Saturday, 19 September 2009

Are You Ready for PMFL?-2009 Update

In a previous post dating back to 2007, I was looking at what schools were doing to get prepared for the 2010 deadline for teaching foreign languages at Primary. Two years later, what has changed? Although there are pockets of outstanding practice, the overall picture is still “chaotic and variable”...

By 2011, all children aged 7-11 must have the opportunity to learn a foreign language. Learning a foreign language engages children, helps them develop general oracy and literacy skills, grow in confidence as learners, as well as broaden their intercultural understanding.

Primary language teaching is inclusive and can benefit special educational needs, English as an Additional Language learners, as well as children who have newly arrived in England. Some research also supports the theory that young children have the ability to learn languages quicker. Although the validity of this theory is discussed on a regular basis, anybody who has taught languages at Primary notices that the general attitude towards language-learning feels a lot more positive.

Recent research findings show that 92% of Primary Schools are teaching languages during class time, with 69% teaching languages to all 4 years of KS2.
The most often mentioned benefits of PMFL were to develop enthusiasm, Listening and Speaking skills and understanding other cultures.

Clearly, Primary Headteachers play a vital role in establishing a clear rationale, vision and strategy for primary languages. Planning for and delivering PMFL must be seen as a step-by-step learning process for all, and collaboration between schools (both primary and secondary), local authorities and key agencies is surely the recipe for success.

Good practice also includes:

-Conduct a school languages audit;

-Contact your Local Authority advisor, although sadly there might not always be one in place;

-Appoint a subject co-ordinator for primary languages (PL);

-Make links with local secondary schools and Specialist Language Colleges;

-Visit the primary languages website to check their training videos and resources
-Explore the possibility of taking on a PGCE student with a language specialism;
-Network with other language teachers to find out about new ideas and resources.

A school language audit is a very useful way of identifying expertise and capacity within the school and also among parents, children and the wider school community. It also shows that the school values languages other than English and raises awareness of the different languages spoken in the school community. Projects like the “Language of the Month” project can be replicated and are invaluable in boosting all students’ self image as successful language learners.

The school language audit should also inform the decision of which language to teach and plan future training needs but the choice of the language will also depend on:

-Contacts with target language countries, established community links through town twinnings for instance, ease of travel;

-The languages which are taught in neighbouring primary and secondary schools;

-The availability of specialist support in Local Authorities, Specialist Language Colleges and other secondary schools;

-The writing system of a particular language;

-The expectations and ambitions of parents and pupils;

-The language policies of the Local Authority;

-The capacity to sustain and resource the teaching of a particular language across KS2.

Primary teachers are in the ideal position to embed languages into daily classroom routines and across the curriculum. Their access to children opens up all sorts of possibilities which are denied to the secondary teacher with 1-2 hours a week. Children should also use languages for real communication purposes as well as learning language incidentally through activities combined with other subjects. That is why more and more schools are considering Comenius projects or e-twinning.

Schools are also becoming more and more skilled at planning such cross-curricular modules and the new reviewed QCA schemes of work can help with this too, suggesting ideas to include music, art, PE, ICT and much more...

KS2/KS3 Transition is still a worry but more and more strategies are being shared to cope with this.

So what has changed? The feeling that PMFL may be a passing trend. It is definitely here to stay, so let’s see how we can support each other to make this a successful journey leading to more good language-learning.


Diane said...

As an American elementary foreign language teacher, I have been following the new primary schools requirement in the UK. I am often frustrated by the lack of funding & programs here. I have recently tried (& failed) to convince my school district to implement an elementary language program. Using the target language to teach/support content across the curriculum is absolutely vital, I believe. It's a win-win! Thanks for linking to my lesson plan integrating science with French. Even as a volunteer, whenever I support the classroom teacher I win an ally and reinforce learning of both content AND language.

IC Jones said...

A lot more needs to be done to promote the benefits of early language learning. It is my feeling that local authorities and individual schools will support it more if they can see more clearly what is in it for them. CLIL is a bit of a buzz word here but many schools shy away from it for fear it will negatively affect exam results (at secondary and primary). We need to have more evidence that this is not the case ...

Darren Elliott said...

This is a very thorough treatment of an issue I wasn't aware of, and reminds me I really ought to be looking into my own context more carefully. Here in Japan, English will shortly be a compulsory subject in elementary schools (as it already is in junior high school, high school, and to some extent university).
English education in Japan is not seen as a great success, however... whether that is due to planning, educational methodologies, the difficulties of learning a language distinctly different from the local or any other combination of factors I could only speculate.
It does seem that the drive to expand English teaching faces a lot of logistical problems and educational leaders might be better focused on getting existing provision right.

IC Jones said...

Dear Darren
How interesting! My experience of compulsory provision at secondary was not that positive due to strain on resources and teacher shortage. Hopefully, you will not go through this in Japan at elementary level. What is worrying is that the intent is always good but governments very seldom back up their intents with cash for training. Such as shame...


Darren Elliott said...

It's the tragedy of short-termism in politics... the pay-off and the glamour is the big idea and the ACTION, not the maintainence and all that dull stuff that comes after.

It's much more exciting to build a hospital than staff it, keep it clean, repair it, regularly stock it up... The same could be said for education (literally or metaphorically)