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The aim of this assignment is to acknowledge and understand first and second language acquisition theory, the role of the adult, and play in promoting language. It will show an understanding of physical and motor development and how its progress is directly related to cognitive and affective learning, again through children's play. It will also consider the implications of this type of learning when trying to apply inclusive practise. This assignment will use previously read literature as well as observations carried out during the module.
Language acquisition has developed a lot over the past fifty years, and to begin with it is necessary to look at Skinner and his theory of verbal behaviour (Skinner, 1957). While it may seem dated, Skinner's theory can still be used in conjunction with other theories to create a more rounded classroom. Skinner's main conclusions were that children imitate adults, and the idea that positive reinforcement should encourage children to learn to speak. There are some issues, however. Negative reinforcement can have an effect on children's confidence and their likelihood to want to speak. Skinner's ideas can be seen to have a direct effect on Bruner's social-cognitive idea that the Language Acquisition Support System (Bruner, 1983), as well as Sobin's theory of "spoken word", aided by innate mechanisms inside us, will produce "language acquisition" (cited in Russell, 2004).
Evidence of both these theories can be seen from observations undertaken. Appendix 3 shows Charlie has been praised for his work, and then asked an open question. The child is unlikely to have spoken about "hand fish" before and is constructing sentences using both prior knowledge (its is likely the phrase "lovely jubberly" has been heard before), but also their knowledge of the rules of language in trying to construct sentences. Lastly, you can clearly tell he feels encouraged to speak about his fish through positive reinforcement.
While observing children during this module I noticed that language is based on structures and rules, which cannot be worked out simply by imitating individual utterances. I witnessed children saying "drinked" and "dranked", this, for instance, is an example of children over-applying a rule. (Appendix 3).
I also noticed that children were unable to repeat certain structures such as negative verbs, for example, "nobody don't like me", rather than "nobody likes me" (Appendix 3). This is noted in The Genesis of Language (Mcneil, 1966), as a criticism of the behaviourist theory. There is also evidence from Brown, Cazden and Bellugi's (1969) study, that shows children advance in grammar without explicit grammatical correction by parents. This leads into the idea that children may have some intrinsic capacity for language.
Lenneberg (1967) suggests that there is a critical period for language acquisition. This is confirmed in part by the work done with the child "Genie". Noam Chomsky (1957) states that children rarely hear grammatically complete sentences and only hear a small part of language. It was cases similar to mine that brought Chomsky to produce his concept of the "inborn faculty for language acquisition". He suggests we have, from birth, biologically developed neural circuits containing linguistic information and it is these that aid what is otherwise called our Language Acquisition Device (LAD).
An interesting, later study by Slobin (cited in Russell 2001), suggests that we have mechanisms in the brain for working out the rules of language, rather than that children are born with the specific knowledge or LAD (seen in part in Appendix 3).
Jean Piaget (cited in Jenkins et al, 1998), however, places language acquisition within the context of a child's mental and cognitive development, meaning that we should urge children to understand concepts before they try and express the particular language that concept can represent. This theory is linked to the idea of object permanence, which shows evidence of language development being combined with children's understanding that objects exist. This can be related to the affective learning theory by Barrett (2006), called the Social-Constructivist Model of Emotion, which suggests that children learn to give meaning to things through social exposure or play, as well as cognitive development capacities, again through play. Children's emotional experience is reliant upon specific factors such as learning the meaning of "feeling" or "knowing" something that will help aid their acquisition of language. Brief evidence of this can be seen in Appendix 4, where Charlie shows understanding for his fish and that his fish doesn't feel "good", because they need water to survive, he communicates this knowledge through language.
The development of motor skills through play will also have an impact in relation to language. Piaget (cited in Gallahue and Osmun, 2002) states that children need to have an understanding of "ideas," for example, jumping from "great heights", climbing "high mountains" and leaping over "raging rivers", before they are able to use them effectively in language. This follows in nicely to the idea that language is developed through play and interaction with peers and practitioners.
Bruner (1983) suggests child-directed speech and scaffolding speech or language acquisition support system (LASS) supports children in language development. Behaviourist Mowrer (1960) supports Bruner and extends this notion that child-directed speech must have an emotional link to the learner, as it brings pleasant feelings and, therefore, is a positive reinforcement (Skinner 1957). (seen in Appendix 4).
Vygotsky (1978) calls for a pedagogy where play has a central role in the formulation of meaning, this links both Piaget's Object Permanence (Taylor, 2005), and Bruner's child-directed speech and LASS. The emphasis is on the inter-relationships between spoken language and learning, claiming that play can enhance thinking and learning, and in turn learning can aid play. Wells (1992) and Lotman (1988) offer practical advice in this pedagogy and suggest that teachers should distance themselves from simple transmission teaching, which they argue is incompatible with constructive learning, and begin to use interpretation teaching, which encourages children to use their egocentric speech (Appendix 2). Vygotsky (1978) claims this enhances children's cognitive learning. Vygotsky also proposed that speech and inner-speech, combined with thought, create a cognitive tool for human development and that
"Children solve practical tasks in play with the help of their speech as well as their eyes and hands"
Appendixes 1 and 2 show great examples of this in practise. The child, Millie, clearly enjoyed rotation schemes (Gallahue & Osmun, 2002), and she actively used this love to aid her learning. In Appendix 2 there is evidence to show Millie working on her learning from earlier in the day, and incorporating it into a schema she loves. She uses her beloved hoops as a vehicle with which to sort the animals. As the teacher, I noted this earlier and decided to use the idea of scaffold to try and extend her learning by making her sort the animals from two hoops into three hoops. She is so pleased with her learning that she later spins the hoops around the animals with joy at her new found knowledge.
Sonja et al (2009) suggests that difficulties with motor skill development can affect children's engagement in
"Fluid conversations and the ability to be able to communicate effectively"
Barnes' (1976) interpretations of Aristotle's philosophy also relate speech to helping meaning and vice versa, but they also saw the benefits of language acquisition on affective development, as focusing learning on interaction builds children's social and cultural experiences. This can also be seen in Vygotsky's Zone Of Proximal Development. Appendix 2 shows how Millie seemed to dominate the activity and, unfortunately, the other children lost interest. It has to be suggested that perhaps if the children had been better engaged with each other they could have produced some valuable learning from each other through the idea of ZPD.
Cazden (1983) devises, from social-cognitive theories, some practical ways in which teachers can develop language acquisition, these being in three forms of input, scaffolds (Bruner) as discussed earlier in Vygotsky's "word", to allow children to internalise external knowledge and convert it into a tool for conscious control (Corden, 2000). Following this, you have modelling, Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest that the presence of a model displaying mature behaviour and speech is important in society and while children may not be active participants in the event of speech, there is peripheral participation.
Beard's (2000) review of the National Learning Strategy championed these constructive models for language acquisition, highlighting their benefits as having an inclusive nature.
When thinking about language and inclusion, Heath (1983) reminds us about the importance of considering the different cultures or societies in the classroom. Some may place more importance on different aspects of literacy. Her study discovered major discrepancies in the value placed on different aspects of literacy in white and black working class environments. In the former, the importance was placed on reading, while in the latter, the study showed little mention of reading but verbal communication was encouraged. Heath (1986) supports this notion and claims that certain cultures can find their literacy competence is dependent on their environment, whether it be beneficial or detrimental, and, therefore, teachers need to recognise and include the oral culture of some societies in the classroom for children to flourish in language acquisition. This was suggested in the 1956 UNESCO report (UNESCO, 2009), as well as Every Child Matters (2004).
During my observation I noticed an African-Caribbean child who would only participate with the class when there was group singing taking place, and if asked a direct question was very reluctant to speak. This leads into the idea of having to know your learners and producing inclusive and differentiated (McNamara and Moreton, 1997, Ainscow, 1999) practise for all your learners' needs.
Following this idea of group singing, there were also other examples of "language play" during my observations. I noticed Millie, in Appendix 1, using the words "round", "whee" and "whoosh" in different ways to express herself and her motor actions, this is an advocated example of a good language acquisition strategy (Crystal, 1998).
When thinking about learners' needs and inclusion we also need to think about children who may speak English as their second language. Lenneberg's (1967) idea of the critical period can be extended to second language acquisition (SLA). It is suggested that while not impossible, it is harder for children to become truly fluent in a second language as they get older. Penfield and Roberts (1959) agree that children have a neurological advantage in learning second languages, and, in fact, with early exposure, children can learn up to three languages and are able to activate a reflex in the brain allowing them to switch between them without confusion or translation. A later study by Dehaene et al (1997) found that FLA and SLA are present in the same area of the brain (left temporal lobe) if both languages are taught simultaneously from birth, otherwise the SLA is found in the right hemisphere of the brain. All these studies are significant for EAL children as it shows the benefits of SLA being introduced as early into the curriculum as possible.
Motor skill learning has already been mentioned with regard to language development. However, it has a farther-reaching affect on other areas of development.
Stewart (1990) believes that the progress of a child's motor development should be a natural spin-off from activities in which they take part, including play and social interaction. If a child fails in their day-to-day activities because of their inability to sit, stand, move easily or write, it will hinder their learning development. Constant failure will have an extremely damaging effect on self-esteem and self-confidence, both of which are essential if children are to develop to their maximum potential.
"No one should underestimate the important part that good motor development will have on a child's ability to learn." (Stewart, 1990, p.9).
This could include Charlie's initial unease in producing her own "hand fish" (Appendix 3). She didn't believe she had the motor capabilities to produce the drawing on her own, and without the teacher's support she could have found herself alienated from an activity in which her peers were doing "fine".
Sonja et al (2009) suggests that uneven motor skill development can often mean assumptions are made against a child's cognitive learning and abilities, and this is unfair. For example, a child may fail to stack some blocks, but may be able to complete a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle, this means it is important that teachers do not allow stunted motor development to "mist up" their judgement of a child's progress in other cognitive areas.
Burdette and Whitaker (2005) suggest that gross motor skills matter to children in all aspects of learning and are very important in the act of "play". Spontaneous activity which children engage in to amuse and occupy themselves not only optimises their own brain development, but also improves social skills. If children do not have the motor skills to act in play it means cognitive and affective learning will suffer. Gallahue and Osmun (2002) state that children's play is the primary mode in which they learn about their bodies and movement capabilities, as well as progressing their cognitive and affective development, and this is supported by Walli Meier cited in Stewart (1990).
The years in which young children are working through play on their gross and fine motor skills are also important for cognitive learning because children are in Piaget's "pre-operational thought phase" (Taylor, 2005). This stage is when children are in the "seeing is believing" stage and also when they are egocentric thinkers (Appendix 2), it is argued that play provides a multitude of experiences for promoting cognitive growth. (Gallahue and Osmun (2002).
Gallahue and Osmun also see children's experiences of using gross and fine motor skills as having an impact on their affective development. Playing allows children to explore their curiosity through exploration (very active behaviour), failure in doing so can result in the decline of affective skills like initiative, autonomy and self-concept, which is, of course, going to have direct effect on cognitive functions, as stated earlier. Appendix 5, and many other informal observations, brought me to the conclusion that this can work the opposite way, alienated or disliked children often missed out on invitations from classmates to engage in more active behaviour during play.
When thinking about motor development and inclusion, children's individual barriers to learning need to be taken into account. One example could be a child's lack of visual perception, which usually comes from good gross and fine motor skills, and this can affect their development in Piaget's Concrete Operations Stage (Taylor, 2005). Piaget explains this as the point where children are able to increase their ability to focus on more than one aspect of a stimulus; a lack of visual perception can impede this stage.
Sherbourne (2001) believes gross motor development underpins fine motor development, and that there is a need for practitioners to improve children's self-awareness, body-image, awareness of others and their ability to make meaningful relationships in support of this development, (Appendix 5).
It is not only motor development that is enhanced through play, there is also the concept of affective development, which was mentioned earlier. Moral character development (Hoffman, 2000), motivation (Gollwitzer and Bargh, 1996), cognitive development (Buckley et al, 2003), as well as reasoning and problem solving (Isen 1993), are all affective aspects that are learnt by children through play.
Denham and Weissberg (2003) reported that children with a high affective domain demonstrate good grades and achievement. This is supported by Gewertz (2003), who believes that children do better, academically, when schools attend to affective development through play.
The Communicative Theory produced by Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1995) suggests that emotions can damage cognitive evaluations by children, and have an effect on academic learning, for example, "I hate maths". The suggestion, therefore, is that if you can help children take ownership of their emotions through affective learning they could do better academically.
The Feedback Theory, produced by Parkinson and Manstead (1992), suggests that unknown emotions can cause unwanted bodily reactions in a child, for instance, anxiety or fear. To counter this teachers should ensure that activities are "neutral" and not too stimulating to cause unwanted emotion. This is a lesson learnt through an Observation in appendix 5.
Lazarus's Relational Model (1991) suggests that affective development is part of our innate routine for social communication and serves to initiate and maintain contact with others. This shows an important relationship between affective development and the process of inclusion and also social-constructivists' theories on cognitive learning strategies. This supports the work done by D'Andrade (1995), which shows the promise of children being able to learn the rules and culture of others through affective development. After the Appendix 5 observation I felt a huge amount of guilt from forcing the child into a state of anxiety by making him ask to play, and perhaps if this was done too often by practitioners it could indirectly affect children's development in all areas.
Carter's (1998) Study looked into the mind-body link between the fight-or-flight mechanism and suggests that threat situations in play, for example, could elicit a response of avoidance, so if children are scared of play they do not understand they have two ways of managing it. The need of an inclusive and differentiated classroom and positive learning environment could help children manage better with play they do not understand. (McNamara and Moreton, 1997, Ainscow, 1999) (Appendix 5)
One of the ways in which affective development can take place is through emotional expression (Denham 1998), this is closely related to language acquisition, that is, speaking and listening in play, which in turn aids other areas of the curriculum.
I have learnt a number of things from this module. The interesting and varied ways in which children's language development is so reliant on innate, learnt and social factors, including play. To see how play has always had a vital and interrelated role in children's development across the affective, language and motor areas, one only has to look at past literary classics such as J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (2007) and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (2002), to see the influence play has on character's learning experiences. Learning through play is just as important today, with the Cambridge Review (Alexander, 2009) suggesting informal play learning should extend past the early years curriculum, as well as "play" being a powerful way to be inclusive to all types of learners (Every Child Matters, 2003; Guardian, 2009). Finally, I have learnt the usefulness of knowing your learners as individuals and how observations can be of huge benefit to fulfilling this need.