When we introduce ourselves in education, it is commonplace to identify with the content area or grade level we teach. I am a Science teacher, a Math teacher, a 3rd grade teacher, etc. But one thing is for certain; we are all language teachers, and we are all teachers of students. This means that there may be more similarities than meets the eye when it comes to the ingredients necessary to help students achieve success.
When it comes to language, there are a range of pre-requisite skills necessary in order to be successful. Both social and academic language are necessary for meaningful learning to take place. And while we will talk more about academic language next week, it is important to also understand the needs of every learner when it comes to social language.
Social language includes the words and communication tools students use in social situations. In school, that involves three major skills: using language for a variety of purposes, changing language, and following rules of academic conversations.
There are a number of purposes for using language in school. Students must greet each other, share information, make requests and ask questions, and make commitments. Even when these language uses don’t involve the use of tier II and tier III terms, are students able to appropriately use language in these context?
In an age when students spend more time texting in jargon like LOL, tweeting with limited characters, and pinning images that spark their interest, it is becoming more and more difficult for them to change their language for those purposes. After all, these social media and mobile communication tools has made using short hand code, the norm. These methods of communication also prevent students from seeing their audience. This makes it harder for students to assess the needs of the listener or audience which translates to difficulties meeting the needs of the listener or audience in real life.
Not only that, but more and more, students are struggling to even understand the need for a different approach to conversation when they are talking to an adult vs a friend, speaking during after school activity vs during a conversation about a class project, and giving enough details for people to follow the speakers’ logic.
When teachers wonder how children could be so rude or inappropriate in a classroom, they can ask whether the students know the “rules” of following classroom conversations. Chances are, they have not. So what can a teacher do to develop the social language needed to succeed in class? The rules needed for social language in a school setting are the following:
- Turn-taking in conversation (including active listening)
- introducing topics of conversation
- staying on topic
- rephrasing when misunderstood (clarifying speech)
- how to use verbal and nonverbal signals (saying thank you and making eye contact)
- proximity to peers when speaking (shoulder length apart and knees to knees)
- how to use facial expressions and eye contact