Why modern foreign languages in schools needs an overhaul.

Lovely read via the guardian and a system that  currently works. Something for us all to take note of.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/mar/21/overhaul-modern-foreign-languages-teaching-british-schools?CMP=new_54&CMP=

Can you imagine a British school system where language learning is thriving – a real success story? What would be different?

A question any headteacher should be able to answer is this: if you had a completely free choice, what would your school curriculum look like? I’ve explored this with different people and usually they have trouble fitting in all their ideas within the confines of a timetable. However, even with a completely free hand, I find that all too often language learning is regarded as a problem area. There are pockets of excellence but we’re not exactly taking the world by storm as a nation of linguists and, sadly, our current education system isn’t likely to change that any time soon. Why is this?

I think that there are a number of serious difficulties that need to be overcome.

Firstly, we simply don’t give it enough time in the curriculum relative to what is needed.  A standard curriculum will set aside two hours a week, in line with DfE guidance. This just isn’t enough to build the level of retention needed to facilitate an interactive communicative approach and to break down students’ inhibitions with speaking. Sometimes schools offer two languages to able students but often this leads to them feeling mediocre in both languages instead of proficient in one.
Too often standard pedagogical approaches are limiting and formulaic. It is still too common for students to be given a diet of vocabulary-driven rote learning with a bit of grammar tacked on. Too often I’ve seen lessons in very good schools where students might learn a list of colours in isolation but could not say “the sky is blue”. Or they learn lists of rooms, clothes, hobbies or fruit but can’t put a related sentence together with any confidence. Furthermore, six months later, the earlier vocabulary has been forgotten.

Plus, popular culture is almost exclusively Anglo-centric, fuelling a complacent cultural-lingual apathy. Obviously this isn’t the fault of any teacher or any school – but it is the reality we operate in. A meagre two hours per week is no contest for the mighty cultural counter-weight that says “Who cares? Everyone speaks English anyway!” And, of course, Borgen has subtitles!

The system is permeated by a strong, self-fulfilling perception that languages are difficult and, therefore, only really appropriate for higher attainers. Fair enough, being blasted too soon with ‘nominative, dative and accusative,’ terms you don’t even use in English, is likely to be off-putting. However, in the right conditions, people of wide ranging ability ‘pick up’ languages all the time. This might be out of necessity or through immersion but it suggests that it can be done if done properly; it isn’t inherently more difficult to learn a language than maths.

Also, I believe, school leaders lack the will and/or the philosophical commitment required to address these issues. I’m sorry to say this but, for a lot of heads, language learning is not high on their list of priorities. If two hours matches the DfE model, where’s the issue? And in any case, where does the time from? There is a sense that this isn’t our problem and that if we’re churning out another generation of poor or mediocre linguists that is just how it is.

Government policy in this area – such as the with the ham-fisted introduction of the EBacc – is not backed up with any resources. Excellent languages teachers are in short supply and this is far worse at primary level than at secondary. So we have a chicken and egg situation: what comes first? More good languages teachers or more high quality language learners who might become teachers? Enabling policies that help to recruit EU teachers and to provide continued professional development to all MFL teachers are not forthcoming. Half the members of our MFL team are native speakers from Europe and China; one of our cleaners is also our Russian language assistant. The people are out there, but schools need help to recruit and train them.

All these difficulties can seem overwhelming, but instead of giving up, let’s push all of the obstacles aside for a moment. Can we imagine a version of British culture and British school life where all these issues are reversed? Where language learning is thriving; a real success story? Where multi-lingualism is an everyday part of the cultural experience of young people and adults? What would be different?

Firstly, languages would take up a lot more time in the curriculum. For example, in the five years since we’ve devoted four hours per week at KS3 to either French or German, we’ve seen a phenomenal impact: our year 9s are more confident speakers and all-round better linguists than our year 11s ever were before with GCSE results to match. Secondly, MFL lessons would always be characterised by interactive, immersive, communicative approaches where grammar and new vocabulary are seamlessly interwoven and students are empowered with the tools to explore the language by themselves. Finally, schools and the media, supported by politicians and businesses, would celebrate multilingualism to the extent that young people regarded monolingual life as a huge disadvantage and distinctly uncool, and would do all they could to avoid being left out.

If we are ever to reach this point, there is one basic requirement: simply the will to do it.  We can dream of a concerted effort by businesses, politicians and the media to move us forwarded but realistically it will be headteachers and schools who will need to show what can be done. It’s in our hands.

Tom Sherrington is headteacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford.

bilingual students with proficiency in both mother tongue and English outperformed students who were proficient in only one of either mother tongue or English, even when the bilingual students came from less-resourced schools

An interesting report about bilingualism in South Africa. Here are the highlights.

However, “multilingualism as a pervasive feature of the South African identity is something yet to be realised and, although learners are expected to be able to use English as the official language of learning, many are excluded from it”,

“According to the Caps [new curriculum] document, the first additional language is used for certain communicative functions in a society, meaning it is merely a medium of learning and teaching in education,” he said. The home language, on the other hand, is a tool of cultural preservation and articulation.

Ultimately, South Africa should transform through encouraging bilingualism in all levels and spheres of society, Dampier said. “If we are to proclaim a truly multilingual South African identity, we must stop viewing English as a tool for communication in the global village, business and education,” he said. It should rather be seen as an essential part of South African identity.

The Gauteng strategy aims to improve reading and writing and to change teacher practice. But, said Botha, “we have had a plethora of policies and curricula, and yet reading and writing remain a problem”.

She identified three factors that impede progress: the morale of teachers; the lack of teaching and learning programmes for them; and the new curriculum

http://mg.co.za/article/2013-03-22-tongue-tied-on-language-policy

THINGS have gone from bad to worse for Torfaen’s education department in the past year. If you need help Bob or Mary please just ask.

All I can say is what a shame. It had such good foundations and structure what has gone wrong? One person who throughout my life I have aspired to follow is Mary Barnett who has been steadfast about ensuring the right education for the children must be devastated by this news.

http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/gwentnews/10306565.Torfaen_education_goes_into_special_measures/

 

“Greater change and pace are required in order to bring about further improvement.”

It goes on to criticise a failure by the authority to spot underperformance and its impact on learners, and says that: “the authority does not identify clearly for schools, managers and elected members the extent of the improvements required or the pace at which progress is needed.”

Good Old Bob, but why and how did it happen? or are these just the fall guys for a broken education process?

Council leader Bob Wellington and Ms Ward said: “We accept we have fallen short  of our own expectations, the expectations of residents and the minister’s  expectations, for which we apologise.

Read more: Wales Online http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2013/03/22/council-apologises-for-special-measures-education-91466-33043036/#ixzz2ONXsYDJv

 

Torfaen council leader Bob Wellington told BBC Radio Wales they accepted the report’s findings and were prepared to work with whoever was appointed to help the authority.

“Patently it hasn’t improved enough and it hasn’t gone deep enough, or indeed, been fast enough,” he said.

“We don’t accept that we didn’t make any improvements. In, fact we consider that we had made improvements.

“A lot of people have put a lot of effort in to this, certainly at a managerial level and other levels.

“I think we’ve done everything we can to try and improve, but we recognise that we need external assistance in the same way that the other local authorities that are in the same place are receiving now.”

If you ever need help from me Bob you know you only have to ask. l.foxwell@languageawards.com

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-21889693

 

 

Character #441: 筆

Really good one for us in schools. This symbol means pen or pencil 筆.

來學正體字 | Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

441The character 筆(ㄅㄧˇ) means pen or pencil. Here is the stroke order animation and pronunciation. Here are the individual strokes for writing the character. Here is the definition in Taiwanese Mandarin. Here is the evolution of 筆.

筆(ㄅㄧˇ)劃(ㄏㄨㄚˋ) – number of strokes in a Chinese character
筆(ㄅㄧˇ)名(ㄇㄧㄥˊ) – a pen-name
筆(ㄅㄧˇ)試(ㄕˋ) – a written exam

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Phonics Screening Check ParentsGuide

Some useful information.

kipmcgrathashford

What is the Phonics Screening Check?

The phonics screening check was piloted in June 2011 and rolled out nationally in 2012. The check focuses solely on decoding words using a phonetic approach.

Is this a reading test?

No, it is just a check on your child’s ability to decode words using phonics. The governments advisers believe phonics is the best way to teach early reading, many other experts believe that a mixed approach works best. (a previous blog post helps explain this)

What does my child have to do?

The screening check contains 40 words, divided into two sections of 20 words, both sections contain real words a made up words.

Made up words?

The made up words do test a phonetic approach, which is what the test is designed to do. The made up words do come with pictures of an imaginary creature to ensure they get some context…

View original post 325 more words

Chinese Character for black or dark and lack of light.

來學正體字 | Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

419The character 黑(ㄏㄟ) means black or dark and lack of light. Here is the stroke order animation and pronunciation. Here are the individual strokes for writing the character. Here is the definition in Taiwanese Mandarin. Here is the evolution of 黑.

黑(ㄏㄟ)暗(ㄢˋ) – dark, darkness
黑(ㄏㄟ)板(ㄅㄢˇ) – blackboard

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I always loved the challenging discussions around Professional development when it was my job to arrange all In Service Training. The biggest question as with teaching children is how to get the best or relevant topics for your most experienced teachers as well as the new teachers. This is often a hard call as training together in a large hall means that probably the average educator gets more than the two ends of the spectrum unless the development topic is focussed on them. So I wholeheartedly agree with this idea as this allows personal development to happen within a structured and sound environment. I hope it proves useful for you.