The Language Box

December 21, 2022

The language skills that students are asked to use in a classroom fall into two distinct categories: language processing, or receptive language skills, and language production, or expressive language skills. The columns in the  Language Box™ show these categories.  

Receptive Language Skills refer to how we process either spoken or written word. They include listening comprehension and reading comprehension, since both of these tasks ask us to receive, or process, language.

Expressive Language Skills refer to how we express either spoken or written word. They include oral and written expression, since both of these tasks ask us to express, or produce language.

The rows in the Language Box™ ask us to consider the ways we process or produce language: orally and in writing. So let’s consider what each of the four boxes means for a student:

Oral language skills include listening and speaking.

  • Oral language is processed through listening. Students are asked to comprehend and apply what they hear throughout the school day, including questions, directions, discussions, lectures, oral reading, etc. 
  • Oral language is then produced through speaking. Students are asked to demonstrate their understanding by constructing their own language responses to answer questions or participate in class discussions.

Written language skills include reading and writing.

  • Written language is processed when students read. Whether reading a word, sentence, story, textbook, directions on an assignment, comprehension question, etc., students are constantly asked to turn words on a page into accurate contextualized meaning by decoding and comprehending what they read.
  • Written language is produced when students write. Similar to reading, writing is a dual process: the physical act of putting pen to paper while recording words on a page in a logical order to create meaning through words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or essays.

The Language Box™ includes “internal language” at the center of the figure, as the ability to communicate with oneself through self-talk is critical for managing the demands of language. The ability to demonstrate metacognitive thought, or reflective internal language, during reading is critically important for both the beginning and accomplished reader. In order for any student to read appropriately, whether learning to read or reading to learn, metacognition delves deeper than fluency and word recognition and focuses on the ability to assess understanding.

When one or more of these language areas poses difficulty for students, it is likely that they do not have an understanding of the underlying structure of language. Through direct instruction, students need to be taught to use internal language to help improve their skills by thinking about how they learn and think. For example, if students struggle with writing, they need to be taught a reliable process that breaks the general task of “writing” into separate, sequenced steps. If students struggle with listening, they need to have important information posted in writing as reference or reinforcement. These strategies break down language tasks for students with language-based learning disabilities, providing them ways to make the internal language more natural.  

Furthermore, if a student struggles to process oral language, he may not be able to properly answer a teacher question if it is spoken. Though this student may know the correct answer, his difficulty processing the question itself precludes him from demonstrating his talent. Therefore, the discrete areas of language in the Language Box™, which are in constant demand in the classroom, are interrelated and dependent, directly impacting a student’s success in school.

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