Language Development


Developing Language Across the Curriculum Develop competence in the language and literacy of instruction across the curriculum.

Developing competence in the language(s) of instruction should be a metagoal of all educational activity throughout the school day. Whether instruction is bilingual or monolingual, literacy is the most fundamental competency necessary for school success. School knowledge, and thinking itself, are inseparable from language. Everyday social language, formal academic language, and subject matter lexicons are all critical for school success.

Language development at all levels — informal, problem-solving, and academic — should be fostered through use and through purposeful, deliberate conversation between teacher and students, not through drills and decontextualized rules. Reading and writing must be taught both as specific curricula and integrated into each content area.

The ways of using language that prevail in school discourse, such as ways of asking and answering questions, challenging claims, and using representations, are frequently unfamiliar to English language learners and other students at risk of educational failure. However, their own culturally based ways of talking can be effectively linked to the language used for academic disciplines by building learning contexts that evoke and build upon children’s language strengths.

The development of language and literacy as a metagoal also applies to the specialized language genres required for the study of science, mathematics, history, art, and literature. Effective mathematics learning is based on the ability to “speak mathematics,” just as the overall ability to achieve across the curriculum is dependent on mastery of the language of instruction. Reading, writing, speaking, listening, and lexicons can be taught and learned in every subject matter, and indeed all the subject matters can be taught as though they were a second language. Joint Productive Activity provides an ideal venue for developing the language of the activity’s domain.

Indicators of Language Development

The teacher:

  • listens to student talk about familiar topics such as home and community.
  • responds to students’ talk and questions, making ‘in-flight’ changes during conversation that directly relate to students’ comments.
  • assists written and oral language development through modeling, eliciting, probing, restating, clarifying, questioning, praising, etc., in purposeful conversation and writing.
  • interacts with students in ways that respect students’ preferences for speaking that may be different from the teacher’s, such as wait-time, eye contact, turn-taking, or spotlighting.
  • connects student language with literacy and content area knowledge through speaking, listening, reading, and writing activities.
  • encourages students to use content vocabulary to express their understanding.
  • provides frequent opportunity for students to interact with each other and the teacher during instructional activities.
  • encourages students’ use of first and second languages in instructional activities.