In education, a considerable emphasis is placed on numeracy and literacy – the ability to understand and work with numbers and the ability to read and write. But what about the capacity to listen and to speak? Why is so little importance attached to oracy?
Is the ability to hold a good conversation as important as being able to read well?
“Is conversation as important as reading?” or “Is the love of conversation as important as the love of reading?”
Of course, we need both, and in many ways, they are equally important in life but if that is the case why is so much emphasis attached to reading and writing – in other words literacy?
In school, once we have learned the four basics of language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing – the educational focus tends to be on reading and writing.
Listening and speaking are in general not taught in schools, they are absorbed and what teaching does take place is often from our parents.
I suspect the focus on literacy, more than anything else, is for the purpose of being examined on what we have been taught.
It is far, far easier to test someone’s knowledge by getting them to answer written questions or writing an essay than having a conversation about what they know.
Being taught to listen and to speak well, in other words, hold a conversation, in its various forms such as discussion, dialogue, and debate doesn’t get much of a look-in in our exam-obsessed educational systems.
But think about it – in our adult lives which is more important? In the home and in the office which is the more important life skill?
The ability to read, the capacity to write or the ability to hold a good conversation?
As very young children, when we are learning the basics, doesn’t listening and speaking naturally come first?
Isn’t the ability to hold a good conversation the foundation of literacy? Shouldn’t more focus be placed here?
If literacy is the ability to read and write, then oracy is the ability to listen and to speak.
Our research shows that when students learn how to use talk to reason together, they become better at reasoning on their own.
Credit: Neil Mercer
The concept of oracy was coined as recently as 1965, by the researcher Andrew Wilkinson to give the subject of ‘speaking and listening’ more gravitas.
Some schools are taking it seriously as these videos show.
Remember, talk is the foundation stone of all learning.
Credit: Professor Debra Myhil
So to numeracy and literacy, we need to add oracy.
- Numeracy: the ability to understand and work with numbers.
- Literacy: the ability to read and write.
- Oracy: the ability to express oneself in and understand spoken language.
Oracy should take its place alongside numeracy and literacy.
- Why teach oracy?
- Why Talk Is Important in Classrooms
- Oracy in the Classroom: Strategies for Effective Talk
[Status: Work in progress. Needs a little bit of work to tidy it up.]
This page is part of an online book on Conversational Leadership that I am in the process of writing.
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