Session with Dr Jannie van Hees - Language in Abundance.
Having language in abundance means that students can be dripping in available language
to ascribe meaning.
Knowledge is still important these days, and we arrive to knowledge through words; spoken
OR written. Learning new words grow brain connections and also allows learners to expand
their knowledge base. BUT! Learners need language to even begin to be able to learn!
Dr Jannie ran through the experience of learning under different conditions with more or
less language available each time. What do the differences mean for our learners’ experiences?
For example, making a kite:
1. The first condition is a video showing a very CLEAR demo only; no spoken or written
language available. These were my thoughts:
I could DO the thing but I wouldn't know why I was doing it or what the end goal is. As I’m
watching this video I am thinking to myself “that’s tape, get some tape, stick it on, oh ok make
a curve..” If I didn’t have language I would be able to mimic what I see but not learn much
about it. I also couldn’t tell anyone how to make one after. I might experience frustration. I might
not have the language to even ask for help.
2. The second condition was making a kite with both written and spoken language available
in the video. These were my thoughts:
If I didn’t have the language to understand what the written instructions were saying while
they were flashing up, or knew the names of the equipment then this condition could be
frustrating. The words do give a sense of context and purpose “we’re going to make a kite,
if you want to learn to make a kite keep watching!” Some words enhance the possibility of
knowing how to make a kite..
3. The third condition was an illustration with no spoken words, but written language is
available as a transcript on the side.
My reflection at this point in the presentation was:
To me this is cyclical? We need language to have the language to build knowledge from the
language, so we need to stop and look at the language carrying to concept - before, or after?
During? Do you do big-picture understanding with little, simplified language before you learn
the supporting subject-specific language that assists the understanding of the larger concept?
Or do you learn the subject-specific language to let students view and understand the larger
concept with the supporting vocabulary?
Manaiakalani and Tamaki’s inquiry question this year is - HOW? How do we get our students
to be ‘dripping with language’ to assist them in ascribing meaning?
Strategies from Dr Jannie van Hees
1. Focus on quantity (park the quality focus for a while) - ensure structures are in place in class
that allows language to flow. Don’t always ask for hands up - let the discussion flow. Set up a
safe culture where everyone’s contribution is a valuable contribution. There are gems to be had for
sure, but honour the efforts of anyone.
Anecdotal evidence of this from my year 13 biology class from Sharon on 8.2.18 “why did you put this
there?” I asked, about the SOLO hexagon arrangement her group had laid out. “Why, is it wrong?”
replied Sharon. “No,” I said, “I’m genuinely asking why you’ve arranged them like that, what were you
thinking about when you did that?!” “Oh!” exclaimed Sharon - “usually when a teacher says that it
means I’m wrong.
2. Elaborating - responding to the message and meaning of what students say and then gifting
them further words to add to their collection, and then giving them time to practice using the words
again. Have multiple encounters with vocabulary - not just repeats of the same context - but we
can’t learn from one time.
3. Talking aloud - talking about their thinking. Aim for TRULY dialogic conversation “oh I just
thought of something” says one kid “nah but there’s another way to do that” might say another.
Vocabulary will not carry meaning unless it’s put into context.
4. Reading in class - Do we read enough to kids? Do they read to each other?
5. Activate prior knowledge - Trigger the known to connect to the new.
We need to pay attention to how we get our young children to EXPLAIN.
Anecdotally, kids who are failing to cope with things and who snap sometimes can’t explain how
they’re feeling, while the ones who ARE coping CAN explain.
Explaining is also important because in NCEA being able to explain is Merit upwards.
Anecdotally - if you asked a student “what is a cup?” and they said “well you can drink from it,” then that is not an explanation.
If you said “what is a cup?” and they were dripping in language and confident to use it then they might say “well a cup is a container that you can drink from. It has a handle that is perfect size for your fingers so you can hold it and not drop it, and you can put lots of liquids in it, such as hot or cold, coffee or water.”
Consider the sources of language in your classroom:
Spoken texts: face-to-face, television, lectures, presentations, classroom conversations, radio,
Written texts: teacher-selected, curriculum, incidental, displays, newspapers, students-selected, recreational reading, etc.
Our inquiries are into how we build/lift the language of our akonga!