Saturday, 4 August 2018

Talking, talking everywhere!

So, I have finished my 4 week study travels as a Churchill Fellow. I actually can't believe how quickly the time went by,  as initially I thought 4 weeks away from home would seem like a long time. It has been amazing to actually live in another country for an extended period and to get the opportunity to live like a local as opposed to being a tourist.

After this time spent talking to various people on the ground dealing with children and parents from migrant backgrounds on a daily basis in Dresden, Berlin (Germany) and Norrköping & Stockholm (Sweden) there is a common theme running through all the discussions - language acquisition and communication between parents and children. 

Whatever the home language of the family, all those I have met with have all agreed that it's not about what language a child hears at home but how much of that language they hear and therefore can begin to use themselves. 

I love this quote from James Britton "Reading and writing floats on a sea of talk" and it sums up perfectly how important communication is for all young children but particularly those who are trying to learn a second or third language. 

Early years settings - be they daycares, kindergartens, preschools or nurseries - should be places filled with the noise of children and adults communicating. Those of us who work with young children know that they can communicate by more than just speech - they hum, sing, makes noises and move when communicating. I have so many things to reflect on from the past 4 weeks but the one big thing that I have taken away is that in the UK context, our children are being asked to be quiet and listen too early - if literacy floats on a sea of talking why are we so keen to have children writing and reading at the age of 4 or 5? The young children I met in Germany were confident communicators, it was obvious they had had lots of time to watch, listen and talk rather being expected to listen and then write. 

The 5 and 6 year olds talked fluently (many in their second language) whilst sharing memories provoked while looking through their 'Language Learning Diary' with me and other members of staff. The 'Mein Sprachlerntagebuch' was introduced by the Senate Department of Education Berlin as part of their initiative to make parents realise the learning that was going on in the kita. What I particularly like about this document is that it involves the parents from day one - they are asked to fill in the early pages 'What they child likes, dislikes, favourite toys, food, siblings etc' so that the staff can build up a picture of the child and use it help comfort the child at settling in time. Many settings have an 'All about me' type document that is similar but the Berlin one is more of a working document and is added to over time, and used to record the child's language development over their time in the kita. 

There was a little girl from Poland in the group that was looking at their diaries and when asked if she wanted to talk about the activity she had taken part in earlier that day to record in the book, she said no but did enjoy looking through the book and got very excited when looking at photos of her cousins. When she headed outdoors the teacher explained that she had been selectively mute until recently and by flicking through the diary she was able to show us exactly when the child had first spoken in the kita and what her first word was. (Incidentally it was chocolate!) This is when I saw the full potential of this document and how it could be something we introduce in our system to help staff and parents see the language progression at a glance. 

A huge thanks to Dr Gesina Volkmann from SFZ Berlin for taking the time to meet with me on numerous occasions to explain the important work her organisation does in relation to language learning. 

I have much to mull over from my 4 week travels and a report to write but for now I am taking the time to try and write posts about some of the observations I made. 

Here is an excellent article on the importance of talk in the classroom:

Here is a great post that explains how a German Kita operates: