The Sounds-Write Podcast

Episode 17: Language Development with Alex Bedford and Julie Sherrington

December 06, 2023
Episode 17: Language Development with Alex Bedford and Julie Sherrington
The Sounds-Write Podcast
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The Sounds-Write Podcast
Episode 17: Language Development with Alex Bedford and Julie Sherrington
Dec 06, 2023

In the seventeenth episode of The Sounds-Write Podcast, Alex Bedford and Julie Sherrington talk about their recently released book 'EYFS: Language of Learning'. Alex and Julie are both experienced and passionate educators. They discuss the importance of language development, the impact of the pandemic on children's language and how to put their brilliant handbook into practice. Enjoy!

"This book will be the go-to resource for practitioners who want a clear, user-friendly way to develop children's language in the EYFS setting. Inspired by Joan Tough's language development framework, it offers educators a way to understand, plan and sequence high-quality conversations to help develop shared thinking, communication and language. We love the clarity of the writing and the illustrations, and the worked examples bring the approach to life. We can't wait to go into schools that use this approach and see the children thrive!" ― John Walker and Tita Beaven, Sounds-Write

Some helpful links:
EYFS: Language of Learning – a handbook to provoke, provide and evaluate language development
Alex's upcoming events and workshops
The Reading Together Collection
Sounds-Write's Facebook
Sounds-Write's Instagram
Sign up to our mailing list


Show Notes Transcript

In the seventeenth episode of The Sounds-Write Podcast, Alex Bedford and Julie Sherrington talk about their recently released book 'EYFS: Language of Learning'. Alex and Julie are both experienced and passionate educators. They discuss the importance of language development, the impact of the pandemic on children's language and how to put their brilliant handbook into practice. Enjoy!

"This book will be the go-to resource for practitioners who want a clear, user-friendly way to develop children's language in the EYFS setting. Inspired by Joan Tough's language development framework, it offers educators a way to understand, plan and sequence high-quality conversations to help develop shared thinking, communication and language. We love the clarity of the writing and the illustrations, and the worked examples bring the approach to life. We can't wait to go into schools that use this approach and see the children thrive!" ― John Walker and Tita Beaven, Sounds-Write

Some helpful links:
EYFS: Language of Learning – a handbook to provoke, provide and evaluate language development
Alex's upcoming events and workshops
The Reading Together Collection
Sounds-Write's Facebook
Sounds-Write's Instagram
Sign up to our mailing list


Laura: 00:02
Hello and welcome to the Sounds-Write podcast. I'm the host, Laura, and in today's episode, I'm talking to Alex Bedford and Julie Sherrington about their language development framework. They discuss how children's language development was affected over the pandemic, why we need to be more explicit in our approach to language development and how you can put their framework into practise in the classroom. One quick thing from me before we get on with it, we're currently halfway through our 12 days of Christmas. Each year we do 12 days of giveaways and free resources over on our Facebook and Instagram accounts, so head over there now to take part. Hope you enjoy the episode. Hello, Alex and Julie, lovely to have you on the podcast.

Julie: 00:49
Hello, it's great to be here.

Alex: 00:51
Yeah, it's an absolute honour and treat. So thanks for inviting us.

Laura: 00:54
Brilliant. So, first of all, let's start off with, could you tell our listeners, both of you, a little bit about who you are and what your professional background is, what you're all about.

Alex: 01:06
Brilliant. So, my name's Alex Bedford and I've been in primary education and early years education for nearly 30 years. I trained, obviously trained as a teacher, but I've taught all ages of children. SEN settings, as well as I've been a head teacher, and moving into some school improvement, and then really developing and working around the world with consultancy, working with schools all over the world, which has been fascinating. Now I reside with Unity Schools Partnership as the curriculum development director and author of Pupil Book Study. And we have a curriculum partnership that encompasses about 150,000 pupils, which is all research based from our research school. So, I've a passion for language and vocabulary and basically my mantra is: teach with excellence, never write anyone off.

Laura: 02:06
Brilliant. A great mantra to have.

Julie: 02:09
And I'm Julie Sherrington, I am currently the Strategic Early Years Lead for GLS Schools. We're a large trust with 35 primaries and 20 nurseries. I've also worked closely with Alex at Unity Schools Partnership. My background is very much early years. First as a teacher. I've been in a variety of senior leadership roles, including primary headship and I've also worked at local authority level developing communication, language and literacy, and also for the English hubs as the lead audit trainer, trainer trainer, and also training literacy specialists. I'm lucky enough this year to be involved in working with the Southwest London Maths Hubs, leading an earlier specialist knowledge cohort this year, which is really exciting. Again, like Alex, just absolute passion for language, vocabulary, oracy, you know, we just know how much difference that can make to people's lives. So, yeah.

Laura: 03:09
And if that wasn't all enough, as it is, on top of that, you've just come out with your new book, so congratulations. It's called EYFS Language of Learning - a handbook to provoke, provide and evaluate language development.

Alex: 03:25
It's a thing of beauty, I've got to tell you. It's something that's been dwelling on our minds for a long time, and it's something which really originated from the Pupil Book Study series. I always felt that there was something more we could do at the point of learning, at the point of provision with our earliest settings. And Pupil Book Study is brilliant for those structured dialogues and conversations, but it was really born out of that need to make it bespoke for our earlier settings. And we're absolutely thrilled, aren't we, Julie? We are thrilled with the impact of it and also the interest and uptake.

Julie: 04:09
Yeah, delighted. And I think we desperately wanted to bring together all of that knowledge, that research, around early years practice and Pupil Book Study and language. And we're hoping that kind of this centralises that for people.

Laura: 04:24
Well, I've got it in front of me. It's great. So, I know a lot of listeners are kind of already aware of the importance of language development, and language comprehension makes up the whole upper half of the Reading Rope. You know, if our listeners know anything about literacy, it will be that language comprehension is a massive part of it. As we know from the Simple View of Reading, as well, it's an absolutely necessary component of skilled reading. So, with all of that being said, could you tell us a bit about why you chose to focus on children's language development in the early years, and kind of, why did you feel that there was a need for this sort of framework?

Alex: 05:08
That's a great question. So when we think about Scarborough's Reading Rope, obviously, the word recognition, phonological awareness, is the bottom part of the rope, with decoding, sight recognition, that brings about, I suppose, automaticity and fluency, and that's brilliant. And that's absolutely, really important that children can understand the code. What we want to do is develop depth of understanding, and that's where the language comprehension, the top part of Scarborough's Reading Rope, is essential. That we provide opportunities to enable those children to have that really rich background knowledge, linked to vocabulary, so that they can engage with verbal reasoning through really high quality questions, and that then develops this rich literacy knowledge of the wider world, which is what we want to expose them to, so they become more strategic with their understanding. And that then, as Scarborough so clearly identifies, is when, when those rope twines all intermingle and twine together, become a skilled reader and knower of things. And that's what we want for our youngest children, to have that. Julie, what would you add to that?

Julie: 06:23
Yeah, I think there's a need for equity and equality of provision in terms of language development and knowledge as well, of practitioners. So, I think the book really provides that framework, but also that professional development for teachers of, you know, the knowledge of how language might progress and what they might be looking for in their children when they're talking and when they're in that, those opportunities for interactions and sustained shared thinking. So, I think we really wanted to kind of create a framework which would give practitioners that common and consistent language, that would also develop their knowledge of child development in terms of language at the same time, and to really pay attention to the development of receptive and expressive language. You know, receptive language obviously, you know, being that kind of understanding of the language they're receiving, and expressive language being their own ability to express themselves through talk, and through those language structures. We know how interlinked the primaries are, for example, in the early years, and that developed language and communication are associated with better emotional wellbeing, that personal, social and emotional development. Our children need to be able to communicate, to build and sustain friendships, to join in activities and develop a sense of belonging. And we know there's just this vast amount of research being done out there into language, and we absolutely wanted to be part of that. And we also wanted to make sure also that the book dovetailed with that research. For example, the EEF ShREC approach. We talk about that in the book and how our language framework fits in with that, and really precise and meaningful interactions with children.

Alex: 08:00
It does, doesn't it? And I think you mentioned equity and equality. That's really important, that in a setting, there is a shared language of excellence that all practitioners have access to. And I think one of the reasons why we felt this was really important, is that from our experience, what we noticed, not generically, but some activities could be biased or really centralised towards just the imaginative phase. And there are building blocks towards that. And that's where the cognitive and neuroscience really tells us and leads us into that. And that's what we have developed in the book. Because we want children to have the structures and the systems to be able to use language and use it with real depth, and not just be creative and imaginative and put into a situation in which they're expected to be without the fundamental principles behind that, if you see what I'm saying.

Laura: 09:02
Yeah, and I love what you both said there about equality. You know, it's; a lot of children may not be getting this sort of rich vocabulary, being read to, being asked lots of questions and things like that at home. Which leads us on nicely to the next question that I have for you, which is that teachers around the world are currently teaching students who spent a lot of their most important years in isolation at home during the pandemic. So, could you tell us a bit about COVID's impact on children's language development and kind of what you've observed throughout this process?

Julie: 09:40
Yeah, I think we know that pupils have been spoken to a lot less during the pandemic, and that's obviously not all. But there's real evidence, you know, looking at children that are coming into our settings, and on baseline, and also, you know, where we're doing some early language screening. We're really seeing that, you know, there is a deficit in language when they're coming in. And perhaps children were more reliant on screens for company as well in the pandemic. You know, just the sheer nature of isolation meant that those interactions that people would have observed between their parents and carers and between others, also, you know, having those interactions with other children, no matter what they might have been, were going to have been limited. So, you know, we can't assume that, you know, that they have this language and that they've seen language in action, actually, as well. But also, we can't assume that this was just for our disadvantaged pupils, because actually a lot of more affluent families had to rely on screens to entertain their children while they themselves worked on screens on back-to-back meetings. So, this is more global than we think it is, I think. In the book, we draw sort of attention to the relationship between physical and sensory development and language development as well. I talked earlier about how interlinked those prime areas are, we know they are. You know, we know that the pandemic obviously impacted upon physical development as well. It had to, didn't it? We weren't going out to parks and walks as much. We weren't able to explore our environments as much as we should have been. We weren't able to attend preschools and nurseries as much, and explore the things they had to offer. And the impact of that for some pupils has been less developed sensory systems, for example. So, in the book, we really talk about the vestibular system, proprioception and interoception, you know, as those other senses, other than the five that we all know and love. Um, you know, and if we take proprioception as an example, you know, we haven't got time, obviously, to go into them all now. This is knowing where our body and parts of our body are in space. Which we'd learn about, for example, by climbing, and crawling, and running, and avoiding obstacles, and going in tunnels and through tunnels, and climbing in and out of boxes, and seeing where my body fits, and does it fit or doesn't it? And how do I get out? You know, I think if we have a lack of physical activity development in our early years and, of course, this sensory system will be less developed. Now, we know that pupils with undeveloped proprioception may struggle with motor planning, which in turn impacts upon language. They may not be able to get all of their words out in the right order. They may not be able to form all speech sounds correctly. They may not be able to focus or attend and therefore comprehend, so receptive language may be an issue, for example. So, you know, many settings are encountering this, and actually, in the form of perceived learning difficulties. So this is, you know, I know I've gone on a bit there, but, you know, the impact is still profound, we must recognise that. You know, some of the babies from the pandemic that are coming into our settings or in our settings, will, they will have those undeveloped systems. And in the physical chapter of the book, we explore that. We explore the, you know, the proprioception, the interoception, the vestibular systems. We talk about what they are, why we're talking about them. But also, more importantly, what might be presented, what might children be presenting with, if those are undeveloped systems? And also, what can we do about those things? Because we know, ultimately, they can impact on language development. So it would have been wrong of us to ignore the fact that these prime areas are all really interlinked and how important they are, actually, for future development.

Alex: 13:19
Yeah, you're absolutely right, Julie. I mean, the intersection between all the 7 areas of learning are really important. But the reason why they are prime, is that they are the drivers for our children's development. And that's where we were really keen to articulate and make that clear, because there's some brilliant research out there, there's some incredible books, that we've synthesised to explain this. And Jill Jones, she was the deputy director of Ofsted, recently said to me that it's one of the best explanations of those systems that she's ever come across, because it's accessible. Because the thing we do is try and bridge that gap between the research and practitioners. And that's what this book is really doing in a very practical, sensible and time-efficient way. Because it's not about some fancy research paper. This is about the impact of that brilliant research in the classroom. And that's where we really focus, again, on not just disadvantaged pupils, but I'd say vulnerable pupils during the pandemic. And as you're saying, Julie, those families who are working multiple jobs, children in isolation, the lack of physical contact, lack of contact to develop those systems, has had a significant impact. And what this book is attempting to do, is to give people the awareness of that, so that when we are planning our physical development, children aren't just scooting around on bikes because the bikes are there. We are thinking carefully about the reason why we want to help mature those sensory systems, and so that that has an impact, a tangible impact upon their language development. So it's really, really important for us, isn't it, Julie, that this book has a legacy, and is really embedded into settings, and it gives that shared language which we could all have.

Julie: 15:23
Yeah, I mean, Sally Goddard Blythe has been just, you know, a really big influence, hasn't she, Alex, in terms of when, you know, sort of coming to those really clear definitions in the book. She's written several incredible books about physical and sensory development, and they're obviously references at the back of the book, but they are definitely worth a read in terms of beginning to understand what children need, and actually kind of how development happens. You know, we know the sensory systems on that development pyramid, they come before the language system. So, you know, it does all begin to make sense. And Alex is right; it's about those deliberate and conscious decisions we make based on what we see with our children. What deliberate and conscious decisions do we make about the physical revision in our environment, in order to ensure that children's systems do develop well, and therefore don't have an impact on language. So hopefully, it will all make sense when reading.

Alex: 16:21
This is absolutely right. And it's about the room for this for the long game. It's not a patch, it's not a sticking plaster. Say, 'do this, and this will happen' because we're looking at settings and we're looking from very young children. So this is the long game, where we can be adaptive with our activities, and the opportunities that those children have, and we can target that physical development and that language development where necessary. Now we've got a system, because without systems, people can have the very best meaning in the world, but that lacks direction and consistency. And that's what we've really tried to bring about with this book and the practical use of it. And it is a handbook as well. It's not meant to be sort of a long narrative around the research. It's really targeted at practitioners that you can open this book, you can easily access it. We've dual coded it, just like we've done with Pupil Book Study. And the feedback we've had for many years about the design of our books is that they're very, very readable, and incredibly helpful. Which gives us a lot of pride, doesn't it, Julie?

Julie: 17:33
Absolutely. And they have to be, don't they? You know, teachers are busy people. You know, everybody in education would say the same, time is precious. So this has to be something that can absolutely be lifted, translated and deeply useful in the classroom. Otherwise there's just no point.

Alex: 17:48
Definitely.

Laura: 17:49
Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. It's very readable. It's very, I can imagine that you can kind of open it up and run with it with your students. So, yeah, we actually used it to - our new series that came out a couple of months ago, around the same time that your book came out as well - our Reading Together Collection, we included some questions at the back that jump directly off some of the activities that you've got in yours. So, yeah. And when I was writing those, it was very easy to open up your book and use and jump off.

Alex: 18:28
That fills us, again, with pride, doesn't it? It's really, you know; that we can provide this structure that gives consistency around the language framework, that phenomenal organisations that we have the highest respect of, such as Sounds-Write, use those systems to provoke better thinking, deeper thinking, and opportunities.

Laura: 18:49
So, onto a little bit more about the book itself. You talk in the book about Joan Tough's framework, and I think this is the piece there, about bridging the divide between research and classroom practice. So, could you tell us a bit more about her work and why you chose this as your jumping off point?

Alex: 19:09
I certainly can. It's been wrangling with me for a long time, with Pupil Book Study, about a system that was really impactful. And, I read a lot, I read a lot of research. And I stumbled across Joan Tough's research, um, from the 1970s. And I was immediately taken with the simplicity, the evidence-led practice, and the way that we could incorporate this into and interpret this into our frameworks. And even though it was written in a 1970s context, which was, you know, generically, 'he', in many ways, was used. And the diagrams were not explained. There were, you know, it was very much around, at that point, because of the technology of books, it was text-based. But as Joan's work sort of grew over a number of years, it really started to be coming out. So I scoured the Internet for books from the 1970s by Joan Tough, and I managed to get some original copies, and that then shaped my thinking around this. And what I've done is I've taken her framework, which we completely credit her with. What we've taken and put this into, is a modern-day context. And that framework is incredibly powerful and stands the test of time. We've proven it in classrooms, in settings. We know that this framework is there, it's evidence-led, and it's really accessible for practitioners. It's very, very visual. And basically, we turned it into a visual format. We used all our knowledge of dual-coding and graphic design to bring about simplicity within something that could be quite complex. And what Joan Tough talks about, from her research and her writing, is that there are different spotlights that children can be presented with the opportunities to think about. From a very physical and directive function to begin with, which is where children are self-maintaining and directing. And this is where those children will be using the language of self-maintaining; 'That's mine. Give it to me'. We've all been in settings where we have seen that happen. And that self-maintaining is about protection, and it's not the most mature system, but it's one of protection. And that directive function is very physical. And so the other one that's associated with that, is directing; 'Put that here. Do this, do that now'. And so there's a sense of control, but still egocentric focus of a very, very young learner. But what Joan tells us, is that there's so much more to language than just those things that those children might be talking about. And she takes us into the interpretive function, which then gets us thinking about the reflection of meaning, and how children start to make sense of the language around them, and the opportunities, the provision and the experiences. And that's where we can listen and provide children the opportunities to report and elaborate on things and explain. And that's a really important part of noticing, and taking time to focus on the things around us. And that gives us that real attention, we want children to attend to those things. So reporting is a significant part of children's repertoire of their language. But it goes further; if you can report, and you can name things, and describe things, then we can take that building block, and we can then take it forward into even more interpretive functions, such as, reasoning. So, Joan Tough's words are towards logical reasoning. And this is where they can explain and justify, and they can offer solutions. And we know early years children have a phenomenal amount of solutions to some quite tricky challenges, which is what we want. But it's that building blocks of that prior experiences, that we need to ensure are absolutely secure in their language development framework. And then Joan takes us into the projective function, which is the highly imaginative one, where children are then taking what they know and how they might use and interpret, and start to make sense of things and start to explain through reasoning. Then they can start predicting. So now you can survey, or forecast, or you can anticipate, based upon the things you know. And that gives us the opportunities to have those toolkits to think like that. So you're not just randomly predicting and just guessing at things because someone's asked you to do it. You have that background knowledge, that literacy knowledge, that language knowledge to support you in it. And those opportunities. She then takes us into that projecting phase, which really draws upon how you're thinking about sensitivity and about putting yourself - and this is really difficult for young children - into someone else's position. So seeing it from someone else's point of view, now be that real or imaginative, that is an abstract point of view. And so we want them to project feelings and emotions. That really develops their understanding of all the background knowledge that they have, but also shows the depth of thinking. And then imagination is that spotlight, which is about creating scenarios which are real or fantastical from everything you know and can do. And what Julie and I really noticed is that sometimes, in earlier settings, is that provision can be focused purely around imagination. And for those children that lack those opportunities before that, it's very difficult to be really deep and create really coherent schemata around that imagination. So what we wanted to do is to - as soon as I started unwrapping this, I just knew in my heart that this was the direction to go with our earlier settings. And this is about, at the point of provision, where we are at the point of learning with children, the questions we can ask around each of those spotlights, that you can listen and hear as well, so you can stand back. And we want practitioners to observe, but not be kleptomaniacs and just capture stuff. We want them to know, to be able to listen, to know. And then if you just hear a number of children self-maintaining and directing, then where can you take that provision? What opportunities do they need? What provision and experiences do they need to help them move into a reporting or reasoning phase? And how can we help them mature their language selections, and help them select those, and think carefully about it? So again, now the framework offers opportunity for our youngest learners. Also, this gives consistency for every practitioner in a setting. Now, you know, leaders of settings, I think of any setting, could be a school, could be a nursery, could be a Reception class. We want consistency. We don't random. And Reception in the early years is beautifully random enough. It's glorious. But we want our practitioners to have that sense of being able to have a system they can work with, and systems bring about excellence. And because this is research-based and because it's been proven, I think it disappeared. I don't know why it disappeared in the 80s and the 90s and the 2000s, but now it's back. And Julie and I are absolutely championing these spotlights that give practitioners the opportunity to think and know and interact with even more intelligence and sensitivity.

Julie: 27:21
Absolutely. We asked ourselves, didn't we, what mental models do adults draw upon to formulate questions or provocations to support, connect or deepen learning in the early years, you know? And actually this framework fits brilliantly because it creates that mental model for adults to draw upon. It actually just gives adults, all adults, a consistent knowledge and understanding, so that when they're having those meaningful interactions, when they're doing that, having those brilliant moments of sustained shared thinking with their children, that if this is in their mind they can be thinking: 'Hmm, okay, where are we at here with our language development?'. What do I need to do next? What do I need as a practitioner to model to you or provide more of for you, in order for your language development to progress?

Alex: 28:08
You're absolutely right. And I think there's a quote which Joan Tough writes about, and this is it here, from 1973: 'Spoken words have so shortened existence that they are gone before they can be fully examined'. And she's absolutely right. And that's why you need a framework to operate with. When you hear things, you can dial back into the framework, to do something about it. Otherwise they can evaporate into the ether. And that's something which really struck with me.

Julie: 28:41
Another quote from Joan, which, you know, is in the book, page 18, is: 'What are the choices we can make in attempting to help the child play their part in dialogue and so promote their thinking, and their use of language?'. You know, it's that cognition, as well as language development, that we are promoting here as well.

Alex: 29:02
Definitely. Exciting.

Julie: 29:04
Really exciting.

Laura: 29:06
Yeah. I think also what we do at Sounds-Write is, we want teachers to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. We want them to be armed with the knowledge, the in-depth knowledge of how children learn to read and write. And I think you've done something similar here. It's not just giving teachers a load of resources and, you know, read these questions out and off you go. It's giving them the tools and the knowledge to go for it in kind of any setting, any situation, any book, they can take this framework and apply it.

Alex: 29:44
Absolutely.

Julie: 29:44
And that's exciting, isn't it? That, you know, Alex has talked a lot about consistency, but development of that knowledge. You know, let's use the example of reading. You know, we launch a lot as practitioners into predicting, don't we? When we're reading stories with children, when we explore a new book, we want children to predict. But actually, what this framework is telling us is actually, that's quite an advanced skill, you know, and actually, what do we need to do to get to the point of being able to predict? We've got to be able to report first. We've got to be able to understand what's going on in the text, be able to come up with some key things, describe some things that are going on in that story or in that text before I can predict what might happen next or what's coming up or etc etc. So, you know, I think, you know, that it's from the context of reading, hopefully, this will give some really good knowledge of what needs to come first, that logical reasoning as well.

Alex: 30:41
It does make sense, doesn't it, just to think about how books inspire us and how we can use those books in a really, really intelligent way that provoke children to really think hard and create those long-term memories. And that's what we want them to do, to carry that language, um, the bag of language with them that just keeps on growing and growing.

Laura: 31:06
Yeah. So the book, the framework, as you've just discussed, it's really structured and explicit, I think, for both the teacher and the student to participate in. And I know you also make sure that there's sort of formative assessment going on and monitoring to gauge the students progress in all of this. So, how do you suggest that to you teachers do it? And what's the rationale behind making this so explicit compared with possibly, you know, previous approaches that teachers and schools might have taken?

Julie: 31:37
I think we wanted to promote the power of high quality texts in language development, you know. And by providing worked examples within the book, we're hoping that, you know, teachers will read to pupils first and foremost, picking vocabulary and core concepts, perhaps including these in their enhanced provision and teachable moments that, you know, sustain shared thinking time and their interactions. And from there, practitioners can then use the questions planned. Have those structured conversations with pupils, to not only unpick where they are with their language development, but also what they've retained in terms of vocabulary and the knowledge they've learned from high quality texts. And then practitioners will then hopefully apply that framework to other texts that are part of their unique context and curriculum.

Alex: 32:26
It spans the whole curriculum, doesn't it? Because language infuses everything. Communication language is prime for a reason, physical development is prime for a reason, and they are like the golden threads that run through the opportunities, provision and experiences that children have. So it's at the, it can be, it's got multiple uses, Laura. It's got, you know, you can use it at the point of learning and, and that's listening to children, discussing provocations. We've got some fantastic examples of the giant story notes and knowledge notes we've written through CUSP of children really engaging with those and then the language they use from that, taken from the inspiration of the book and the worked examples, and then children engaging with that and teachers listening and practitioners listening to the responses and then making high quality interactions where necessary. But because you've got a framework, you're making a conscious decision, as Julie says, a conscious decision to do something which is really precise around language development. And because the framework is clear, you can really dial into those areas. It can also be used as a toolkit to evaluate. You can check in and have those discussions about books that they've come across and experiences they've come across and are they sticking? Is what we're doing sticking? And are those children developing coherent schematas? Are they remembering all the things? Is that language really starting to come through? And for me, when children select to use the language in a structured conversation without it being too heavily modelled, that means that they're making a conscious decision to use that language in the context. And you can listen then, to how accurate they're being, and you can praise them for it. And that's that motivation behind this, because we all know biologically we're programmed to respond to motivational feedback. And I love the quote from the EEF about feedback, which is feedback is to improve the learner, not the work. And this is where we can improve the language development of our children.

Julie: 34:37
Just to add to that, Alex, as well, going back to that physical chapter. You know, when we are in the moment with our children having these in-depth conversations, whether you're using one of our worked examples or you've chosen to create one for your own text, within your setting, this is an opportunity for us to be in the moment with those children and noticing, noticing everything about them. So, going back to the physical, are they able to attend? Are they able to focus? Are they concentrating on you? Are they looking at the ceiling? Are they rocking? Are they tapping a lot? Do they have to move constantly? And that gives us more information about that child, that we maybe need to do something, in addition to, or different for, that child in terms of their physical needs, so that their cognitive capacity is there to be able to attend to reading and stories and books, etcetera. It tells us, you know, and Alex has just talked about, you know, that sort of evaluation, use of it as an evaluation tool. So it tells us if we've read this text many, many times to children and then we're engaged in this high quality conversation, structured conversation using the language development framework with those children, if a child within that conversation can't actually converse, can't use the language, can't attend to what's going on, then actually it gives us a real kind of, you know, 'in' for that child, to be thinking: 'Well, what do I need to do next if this has happened?'. You know, 'What must I do to make sure that those gaps don't grow between our children?'. So, there's just so many different ways to use it, but the most important thing is that it's practical and easy.

Alex: 36:14
Absolutely. And also just building what you're saying there, Julie, is that within the book we reference The Whole of Me, which is a sensory and physical development programme by Phil Davis. And that's something which is modelled in the book, the importance of noticing language development through song, language development through movement and yoga positions. And it's just, it's insightful, isn't it? When you start thinking like this and you start paying attention to proprioception, vestibular systems and interoception, and you use programmes like The Whole of Me, you're thinking, wow, I can really identify those children that find it very difficult to coordinate themselves. What more do they need? Not only on a physical sense, but on a language sense, and so we can build those together. That's really insightful stuff, and that's what we want to build more of into earlier settings.

Laura: 37:08
Great. Something I'm really curious to know is how you piloted the framework and the methods that you discuss in the book, and what that process looked like, what you learned from it? You know, anything that kind of stood out during that piloting process.

Alex: 37:24
Sure. So, Julie and I are really research-led, so everything we do has got to be proven. It's not just 'nice idea, let's whack it in and hope for the best'. And there's no hope in this. This is absolutely proven from cognitive neuroscience and also the science of development, of sensory systems. So when Julie and I were really pulling this together and saying, this is something phenomenal, we then had to proof test it. And I think one of the toughest audiences you could choose is a Reception class, Nursery class. And we did that. We modelled it, we took it into schools, we went and worked with settings, as we always do anyway. And from our proving of that, and having really skilled practitioners observing us leading it, and worked examples, and the interactions of children. And then the framework really sort of radiating out its impact. And then, insightfully, you can say, well, I thought that about a child, but now I think differently. And that tiny change gave us almost that, 'right, this has got to happen'. This has to happen. So it wasn't just us trying it, we then ran it out with our Unity schools and our CUSP Lead schools across the country. And we have got some phenomenal schools all over the country in very deprived and challenging areas, as well as more affluent areas. And so, we trained them. We trained them in it. We went through the cognitive science, of which they're very familiar with anyway, and so we built upon that. And then we gave them opportunities to test it out, give us feedback about how you're seeing this interaction. And what came out of this was the absolute consistency of the shared language of excellence. Everyone had focus around those areas that we needed to develop, and that stood out absolutely as a really important flag. Now, what it also provoked was the conversation around, are children taking part in activities, or are children focused on the learning? And that made us really, really think hard about that phrase of, in an earlier setting, 'are the hands in and the brains off'. What we want to do, is we have to connect all of those systems to ensure that children are thinking hard. So we really saw that this structure came through from all the feedback from the settings, and all those schools are listed in the book that really supported us with it. But also the impact, and the difference, and the little nuances you can make around your provision. So you're directly making a difference based upon what you know more of now. And that, for me, is the key. If we can improve the opportunities for those children, and the things they experience, and then practitioners and teachers having a toolkit to develop that, it's just a thing of joy to see. So, that's really where we've taken it from, and the feedback really came to us around how to use it. Now we're running an Eventbrite session - three Eventbrite sessions - on this, starting this Thursday, which, tickets are still open. I'm really excited about running this with schools across the world, which is brilliant. But again, we're going to go through the foundations of this, we're going to go into the inner workings of it, and then we're going into the complete implementation of it. But we've got some messy research built into this, haven't we, Julie?

Julie: 41:11
We certainly have, Alex. We know, you know, effective PD is not one off. We know that. We know that from the EEF effective teacher PD models. We know that from effective implementation guidance, etcetera. So we know that, you know, it's a process, not an event. And so we made sure that actually it wasn't a one session, it was three different sessions. And between those sessions, we're going to be talking about some messy research, so practitioners are going to go back and get involved in their classrooms. And we know that that actually will have more impact than a one-off session.

Laura: 41:43
Great. Unfortunately, by the time this podcast comes out, I think a couple of the sessions will have happened already, but I'm sure you'll be running plenty more in the future. Yeah, and actually, before we started recording, I was saying that quite a few of, I think four or five of our team are going to be doing the workshops, and we're so excited to get started.

Julie: 42:04
Brilliant.

Alex: 42:05
Love it.

Julie: 42:06
Love that.

Laura: 42:08
Just finally, before we wrap up, I was wondering if you could kind of give a few examples of what some of the questions might look like and some of the, you know, how you might apply the framework to a book and give some examples of that.

Alex: 42:24
Sure. I mean, that's what we do, isn't it, Julie?

Julie: 42:27
Absolutely.

Alex: 42:28
This is the centrepiece of what this is about. Books are a thing of inspiration, and we want children to be inspired by books, but not only just receive books from a teacher's brilliant storytelling, but to think hard through that book and then develop their understanding as a result. So what we did, we made a really conscious decision that the 7 spotlights here, two of them are physical. And what we wanted to do is - those physical ones that are seen everywhere within the setting - so we wanted to make it really precise. So we deliberately made the choice to focus our questions around reporting the logical reasoning, predicting the projecting and the imagining phases. And we've written questions around those. So there's a fabulous book, which I have here, The Squirrels Who Squabbled.

Julie: 43:20
It is Alex's favourite book.

Alex: 43:22
It is - I truly believe I am Cyril - by Rachel Brighton and Jim Field. It's a brilliant book, I love it. And it's about two squirrels; spontaneous Cyril, and plan-ahead Bruce. And it's all about the shared attention of a pinecone, the last pinecone of the season. And it's about how they squabble over it, and how there is resolution, and how that brings about friendship.

Julie: 43:52
 It's also definitely relevant to point out here, Alex, as well, is that the language in The Squirrels Who Squabbled, is really, really advanced, actually.

Alex:  44:01
It is. It's beautiful language.

Julie: 44:04
Gorgeous.

Alex: 44:05
It's gorgeous. It's a beautiful book. I've just got it here, and I'm just reading through it, and it's just a book which is irresistible. So, if you haven't got that book, get it. It's fabulous. So, when we're talking about, say, the reporting phases, what we've done is given suggested questions. Now these are not 'the' questions, these are 'some' questions that you can build around. So, we're never going to say these are the only ones you can ask. These are our examples, that we've given as a toolkit that you can elaborate on. But in the reporting phase, sometimes we jump straight into that imagination. But, it's really important to ask about; 'So what do you see on this page?'. Are they attending to the things? So when Cyril is spying the last pinecone of the season, what things are they noticing? How are they explaining and describing them? You might point at a pinecone, you might have some pinecones out there and say, let's describe this. Can they make the choices of colours, textures, feeling? Can they bring that into it? We want them to elaborate, so we want them to go a little bit further. So tell me what happens when Cyril finds the pinecones? They're still reporting here, because it's about that sequence. If we're going to go towards logical reasoning, we might get them to explain a process. So, for example, it could be a question like how did Cyril and Bruce get ready for the long winter months ahead? Now, they've been exposed to the book not once, not twice, loads of times. And the children should be able to tell you that actually, Cyril was under prepared for the winter. He had been spontaneous and partying his way through the whole year and hadn't been out collecting the things he needed. But plan-ahead Bruce, his larder was full, and so there was a real difference. But this last pinecone of the season was where they had that shared attention. So there's a difference. So now you're entering into a different sort of explanation, not just saying what you see, but now they're going to have to reason about the difference between Cyril and Bruce. That's much deeper thinking. We might get them to recognise relationships. And this is where these questions provoke absolute thought. So, like, how did the pinecone bring Cyril and Bruce together? Just examples there about developing that reasoning aspect. If we're going to go into the predicting phase, we can get them to anticipate or forecast, look ahead. Bruce was getting ready to store his food for the winter. Why was he doing that? So now there's foundational knowledge about seasons. And so with this book and what we've written - and Julie is really, really majored on - is our structured story time, our foundational knowledge, opportunities and experiences. So, a book like this has foundational knowledge about the seasons, and so the two intertwine beautifully. So now they're anticipating and forecasting about why he was doing that, because of the long winter months ahead, and that's where you need to store the food. And then we can talk about hibernation and we can go into the length of days. You've got so many rich opportunities there. You might talk about consequences. When Cyril and Bruce squabbled, how do you think they were really engaging with each other? How do they feel about that? If the pinecone was lost, what could have happened to the squirrels? Now you're also starting to predict what's going to happen. Now, of course you're going to be imaginative all the way through this. These are really interlinked, but you can see how they're compartmentalised. If you move into that projecting phase, you're talking about: 'Tell me, why did the squirrels squabble about the pinecone?'. So now there's thinking carefully about each of those squirrels and what they were going to get from that pinecone, and why they wanted it, which is a lot deeper than just describing what a squirrel is and what a pinecone is. And so what we're trying to do is develop that sense of projection. You could ask them to project into a situation never experienced, which is thinking really hard. If you were Bruce, how would you have stopped the squabbling? Now, there's resolution in there, which links to all the behaviours and the social and emotional development within the classroom. And what we find in the imagination phase is accumulation of all these wonderful experiences. And that's where we use puppets and little things, we might use, like a phone to dial into - you might be, 'Hello, Bruce, this is the pinecone shop. How many pinecones would you like and why would you want them?' - So then you're using that imagination. So they're drawing back upon all their feelings, their predictions, their logical reasoning and their reporting, to be able to build all that towards that really clear imaginative phase. Can you see how that wouldn't be as rich or deep if you haven't had those other experiences? So that's what we're trying to articulate here, isn't it, Julie, around structure and model questions - but not 'the' questions, just 'some' questions.

Julie: 49:05
It's the importance, as well, of planning ahead. You know what? I'm going to have this high quality, structured conversation with children about this book we've read over and over again that they're really familiar with, I need to be planned for that. I need to know what I'm going to say, what I'm going to ask, and why. What do I want to draw from the children, what do I want to be able to notice? Alex alluded to the fact earlier that, you know, systems breed excellence, they really do. So, we've got this system in place that enables us to be able to plan ahead, to have these really high quality questioning and conversations with the children, which in turn then really will give us what we need to know, in order to be able to plan the next steps for pupils.

Alex: 49:50
That's a really good point, Julie, because if children find predicting difficult, then you would set up more opportunities and activities for them to predict based upon the things they can draw upon. And I think the word I would use for this, which we we're really, really keen to use, was transferability. All these techniques are transferable into any book, we've given worked examples through the 7 areas of learning, and we've used some incredibly brilliant books, but just because you haven't got one of the books we've referenced, you can still use this system. So it's skilling the people up in the setting to be able to use this. And you asked earlier, Laura, about how teachers might use this. So to begin with, there's a lot of things, there's a number of things here we need to hold on to, so having some prompts and cues is not a bad idea. And when we were first using this, just having a few notes for yourself around that and prompts that you can use. Now, I know some of the settings turn them into lanyards, and they use them there for their staff, that they can pull upon. So they are developing the automaticity and fluency for their staff. Now, once that becomes embedded, the routines become really, really secure, and those staff have a toolkit for life that they can then use in any situation with intelligence, with fluency, and that routine is deep, and that will impact upon our pupils in an incredibly positive way.

Laura: 51:20
So thank you so much for sharing your expertise today with us. And I very much encourage our listeners to get hold of a copy of the book because I think it pairs really well with Sounds-Write. John and Tita provided a quote for you as well, which I'll put in the show notes.

Julie: 51:43
Thanks, Laura.

Laura: 51:44
Great. Well, thank you so much.

Alex: 51:46
Thanks, Laura. It's been lovely talking with you, and it's great that Julie and I can have this opportunity to share the thoughts that were in our heads and now are in print, which is really scary but brilliant.

Julie: 52:00
Thanks for the opportunity, Laura.

Alex: 52:02
Thank you. Take care.

Julie: 52:03
Take care. Bye.

Laura: 52:04
Bye!