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 🙂


Compare and Contrast challenge

I’ve been fascinated today by Brad Patterson’s blog post challenge, where he has challenged people to present two different but connected photos.

It really sparked my curiosity, so here’s my contribution.  I have to admit, I came up with two pairs of photos and couldn’t decide between the two, so I’m going to share both.  If it’s any justification, the two pairs are connected to each other.

Pair One

  • Where do you think is this?
  • How are the images connected?
  • What do you want to know about this place?

Pair Two

  • How are these people connected?
  • Why are their moods different?
  • What are they saying to each other?

Co-operative Learning

Last Saturday (24th September) I took part in the MFLSAT event held at Cramlington Learning Village, where my contribution was to share some thoughts on co-operative learning structures at my ‘genius bar’ (my host’s description, not mine!).   Watch out for a longer post soon about other speakers’ contributions.

I have talked about collaborative learning structures before (here and here), but I make no apologies because these techniques were the thing that turned my teaching around and gave me the confidence to hand the learning over to the pupils.

So here are the few slides I prepared as an overview, and below is the handout explaining some of the activities in a little more detail.  Please help yourself!


Cooperative Learning Structures – handout

… Stop Press … Samantha Lunn is also working with these structures now, so you may want to wander over to her blog to see what she’s up to – she’s just blogged this, for example …

But what do YOU love?

It occurs to me that one of the qualities of a successful teacher is that, in the course of their work, they are constantly thinking about other people – their pupils.

Working with trainee teachers, I was always delighted to observe the change in thinking from “what am I teaching” to “what do I want my pupils to learn”, because this shift in perspective usually indicates a much better understanding of what makes good learning and teaching.

So this means that teachers are always involved in the search for activities to engage pupils and are really pleased to find something which their students enjoy doing, because that brings a greater likelihood that they are learning at the same time as having fun.

But then I wondered – what learning activities do teachers like to use because they enjoy them themselves?  To be selfish for a moment – what do you love to do in the classroom?

One of my own personal favourites is Quiz Quiz Trade (you can find an explanation in this post), because it means I can be peripherally involved, do some formative assessment, and the pupils are moving around the room (not stuck to their chairs), and asking as well as answering questions.

To get a broader view, I then asked my Twitter amici “What’s the teaching/learning activity you love to use because you enjoy it?”

Here are some of the answers which I received

  • pass the teddy
  • X&O, hunt the object/flashcard
  • blindfold food tasting and naming
  • write dialogues\scenes and then act them out.
  • fashion show, cafe (even inviting parents in) and songs.
  • anything which takes me out of the picture; e.g. Running Dictation
  • Shoe box decorated as a room (doll’s house furniture), then video with running commentary a la Through the Keyhole.
  • I love the game ‘snatch’ takes forever to make but the kids love it and you can play match up, word and picture bingo with cards
  • “remote-control partner”, with big open space e.g. footie field/sports hall and lots of those little cone thingies
  • Cheat! Makes me completely redundant once I’ve made the cards. I also like post-it mania or headbands as I believe it’s called?
  • Pass the parcel – brilliant with sentence stems – very little time required to set it up.

Now although these are a varied bunch of activities, two things struck me about this collection of responses.

Firstly, although some of them may take a little preparation, the majority then hand control over to the pupils.  To me, this doesn’t indicate laziness on the part of the teachers, or a wish to opt out.  It’s promoting active learning, with the teacher as facilitator and not as holder of all knowledge.

And secondly, there’s the fun element.  The #mfltwitterati all shared activities which are fun for everyone involved, teacher and pupil alike.  Fun, which means engagement, involvement, and perhaps even forgetting that it’s work.  On both sides.

It may be a bit much of a stretch to link this to the quote by Confucius: ”Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, but I do think it’s true that in what can be a tremendously demanding and stressful job, planning things which are fun for everyone involved makes the job a little easier, and much more enjoyable.

With thanks to the following for their comments and contributions: @langwitch, @BonjourMcB, @PaulineSheaff, @bellaale, @IssacGreaves, @misstdunne, @zaragozalass, @amandasalt

Above average … for all?

I was catching up today with a very good friend who is a retired teacher.  I happened to mention that I had just read this article in the TES, headlined Labour to ‘guarantee’ C in English and maths. Now that would be something good … perhaps even miraculous? With the best will in the world, this seems at best an ill-advised statement to make. Whilst I am completely in favour of every child leaving school with a minimum level of literacy and numeracy, I cannot accept that a GCSE grade C is either the way to demonstrate this, nor achievable by all.

Mike Baker’s article from the ASCL conference in Manchester words it slightly differently:

A further question for the Labour Party’s policy review, he [Andy Burnham] said, would be how to ensure that all students reach adulthood with a ‘decent proficiency in maths and English’. He said he wanted a debate to see if it is possible ‘to have the ambition for all students to leave with at least a grade C in GCSE maths and English’.

I’m sure there are several people who would be willing to engage in this debate with the policy makers.

My retired friend said it reminded her of when she was a pupil at school, at a presentation event.  The local dignitary charged with handing out the awards praised all those who had been successful, and ended with the encouraging words “Now next year, I want to see all of you getting above the average.”

Now I don’t claim to be any kind of mathematician, but  I would love to know how he expected that to happen …