Talk or Text: Developing Oral Literacy


The rapid advance of technology has allowed new forms of communication to emerge.  The ability to send and receive messages through e-mail, text, Twitter and Facebook has revolutionized conversations to the point where land lines in homes are being replaced by cell phones with text features, BB messaging, instant text chat (sometimes with video) and a host of other assorted applications.  Today’s youth rarely see the purpose or need to use a conventional telephone and much prefer to text their conversations via their various hand held devices.  The concern is that this is coming at the expense of person to person dialogue.

In recognition of the limited opportunity for oral, face to face communication, I am encouraged by the work of Thames Valley (TVDSB) educators who are becoming intentional in creating rich classroom experiences supporting time on task for engaging oral discussions.

The Kindergarten Program document (2006) notes that “oral language is the basis for literacy, thinking, and socialization in any language.  All young children need learning experiences that help them understand, acquire, and build on oral language.”  

In my role of supporting the implementation of Full-day Kindergarten, I have visited many Early Years’ classrooms and am excited to find that these educators are creating purposeful “talk spaces” where young children are invited to converse with each other in comfortable, open settings. I was very inspired by a conversation between two SK students who were debating what colours existed in a rainbow.  The vocabulary in this discussion was very rich and the educators knew how to build on the language that the children were using.  In these environments, educators support inquiries based on student interests, choice and voice through conversation between the students and the adults in the classroom.

In my visits to various classrooms I’ve seen educators plan and focus instructional time on asking thought provoking questions that lead students to discover, explore and problem solve. Rather than giving students the answers, many educators are becoming highly skilled at observing and listening while students dialogue with one another and then search for the key moment to enter the conversation for the purpose of  extending and challenging student thinking.  A walk through the halls in many of our schools will immediately demonstrate intentionally and carefully designed learning opportunities evidenced in  posted documentation of learning where educators have recorded student thinking through oral opportunities.


Lucy McCormick Calkins notes that “talk, like reading and writing, is a major motor of intellectual development.” Promoting classroom talk involving rich educator-student discussion supports the development of student cognitive reasoning and allows for students to express their reasoning skills.

Grand Conversations In the Primary/Junior Classroom (Capacity Building series, 2012) speaks to research supporting the use of dialogue to enhance students’ thinking for deeper understanding. Many Thames Valley classroom environments are no longer quiet, but rather “buzzing” spaces with teacher talk  being replaced by student talk.  Conversation cafes, debates, learning through inquiry, play-based environments, asking effective questions and instructional strategies such as think-pair-share, are all explicit examples of classroom practices encouraging productive oral language skills.

Although it can be argued that technology has opened up opportunities for new forms of communication, it might also be suggested that it has shut down other forms.  What can teachers and/or parents do to bring balance to the question of text or talk? 

Submitted by Diana Goodwin, Learning Supervisor, Program Services, Thames Valley District School Board

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