Like seedlings, good ideas can become great ideas if they have strong roots and favourable soil conditions — and then, with the right combination of weather and nurturing, they can exhibit remarkable growth.
This gardening metaphor beautifully suits the Power of Talk summit we attended last year — both in regard to the content focus of children’s oral language, and also to the organisation that hosted it. The Talking Matters — Kōrerotia Mai! Campaign seeks to dramatically improve the oral language skills of children in the early years, which will then significantly impact on their ability to thrive at school. Alison Sutton had the remarkable drive and networking skills to take this concept from discussion between colleagues to a fabulous blossoming multi-disciplinary summit, in just 18 months.
The Power of Talk summit, including keynotes and presentations (see video links below) plus plenty of opportunities for discussion, brought together educators, health professionals, researchers, government agencies (eg Corrections, Ministry of Social Development), and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This afforded participants the chance to explore the issues deeply from and across a range of perspectives.
For those who want an abridged version, here is our take on the standout messages:
- There is not much point in nourishing reading and writing if you are not nourishing talk (oral language).
- Talk matters because the ability to express feelings affects the ability to do well in life — we are more likely to experience social and emotional wellbeing when we have sound oral language skills.
- What we often define as ‘sullen’, ‘moody’, ‘defiant’, and ‘uncooperative’ in the youth justice system, has its roots in poor oral language. We can reduce youth justice rates by working to improve early language.
- It’s not just the number of words, but also the diversity of words that children hear in their first three years, that predicts positive outcomes later.
- All families have a kete of valued knowledge. It’s not that they don’t have much or know much. It’s that we are asking them the wrong questions. Let’s ask them what they value.
- Reading, storytelling, and singing create resilience for children even in really vulnerable circumstances.
- Bilingual children are shown to have a cognitive advantage. It’s important for us to promote the positive power of home languages.
- The Growing up in NZ longitudinal study shows that 90 different languages were spoken by children in the cohort. This is the New Zealand of today — and the future.
As another new year gets underway, let’s all celebrate the diverse oral language skills that our tamariki bring to our places of learning — and let’s use and enhance them so that children possess both skills and knowledge to speak up and be heard. There is now more room in both the updated Te Whāriki and the primary school day to give much-needed attention to developing oral language — which in turn will inevitably result in stronger reading and writing skills. Our CORE facilitators are here to provide ideas and support.
So… over to you. What can you, your colleagues, and your community do differently in your workplace to boost the power of your learners’ talk? At a time when ‘student voice’ is increasingly valued, let’s do our best to make sure that our tamariki can truly articulate their thoughts and aspirations. The world needs to listen to them!
Talking Matters Summit speakers included:
- Judge Andrew Becroft (Children’s Commissioner)
- Rae Si’ilata (Auckland University)
- Dr Susan Morton (Director, Growing up in NZ longitudinal study)
- Wendy Nelson (Brainwave Trust)
- Alison Sutton (Talking Matters).
Image Credit: Image by tookapic on Pixabay under CC0