Language acquisition is a developmental process. It begins from birth and continues throughout the primary school and beyond. The child comes to school with considerable verbal facility. This is achieved not in any formal learning or teaching situation but in the day-to-day social context of the home, and its most important characteristic is the engagement of the child in a stimulating and challenging way. This process of language learning is linked inextricably with a growing knowledge of the world. Language, therefore, is also a central factor in the expansion of the child's conceptual framework and body of knowledge.
A large part of the child's language experience is verbal and it is through oral language activity that much of his/her learning takes place, both in and out of school. The potential of oral language activity as a learning and teaching medium is acknowledged in the key role it is given throughout the curriculum.
The ability to read effectively is an essential requirement if the child is to benefit fully from the educational process, to develop his/her potential, and to participate appropriately as a citizen in society. This is a crucial element in the child's language learning.
The acquisition of literacy is a principal concern of the English curriculum and this reflects stated national policy. It is important that reading, comprehension and writing skills are acquired systematically and that children with particular learning needs are identified at an early stage and provided with adequate remedial support.
Writing has an equal contribution to make to the child's language development. The ability to write clearly and expressively provides him/her with a skill that can greatly enhance personal, social and vocational experience. Furthermore, through the process of expressing thoughts and feelings he/she can clarify concepts and explore emotions. The child's writing experience in school can, therefore, contribute greatly to his/her cognitive, emotional and imaginative development.
Language learning is an integrated process in which it is difficult to separate the functions of oral language, reading and writing. All three are intimately related and each interacts with the others in a myriad of ways. For example, the child's ability with oral language can be a determining factor in the speed and effectiveness with which he/she learns to read, just as his/her experience of reading can enrich vocabulary and improve command of sentence structure.
Similarly, there is a close relationship between competence in reading and expressiveness in writing. Each draws from and feeds into the other in a host of interconnections to form an integrated process of language learning.
Because of its pervasive influence, English is not just concerned with language learning but also with learning through language. In the process of acquiring language skills and in developing the ability to use language other crucial elements of the child's personality and potential are cultivated. For instance, the learning of a new word, or an extended meaning of a word already known, can entail more than extension of vocabulary. It can interact with ideas already familiar to the child in a way that broadens and deepens understanding. Likewise, in attempting to express emotional or imaginative experience, the act of putting feelings and intuitions into language can give them a focus that deepens the child's knowledge of himself/herself and of the world.
To give expression to these two principles the curriculum is structured in four strands:
- Receptiveness to language
- Competence and confidence in using language
- Developing cognitive abilities through language
- Emotional and imaginative development through language.
Although no one strand is concerned exclusively with either principle, the first two, Receptiveness to language and Competence and confidence in using language, are aimed primarily at language learning while the other two, Developing cognitive abilities through language and Emotional and imaginative development through language, contribute to more general aspects of the child's development.
Each strand is divided into three strand units, reflecting the contribution oral language, reading and writing make to that particular facet of the child's development, and the strand units contain the detailed elements of curriculum content. A number of these elements reflect activities and experiences that, because of the nature of language, will recur from level to level and throughout the strands. To avoid repetition particular elements of content may be mentioned at just one level although they may involve activities and experiences that are appropriate to every level. Teachers will readily recognise these as they become familiar with the curriculum.
Receptiveness to language
Language development is very complex. Hearing or reading words and knowing what they mean may not amount to understanding. We must make many other connections to bridge the gap between what we know and what we hear or read. We need an awareness and an appreciation of
- tone of voice
- gesture and facial expression.
Above all we need the ability to listen, to attend and to be alert to all of these, and to the way they interrelate with one another to create meaning. That willingness and ability to listen, to attend and to be aware of the possibilities and the potential of language can be summed up in the word receptiveness. It is a facility that is crucial to the child's mastery of language and is the first of the four strands that comprise the English curriculum. It involves developing an appreciation of the listener-speaker relationship, learning to attend actively, and responding to all the verbal and non-verbal cues that are used to convey meaning.
It may not be immediately obvious that writing can contribute to the development of receptiveness. Writing is primarily an expressive process; yet the very act of attempting to express himself/herself in writing, whether to communicate with others or to clarify ideas, can make the child more aware of the possibilities of language and hence more receptive to it.
Receptiveness to language also comprises the development of literacy. This includes acquiring an appreciation of the conventions of text, a knowledge of the terminology and conventions of books, and the ability to use a range of reading and comprehension skills. In the curriculum, the acquisition of this knowledge and the development of these skills are approached in the context of the child's overall language development.
Competence and confidence in using language
If the strand Receptiveness to Language is concerned with developing the child's awareness of language in all its forms, this strand is directed towards enhancing his/her ability to use it as a speaker, a writer and a reader. The two are, of course, interdependent. The more receptive a child is to language the better he/she will use it; and the more successfully a child engages with language the more open he/she will be to its potential.
In achieving competence with language the child develops oral fluency and expressiveness, and, in the process, learns to initiate and sustain conversations and to take turns in a classroom environment that promotes tolerance for the views and opinions of others. He/she also learns to use language for the purpose of everyday social interaction, performing social functions such as greeting, expressing appreciation, expressing sympathy and concern, and welcoming visitors with confidence.
Building on a growing mastery of reading and comprehension skills, the child can be led to appreciate the usefulness and pleasures of reading. Through having access to a wide range of texts, by being encouraged to read silently on a regular basis, and in having the freedom to choose reading material he/she can develop personal tastes and interests. In turn, this will help to cultivate habits that can lead to a perception of reading as a continuing source of pleasure and satisfaction.
The experience of reading in its functional and recreational roles should also be a part of reading experience. As the child progresses through the school he/she should be given the opportunity to engage with an ever more varied range of expository and diagrammatic text, including forms, menus, recipes, timetables, newspapers, magazines and text on screen.
In the context of growing competence with language the child will develop as a writer. Starting with scribbles and pictures, he/she will, with support, progress to words and phrases and then to sentences. Later, through a consistent experience of attempting to write stories and more elaborate descriptions, the ability to write in continuous prose can develop. The child should write for a growing range of audiences and in a variety of genres and have a consistent experience of the process of drafting, editing and rewriting. The topics for writing, whether chosen by the child or given by the teacher, should, as far as possible, reflect the real concerns, interests and preoccupations of the individual. In this way he/she can become an independent writer, attaining the competence to write for sustained periods.
In developing competence in using language the child will engage in activities that are directed towards extending vocabulary, developing a command of sentence structure, and mastering the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling. These are included in the strand Competence and confidence in using language, but they should be a concern of the work in every strand. Vocabulary extension, for example, will be a daily feature of many language activities.
Some of the elements of grammar are addressed formally in this curriculum, particularly in senior classes. It is envisaged that the child will have gained a knowledge and control of some of the principal elements of grammatical convention by the time he/she finishes primary school. However, it is not intended that these be taught in isolation. As with punctuation and spelling, they should be approached in the context of general language learning.
Although the child's confidence in using language will be determined largely by success as a speaker, a writer and a reader, it is important also that in all language activities his/her efforts are respected, supported and praised.
Developing cognitive abilities through language
In this strand the thrust is towards using language to learn. Although the activities suggested in it will involve language learning, since the two are indivisible, its main concern is to exploit the complex relationship that exists between language and thought. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
Much of what the child learns and the way he/she learns it comes from the interaction of language and experience. Through naming, describing, classifying and modifying things and ideas, knowledge is extended and the command of language developed. In this way language subsumes experience. Words, in their multilayered meanings and interconnections, become the bank in which a growing fund of knowledge and concepts is stored. As the child matures this store is expanded and enriched. More and more new ideas and information are linked to it and form increasingly sophisticated connections within it. Thus, language is the medium through which new learning is assimilated and defined.
It is important that he/she is helped to use language to learn.
In the curriculum this is encapsulated in activities that will lead the child
- to use questions in order to gain maximum information
- to seek and to give explanations
- to discuss different possible solutions to problems
- to argue a point of view
- to persuade others
- to examine fact and fiction, bias and objectivity.
Much of the work will be based on day-to-day experience in and out of school and will involve oral language activity, reading, writing, play and drama. In the early years play and drama will have a crucial role to play in helping the child to use his/her imagination to construct symbolic representation. As the child gets older reading will become an increasingly important context for the development of cognitive abilities. This will involve the child's engaging with a growing range of expository and representational text and will be intimately concerned with the development of comprehension skills. Cognitive abilities will also be developed through reading and responding to fiction and poetry. This is dealt with in the fourth strand, Emotional and imaginative development through language.
The development of information retrieval skills and the ability to use information technology will provide the child with the means of gaining access to new knowledge. Furthermore, the way he/she is encouraged to question and use this knowledge can play a significant role in the development of cognitive abilities.
Much of this oral and reading experience will dovetail readily with the child's writing. The strand unit is entitled 'Clarifying thought through writing' and speaks for itself. It will have a direct connection with work in oral language and reading, and through the process of drafting a piece of writing and then editing and re-drafting it the child can be encouraged to give a more structured and considered form to his/her thoughts. Furthermore, in developing as a writer the child will gradually be required to learn new forms of thinking that are different from those associated with speech. This will lead the child to explore the potential of words and sentence structure in expressing more precisely what he/she means.
Emotional and imaginative development through language
This strand deals with very special features of the human psyche. Through emotional and imaginative responses the child will often reflect what is most individual and complex in his/her personality. The child's emotional life is concerned with feelings, instincts and reactions that complement the rational self and account for much of what is intuitive in human behaviour. In exploring it the child can come to a better understanding of self and relationships with others. Through the imaginative life the child can explore the infinite possibilities of the human condition and gain a perception of experiences he/she may never know directly.
In developing these most important facets of a child's personality equal emphasis is placed on what he/she experiences and on what he/she expresses. The child is encouraged to explore everyday experiences and feelings through talk, writing, play and drama. Through expressing them he/she can come to understand them better, and give order to emotions and to reactions to people and events. A further dimension of this exploration is made possible through the child's reading and listening experience.
Stories and literature can bring the child into contact with a wide variety of emotional life and, through talking and writing about responses, he/she can come to a better understanding of human motivation and feeling.
Through literature the child can also explore the world of the imagination and at the same time come to appreciate how language makes it vivid. It is important, therefore, that the child enjoys a consistent engagement with a rich selection of the best literature appropriate to his/her stage of development. Poetry should have a special place in listening and reading experience. The heightened and often compressed expression of thought and feeling and the music, rhythm and rhyme in the language can provide unique and striking glimpses into aspects of the human experience. Through it the child's enjoyment of language can be fostered and his/her aesthetic response and sense of beauty awakened.
Information and communication technologies
The ability to use information and communication technologies can also help to enhance the child's language development. It can be an important resource in developing reading, comprehension and information retrieval skills. The facility of word-processing can not only encourage and help the child in drafting, editing and rewriting but can underline the fact that this operation is an intrinsic part of the writing process. Because language is a feature of every curriculum area these and other applications of information and communication technologies to learning and teaching can have a relevance for the child's development throughout his/her school experience.
Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning in English as in other areas of the curriculum. The section on assessment outlines how a continuum of assessment techniques ranging from less structured to more structured methods can assist in enriching the learning experience of the child and provide useful information for pupils, teachers, parents and others.
The aims of the English language curriculum are to
- promote positive attitudes and develop an appreciation of the value of language-spoken, read and written
- create, foster and maintain the child's interest in expression and communication
- develop the child's ability to engage appropriately in listener-speaker relationships
- develop confidence and competence in listening, speaking, reading and writing
- develop cognitive ability and the capacity to clarify thinking through oral language, writing and reading
- enable the child to read and write independently
- enhance emotional, imaginative and aesthetic development throughoral, reading and writing experiences.
When due account is taken of intrinsic abilities and varying circumstances, the English language curriculum should enable the child to
- gain pleasure and fulfilment from language activity
- develop the skill of listening actively and appreciate the significance of tone of voice, facial expression and gesture
- learn to understand the conventions of oral language interaction and use oral language in a variety of social situations
- expand his/her vocabulary and develop a command of grammar, syntax and punctuation
- become fluent and explicit in communicating ideas and experiences
- explore and develop ideas and concepts through talk, directed discussion and writing
- identify and evaluate the key points, issues and central meaning of a text or oral presentation and organise efficiently the information gained
- justify and defend opinions and present a coherent argument orally and in writing
- use oral language to manipulate images in problem-solving
- express intuitions, feelings, impressions, ideas and reactions in response to real and imaginary situations through talk, discussion and writing
- organise, clarify, interpret and extend experience through oral language activity and writing
- explore and express reactions to poetry, fiction and the arts, and refine aesthetic response through oral language activity and writing
- create, develop and sustain imaginary situations through talk, discussion and improvisational drama
- compose, relate and write his/her own stories and poems
- explore, experiment with and enjoy all the playful aspects of language
- develop print awareness, an understanding of the purposes of print, and a control over the different ways meaning is derived from print
- develop a range of reading skills and abilities that would include phonemic awareness, word identification strategies and a growing sight vocabulary
- develop an appropriate range of comprehension strategies
- develop an awareness of the richness and diversity of reading material available and read from a variety of texts of gradually increasingly complexity
- choose his/her reading material and engage in and enjoy sustained silent reading
- develop a sense of discrimination with regard to the use of language and images in the media
- write for different purposes and different audiences
- write in a variety of genres appropriate to school and outside needs
- learn to edit and refine writing and develop a sense of appropriate presentation
- develop a personal style of writing and learn to distinguish and to use appropriate levels of formality
- share writing and responses to reading experience with other children and adults
- use computer technology in learning to write and for information retrieval
- enhance reading and writing development through the involvement of parents or guardians.