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Research School Network: Linguistic Challenges of the Transition How many words are children exposed to in lessons each day? Does the nature of those words shift from phase to phase?

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Linguistic Challenges of the Transition

How many words are children exposed to in lessons each day? Does the nature of those words shift from phase to phase?

by Huntington Research School
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How many words are children exposed to in lessons each day? Does the nature of those words shift from phase to phase?

These are questions the Linguistic Challenges of the Transition project, led by colleagues at the School for Education at Leeds University, is looking to explore. And during this time of school closures, for a year 6 cohort that has already been placed in a strange and no-doubt unsettling position, re-emphasising the transition support we offer them academically, as well as pastorally, seems more pertinent than ever.

Much of the research around vocabulary has centred on language exposure children receive at home when young, and its impact upon their ability to access and be successful in the learning environment. Less common are attempts to characterise and quantify the nature of language pupils are exposed to in the classroom, and crucially how this differs from key stage 2 to key stage 3.

With data still to be crunched from classroom resources including text books, Powerpoint slides and handouts, there nonetheless seem to be some interesting nuggets of information taking shape from the project:

- 100,000+ more tokens [words] at Key Stage 3 Science than Key Stage 2
- 60,000+ more tokens [words] at Key Stage 3 Maths than Key Stage 2
- More frequent use of polysemous words at KS3
- Higher frequency of academic words at KS3

More pertinently though, how do we use this information to aid pupils’ academic transition in as robust a way as they are supported pastorally between years 6 and 7? Here are some considerations for phase leaders, transition coordinators, heads of department and classroom teachers:

- What is being taught in the previous/​next stage? When is the last time secondary teachers perused the requirements for KS2, or primary teachers had the opportunity to look at schemes of learning for your local secondary? As schools embrace technology, supporting one another and sharing resources like never before, it might be the time to engage with the neighbouring phase about their curriculum content and which transition vocabulary might be of most use. 

- What words matter most? The project statistics can seem overwhelming. All those words to teach and too little time! Careful selection is key, so what are the words that contain the most important knowledge, those that will act as foundation stones for pupils as they continue their education?

- Shared terminology: do you refer to multiplication’ when some pupils are more accustomed to hearing times by’. If you want them to know the two are synonymous have you told them? Crucial concepts that will recur time and again in a subject area seem ripe for greater coordination between phases to ensure consistency.

- Baselining: year 7 students often experience a barrage of early assessments in a bid to provide a baseline. Are there sometimes too many? Could some subjects join forces? Are the assessments fit for purpose and checking the right knowledge?

So how many words are children exposed to in lessons each day? A: a huge number
Does the nature of those words shift from phase to phase? A: yes.

The blunt data from this project can be a powerful tool to engage staff on both sides of the transition to begin discussing in more detail the vocabulary of their curriculum and their classroom, and finding meaningful ways to support pupils across the academic transition.

Marcus Jones, Literacy Lead at Huntington Research School

To find out more about the project email mh.​jones@​huntington-​ed.​org.​uk

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