The context of the writer is as a learning support assistant (LSA) within a nursery school under supervision of the local education authority (LEA).
The school educates approximately forty children between the ages of 3 1/2 and 4 1/2, divided into two two-and-a-quarter hourly sessions, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. There is a nursery teacher/head teacher, nursery nurse and two LSA’s present during each session plus one or two parents changing according to a rota. The day prior to the activity the children visited a working flour mill and the writer was interested to learn what language they had gathered from the experience, and to attempt to expand and support this language through a play activity.
A plan of the activity can be seen in appendix 2. A transcript of the conversation that occurred during the activity can be seen in appendix.A play activity, involving toy versions of objects the children would have encountered the day before, was chosen because of the well documented evidence for children learning language through play. Blackburne (1997) emphasises the use of play as a means of learning language. She states evidence from Steiner schools across the country, whose emphasis is learning through play, showing children in these schools achieve higher in language tests than children of the same age in mainstream schooling.There are three main strategies that the adult uses to try to aid the children in talking about their experiences and to expand their language. The adult uses questioning as a means of discovering what the children could recall about the trip (line 8) and to assess how much language they have surrounding the topic (lines 2 and 21). This method was also used to keep the conversation on track and direct it where the adult wished (line 17).
As a means of extending the children’s language the adult models language (lines 27-28 and 38-39), and labels objects for the children (lines 19 and 31). As a way of general motivation the adult is seen to use some positive verbal reinforcement, as promoted by Skinner (lines 4 and 27).During the activity the children talk freely and easily about their visit.
They are able to recount, and with help from the adult, sequence the processes of turning wheat into flour. They also attempt to grind their own flour using a pestle and mortar. They answer questions directed at them by the adult and talk around the subject among themselves. The children show they have a good range of vocabulary surrounding the visit and of rotation, we can see they mention almost all of suggested vocabulary in the activity plan (appendix 2).
From the activity the children were learning that the majority of the language they were using was correct, and if not there was an alternative they could use.They were also learning that there was a specific sequence of events that lead grains of wheat to become flour. They will have also been introduced to some additional vocabulary which they will have hopefully have retained for use in the future. The adult learnt that it is important to vary the strategies that they use with the children to keep the children interested. As a follow-up activity the children could use flour in baking, this would give further opportunities to re-cap on vocabulary used in this activity and introduce even more, this could relate to what happens to the flour when it is cooked.If this activity was carried out again it would be beneficial if the adult used more positive verbal reinforcement, this seems to be limited looking at the transcript.
Less structured, and more open-ended questions would allow the adult to possibly see more of the language the children had in other areas, the questions used in the activity may have channelled the children’s language too specifically and not allowed their full range of vocabulary to be assessed.DiscussionThe language development of children can be seen to have both environmental and innate contributors which can be illustrated by a variety of theory, this development goes through a range of complex stages before the final grammatically correct adult-like stage is reached and this may continue beyond the early years. It seems that some form of adult interaction is vital to language development and there are various methods used by the adult to promote, scaffold and extend the child’s language.Working in an early years setting the writer discovered that by giving children opportunities to speak without adult interaction it is possible to find out the type of vocabulary children have, and by including adult interaction this vocabulary can be extended further. It is important therefore to maintain a balance of situations with and without adult interaction to get the best language out of children, this should be taken into account by early years practitioners.BibliographyBanyard, P (1996) Applying Psychology to Health London: Hodder and StoughtonBlackburne, L (1997) Play is the Pivot Times Educational SupplementBruce, T and Meggitt, C (1999) Child Care and Education London: Hodder and StoughtonCardwell, M (1996) A-Z Psychology Handbook London: Hodder and StoughtonClark, E V (1979) Building a Vocabulary: Words for Objects, Actions and Relations in Hoff-Ginsberg, E (1997) Language Development California, USA: International Thomson Publishing