Language Use and Learning

What would we do without language? We would not be able to express ourselves, communicate or learn anything. That is why young children eagerly learn new words in their efforts to understand the world around them. As time goes by, language use develops further and schools monitor this progress by testing children’s vocabulary and reading skills.

Unfortunately, very little attention is given to other forms of language use that can provide knowledge. Whilst it is through talking, discussing and writing texts that inquiry-based learning is stimulated. What forms of education can optimise language use and learning? The Language Use & Learning professorship of applied sciences examines this question.

Optimal language conditions

The central research questions within the Language Use & Learning professorship are: what are the optimal conditions for primary school children to develop both their language skills and their knowledge and understanding? And how can teachers best stimulate these developments? In order to answer these questions we look at three areas: oral language use, writing and reading.

The professorship recognises the natural inquisitiveness of children, and bases its approach to its studies on the observation, rather than the assessment, of a child’s development. Through research, the professorship gains a better understanding of the learning process through language itself.

Three language ambitions

The Language Use & Learning professorship has three ambitions:

  • To develop an understanding of the ways in which we can reinforce the knowledge assimilation and learning performance of pupils.
  • To improve the research skills of teachers.
  • To increase awareness within teacher training courses of the value of integrated language education and the possibilities of inquiry-based learning in this.

Collaboration & Language Skills

What is the optimal communicative way of developing knowledge and improving language skills? Researchers of the Language Use and Learning professorship search within the framework of Inquiry-Based Learning for the answer to this question. In the RAAK-PRO research project Collaboration & Language Skills they study the role of collaboration in language skills development during reading, writing and argumentation.

The research project Collaboration & Language Skills consists of three subprojects, all of which are doctoral research projects. The first project deals with the optimal conditions for pupils from the middle and upper classes writing together in small groups - which may or may not be in a digital environment - for the development of their knowledge and writing skills. While they are writing together we examine the interaction, knowledge construction and text construction.

The second subproject focuses on argumentative language use and knowledge construction in cooperation situations amongst pre-school children. Dialogical reading in the context of working together in inquiry-based learning in the middle and upper classes of primary schools is the subject of the third doctoral research project. The most important question here is how do children involved in (informative) talks jointly come to knowledge construction?

Design research for observation tools for the productive oral and written language use of children

How can you effectively monitor the development of the oral and written language use of children? With an observation tool that is based on observable features of that language use. Researchers from the Language Use & Learning professorship developed these tools for Dutch and Frisian, together with teachers and according to genre.

Apart from vocabulary tests, Dutch education lacks the tools necessary to obtain a clear picture of the productive language skills of children. That’s why researchers from the Language Use and Learning professorship developed observation tools that enable teachers to monitor the development of pupils in their productive language. And for this reason they work together with teachers in searching for observable features of that language use through the so-called Prominent Feature Analysis method.

Skill per genre

These features are then used as a basis for developing an observation tool for Frisian and Dutch, which are [MN1] then further elaborated according to genre. Research shows that this orientation is necessary as the skills of pupils strongly depend on genre.

Development of the tools for
Article in Tijdschrift Taal

With whom do we work?

The research carried out within the Language Use & Learning professorship is practice-based and can be applied in the work field. For this reason six project schools are attached to the professorship through a network. Teachers at these primary schools work on their own research questions, related to the stimulation of oral and written language skills in relation to the children’s learning process.

The Language Use & Learning professorship works closely with the following projects schools:

  • Obs De Stjelp, Baard
  • Cbs Prins Constantijnschool, Leeuwarden
  • Obs De Gielguorde, Mantgum
  • Obs De Pipegaal, Workum
  • Obs Op 'e Dobbe, Hallum
  • Obs De Romte, Dronrijp

The Language Use & Learning professorship also works closely with the following partners:

  • University of Groningen: Language Expertise Centre, education and communication
  • Marnix Academie Utrecht: Interaction and Language Policy In Multicultural Schools professorship
  • Fontys Den Bosch: Learning and Innovation professorship
  • National Expertise Centre Curriculum Development SLO, Enschede


The Language Use & Learning professor of applied sciences is Jan Berenst. The professorship consists of educators, researchers, education consultants, developers, an experienced teacher and a trainee teacher. Together they form the knowledge network of Language Use and Learning.

The members of the knowledge network carry out research together with the teachers of the collaborating projects schools as well as with students of the NHL Stenden Pabo primary school teacher training study programme. The questions from teachers working in the field form the basis of this research. Together we produce a design and then see how that goes. Here the teacher is in effect a researcher in his or her own classroom. Based on the findings, we can then modify the design and approach in a following round.

Within the professorship we look for forms of education that allow pupils at school to successfully learn and develop their language skills. In addition, the professorship offers a professionalisation programme in which we can train teachers in observing oral and written language skills development.


NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences
Research group Vital Education