The language style used by adults to children in the preschool and early school years is critical. (Post reissued)
The development of comprehension is amazing. But children of the same age will not all have the same level of understanding. This can be accepted as a given! As adults, we can learn to adapt the complexity of our language to help every child in a group be involved.
The verbal children who have had every advantage may be excellent communicators, able to cope with all the complexities of language you use including jokes, sarcasm, lengthy sentences with clauses, long strings of instructions, references to past and future activities – and so on. You hardly change your language style from that used to other adults.
The children who are at the young end of the range, or who have some health, social or learning issues, or just less experience, may not be able to cope so well.
The adult who is aware of how to make the language of teaching and questioning more concrete, i.e. how to speak in a way that helps these children, will be assisting the whole group and not just the ones who’ve made a good start already.
Marion Blank’s work to categorise some of the demands of adult language in Levels moving from very concrete to complex and abstract is really worth looking at. It’s been around a long time but is still fresh. It is rewarding when being flexible and adapting language style is enough to make adult-child interaction successful – everyone can be included. Some ideas are included in the resources listed under Marion Blank’s Language Levels (see list).
I have come across some very good writing about the Language Levels here:
Facilitating young children’s language and vocabulary development using a cognitive framework by Ian Hay, Ruth Fielding-Barnsley and Therese Taylor here – look for Volume 2, Number 3 – August 2010 in the archive
and an article here by Julie Miller which shows the four Levels related to playing with dough (in an excerpt from Nicole Avery’s planningwithkids.com)
Dr. Blank is also well-known for her work on improving reading skills and you can search online to read about this. She lists six essential skills for learning to read, not just knowledge of phonics. Her ideas make such good sense and emphasise what it is easy to forget: literacy requires the ongoing development of physical, organisational and language skills.