The Science of Reading and Oral Language

Good listeners become good readers.

This summer, I’m diving into LETRS training on the Science of Reading. 
If you’ve been around my corner of cyber space for a bit, you know I was
introduced to the Science of Reading a few years ago through RISE training in
my home state.  It was mind-blowing.  Like a
where-has-this-been-all-of-my-life kind of PD.  And I just wanted
more.  So, I’m digging into LETRS.  And it’s intense.  And so,
so good.
As I process it, I’ll be blogging about some nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned
along the way.
So… let’s talk about talking.  What is oral language?  Why should
I care about it as a primary teacher?  Isn’t that the speech path’s
job?  What can I do to increase the listening comprehension of my kids?

What Is Oral Language?

Oral language is simply the way we communicate with each other.  In honor
of the Friends Reunion I just binged, let’s look closer at oral language,
Friends style! 🙂
It includes the words we speak…
The nonverbal cues we give while we speak…
And listening as someone else talks to us.
Kids with strong oral language skills are able to speak in complete sentences
and carry on a conversation with someone in a way that is easy to
understand.  They are also able to listen and comprehend what someone
else is saying by asking and answering questions about what was said.

Why Is Listening Comprehension Important?

So what?  Why do I need to worry about listening comprehension and oral
language?  Isn’t that my speech path friend’s job?
Yes and no.  Yes, speech paths do help kids with deficits in
language.  But, scientist tell us there is a HUGE correlation between
oral language and reading comprehension.

Read that again.  If I can’t hear it and understand it, I can’t read it
and understand it.
Ya’ll.  I know that seems intuitive.  And it makes total
sense.  But, the first time, I read this, I thought, 

OMG.  Why in the world did I not spend more time doing read alouds
and talking about stories with my kids…especially my ELL babies.
  
I mean, I did read alouds.  I love a good read aloud.  But, if I’m
being honest, storytime got cut short in my first grade classroom many times
because of all the things I had to make sure I was doing.  And you can
bet your bottom dollar that my firsties’ reading skill suffered because of it.

How Can We Increase Listening Comprehension?

So, what can we do?  If I could go back and do those 10 years in first
grade over again, what would I do differently?
I’d work on listening comprehension.  I’d target kids with low language
skills.  Kids learning English as a second language.  Kids who only
spoke English, but who still struggled to carry on conversations.  Kids
who couldn’t answer simple questions about stories we read together. 
Kids who couldn’t answer simple Who/What/Where/When/Why/How questions.
I’d target those kids and pull them back in a small group during intervention
time.  I’d have real, organic conversations with them.  I’d warm up
by drawing some table talk cards to read and answer.  I’d read a short
book and ask questions as we read.  Sometimes, even after each page if
needed. (Think like when a Mom reads to a toddler…. “Where’s the
spider?”  “What is the spider doing?”)  
For whole group oral language lessons, I’d tell jokes and talk about multiple
meaning words or other skills you can target with jokes.  (I LOVED using
these joke slides
with my second grader this year!)
Another thing I started doing my first few years and then abandoned because
#time and I didn’t know any better is
explicit tier 2 vocabulary instruction with read alouds.  After I first became familiar with the Science of Reading, I started
doing more of these.  We did these once a week during 2nd grade last year
and we used them in kindergarten when I did a long-term sub.  It’s an
easy way to practice oral language, while increasing your kids vocabulary and
oral language skills. You can find the specific ones I’ve used
here or try the
freebie.
And I’d do it all without asking kids to decode.  No reading.  Just
listening comprehension.  Because the Simple View of Reading tells us
that language comprehension is ESSENTIAL to reading comprehension.  
It’s not the only factor of a successful reader.  But it’s a necessary
part.  And it doesn’t have to be done with word recognition.  You
can work on language comprehension on its own, and feel good, knowing you are
increasing your kids reading comprehension skills.  
If I could go back 15 years and tell my first-year teacher self just that, I
would.  I’d tell her to give herself some grace, and not stress if every
small group literacy time didn’t include kids reading or writing actual
words.  
Because oral language is that important to the literacy success of our
students. 
Because good listeners make good readers.

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