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Oral Language Competence: How It Relates to Classroom Behavior

Classroom behavior is a source of anxiety, stress, and distraction for many teachers and is a key reason teachers give for leaving the profession. This often raises questions regarding the extent to which teacher preparation programs and initial teaching placements prepare pre-service teachers for working with students who display challenging behavior, regardless of its basis. In fact, teachers have a broad range of widely applicable strategies they may use in the classroom, such as moving toward a misbehaving student or positively reinforcing appropriate behaviors. Strategies such as these are an essential part of a teacher’s toolkit, but some students require more specific, tiered interventions. One of the more dangerous myths about teaching is that if teachers plan lessons that are engaging enough, students will behave well. This leads to teachers blaming themselves for student misbehavior and ignores all the other influences that affect a child, such as conflict at home, poor nutrition, and previous school experiences. It also neglects the fact that some children have a specific developmental disorder that affects their processing of information, and hence their learning and behavior. Some developmental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are widely known, albeit possibly overdiagnosed and subject to ongoing debate regarding optimal management strategies. Less widely known and understood, however, is the impact of developmental language disorder (DLD) on behavior and learning. Based on the statistics, the odds are good that this is an issue that at least a few students are dealing with. The good news is that knowledge of difficulties associated with DLD may help teachers not only better deal with challenging behaviors but also improve learning outcomes for students with language disorders, as well as those outside the clinical range who nevertheless display difficulties processing and using oral language. Before considering DLD more closely, the author defines language skills and explains why they are relevant to school success. The following steps are suggested for implementation in the classroom: (1) Consider establishing a number of routines for the start of class; (2) Keep in mind the working memory constraints that apply to students and provide only a small amount of new information at any given time; and (3) Seek the advice of professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, who can offer advice on specific student needs. Although the steps provided will not resolve every problem that arises, they can help teachers develop a more preventive approach working with DLD students.


Ashman, G., & Snow, P. (2019). Oral Language Competence: How It Relates to Classroom Behavior. American Educator43(2), 37–