Language in the PYP

How language practices are changing

Structured, purposeful inquiry is the main approach to teaching and learning language in the PYP. However, it is recognized that many educational innovations (or, more accurately, educational reworkings) suffer from the advocacy of a narrow, exclusive approach. The PYP represents an approach to teaching that is broad and inclusive in that it provides a context within which a wide variety of teaching strategies and styles can be accommodated, provided that they are driven by a spirit of inquiry and a clear sense of purpose.

The degree of change needed to teach language in this way will depend on the individual teacher. For those teachers who have grown weary of imposed change for which they see little point, it should be stressed that teachers are not expected to discard years of hard-earned skill and experience in favour of someone else’s ideas on good teaching. It is suggested, rather, that teachers engage in reflection on their own practice, both individually and in collaboration with colleagues, with a view to sharing ideas and strengths, and with the primary aim of improving their teaching to improve student learning. In doing so, they will be modelling the skills and attitudes that have been identified as essential for students.

As an aid to reflection, the following set of subject-specific examples of good practice has been produced. It is believed that these examples are worthy of consideration by anyone committed to continuous improvement. 

Language Practices

Strands

What do we want students to know?

The PYP has identified three strands—oral language, visual language, written language—that are learned across and throughout the curriculum, with each strand being an integral component of language learning. Each strand has been considered from both the receptive aspect—receiving and constructing meaning, and expressive aspect—creating and sharing meaning (figure 21). While the receptive and expressive aspects are clearly reciprocal, the processes involved in receiving and constructing meaning are different from those involved in creating and sharing meaning. The learner’s ability to understand language and use it effectively varies in different situations and from one individual to another. For this reason, it is important to distinguish between these two modes of learning and the demonstrated proficiencies associated with them. For example, a learner may listen attentively and reveal understanding through written or visual representations, but may require support to communicate ideas orally in the classroom.

The acknowledgment of both the receptive and expressive aspects of the language strands serves to ensure that teachers will be aware of the need to provide a balanced programme. Opportunities to listen to, and receive, ideas and information in oral form should be balanced with opportunities to express ideas orally. In visual language, learners will view and interpret other people’s work and create and share their own presentations. The interwoven receptive and expressive aspects of the oral and visual strands are represented in one continuum for each strand. In written language, learners will experience reciprocal gains as they develop skills and understanding in reading and writing. In the Language scope and sequence (2009), the strands of oral, visual and written language have been described separately, and are represented by four continuums: listening and speaking; viewing and presenting; reading; writing.

Oral language—listening and speaking

Listening and speaking are natural, developmental processes that infants and young children are immersed in from their earliest experiences. Almost all children arrive at school with an impressive command of their mother-tongue language. However, the expectations and approach to language development in school is often very different from the successful learning environment the child has previously experienced. In the transition from home to school, or from one school to another, it is important to acknowledge the language profile of the individual and build on previous learning in ways that are positive and productive.

Oral language encompasses all aspects of listening and speaking—skills that are essential for ongoing language development, for learning and for relating to others. Listening (the receptive mode) and speaking (the expressive mode) work together in a transactional process between listeners and speakers. A balanced programme will provide meaningful and well-planned opportunities for learners to participate as listeners as well as speakers. Listening involves more than just hearing sounds. It requires active and conscious attention in order to make sense of what is heard. Purposeful talk enables learners to articulate thoughts as they construct and reconstruct meaning to understand the world around them. Oral language involves recognizing and using certain types of language according to the audience and purposes (for example, the language used at home, the language of the classroom, the language of play, the language of inquiry, conversations with peers, giving instructions, interpreting creative texts, the language of fantasy, the language of different generations, of different times and places).

In an inquiry-based learning environment, oral language exposes the thinking of the learner. It is a means by which “inner speech” (Vygotsky 1999) can be communicated and shared to negotiate and construct meaning and develop deeper levels of understanding.

Visual language—viewing and presenting

Viewing and presenting are fundamental processes that are historically and universally powerful and significant. The receptive processes (viewing) and expressive processes (presenting) are connected and allow for reciprocal growth in understanding; neither process has meaning except in relation to the other. It is important to provide a balanced programme with opportunities for students to experience both viewing and presenting. These processes involve interpreting, using and constructing visuals and multimedia in a variety of situations and for a range of purposes and audiences. They allow students to understand the ways in which images and language interact to convey ideas, values and beliefs. Visual texts may be paper, electronic or live, observable forms of communication that are consciously constructed to convey meaning and immediately engage viewers, allowing them instant access to data. Examples of visual texts are: advertisements, brochures, computer games and programs, websites, movies, posters, signs, logos, flags, maps, charts, graphs, diagrams, illustrations, graphic organizers, cartoons and comics. Learning to interpret this data, and to understand and use different media, are invaluable life skills.

Acquiring skills related to information and communication technology (ICT) and visual texts is significant because of their persuasive influence in society. It is important to learn how visual images influence meaning and produce powerful associations that shape the way we think and feel. Opportunities that invite students to explore the function and construction of images facilitate the process of critically analysing a range of visual texts. Learning to understand and use different visual texts expands the sources of information and expressive abilities of students.

Written language—reading

Reading is a developmental process that involves constructing meaning from text. The process is interactive and involves the reader’s purpose for reading, the reader’s prior knowledge and experience, and the text itself. It begins to happen when the young learner realizes that print conveys meaning and becomes concerned with trying to make sense of the marks on the page. The most significant contribution parents and teachers can make to success in reading is to provide a captivating range of picture books and other illustrated materials to share with beginning readers. Enthusiasm and curiosity are essential ingredients in promoting the desire to read. Children of all ages need to experience and enjoy a wide variety of interesting, informative, intriguing and creative reading materials.

Reading helps us to clarify our ideas, feelings, thoughts and opinions. Literature offers us a means of understanding ourselves and others, and has the power to influence and structure thinking. Well-written fiction provides opportunities for learners to imagine themselves in another’s situation, reflecting on feelings and actions, and developing empathy. The ability to read and comprehend non-fiction is essential for the process of inquiry. As inquirers, learners need to be able to identify, synthesize and apply useful and relevant information from text. Teachers should provide a balance between fiction and non-fiction, to meet the range of learning needs and interests of their students.

Children learn to read by reading. In order to develop lifelong reading habits, learners need to have extended periods of time to read for pleasure, interest, and information, experiencing an extensive range of quality fiction and non-fiction texts. As learners engage with interesting and appealing texts, appropriate to their experiences and developmental phase, they acquire the skills, strategies and conceptual understanding necessary to become competent, motivated, independent readers.

Written language—writing

Writing is a way of expressing ourselves. It is a personal act that grows and develops with the individual. From the earliest lines and marks of young learners to the expression of mature writers, it allows us to organize and communicate thoughts, ideas and information in a visible and tangible way. Writing is primarily concerned with communicating meaning and intention. When children are encouraged to express themselves and reveal their own “voice”, writing is a genuine expression of the individual. The quality of expression lies in the authenticity of the message and the desire to communicate. If the writer has shared his or her message in such a way that others can appreciate it, the writer’s intention has been achieved. Over time, writing involves developing a variety of structures, strategies and literary techniques (spelling, grammar, plot, character, punctuation, voice) and applying them with increasing skill and effectiveness. However, the writer’s ability to communicate his or her intention and share meaning takes precedence over accuracy and the application of skills. Accuracy and skills grow out of the process of producing meaningful communication. Children learn to write by writing. Acquiring a set of isolated skills will not turn them into writers. It is only in the process of sharing their ideas in written form that skills are developed, applied and refined to produce increasingly effective written communication. 

Overall expectations

Acknowledging that learning language is a developmental process, the Language scope and sequence (2009) presents a set of developmental continuums that are designed as diagnostic tools to assist teachers in planning language learning experiences for students, and in monitoring students’ development throughout the primary years. Consideration of the range of language learning situations that exist in PYP schools is reflected in this document. It is intended to inform and support all teachers, as all teachers are teachers of language.

The four language continuums in the Language scope and sequence (2009) have been organized into five developmental phases with each phase building upon and complementing the previous one. These phases have not been named in order to avoid the value judgment implied in labelling a learner as “developing” or “proficient”, for example. The continuums make explicit the conceptual understandings that need to be developed at each phase. Evidence of these understandings is described in the behaviours or learning outcomes associated with each phase. For example, a 9 year old with well-developed mother-tongue ability may quickly show evidence of some—but not all—of the learning outcomes identified in the early phases when moving into a new language of instruction; a child beginning school at age 3 may spend several years consolidating understanding to demonstrate consistently the learning outcomes identified in the initial phase.

The scope and sequence also identifies the overall expectations considered appropriate in the PYP. These expectations (outlined here) are not a requirement of the programme. However, schools need to be mindful of practice C1.23 in the IB Programme standards and practices (2005) that states “If the school adapts, or develops, its own scope and sequence documents for each PYP subject area, the level of overall expectation regarding student achievement expressed in these documents at least matches that expressed in the PYP scope and sequence documents.” To arrive at such a judgment, and given that the overall expectations in the Language scope and sequence (2009) are presented as broad generalities, it is recommended that the entire document be read and considered.

Oral language—listening and speaking 

Phase 1

Learners show an understanding of the value of speaking and listening to communicate. They recognize that sounds are associated with objects, or with symbolic representations of them. They are using language to name their environment, to get to know each other, to initiate and explore relationships, to question and inquire.

Phase 2

Learners show an understanding that sounds are associated with objects, events and ideas, or with symbolic representations of them. They are aware that an object or symbol may have different sounds or words associated with it in different languages. They are beginning to be cognizant about the high degree of variability of language and its uses.

Phase 3

Learners show an understanding of the wide range of purposes of spoken language: that it instructs, informs, entertains, reassures; that each listener’s perception of what they hear is unique. They are compiling rules about the use of different aspects of language.

Phase 4

Learners show an understanding of the conventions associated with speaking and listening and the value of adhering to those conventions. They are aware that language is a vehicle for becoming knowledgeable; for negotiating understanding; and for negotiating the social dimension.

Phase 5

Learners are able to understand the difference between literal and figurative language; how to use language differently for different purposes. They are aware that they are building on their previous experiences and using language to construct new meaning.

Visual language—viewing and presenting

Phase 1

Learners show an understanding that the world around them is full of visual language that conveys meaning. They are able to interpret and respond to visual texts. Although much of their own visual language is spontaneous, they are extending and using visual language in more purposeful ways.

Phase 2

Learners identify, interpret and respond to a range of visual text prompts and show an understanding that different types of visual texts serve different purposes. They use this knowledge to create their own visual texts for particular purposes.

Phase 3

Learners show an understanding that visual text may represent reality or fantasy. They recognize that visual text resources can provide factual information and increase understanding. They use visual text in a reflective way to enrich their storytelling or presentations, and to organize and represent information.

Phase 4

Learners show an open-mindedness about the use of a range of visual text resources to access information. They think critically, and are articulate about the use of visual text to influence the viewer. They are able to use visual imagery to present factual information, or to tell a story.

Phase 5

Through inquiry, learners engage with an increasing range of visual text resources. As well as exploring the viewing and presenting strategies that are a part of the planned learning environment, they select and use strategies that suit their learning styles. They are able to make connections between visual imagery and social commentary. They show more discernment in selecting information they consider reliable. They are able to use visual imagery to support a position.

Written language—reading

Phase 1

Learners show an understanding that print represents the real or the imagined world. They know that reading gives them knowledge and pleasure; that it can be a social activity or an individual activity. They have a concept of a “book”, and an awareness of some of its structural elements. They use visual cues to recall sounds and the words they are “reading” to construct meaning.

Phase 2

Learners show an understanding that language can be represented visually through codes and symbols. They are extending their data bank of printed codes and symbols and are able to recognize them in new contexts. They understand that reading is a vehicle for learning, and that the combination of codes conveys meaning.

Phase 3

Learners show an understanding that text is used to convey meaning in different ways and for different purposes—they are developing an awareness of context. They use strategies, based on what they know, to read for understanding. They recognize that the structure and organization of text conveys meaning.

Phase 4

Learners show an understanding of the relationship between reading, thinking and reflection. They know that reading is extending their world, both real and imagined, and that there is a reciprocal relationship between the two. Most importantly, they have established reading routines and relish the process of reading.

Phase 5

Learners show an understanding of the strategies authors use to engage them. They have their favourite authors and can articulate reasons for their choices. Reading provides a sense of accomplishment, not only in the process, but in the access it provides them to further knowledge about, and understanding of, the world.

Written language—writing

Phase 1

Learners show an understanding that writing is a form of expression to be enjoyed. They know that how you write and what you write conveys meaning; that writing is a purposeful act, with both individual and collaborative aspects.

Phase 2

Learners show an understanding that writing is a means of recording, remembering and communicating. They know that writing involves the use of codes and symbols to convey meaning to others; that writing and reading uses the same codes and symbols. They know that writing can describe the factual or the imagined world.

Phase 3

Learners show an understanding that writing can be structured in different ways to express different purposes. They use imagery in their stories to enhance the meaning and to make it more enjoyable to write and read. They understand that writing can produce a variety of responses from readers. They can tell a story and create characters in their writing.

Phase 4

Learners show an understanding of the role of the author and are able to take on the responsibilities of authorship. They demonstrate an understanding of story structure and are able to make critical judgments about their writing, and the writing of others. They are able to rewrite to improve the quality of their writing.

Phase 5

Learners show an understanding of the conventions pertaining to writing, in its different forms, that are widely accepted. In addition, they demonstrate a high level of integration of the strands of language in order to create meaning in a manner that suits their learning styles. They can analyse the writing of others and identify common or recurring themes or issues. They accept feedback from others.

Source:  Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education (2009)


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