Speaking and Listening – rising to the challenge

Since leaving the classroom just under a year ago, I find that when I am in contact with teachers now, it’s generally from the front of the room, with the teachers as my audience.

So I was delighted and privileged a few days ago to be at a presentation given by Rachel Hawkes – and anyone who has ever been in one of her sessions will know what an inspiration she is!

Her theme was “Creative speaking and listening ideas for the languages classroom”, and as someone who has always found it the most difficult thing to develop my pupils’ listening skills, I was keen to hear what she had to say.

Even from the second slide in, I knew I was going to learn something.

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Rachel’s notes say:

Listening is vital for language learning.  It is a source of language input, the decoding of which is believed by most to account to a large extent for language acquisition.  But for learners it is often the activity that causes most anxiety.  You can often detect a powerful change in the atmosphere in a languages classroom when a listening activity is announced and then in progress.  So often students ask ‘is it a test?’ when you start a listening activity, presumably because this is how it feels to them.  I’ve never been asked that about a reading activity.

Rachel shared some wonderful ideas and links, which you can access from this page on her website (the June 2012 entry).  Definitely worth a peep!

Maximo veteris dux Eboracensis

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Disclaimer – Prince Andrew has nothing to do with the primary Curriculum Review!

So the big ‘story’ of the day for us language teachers was the official appearance of the draft Programmes of Study for the primary National Curriculum, which can be found here.

Despite the flurry of rumours doing the rounds over the weekend, these Programmes of Study are actually only for primary English, mathematics and science at the moment – information for other subjects is yet to come, along with the fallout from the secondary consultation.  The reference to compulsory languages appears in two of the FAQs, and towards the bottom of page 4 of the letter from the Secretary of State for Education to Chair of Expert Panel, with his response to the panel’s recommendations for primary curriculum.

I am absolutely delighted to officially read that learning a foreign language is to become a compulsory part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum.  It is something which benefits pupils to start learning when younger, and which also has potential on a wider, economic scale for the nation.

I have no wish to dampen any enthusiasm, but if you would indulge me in one moment of disappointment and one of confusion.

My confusion is from a Twitter exchange I had with @educationgovuk, on the idea that

“The new foreign languages Programme of Study will require an appropriate balance of spoken and written language. Pupils must learn to speak in sentences, with appropriate pronunciation. … And they should become acquainted with songs and poems in the language studied.

I enquired, with no tongue in cheek, as to how this would work with Latin, as a) we don’t know how it was pronounced, b) it’s not a spoken language anyway and c) I’m not aware of any authentic songs in Latin (although Classics scholars please feel free to enlighten me).  Adeste Fidelis doesn’t count.  The Twitter response pointed me in the direction of the Minimus Mouse scheme, which apparently has versions of Old MacDonald’s Farm and other nursery rhymes in Latin.

  • If Latin isn’t a spoken language, how is there supposed to be ‘an appropriate balance of spoken and written language’?  If a school chooses Latin as its curriculum language, how will it undertake to provide that appropriate balance?

My disappointment is much more serious.  Two years ago, primary schools, secondary schools who supported them, along with and trainers and consultants, were poised to roll-out a programme of language teaching and support to primary schools across the country, until the Rose review was pushed aside following the General Election.  Years of networking, confidence-building and training had been undertaken to be ready to offer a language in the primary curriculum.  Suddenly, not only was that not happening, but several friends and colleagues found themselves shifting their roles, or worse, losing their jobs completely as a result.

And now, primary language learning is back. Just like that.  Those experienced professionals who found themselves without a job, or sidelined into other roles, will suddenly be in demand.  Yes that’s good, but it’s a bit of a smack around the face at the same time because it didn’t need to happen.

  • Foreign languages in the primary curriculum was more or less there – and now we’re having to start all over again?

It’s like the Grand Old Duke of York – neither up nor down at the moment! Or should that be Maximo veteris dux Eboracensis 🙂