The BHA English Language Oracy Initiative
By: John Gaspirini, Head of Middle School
At Branksome Hall Asia, one of the fundamental educational beliefs that informs our school-wide language program involves the development of speaking and listening skills to promote student learning and cognitive development. When children engage in spoken classroom dialogue, they learn how both the subject of study, and its language, work. They learn the thoughts of others, how language is used to reason about causes and effects, how emotions and identities are expressed, and how to work together to solve problems and get things done. By listening and contributing to classroom conversations, children take up the language and ideas of their social and academic worlds. Spoken language shapes a student’s individual thinking and is a prime tool for thinking collectively. At Branksome we do not just promote speaking to allow students to interact, we promote oracy to promote collaborative thinking. That is, we ask students to share thoughts aloud, and to influence their classmates, so that a new shared understanding can be created in the process. Students must learn through experience how to use language effectively, and they must be directly taught and practice effective oracy skills.
This school year, Branksome Hall Asia’s whole-school faculty will work to identify, evaluate, and adopt teaching strategies that promote student language acquisition with a focus on oracy. This faculty language initiative began this past September as all of our teachers participated in “skill-share” EAL workshop rotations. The majority of these workshops focused on promoting student speaking and oracy skills in subject classes. All workshops were delivered by members of the Languages Department as well as experienced EAL teaching staff. The oracy workshops offered included: “The Talk/Read/Talk/Write Speaking+Literacy Routines,” “ The World Cafe Group Speaking Strategy,” “3 Essential Practices for Equitable Speaking Opportunities,” “Speaking-focussed Visible Thinking Routines: Think, Talk, Open Exchange,” and “Utilizing Morning Meetings and Advisory time to increase Oral Language in the classroom.” Faculty professional development in EAL teaching techniques will continue throughout the school year, both during our Monday and Wednesday school development meetings, as well as during off-schedule PD days planned for the Spring Semester. Our goal this year will be to encourage the regular, collective student dialogues in our classrooms that promote student learning and critical thinking.