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Continuing the Oral Language Discussion

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By Janet McQueen

I am loving this oral language discussion and the great resources that have been recommended whilst I am not familiar Teaching Language in Context by Beverley Derewianka and Pauline Jones O am familiar with some of Beverley's other work. I was privileged to hear Beverley speak whilst studying for my TESSOL Diploma, it was an outstanding lecture on incorporating language teaching into curriculum areas.I am sure her book would be equally powerful. 

Jannie made the point that "minimal oral language capabilities can often mean the difference between being a power-holder and having the means to be involved and be fully participatory, or being only somewhat or not much at all." This reminded me of a story which illustrates this point "Being a Teenager is Hard Enough Without Having to Learn English as a Second Language,"By Chin Lu February 22, 2016. 

Chin ends her story with this statement "During my first few years in America, none of my ESL teachers asked about my background—how smart and confident I'd been back in Taiwan, and how much I struggled to bring that confidence to classrooms where I could barely grasp the language. I felt powerless without my voice. I couldn't prove my worth, stand up for myself, or make friends. It was well into high school when I could adequately express my thoughts and emotions in English, when I stopped dreading being called on in class. And if that moment can come sooner for the thousands of other immigrants who will enroll in American schools this year, we'll all be better off." 

I am sure that there are many New Zealand immigrants who would tell similar stories to that of Chin. For these students explicit oral language teaching is crucial but it is also important that all students have the opportunity to grow and develop their own oral language skills throughout their schooling. It is also about "knowing your learner" our first ESOL principle. 

I agree with Jane's point that "many teachers struggle with how to integrate focused and strategically designed oral language tasks across the curriculum. My belief is that oral language should be an integral part of all learning areas  and that we need to deliberately structure oral language tasks in order to ensure that students are learning new language rather than sticking within the known." I look forward to viewing her book on this topic. 

Jane also suggested that ESOL teachers "are the people who have most knowledge about how to structure oral language teaching and learning and that we can play a pivotal role in upskilling the wider education world."

My questions then become: 

1. Who leads oral language in my school? 

2. What does the current state of oral language teaching look like? How will I find out? (Can I talk with teachers/school leaders about this and undertake some in class observations?) 

3. Do I have something more to offer our teachers on how to incorporate oral language teaching into all curriculum areas? If so, who do I need to have conversations with? How can I start to build these conversations and develop oral language teaching skills with teachers? How can the ESOL Online community assist me in this role? 

4. Am I comfortable leading these discussions and professional development within my school? (I ask this as in many schools ESOL teachers are not in a position of power or authority). If not, how could I challenge the current position on oral language and maybe improve the way I am positioned?