Teachers told to ban the bland and keep it real

9th October 2009 at 01:00
Early-years experts recommend holding pupils' attention by talking to them in their own language

Asking young children to name the colour of objects or count how many toys they have may appear to be positive ways of helping them develop communication skills.

But according to a leading early-years expert, they are the most boring questions and risk turning children off.

Sian Wyn Siencyn, head of the school of early-years education at Trinity University College, Carmarthen, said using bland educational language will not keep young children interested as they speak in a different way.

Speaking at a conference held by Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, an organisation specialising in Welsh-medium early-years education, Ms Siencyn urged practitioners to change the way they communicate with their pupils.

"The language of adults in education is linear, contextual and relates to what's happening now; much of that is very boring," she said.

"We have an obsession with naming colours - I don't know where it's come from.

"The language of the child is unexpected; they say things you wouldn't expect to hear. They go to different places with their language - they are adventurous and extremely brave."

Ms Siencyn said practitioners must also develop "deep listening" techniques in which they make eye contact, talk in a quiet, conversational style, and don't interrupt or correct, but smile and encourage.

Delegates at the conference, held in Llandrindod Wells, Powys, also heard from Maggie Johnson, a speech and language therapy adviser, about how to create a communication-friendly nursery.

She said keeping a child's attention is not simply a matter of making them try harder to concentrate, but rather a complex interaction between many factors.

They need a comfortable, distraction-free environment and must be motivated by the content of the lesson.

But they should not be discouraged from fidgeting, as this is often a coping strategy and can actually aid attention provided it does not distract others.

Penny Tassoni, an educational consultant and author, told delegates that young children need good language partners - adults or older children - who will invest the time and effort to help them develop their communication skills.

Earlier, Jane Hutt, the education minister, outlined the Assembly government's commitment to early-years education.

She said: "Early years is often looked at in terms of preparing children for later life.

"That is important, but actually it's about children living in the here and now, enjoying and flourishing."

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