Thursday 15 January 2015

Getting language learning right in school,is a delight!

I am currently undertaking a routine series of observations of the language assistants and teachers who work alongside me in our primary schools  delivering primary language learning on a weekly basis.It is such a rewarding and pleasurable opportunity to see what is really taking place in schools.

Today I was with my colleague Janet W and her Year 5  French beginners in a local St Helens' school.Two days ago I was with Ana in a Warrington school,observing Spanish .

This series of blogs is an additional support mechanism for these colleagues,as they can't be in each others classroom and as a team  we meet once per half term for a twilight CPD,So you can hopefully see that these blogs (with a cup of tea and a biscuit back at home) offer them an insight in to each others classrooms and schools. 

A little bit of background knowledge to set the scene
If you have followed my blog posts you probably already know that I work alongside a group of really committed and enthusiastic teachers and that we work very week of the school year in 37 schools to support the delivery of French ,Spanish and German. Part of my role is to guide and support the teachers and the schools as the project in their individual settings develops.

My observations below are about what I saw and experienced in a local school today and the Year 5 French lesson.The whole school ethos to language learning and the attitude and progress of the children in the class sprang pout immediately!This is our first year of working with the school. Today I felt like the "cat who got the cream" as the learning was a delight to experience !

Why was it a delight?

The actual lesson is probably a lesson you can all recognise.It was a well planned and paced lesson ,started with a new greetings song which contained lots of familar basic  language.Interestingly the children began to join in straight away and had no problem with singing and reading the words from the screen accurately.The class enjoyed practising questions and answers about themselves and this led to practising a less familiar question and answer (about age).Today the class wre introduced to the aliens- just like Ana's year 4  yesterday The Year 5  children today  are having a combination of year 3 and 4 learning to accelerate their content knowledge but keep the skills level of early learners.The introduction of the alien pictures is always great fun and there are opportunities to look for cognates and semi cognates plus grammatical links between nouns languages.The pair games to practise the new nouns and the new  question "Qui est-ce?" are  rounded off with a simple plenary to check the children have internalised key language.

So what made this lesson so "delightful" was the whole school positive attitude and focus upon learning to communicate in another language.It makes the learning of a language an integral, regular part of the children's learning and the school day.Therefore the participation and concentration and success is in my opinion very high.

Here are some of the factors I observed today that contribute to how I think the school is "getting language learning right".
  • The school has a history of interest in international links,with an established and thriving link with China.As you walk through the school there is evidence in displays of links with China,children's work and information for parents.  
  • SLT are committed to making language learning and communication an integral part of the school learning curriculum.They plan alongside us for progress and to make sure that it's primary language learning that suits all their learners needs.
  • The children have previously learned some German and the school is committed to a quality language learning experience for all KS2 in French
  • The school has set up effective liaison between the school language coordinator and the language deliverer (Janet W).
  • Teachers and TAs are present and take an active part in the lesson, supporting Janet W, learning new language alongside the children and supporting children where necessary.The teacher and  TA participated in the pair work games  and sang the greetings song and prompted children to recall key responses to personal information questions and answers etc.
  • The teacher and TA saw and made links between the new focus the children started today on the "family and family trees" with their Science project- (growing up).
  • Janet W is an excellent deliverer of the target language and although she has only just started to work as part of our team ,she has been delivering primary languages as a teaching assistant in a local school.She has an understanding of pace,rapport with staff and children, using the primary classroom space and the understanding of working in a primary language learning context.
  • There were natural pauses and opportunities for assessment for learning and a final plenary check of learning that had taken place.
  • Children loved the alien family and delighted in creating "alien voices" for the characters as they learned the members of the family.One pair really enjoyed changing the game to make "Darlek voices" too.
  • All the children loved the pair activities -guessing games, based on the question "Qui est- ce?" with the aliens."Ooh it's like Cluedo!" was one enthusiastic comment
  • All the children participated well in the pair game and I saw the reaction from the children that you see when the children like the resource they are using, (colour laminated pictures of the aliens) holding them like precious playing cards.
  • A link  was made  between local primary schools as it was explained that the grandma and grandad alien were created by Barrowhall CP Year 4 in Warrington .Now Parish CE Year 5  want to create additional family members and this got them thinking even as they walked out to the classroom.The teachers cleverly  popped it on the agenda for circle time too- so French language will be used later in the week and new words will be looked for!
  • And the aliens ?Well this is the first of several appearances throughout the next couple of years of language learning. We have used these characters for several years now and they never fail to delight the children (and the teachers)! Today I saw what an engaging focus this  is for primary UKS2 children.Yes it's the family, yes we are learning words but this is la famille extra-terrestre ! Wow and just how did the children engage with the fact this was an extra terrestrial family! 

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