When challenge becomes an opportunity – Multi-lingual and language projects
8. September 2017
By Domini Stone
Projects have great potential and can be an enriching experience, both professionally and personally. They promote collaboration and the exchange of ideas and knowledge. They bring colleagues together from different schools, boroughs, regions and countries who would have otherwise remained unknown. Participating in projects enables us to reflect on and view our practice and approach in a slightly different way. Projects can be a creative force, and with the experience and evidence gained, valuable lessons can be learnt and positive changes implemented that can benefit both ourselves and the pupils we teach.
Since 2014, here at the University of Westminster, we have been involved in a couple of projects; the LANGUAGE MAGICIAN being one and another project that has provided support to modern foreign language teachers through the London Schools Excellence Fund(LSEF) and Legacy Fund programme, an initiative of the Mayor of London. The projects have been timely, particularly as languages became compulsory at Key Stage 2 and 3 in England in September 2014. With the challenges many of us are faced with due to budget constraints in schools, the impending BREXIT, and languages not always commanding the respect they deserve, never has there been a more important time to engage in projects that bring colleagues closer together. The LANGUAGE MAGICIAN project demonstrates how partners from four European countries have a common goal and interest in supporting the learning and teaching of foreign languages at primary school level, reinforcing the idea that assessment of languages can actually be motivating, fun and build on what the children have learnt, leading to progress. The LSEF project and the Legacy Project that followed have also encouraged professionals, at different stages of their career and with different experiences of teaching languages, the opportunity to work together, to develop innovation in the classroom, reflect on their practice and support their peers through mentoring observation and feedback.
Being part of a project does require commitment, energy and time and at this point, it is worth reflecting on some of the common challenges we have been faced with when working with schools in London. Most of these are beyond the control of the classroom teachers and the ones who are passionate about languages.
- We are not working within a level playing field. For example, timetabling of languages in primary schools varies in length from 30-60 minutes, where languages are taught weekly and sometimes fortnightly. In some cases, languages are taught by a specialist and in others by a non-specialist. In a few cases a native speaking teaching assistant, or unqualified teacher may be teaching the language.
- Not all children have access to learning a language and some are removed from lessons due to other interventions (Maths/English booster classes), even though languages might be the very subject they really enjoy, excel in and can do, particularly if they are speakers of other languages at home and can make connections between their home language and the foreign language they are learning. In some cases, languages are dropped completely from the timetable in the final half-term, to concentrate on other school priorities.
- Languages are being taught and assessed in a variety of ways. That is why projects are important in enabling teachers to experience what is happening beyond the walls of their classrooms and why a common assessment tool, such as the LANGUAGE MAGICIAN is important.
- Often the projects involve the goodwill of teachers doing additional work in their own time, particularly as there are other pressures and demands on their time.
- The main challenge is really about ensuring continuity and progression in the language in schools, particularly as the Programme of Study in England requires progress in one language. This is why so many schools have returned to a one-language model. The choice of this language is generally arbitrary with little consultation with receiving secondary schools.
Despite these and other challenges, what emerges is that teachers taking part in projects benefit from the shared learning opportunities and learning about how languages are being delivered in other contexts. Just to know others are in a similar situation with similar challenges is reassuring and offers the chance to learn together, rather than in isolation. We should never underestimate the power of motivation that comes from sharing resources and working together towards a shared common goal.