What the PYP believes about learning language
The need to communicate
is instinctive. The development of language is fundamental to that need to
communicate; it supports and enhances our thinking and understanding. Language
permeates the world in which we live; it is socially constructed and dependent
on the number and nature of our social interactions and relationships.
The learning process
simultaneously involves learning language—as learners listen to and use
language with others in their everyday lives; learning about language—as
learners grow in their understanding of how language works; and learning
through language—as learners use language as a tool to listen, think, discuss
and reflect on information, ideas and issues (Halliday 1980
Language plays a vital
role in the construction of meaning. It empowers the learner and provides an
intellectual framework to support conceptual development and critical thinking.
In the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), it is recognized that the teaching of
language should be in response to the previous experience, needs and interests
of the student, rather than the consequence of a predetermined, prescriptive
model for delivering language. Fragmenting learning into the acquisition of
isolated skill sets can create difficulties for learners—for example, learners
may be able to read, write and spell words correctly in isolation but may not
be able to read, write or spell those same words in other contexts. Learners’
needs are best served when they have opportunities to engage in learning within
meaningful contexts, rather than being presented with the learning of language
as an incremental series of skills to be acquired.
The language profiles of
students in PYP schools may be complex and diverse; however, the influence of
mother-tongue development is significant for all learners. It is acknowledged
that development of mother-tongue language is crucial for cognitive
development, and in maintaining cultural identity. Success in mother-tongue
development is a strong predictor of long-term academic achievement, including
acquisition of other languages.
The complex processes
involved in language learning represent a series of developmental continuums. A
teacher is able to identify where on those continuums a student is positioned
to better design appropriate, contextualized learning experiences—to move the
student from one development phase to the next. In this way, the learner is
able to build on established skills and understanding, while being supported to
meet appropriate challenges to extend their learning within their “zone of
proximal development” (Vygotsky 1999), which may be represented by more than
teaching and learning are social acts, dependent on relationships with others,
with context, with the environment, with the world, and with the self. Such
learning is relevant, engaging, challenging and significant. Exposure to and
experience with languages, with all their richness and diversity, creates an
inquisitiveness about life and learning, and a confidence about creating new
social interactions. Language provides a vehicle for learners to engage with
the world and, in an IB World School, to relate to, and accept, responsibility
for the mission of the IB to “help to create a better and more peaceful world”.
Language in a transdisciplinary programme
Language is involved in
all learning that goes on in a school, in both the affective and effective
domains. Learners listen, talk, read and write their way to negotiating new
meanings and understanding new concepts. In the “knowledge” area of the PYP,
language is the most significant connecting element across the school’s
curriculum, both within and outside its transdisciplinary programme of inquiry.
It is the school’s responsibility to provide authentic contexts for language
teaching and learning in all areas of the curriculum that are a reflection of,
and relevant to, the community of learners, and to the educational theories
underpinning the programme. In PYP schools there should be opportunities for
students to negotiate their roles. Literacy, including oral and visual literacy
as well as the ability to read and write, becomes increasingly important as
greater demands are placed on learners as participants in the learning process.
Language provides a
vehicle for inquiry. In an inquiry-based classroom, teachers and students enjoy
using language, appreciating it both functionally and aesthetically. The love
and enjoyment of language through the integration of literature into student
inquiry is an indicator of good practice in a PYP classroom. For example, this
may include: a series of books read as an author study; regional fairy tales as
part of a unit of inquiry with a particular social studies emphasis; discussing
a scientist’s biography or a newspaper article to front-load a science
investigation; early years counting stories as reinforcement for mathematics
development; and the comparison and practice of illustration techniques to
encourage the development of art skills.
The programme of inquiry
provides an authentic context for learners to develop and use language.
Wherever possible, language should be taught through the relevant, authentic
context of the units of inquiry. The teacher should provide language learning
opportunities that support learners’ inquiries and the sharing of their
learning. Regardless of whether language is being taught within or outside the
programme of inquiry, it is believed that purposeful inquiry is the way in
which learners learn best. The starting point should always be learners’ prior
experience and current understanding.
teachers plan learning experiences that enable learners to develop language within
meaningful and enjoyable contexts, learners are able to make connections, apply
their learning, and transfer their conceptual understanding to new situations.
This progressive conceptual development, together with an enjoyment of the
process, provides the foundation for lifelong learning.