Teaching Lab

The Rice Oral & Written Language Laboratory (OWL Lab) is an ancillary classroom for pre-K students at Gabriela Mistral Center for Early Childhood. The OWL Lab enables more than 400 children and their teachers to interact with two teacher leaders recognized for their contributions to the early literacy field.

Weeklong 45-minute learning cycles occur eight different times each school year, with each theme building upon skills introduced in the previous cycle. The teacher leaders, a master teacher from Mistral and the School Literacy and Culture’s associate director of early literacy and bilingual programs from Rice University, work together to plan a meaningful curriculum designed to promote children’s development in English speaking, listening and writing skills. This is particularly noteworthy since 90 percent of the participating Mistral students are English Language Learners. In the Rice OWL Lab, you can expect to see:

  • Children actively engaged in the retelling of familiar stories
  • Teachers augmenting speech through gesture, dramatization and repetition of vocabulary
  • Children singing songs and chanting rhymes as rewarding, comfortable ways to develop language
  • Teachers using quality children’s literature as a tool for comprehension, community-building and language development
  • Children planning, playing and talking with each other as they complete learning-centered activities
  • Teachers documenting the progress of individual children and asking questions necessary to clarify best teaching practices for English Language Learners
  • Children confidently taking risks as they experiment with language

See the OWL Lab in action:

Why is oral language development so important for young children?

According to experts at the National Institute for Literacy, “oral language development is a critical foundation for reading, writing, and spelling, and it is the ‘engine’ of learning and thinking.” Research tells us that oral language development includes critical skills that make it possible for children to communicate, understand the meaning of words and concepts they hear and read, obtain new information, and express ideas using specific language. These skills are essential for lifelong thinkers and learners. (Learning to Talk and Listen, 2010) Nobel laureate economist James Heckman (2007) provides another rationale for investing in high quality early childhood education programs such as this one. Citing societal impact and a strong return on investment, Heckman addresses the crucial role of early intervention programs in empowering young learners and closing the achievement gap.

Want to learn more?

Former HISD Board President Michael Lunceford hosts HISD Up Close focusing on our innovative program at Gabriela Mistral Early Childhood Education Center to teach English to non-native speakers.

Contact us at slc@rice.edu or 713-348-5333 for more information.