Monday, June 23, 2014

Spoken Language: Don't try teaching literacy without this! PK3-K

Language in Human Society
Language, as it is received and transformed, is the medium and capacity for the self. It is the instrument for abstract thinking, growth and development, and the instrument for collective thought. Words are the arbitrary symbols that the community agrees on for meaning. It comes about in response to the need for communication between a group of people. It is not static. It is created in the context of each environment, created each time by children and modified by adults.

The focus of schools is continually literacy. However, spoken language is the unique form of communication from generation to generation, and writing should be considered a creation of the human being as an outpouring of spoken language as its foundation. We see this same development in the child—first spoken language and then written language

The Task of Language in the Child
How does language develop in the child? It begins with the first years of life; the child incarnates the language of her environment, forming neurological connections and strengthening the muscles for the organs of speech before the first sounds are ever formed. It is a continuation of the pattern of development followed by the constituent parts coming together—independent creation and then coming together to complete task.
With language as a social act, there can be no creation of language without the child sharing in the nuances of that particular community. The close emotional bonding in terms of the early caregiver conveys the characteristics of the language in that place. Children in lower SES groups, whoever, that there has been much less input into the language development of economically disadvantaged children, and they come to school for the first time at age three, four, or five without the ability to speak. Television inputs do not yield the same development of foundational language, however, because of the absence of the human element. At that time in life, below age three, if the child acquires language, it will be done with great facility and joy and great labor if endeavored later. Everything that happens in the living memory, the mneme, at this time becomes the basis of personality. The literacy gap begins in infancy and the toddler-days, until catching up is impossible.

From birth to five months, what does the child do in response to language? The outer manifestations of babbling at five months old are the outer product of a year of development toward that milestone. The educator must be preparing the environment in advance, and not at each of the milestones. Observe the nuances of the child’s development along the way. The educator must prepare themselves as the refined tool for observation.

When we read these language milestones, we do not consider them in terms of providing more words when speaking to children. Language develops according to the powers of the absorbent mind and the sensitive periods for order and movement. The child is the one who incarnates the language so perfectly along the sensitive periods, and it can only happen to perfection when exposed richly environment.

The Educator’s Role in Language
The educator’s job is to follow their developmental urges, to protect, nourish, and stimulate—we must be very vigilant to make the connections to the means of development. Since our education is done so indirectly, the child’s environment is critical, that it will contain all the elements that the child will need. Montessori methods will be under the highest scrutiny, because it is new and different. We will need courage, determination, perseverance, and exactitude to do it well and hold ourselves to a higher standard. The method will be judged and help up by parents and the community; we work well for the sake of the child, so that we can bring this method to more children. Continually ask, what does this child need at this time, and what does it mean for the child right now?

This may be especially perilous in the public Montessori options where the testing results are obtained on a short timeline, without uninterrupted blocks of work time. Everything is rushed. However, some children need a longer span of time to work and show results. Quite often, the help offered to make the timeline work within their system is actually a hindrance. Do not start with the implementation of the curriculum handed down—start with the fundamental needs of the child, in coordination with their development, and then fit the curriculum to those needs, as possible, rather than the other way around. Begin the year with the attitude of Where is the child right now? And build from there. Also, take caution not to equate what the child know now with what the previous teacher has taught them; learning and teaching are not necessarily an exchange.

Reconsider the attitude toward parents. Teachers, rather than blame parents, consider them your partners in the work of education. They are integral to the child.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas. 

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