Sunday, 13 December 2009

New Secondary Curriculum for Languages: Challenges and Opportunities

Painting the Sky
Originally uploaded by Stuck in Customs

Although I have been doing a lot of ed-tech work lately, I have not been able to blog about it much. I am currently proof reading some excellent materials that Language specialists Wendy Adeniji , Liz Black and Juliette Park have developed to support teachers wanting to move away from purely topic-based language teaching.

Wendy Adeniji is an experienced Language Consultant, Juliet Park is a Lead Practitioner for the SSAT and Director of Languages at Yewlands School, Sheffield and Liz Black is an AST, consultant for North Yorkshire LA and Head of Languages at Stokesley School.

It would indeed appear that although the New Secondary Curriculum has freed the UK languages teachers from the old topic-based "Areas of Experience", the general feeling is that topic-based teaching, with its prime focus on word level learning, is sticking around.

Well, has GCSE changed that much? As it is still felt that extensive vocabulary is a pre-requisite to a good GCSE grade, this approach feeds into KS3 and can be justified-students will not learn all the vocabulary they need in 2 years or less in the case of fast-tracked groups.

There are undoubtedly training issues here. There is a lot of willingness but also a lot of anxiety in front of what really is a mammoth task. We are free from content? OK, so what do we teach now? If you have been trained to teach in a certain way, moving away from topic-based learning and teaching may feel like diluting the quality of learning and its outcome.

So what's new?

I love the idea of "Teaching the usual in an unusual way" to quote a phrase used by Wendy Adeniji in her training sessions but really teaching skills explicitly is much more than just teaching the usual. And that is exatly what is encouraged through the new materials by using interesting cultural contexts.

When I was studying English in France, the focus was always on written accuracy, grammar and reading comprehension. The materials used were always aiming to represent the culture of a variety of English-speaking countries, rather than provide us with opportunities to use day-to-day language.

In England-granted, a fair few years later-the focus was on vocabulary and topics that were deemed of interest to teenagers-with not many opportunities to find out about the culture of French-speaking countries through these topics.

I see the New secondary Curriculum as a great opportunity to redress the balance and give students opportunties to open up to the world rather than use foreign words to talk about their own world.

The challenges?

Time and vision! The vast majority of Language Faculties are now small and do not have the time and manpower to design brand new materials to teach the whole of KS3. Many have started but this is a lengthy process that will take more time to get established. Collaborative curriculum planning and the development of more innovative commercially-produced resources is the only way to build on what is already in place...


Victor Hugo ROJAS said...

Interculturality is one of the key notions in language teaching, related to communication, the "dialogue with the other". Students must be aware of diversity in society and how social groups, including nations, create, use and manage cultures. Bernaus et al.(2008) propose "Schools should be capable of providing local and global perspectives on the language curriculum, offering communication opportunities with peoples and cultures from far away as well as nearby, and of promoting the ability to speak languages with different statuses and functions."

IC Jones said...

Thanks for your comment, Victor. I totally agree with you about the importance of "interculturality". Our new curriculum for languages now gives what we call "Intercultural Understanding" (IU)a very prominent place, but as usual the opportunity comes with a challenge: ensuring that "cultural" discussions in English do not take over the whole of the language-learning agenda. It can be done...