The Rice Oral and Written Language (OWL) Lab grew out of SLC’s belief in the importance of listening to children and honoring their unique voices. This belief, combined with the challenge of addressing the needs of Houston’s ever-growing population of dual language learners, led us to examine the most current research in oral language development and second language acquisition theory.
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Our goal was to create a language-rich learning environment designed to empower children as they experiment with language, take risks and gain confidence as language learners, and realize that what they have to say is important. In the lab, children’s voices are honored as they are encouraged to talk and write about things that interest them, retell and dramatize classic works of children’s literature and recreate play scenarios from real life. The lab explores the role of extended discourse and the teacher-child relationship in promoting oral language, and implements strategies that can provide both a strong foundation in children’s first language and a meaningful context for second language learning.
Family engagement is another critical component of our work in the lab. Families are invited into the lab regularly to celebrate their children’s learning in a respectful, collaborative environment. Our families’ cultures, home languages, traditions and stories all have a place in our classroom and become tools for encouraging meaningful interactions between parents and their children. Now in its tenth year, the OWL Lab continues to refine its practices to best meet the needs of the children and families we serve.
The success of the flagship OWL Lab at Mistral has inspired other campuses and districts to request SLC’s support in replicating the OWL Lab in their own communities. There are currently eight OWL replication labs located in diverse neighborhoods throughout Houston serving a rich variety of racial, ethnic, and language groups, with additional labs being added each year.
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