The Fundamental Skill For Literacy, And How We Can Help All Children To Learn It


Literacy is the bedrock of all education. Without a strong understanding of language, communication and writing skills, it is near impossible for children to succeed in their educational careers and beyond, particularly in our education systems as they stand in which standardised assessment relies so heavily on writing. However, often children can fall behind right at the beginning of their literacy lessons because they’ve missed out on a fundamental communication step – spoken communication.

This skill has always been learnt naturally through interaction with parents and other people early on in a child’s life, so there’s certainly nothing new about the importance of spoken communication. But in today’s world, we’re seeing the beginning of declining skills in this area for today’s young children, which could be in part to do with the rise of technology.

Mobile phones, tablets and laptops means that we have more distractions than ever, and this doesn’t just go away when you’re a parent. So many of us are addicted to our devices, that today’s children are suffering from a lack of direct communication and as such they aren’t learning the crucial communication skills they desperately need to succeed in literacy. This can have hugely damaging effects down the line, limiting their further education or career choices, as well as affecting their daily lives as adults when it comes to understanding complex contract language or forms.

‘Oral narrative competence is a significant indicator of future writing competence, talk is the halfway house between thinking and writing,’ agrees Chris Williams, Founder of Chatta.

‘In the UK a significant proportion of children start school lacking language skills and the ability to speak in sentences. This leads to gaps in attainment in reading, writing and wider learning. A number of studies have demonstrated the role of narrative competence in predicting later academic achievement.’

Chatta is a teaching approach which involves training, software and resources for educators to help improve literacy through linking words and images, and creating audio-visual storyboards. Through linking experiences and subject content with modelled language and oral rehearsal, students of all ages are able to think, speak and write at length and in depth. ‘Teachers create audio-visual storyboards which are shared with students,’ explains Williams. ‘The approach has been designed to mirror the way people think and can be used both in classrooms and at home. The audio-visual cues of Chatta strengthen long term memory and make it effortless for children and young people to speak, write and express their thoughts. The exposure to strong models of language makes it easy to understand deeper language and vocabulary when reading and to apply it when writing.’

Though the approach was initially developed to maximise progress in early language, communication and literacy, it has been found to be productive for students of all ages including children with special educational needs, students who are learning new languages and closing the gap for disadvantaged students.

The impact of Chatta has been phenomenal. Educators using Chatta’s approach have seen children, who had previously been unable to talk, developing fluent speech. A randomised control trial concluded that children who experienced Chatta’s approach made significantly greater process than those who didn’t.

‘Recently, in a year long study with 500 families, the percentage of children achieving or exceeding their age-related expectations in speaking increased from 49% to 83% for those using Chatta,’ adds Williams, ‘and families of children with autism using Chatta have described the outcomes as life-changing.’

The team behind Chatta is focused on working with researchers and research bodies to continue to build on their evidence base and best practices, to help their approach to be more widely accepted in mainstream education and therefore enable them to reach more children who may be struggling with literacy. They’ve received funding to conduct a research study in twelve schools over the next two years to help to do this, and are developing research proposals with University College London, Sheffield University and Hull University.

This is a vital part of their future as Williams believes that in order to reach more children who need help, they need to first make sure their work is evidenced sufficiently. ‘Chatta is extremely simple but also very new, which can make it hard for people in education to embrace without robust evidence,’ explains Williams. ‘As a teaching and learning approach, Chatta can change education outcomes on a massive scale. We need to continue to expand the use of Chatta and to share evidence of its impact.’

Today’s children are subject to a world that can’t stop talking, but they’re not necessarily hearing these conversations. With mobile phones now a major part of our lives, much of our communication is typed and silent, and we’re more distracted than ever before. This can lead to monumental skills gaps in today’s preschool children, meaning they’re behind on their literacy capabilities at the very start of their educational careers. In order to make sure this doesn’t continue to keep them behind and to close the attainment gap, innovations like Chatta provide a valuable resource for educators and students alike. From establishing missing communication skills, to helping children with special educational needs, to assisting our multicultural (and therefore multilingual) societies, Chatta helps to get our children talking and writing.


To learn more about Chatta, check out their innovation page.