I came across this article today and felt it important enough to pass on. With all the pressure on teachers to work on reading and writing, one critical skill may be overlooked that impacts speech and language development and affects academic performance. The dominance of video games in our students’ lives (and texting in old kids’) has had led to a documented decline in children’s ability to hold a thoughtful conversation. (Read “Alone Together” for a shocking look at the effects of technology on interpersonal relationships). Research has also shown that the busy, often over-scheduled lifestyles of adults and children has reduced the majority of adult-child interactions to giving/following directions and making requests, rather than true engagement that involves higher level thinking, introspection, and empathy. Now this study point out how very little students actually get to communicate in the classroom. Granted, the study was done in England, but I would guess the results of a similar study in the US would yield similar results. In doing research on the PA Academic Standards several years ago, I was appalled to see that the standards for speaking and listening had been cut from about 10 to just 3, an indication of their low importance in the view of those dictating the standards. I know I am dating myself, but I clearly remember how much time was spent in elementary through high school on memorizing and reciting lengthy poems, presenting oral reports, and participating in formal debates on every topic raised in social studies, and being graded as much on grammar and presentation (elocution–now there’s an old, forgotten word!) as on organization and content. And it is not a stretch to say that those skills not only contributed to my ability to organize my thoughts, analyze what I read, and to write well, but these are also the skills I use every day of my life.
This article is certainly food for thought, and may lead teachers to structure lessons differently to incorporate more opportunities for discussion. Teachers are often frustrated that students’ written output is so poor. I attribute this to an underdeveloped “voice in the head” that connects what they say orally to what they put into writing. But this article makes me think it goes one step further; some children (particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds and those with learning disabilities and/or other special needs) don’t have sufficient practice in developing a rich variety of oral language skills. Hmmm…..