31 SES 08 B, Language and Literacy Learning via Dialogic Practice
An increasing body of literature highlights the importance of children’s proficiency of academic language, i.e., the language used at school, necessary for learning and school success (Aarts et al., 2016; Snow & Uccelli, 2010). More and more European countries are prioritizing students’ development of academic language skills (Duarte et al., 2020; Lorenzo & Trujillo, 2017). Whereas the expectation is for students to develop such skills at school, it has been pointed out that many children, especially in Primary education, lack the skills necessary to understand the academic language of the texts they read at school (Snow & Uccelli, 2010). These concerns are especially directed to children from low Socioeconomic Status (SES) backgrounds, as they are found to be the least exposed to academic texts and discourses outside the school setting and, therefore, have less chances to develop such skills (Aarts et al., 2016; Snow & Uccelli, 2010). This has been found to have negative effects for children’s academic success, as it poses barriers for accessing information and producing academic texts (Snow & Uccelli, 2010). Hence, it is essential that schools provide all children, but especially those from vulnerable backgrounds, with the tools to develop the skills required for school and subsequent success in society.
It has been found that academic language can be scaffolded through dialogue and input of quality language – such as high amount, sophistication and diversity of vocabulary (Barnes & Dickinson, 2017; Snow, 2014; Zwiers, 2006). Dialogic reading activities, for instance, are an optimal space for propelling children’s academic language. Reconciling evidence from the two bodies of literature (academic language and dialogic reading), Dialogic Literary Gatherings (DLG) , in which students read adaptations of some of the best literary works created by humankind and discuss them in an egalitarian dialogue, have been found to promote the development of academic language and literacy skills (Flecha, 2000).
This paper aims at providing evidence on DLG’s promotion of children’s academic language skills by analysing a classroom from a school located in a marginalized neighbourhood in Terrassa (Spain), in which 90% of students are of immigrant origin. In spite of the student diversity found in the school, since the school started implementing DLG 18 years ago, students achieving high scores in reading comprehension in standardized tests went from 17% to 85%.
Through observing DLG sessions in which 11-13-year-old students read and debated Homer’s The Iliad, researchers found among students’ dialogues the emergence of six elements which have been categorized by the scientific literature as academic language and literacy skills: Nominalization, Connectives, Morphologically Derived Words, Referential Links, Construction of Judgement and Value, and Arguments. Having access to, reading, and collectively reflecting on some of humankind’s best literary creations such as The Iliad gives them the opportunity to connect, order and express ideas which both the text and their classmates’ interactions strengthen. Moreover, the egalitarian dialogue DLG are based upon, which establishes the norm that each participant’s contributions to the dialogue need to be based on arguments rather than on positions of power, encourages them to develop arguments to support their claims and opinions. Indeed, 58 out of the 167 student interactions analysed in this exploratory study either contain a judgement, value, or argument.
Further research should determine whether the development of these skills during the DLG has an impact on students’ academic performance. Nonetheless, these findings point to the potential of DLG as a learning environment in which children develop some of the academic language skills essential for learning and school performance, contributing from education to providing society, especially those most in need, with the opportunities for success.
On the one hand, several scientific articles about academic language and literacy skills were read in order to determine which skills the analysis was going to focus on. In an initial analysis of the scientific literature on academic language, 20 skills were selected. After observing the DLG, among the preliminary list of 20 academic language and literacy skills, six were finally selected, namely Nominalization, Connectives, Morphologically Derived Words, Referential Links, Construction of Judgement and Value, and Arguments. On the other hand, two DLG sessions were observed and audio recorded in March and May 2017, in a 6th grade Primary classroom in a school located in the province of Barcelona, Spain. The classroom was formed by 6 girls and 13 boys between the ages of 11 and 13 from Moroccan, Spanish and Ecuadorian nationalities. After recording the sessions, researchers transcribed the audios and read them through several times in order to identify and classify academic language and literacy skills selected from the scientific literature. Researchers in this study followed the Communicative Methodology of Research (Gómez, Puigvert, & Flecha, 2011), validated and promoted by the international scientific community due to its social impact as a result of the egalitarian dialogue that researchers establish with research participants. This methodology has been found to be particularly beneficial for minority communities, as their voices have not been historically included in scientific studies (Gómez et al., 2019; Soler & Gómez, 2020). Following the scientific and ethical rigour of the Communicative Methodology, researchers informed the school Principal about the study, its procedures and aims, and the Principal gathered consent of the families for their children to participate and be audio-recorded for the purposes of this study.
DLG offer children, especially those from low SES backgrounds, the possibility to access high-quality books and engage in high-quality interactions in which judgments, arguments, critical reflections or values prevail. They are given access to books which, were it not for the DLG, many of them would have found difficult to read or even approach, as classic books are considered by many authors and educators as only readable and enjoyable by the elites (Soler, 2004). However, DLG prove that children from diverse backgrounds, many of whom have never found such books at home, are not only able to read, understand and enjoy such books, but to debate the profound issues they illustrate, to form and develop arguments and judgement on topics essential to society such as love, courage, honour, or war, among others. Moreover, DLGs promote students’ development of critical mind (Fang et al., 2006) as they often relate the readings and their classmates’ opinions to present and daily situations they see and experience, often showing disagreement with the text or with society. Results from this exploratory study show that DLG promote the emergence of some academic language and literacy skills reported as necessary for children’s school success by a number of scholars in the field. In DLG, students are used to constantly expressing ideas, feelings and thoughts, relating them to the texts and their own lives, providing arguments, counter-arguments or critiques. These are not skills they will need only for succeeding at school, but for succeeding in their future pathways, as we live in an increasingly dialogic society, in which power interactions which pose most difficulties for children from minority or low SES backgrounds are being replaced by arguments and critical reflections and providing equal opportunities for success for all.
Aarts, R., Demir-Vegter, S., Kurvers, J., & Henrichs, L. (2016). Academic Language in Shared Book Reading: Parent and Teacher Input to Mono- and Bilingual Preschoolers. Language Learning, 66(2), 263–295. https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12152 August, D., Artzi, L., & Barr, C. (2016). Helping ELLs Meet Standards in English Language Arts and Science: An Intervention Focused on Academic Vocabulary. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 32(4), 373–396. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573569.2015.1039738 Barnes, E. M., & Dickinson, D. K. (2017). The Relationship of Head Start Teachers’ Academic Language Use and Children’s Receptive Vocabulary. Early Education and Development, 28(7), 794–809. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2017.1340069 Duarte, J., García-Jimenez, E., McMonagle, S., Hansen, A., Gross, B., Szelei, N., & Pinho, A. S. (2020). Research priorities in the field of multilingualism and language education: a cross-national examination. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2020.1792475 Flecha, R. (2000). Sharing Words: Theory and Practice of Dialogic Learning. Retrieved from https://books.google.es/books?id=eK9vtVeX5PcC Gómez, A., Padrós, M., Ríos, O., Mara, L.-C., & Pukepuke, T. (2019). Reaching Social Impact Through Communicative Methodology. Researching With Rather Than on Vulnerable Populations: The Roma Case. Frontiers in Education, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2019.00009 Gómez, A., Puigvert, L., & Flecha, R. (2011). Critical communicative methodology: Informing real social transformation through research. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(3), 235–245. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800410397802 Lorenzo, F., & Trujillo, F. (2017). Languages of schooling in European policymaking: present state and future outcomes. European Journal of Applied Linguistics, 5(2), 177–197. https://doi.org/10.1515/eujal-2017-0007 Snow, C. E. (2014). Input to interaction to instruction: Three key shifts in the history of child language research. Journal of Child Language, 41(SUPPL.1), 117–123. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000914000294 Snow, C. E., & Uccelli, P. (2010). The Challenge of Academic Language. The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy, 112–133. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511609664.008 Soler, M., & Gómez, A. (2020). A Citizen’s Claim: Science With and for Society. Qualitative Inquiry, 26(8–9), 943–947. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800420938104 Zwiers, J. (2006). Integrating academic language, thinking, and content: Learning scaffolds for non-native speakers in the middle grades. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 5(4), 317–332. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2006.08.005
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