A central task of teaching is to make new knowledge, skills and conceptual frameworks available to pupils, and this involves using language to engage with and order experience so that new patterns of thinking and new ways of understanding and representing reality are developed. We learn through language and we express our understanding in language. Each subject has its own special language which is bound up with its way of thinking, talking and writing. In addition there is a style of speaking which we have long recognised as associated with the ‘language of education’.
As accessible introductions to the importance of communication in the classroom and the relationship between language and understanding, the following have become classics amongst both practitioners and academics:
- Edwards, D. and Mercer, N. (1987) Common Knowledge: The Development of Understanding in Classrooms, London: Methuen
- Wells, G. (1986) The Meaning Makers: Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn, London: Hodder and Stoughton (Reading 2.4)
Three government reports on the significance of language across the curriculum are likewise considered classics:
- Department of Education and Science. (1975). A Language for Life. Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Reading and the Use of English, London: HMSO. (The Bullock Report).
- DES and the Welsh Office. (1989). English for ages 5-16, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. (The Cox Report).
- Alexander, R. (Ed.). (2010). Children, their world, their education: Final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review, London: Routledge. (The Cambridge Primary Review).
Other influential studies of classroom learning and language in primary and secondary classrooms are:
- Barnes, D. (1976 ) From Communication to Curriculum, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- Webster, A., Beverage, M. and Reid, M. (1996) Managing the Literacy Curriculum, London: Routledge.
For a celebration of research that draws on the experience of teachers and pupils to emphasise the centrality of talk for learning, see:
- Norman, K. (Ed) (1992) Thinking Voices: The Work of the National Oracy Project, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
- Howe, A. (1994) Perspectives on oracy, in S. Brindley (Ed) Teaching English, London: Routledge.