Harnessing the curriculum to fully nurture children’s ability to communicate

Effective communication is much more than just being able to read and write well. We urgently need an approach to learning that recognises the role that all curriculum subjects can play in developing children’s communication skills.

The National Curriculum in England for 5- to 11-year-old children places a huge emphasis on reading and writing. This means that not only is speaking given a back seat but also all other forms of communication. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that English is seen as the pre-eminent subject, to be taught separately from other subjects whose own role in fostering communication is neglected as a consequence.

Life-based learning brings together each of the curriculum’s individual subjects under the umbrella concept of communication education, opening up the possibility for all subject areas to contribute to and enrich children’s learning about communication in all its forms — reading, writing, mathematical, verbal, dance, drama, music, graphic/art and multi-media.

Through the Communication learning theme children’s learning is boosted by focusing not just on English and mathematics but on all the various ways that ‘information and understanding is passed from one person to another’ — the dictionary definition of communication.

The expressive arts — art, dance, drama and music — increase the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthen their connection to the cultural and creative sphere.

Science, design and technology, history and geography all have their own communication languages for children to discover and set about mastering.

Learning a foreign language broadens horizons and opens up a world of amazing cultural and language diversity. Computing, itself a language, is the bedrock of the modern digital world.

In the life-based approach to learning, communication is the glue that joins individual National Curriculum subjects in a focused understanding that proficiency in each different subject language enhances our ability to communicate with others in increasingly rich and varied ways.

At the same time, the opportunity is there for teachers to ensure that facility in the use of spoken and written English permeates all subject learning, with children constantly increasing their vocabulary and their ability to express themselves through highly interactive, broad-based activities.

Communication

Find out more about the Communication learning theme

Study Action Areas

Specimen content for the Communication study action areas

An Urgent Priority

Why it is imperative that we act to improve children’s communication

What is our response to the damaging effects of social networking?

The Social Dilemma docu-drama, available on Netflix, is a must-watch for parents and teachers — and a wake-up call for us all.

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American “documentary-drama hybrid” which explores the rise of social media and the phenomenon of social networking. In its own words it “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

Parents and teachers know the hours children spend on devices of one sort or another and how much technology is capable of eating into family life and home learning. Many schools have banned mobile phones, worried about the impact on learning in school.

However, there is a much more sinister side to social media, according to the documentary-makers. The damage it is causing — including to our children — is alarming and perhaps not what we might expect.

If you have access to Netflix, I highly recommend this 94-minute programme. If not, follow the links below to see excerpts and to watch a discussion involving some of the people who made the programme.

Official Clip 1

Official Clip 2

Discussion

As parents and teachers, we share a common desire — as well as a responsibility — to safeguard our young people. We want young people to be confident and creative users of information and communication technology. At the same time, online safety — especially in relation to young people and social media — is one of the major public health issues of our time.

In addition to safeguarding implications, social media also impacts on the way we communicate with each other and the relationships we form as well as on our mental health and wellbeing.

Life-based learning addresses those challenges directly. It prioritises giving children the knowledge and skills to look after their mental wellbeing, to communicate effectively and to create positive, long-lasting relationships in vibrant communities.

Click here to read more about the Emotions, Communication and Relationships learning themes.

It’s important for children to learn about non-verbal communication


The ability to communicate non-verbally is a key ingredient in strong relationships. It makes sense, therefore, that — from a young age — children should be learning all about what is involved in communicating effectively with others, non-verbally as well as verbally.

Non-verbal communication is the reality for all of us as we start out in life as new-born babies. And as we grow and our verbal communication skills develop, so the non-verbal develops as well.

The development of children’s understanding and effective use of non-verbal communication skills is crucial in their development of positive and lasting relationships.

Yet the non-verbal is largely ignored and, at best, misunderstood in the current UK National Curriculum for primary school children aged 5 to 11.

The life-based approach to learning, on the other hand, focuses on teaching children the importance of non-verbal communication.

Paralanguage

Body language

The Dynamic


The relationships theme brings research on paralanguage, body language and the relationship dynamic into the classroom to help children learn that interaction with others is made up of much more than merely the words spoken.

Click here to read more about how life-based learning will tackle relationships education as one of nine learning priorities for children aged 5 to 11.


Image at the top of this post courtesy of Tumisu on Pixabay


Fern Britton’s brilliant interview with Linford Christie

Teachers need to learn from Fern Britton’s excellent use of para- and body language in her recently shown BBC TV interview with Linford Christie.

I was as much taken by Fern Britton’s interview technique as I was fascinated by Linford Christie’s personality and achievements.

Fern oozes oodles of empathy in her body language with her warm and engaged facial expressions, positive gestures and body movement.

Her tone, pitch and speed of voice is spot on.

She gave the impression she knew Linford well. Whether she did or not, she was certainly very relaxed in her interactions with Linford – the mark of a true interviewer.

Not once did she falter in her interview technique, even when asking Linford about difficult times he faced in his life.

Of course, teaching a class of school children is not the same as interviewing. However, unconditional positive regard for children, positive voice, positive body language and use of language to obtain the best response from children still applies.

The Life-Based Relationship Learning Theme includes children knowing about and practising how to communicate positively in their relationships with others.

Image credit: What Is Paralanguage? by Ashish Arora

Why should KS1&2 music be taught with a communication focus?

The UK government’s National Curriculum subject of music for 5- to 11-year-old children is in desperate need of a boost as an educationally overlooked, but highly social, vehicle of communication between people.   

Music is a ubiquitous communication tool permeating society 24/7 through radio, television, stage productions and online digital platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.

Every country has its music identity and, if Andre Rieu’s concerts are the yardstick to go by, there is a shared identity across many countries and continents.

Music is a key component of religions and religious festivals such as Christmas and provides unique identity to religions — for example, Gregorian chant, gospel music, the Islamic call to prayer, or the wind and percussion instruments of Mahayana Buddhism.

The life-based approach to learning gives increased status to music in the curriculum.

Children learn an instrument to play to others, learn a song to sing to others, learn about different kinds of music to share with others and bring their experiences of music into the school to share.

Children learn the more varied their own tastes in music, the more opportunities there are in life to share people’s different tastes in music and the more they improve their options to communicate with others.

Through music, children’s confidence, self-esteem and emotional resilience improves as does their brain development and ability in other subjects.

The school itself models music’s powerful connection to others through class lessons, assemblies, concerts, choirs, drama productions and talent shows.

As previously posted on this website, the ‘Standing Ovation Project’ uses music and the arts to strengthen children’s sense of community.

Click here to read more about how ‘Communication’ is one of nine life-based learning themes through which all learning is directed.