Portrait of a Learner 9-12

Systems Change


Factor Connections

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Communication is the expression of thoughts, ideas, and emotions, and the ability to understand others' thoughts and feelings. Language serves as a key medium for Communication including oral language skills, signed language, reading and writing skills, gestures, and listening skills. Communication also involves communicating with numbers, drawings, technology, etc., and being able to use multiple modes of Communication or multiple languages to express ideas. Multimodal forms of Communication (like gestures, drawing, and technology) and bilingual code-mixing (supplementing one language with another, especially when students have non-overlapping vocabularies across languages), can extend students' thinking, encourage self-expression, perspective taking, and awareness, and can better allow others to engage in shared ideas and expressions. Although much of language development occurs in the early years, Communication continues to change and develop into adolescence.

Main Ideas

Communication consists of both expression of ideas and reception of ideas—or listening and understanding. To be an effective communicator, it is important to understand that other people have different experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. Importantly, although learners may understand these differences earlier on, it is often not until adolescence that they use this knowledge to shape how they communicate with others, a key contributor to successful Communication.

Language, including verbal and non-verbal forms of Communication, can be used to support thinking and reasoning. For instance, labels can help us think abstractly which supports higher order thinking, reasoning about numbers, and encoding in memory. In addition, research suggests that the act of explaining our thinking can support learning and memory. Language also plays a critical role in enabling us to express and regulate our thoughts and emotions, and in allowing us to engage with and understand others' feelings. As learners move through adolescence, their social world greatly expands, with learners placing a higher premium on peer interactions. During this period, learners' in-person and online Communication with peers increases as well, especially as adolescents increasingly use technology to support social Communication. In addition, learners continue to internalize social expectations around language use, better engaging in thoughtful conversations as a way to gather information and provide emotional support, increasingly consider others' perspectives, and continue developing a more complex use and understanding of spoken and written language.

Communication is how we share our culture, connecting the present with the past through traditions such as writing, oral traditions, music, and dance. Understanding and respecting diverse cultures and languages, and learning how to communicate across this diversity, is a central aspect of Communication skills. Use of different languages over time may lead learners to direct their attention to different aspects of the world based on how their language system works. Therefore supporting multilingual language use can support learners in drawing upon different domains of knowledge. Valuing students' linguistic differences, including supporting their use of their Primary Language (including, e.g., African American English), or recognizing and normalizing the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), digital storytelling, assistive technology, or translation technology, can allow them to confidently express themselves and maintain and share a core aspect of their culture and Identity.

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