focusing on developing questioning skills in Nursery, as this provides a starting point for a learning conversation that many of the children do not have.
You could say that my vision of success has moved from...
A child that knows what all the farm animals are called.
A child that knows they don't know what they are called, but has the confidence and language skills to ask.
Teaching always involves striking a balance between the passing on of knowledge and the development of skills, but I wonder if we lean a little too far towards passing on knowledge in Early Years? We often complain that parents are introducing their children to school without basic object based vocabulary such as animal names, shapes, or even colours. We should fill in these gaps, but by doing so are we using up valuable time that could be spent dealing with the bigger language problem?
And as for giving them more real life experience....you want me to take fifty two 3 and 4 year old's to a farm?...not this term!