Ribeiro, I., Viana, F. L., Cadime, I., & Santos, S. (2018). Promoting oracy in kindergarten. Paper presented at the ARLE Seminar: Oracy in focus. Leiden, NL, April, 3-5 2018.
Written language is a cultural acquisition that uses the neuronal routes of oral language (Dehaene, 2007). This partially explains the importance of the development of oral language for the learning of reading (MacGuinness, 2005). In the last years, the kindergarten teachers and other educative agents that closely deal with children in pre-school ages have dedicated special attention to the promotion of literacy skills but have neglected the promotion of other skills, especially oracy competences.
Oracy is a concept that can be explained simply as “the capacity of communicating verbally competently” (Pereira & Viana, 2003, p. 121). It includes two dimensions: comprehension (knowing how to hear) and production (knowing how to talk). Mastering oral communication skills is nowadays a determining factor for daily life and for the full exercise of citizenship, which is why the promotion of oracy cannot be neglected due to alternative educational trends.
The basic lexicon of the native language is usually mastered by the age of 3, allowing children to be attentive, interested and participative interlocutors. However, at this age, children are not yet proficient listeners or speakers. The kindergarten must be a privileged place for the development of oral language. Educators serving as “linguistic models”, children communicating freely with their peers and exchanging information during the “hour of novelties” and the “round conversations” are not enough to promote this development. Throughout the process of acquisition and language development, children discover and learn the linguistic system in which they are inserted. However, there are aspects that “require the mobilization of strategies and processes leading to the analysis and control of knowledge and linguistic growth” (Sim-Sim, 1998, p. 213). This must be taken into account in the design of interventions.
Similarly to literacy skills, the development of oracy skills depends, in great extent, on the environment where each child lives. Therefore, the kindergarten assumes a determinant role as a privileged context to promote the development of oral language, especially in disadvantaged social environments. However, it is not always clear for educators what to do in order to promote this development. This justifies the development of intervention programs, targeting the linguistic development of children in pre-school years.
Storybook reading is one important practice to promote oracy in both dimensions (production and comprehension), also contributing for the cognitive and affective development of children. This activity also allows for contact with written language. In this communication we present the characteristics and the theoretical guidelines underlying the construction of an intervention program aimed at promoting oracy skills in the pre-school years. The program’s theoretical framework is the Vygotsky's Social Constructivist Theory. The starting point of the program is the reading of stories, in which several techniques are integrated to promote the children’s oracy skills and other emergent literacy skills, such as phonological awareness. This option was based on the results of some recent research that has indicated that storybook reading activities, accompanied by early literacy activities, have positive effects on pre-schoolers’ oral language abilities (e.g. van Druten-Frietman, Strating, Denessen, & Verhoeven, 2016). The expected results of the program are: (a) to increase children’s oral language abilities, namely, expressive and receptive language, as well as language use; (b) to increase children’s vocabulary breadth and depth; and (c) to increase children’s emergent literacy skills.