Sunday, 17 May 2009

Open School For Languages: Finding Out What Makes Them Tick

On 28th April, The Department for Children, Schools and Families announced that leading educational software provider RM will deliver the Open School for Languages, a key recommendation of the 2007 Dearing Review, through its subsidiary, Lightbox Education.

The Open School for Languages (OSfL) is a £6 million project which will make available online a range of materials in different languages aiming to engage learners, both independently and in the classroom. The goals of the OSfL are to help more young people discover the relevance and value of languages by switching them on to language learning and providing them with opportunities to improve their language skills. The service will also help teachers to raise young people’s language-learning competence, also increasing their participation and supporting the wider languages agenda.

CILT will convene an advisory group for the OSfL and will engage in a sophisticated marketing campaign to promote it. Other major partners include the Cambridge University Language Centre and the University of Salford.
After I took part in the teachers’ online survey about the new project, I was contacted by Tom Bradley at Lightbox Education to enquire whether it would be possible to interview 12-15 Y8 students-mixed ability and with a range of attitudes towards languages- to find out about what sort of website they use and find engaging.

Damien Stewart and Muriel Amaechi visited our school on Wednesday 6th May and ran the following activities:

First of all, students were asked to make a list of websites they used every day, once a week and once a month on average. They had to write the name of the website and the reason why the liked to use it. This was a very interesting exercise for me too as it enabled me to find out about the kind of online content our students find engaging: Bebo, Facebook, You Tube, msn, miniclips, bitesize, Flickr, e-bay, photobucket, pixel fun, housebreaker, gamesmate ...

Individually, students were asked to choose words from a list that could be used to describe their favourite websites. In small groups, they were asked to reduce their lists to find the most popular words. A spokesperson from each group then described the consolidated list to the class, so that a final list of words that represents the views of the majority was agreed. Amongst the adjectives mentioned entertaining, original, personalised, fun, relaxed and creative were the most popular.

In small groups, participants were asked to choose a top 3 and a bottom 3 learning themes/topics from a range of options. The groups then had to make a case for why the themes have been chosen, and then present this to the class. The class then voted on a final top 3 and bottom 3. Some students find this challenging as it was clear that they did not know much about some of the themes. Top topics included Sport, Music, Films/ TV and bottom topics included Politics, Religion and Geography. The Environment was also mentioned as a “boring” topic, which surprised me a lot. Although students seemed to think that it was important to do something about it, it is not something they really wanted to read about...

Using graphical mood boards to help describe the concepts behind each area of functionality, pupils were asked to discuss the functionality that they would expect to find, and think about which areas they would be most interested to develop. They also had to present their findings and own ideas to the class.

This task was extremely challenging and nonetheless, our students came up with original ideas including a virtual skating park and a judge & jury type game. They found the process very interesting and now keep asking me whether I know if some of their ideas will be used or not...

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