Just a small question

A combination of catching up with all things Language World and a conversation at work has raised a question which puzzles and perplexes me.

Just a small question.

What constitutes ‘great literature?’

The Languages programmes of study: key stage 2 clearly states that pupils should:

“… read great literature in the original language.”

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I know that in my head I have a definition of what constitutes great literature for me.  Other opinions are, of course, available, but I would expect a combination of some of the following:

  • addresses issues of significance to the reader
  • explores aspects of true human experience
  • may provoke an emotional response
  • contains beauty in the language
  • makes the reader consider something they have never thought of before

To be able to read a text which does any of the above, then I need a certain level of language knowledge, skill and ability to access it. Now, even as an adult with a GCSE in Spanish, I’m not convinced that I can read ‘great literature’ in Spanish – even if I truly want to.

Which is why I am struggling to make sense of the two halves of the phrase “… read great literature in the original language.”  I am all for using authentic songs, rhymes, stories and poems when teaching foreign languages at KS2 (or at any age, for that matter).  And although many of these items could well be called ‘classic’ (classic fairy tales, classic nursery rhymes etc), I can’t see how this constitutes ‘great literature’ as per my own definition.

So I wonder if my personal definition is limiting my ability to understand what is meant? Do I have a misconception of ‘great literature’?

 

What’s really interesting, though, is that the English programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2 only contain the word literature twice –

Through reading in particular, pupils have a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Literature, especially, plays a key role in such development.”

“… to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment.”

Not ‘great literature’. Just literature.  In English lessons, KS2 pupils will not be required to study great literature, they will only have to read for enjoyment. This, I get. This, I understand. This works for me in the context of foreign language learning too.

So why the difference? And how to address it?

As I said, puzzled and perplexed. Clarifications most welcome!

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 🙂