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2.3 ICPAL - Purposes of Language

ICPAL: Purposes of language

It is possible for a student in a conversational situation to have the Ideas and Conventions, but not communicate successfully because they lack the appropriate social purposes of language.

A child or young person may pronounce words clearly, have a large vocabulary, use long, complex sentences and correct grammar, but have difficulty adapting or changing their language to suit the social context of the interaction, have little variety in language use, or may say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversations.

They may also be able to make demands, ask questions, and greet people, but have difficulty organising language to talk about what happened in the past. During conversation, this same child or young person may appear to pull topics out of the air and may not use statements that signal a change in topic (e.g. That reminds me). Peers may avoid having conversations with the child or young person. These problems can impact on the student’s social relationships.

Knowledge of how to use language is called the pragmatics of language. Pragmatics is defined as the social use of language. In our social interactions, we know how to use different functions of language depending on the circumstances. There are a range of socials skills that we use to engage in conversation, understand and communicate our social purposes. These include eye contact, tone of voice, and body language.

Children and young people need to develop not only social and communication skills, but also need to understand when these skills should be used (e.g. different skills are required when speaking to the principal to those used on the football field). These skills, like all language skills, need to be learned, and with students experiencing language difficulties will need to be explicitly taught.

Figure 2.3.1 and Table 2.3.1 both describe the Purposes component of the ICPAL model of language. In the table, the second column lists the linguistic component, while the third column expands the concept. Note: Appendix 3 expands this schema to define teaching activities in the receptive and expressive modes of language.

Table 2.3.1 Purposes within the ICPAL model of language

managing and directing

How to start, maintain, and end conversations

How to take turns

How to stay on the topic

listening and speaking between the lines

How to ‘read’ in a message its intended meaning

How to use idioms and metaphors

How to extend a language exchange

adjusting to context and audience

Judging how much information to give

Judging what others might know during the conversation

Selecting appropriate words and conventions

Using the context to assist understanding

Linking ideas in relation to a particular context

using language for different goals

Identifying goals for an oral communication

Inferring goals for an oral communication

Using language to extend a language exchange

Using language to request, agree, confirm, compliment, etc.

Professional learning activities:

  • Participate in collegiate professional development

You may have started an electronic presentation (e.g. MS PowerPoint) about the main features of the ICPAL language framework in Module 2.2. Use the information you are reading about Purposes to add to your presentation.

Managing and directing

Children and young people require a range of skills to negotiate a conversational interaction. These include how they start, maintain, and end conversations, how they take turns, and how they stay on topic.

Without the ability to manage and direct expressive and receptive language, a child or young person will not be able to approach another child in the school grounds, ask a teacher for help, follow the rules of games, or make meaningful contributions to conversations or classroom activities.

Professional learning activities:

  • Practical classroom-based activity

You might like to use ‘Resource 2.2 Managing and directing language’ as a template to identify factors that may inhibit a student’s capacity to engage in successful conversations. Use the template in the classroom to identify the nature of the problem and later to prepare for directed interventions.

Listening and speaking between the lines

Effective communication requires children and young people to comprehend and use:

  • language to imply a message and to read into it the intended meaning or outcome
  • idioms and metaphors
  • what has been said in more abstract or imaginative ways.

Listening and speaking between the lines requires the child or young person to go beyond the superficial meaning of words. It involves the process of inferring, going beyond what has been said, and linking ideas in conversations in non-literal ways.

In order to communicate effectively, children and young people often need to integrate information they already have into the current context. This can be information referred to earlier in the conversation, or to previous shared or assumed experience, to develop a broader interpretation than just the surface meaning of the words.

Intended meanings

If the teacher says, There is too much noise in this classroom, children and young people need to understand that this is not simply a statement, but a request for action (i.e. Be quiet!).

Using language to imply a message and to read into it the intended meaning or outcome, includes indirect requests, such as Is it cold in here? or Do you want to stay in at lunchtime?

Idioms and metaphors

Idioms and metaphors occur in almost all languages. They add to the richness and poetry of language and create added depth of meaning. When a teacher says He’s pulling your leg to indicate that a particular interpretation may not be the intended one, a child who does not recognise the idiom, or who is unable to progress beyond the literal meaning, will misunderstand the message contained in the communication.

Teachers frequently use idioms and metaphors as part of their classroom dialogue (e.g. in classroom management situations). Children and young people with language difficulties may not understand these. As a consequence, they may not provide acceptable responses.

Examples of idioms used within Australian classrooms might include: You let the cat out of the bag, I want to hear a pin drop, Put on your thinking caps, I’ll be waiting until the cows come home, andYou swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Professional learning activities:

  • Locate, gather and interpret resources, Use reflective learning techniques

Analyse a text that you use for teaching and learning. Does it contain examples of idiomatic or metaphoric language? After identifying examples, think about how you could use the study of the text to build a student’s knowledge of idioms and metaphors.

Extending a language exchange

All students need to learn how to speak in more abstract and interesting ways. They learn how to link what has been said with what they already know, and infer from what has been said. They learn to integrate what has been said with what they know to provide a broader interpretation. They link ideas across sentences and know what is referred to by pronouns.

Adjusting to context and audience

There are various ways in which children and young people learn to modify their oral language according to who is listening. This may include:

  • judging how much information to give at any time (i.e. ‘reading’ the audience to decide what they might be interested in knowing)
  • judging what others might know during a conversation (i.e. ‘reading’ the knowledge of the audience)
  • selecting the most appropriate words, sentence meanings, conventions and intonation patterns
  • knowing when they haven’t given enough information for the particular audience
  • using the context to assist in understanding the intended meaning of spoken language (e.g. using body language and gestures).

Most children and young people learn throughout schooling to adjust the level of formality, choice of words and their general demeanour, depending on the listener and the context.

Students with language difficulties who have not learned these skills may appear cheeky, rude or provocative. They need to be specifically taught these skills and require considerable practise before the skills are consolidated, particularly in situations where the student feels under pressure.

  • Practical classroom-based activity

Resource 2.3 presents some possible examples of how a student may ‘misuse the communication context’. You might like to use it as a template for curriculum planning.

Using language for different goals

Children and young people learn to use language for many and varied goals and functions. Key issues in classroom language might include the following scenarios.

Scenario 1:

The immediate goals of students at any time may differ from those of the teacher. To be able to infer the goals of the student, teachers need to tune in to how children or young people are using language at the time. The goal of a teacher may be for the child or young person to complete a task and communicate this orally. A child or young person may, at that time, have the goal of informing the teacher of recent experiences and attempt to use language to do this.

Scenario 2:

Students differ in how they go about achieving their goals by using language. Two students may want to avoid a task but go about using language in quite different ways to achieve this.

Scenario 3:

Students differ in their ability to infer the goals of others from the language used. Some children or young people with language difficulties may not be able to infer a teacher’s goal when the teacher uses sophisticated techniques such as a lowering of the voice, a change in emphasis or tone, rhetorical questions or sarcasm.

Teachers and students often use intonation in sentences and discourses to communicate intentions. Table 2.3.2 contains sets of statements that have stress on a different word. What might the goal be for the stress in each of the following statements?

Professional learning activities:

  • Practical classroom-based activity

Think about how you could teach Middle Years students with language difficulties about using language for different goals, and trial some of these teaching strategies in the classroom. An example you might use would be descriptions of houses (e.g. informative and imaginative descriptions of houses – a real estate advertisement, a factual report, a fictional account).

Using the four components of Purposes in an integrated way

The Purposes of language are more complex and less obvious to learn and to recognise than are other aspects of language. Knowledge of Purposes gives children and young people the power to communicate effectively in a range of contexts according to their goals.

In the classroom, knowledge of Purposes assists you to direct and to motivate effective language learning. By teaching and modelling aspects of the ‘social purposes of language’, you can help students to become more effective language users and to use language to manage and direct their own learning. The effectiveness and quality of your interactions with a student with language difficulties will be determined in part by your own knowledge of Purposes.

Awareness of the social purposes demonstrated in the classroom will assist you to motivate students to learn, to understand their dispositions to particular classroom events, and to understand the power relationships between teachers and children or young people, and within the student group.

Through an awareness of students’ abilities and limitations in the area of Purposes, you can more clearly interpret student behaviour, and plan teaching to facilitate more effective classroom management strategies.