Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Written Word: how soon is too soon?

I've been in this teaching game for nearly 16 years now.  Along the way there have been some milestones which have shaped me as a teacher.  The ones that come straight to mind are the publication in 1998 of "The Invisible Child" by David Buckland and Jeff Lee, joining the virtual community of language teachers in 2005 and becoming a parent in 2003.

I did my PGCE in the mid 1990s when the Communicative Method was king.  "The Invisible Child" and the working group that evolved from it in Sunderland LA made it OK to teach grammar explicitly, analyse texts and explore the sound-spelling link.  Communicating with other MFL teachers from around the UK and beyond broadened my teaching repertoire and kept me right up to date with all the latest developments.  I learned more from these virtual colleagues than I ever did from my real ones.  Having my own children changed the way I interacted with other peoples', my students. 

I don't think I could ever have been a primary teacher without having been a parent of small children first.  My daughters have taught me how to interact with little ones, how to speak to them, what they like, how much they can understand.  This knowledge has come in very handy for my teaching, especially with EYFS and KS1.  I've had some hits, but there have been a lot of misses too.

Today was definitely a hit.  My Year 1 class really surprised me.

It's Science Week, and I had a chat with the Y1 teacher about what I could do with the class.  They had been finding out about plants and had labelled a plant on a worksheet.  So I made a giant cardboard plant, which you can see in the picture above.  We gradually pieced it together on the board, with the children telling me what they knew about each part.  Then the children helped me to label each part with the right English word.  The last step was to show them the Spanish labels and ask for volunteers to replace the English labels with Spanish ones.

First surprises:
the five-year-old girl who explained "I know that one (flor) is flower because the letters are nearly the same."
another girl in the class who said "I think that one (raíz) must be root because they both start with r."

Once the plant was labelled in Spanish, we did some choral repetition to practise the Spanish words.  Quickly, hands went up.

Next surprises:
"In that word (tallo) we're saying a y but there isn't a y in the word."
"In that word (hoja) there's a j but it doesn't make a j, it makes a (Spanish j sound!)."
"In hoja we don't say the h."
"The z sounds like th, like in diez."

I was astounded.  My usual pattern of work is to practise the words (most of our work is at word level in Y1) orally and then to introduce the written word at the final stage.  But Y1 showed me today how much value can be gained from introducing the written word right at the beginning.  Phonics is obviously such an integral part of their daily life at school that their ears and eyes are finely tuned to the letters in a word and the sounds that they will make.

When Primary Languages first started (this time round) nearly ten years ago, it was said that in lower KS2, children should concentrate on speaking and listening and that reading and writing should only be introduced later.  The Ofsted report "Achievement and Challenge: 2007-2010" said that speaking and listening are being done well in KS2, but that more work needs to be done on developing reading and writing.  Indeed, the KS2 Framework for Languages has Literacy objectives for Year 3 and upwards.  In my experience, KS2ers enjoy reading and especially writing, which gives them a big sense of satisfaction.  Some make their own notes during lessons which they take home to practise in their own time. 

To reply to my own question, I think EYFS is too early to introduce the written word, as, generally speaking, the children do not have sufficient experience or knowledge to be able to make the links between English and the target language or the motor skills to be able to write the words comfortably and confidently.  But by the time they get to Y1, the time is evidently right.  They are making links between their language and the foreign language, learning about one by comparison with the other.  The more enlightened headteachers know that this happens and how beneficial it can be, but there are some who still need to be convinced.  Are secondary colleagues aware of this?  Are they aware that the Y7s that they receive can make these connections from an early age and that they do indeed have these language learning skills?  Do they provide opportunities for these connections to be made?  Do they give students the necessary vocabulary to explain these connections?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts, even if I have asked more questions than I have answered!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Fruit Miles

One of the things I do on my day off on a Friday is go to Tescos to do the weekly family shop.  We used to do it on a Saturday morning, but my younger daughter has started dance classes which are, you've guessed it, on a Saturday morning, and of course at a different time to her sisters'.

This morning I was accompanied on my shopping trip by my husband, who also has a day off today.  When we reached the fruit and veg section, I told him about the lesson I had with my Y3 class last week. 

We had watched one of the chapters of the BBC Active's DVD "Being Spanish", which shows some Spanish children picking nectarines in Valencia, and then following the nectarines' journey to the processing warehouse, the giant fridge and the delivery lorries, which then transport the nectarines all over Europe.

We then talked about where the fruit in our supermarkets comes from.  Some of the children had already noticed that some of the fruits that their parents buy come from other countries.  I asked them to have a look at the labels next time they are in the supermarket.  We talked about it again this week, briefly, but it was evident that they hadn't had the opportunity to look at the fruit, or had forgotten!  So when I was in Tesco today, I thought why don't I do a little survey to find out where all the fruits come from.

With my trusty HTC Desire I took photos of the labels showing where the fruits are from.  This afternoon I have PowerPointed them, ready for our lesson next week.  This has been quite a labour-intensive process just for one bit of one lesson, and so I thought it would be worth sharing here as I'm sure it will be useful to others too. 

Before you look at the slides, have a think about the questions I'm going to ask Year 3:
1. How many fruits did I see?
2. Which fruits do you think I saw?
3. How many countries were represented?
4. Which countries do you think were represented?

I'm going to get them to do some predicting in table groups, and then they can mark each others' while we look at the PowerPoint.

I'm hoping that the information will also raise important questions such as the environmental impact of importing all these different foods, why we import them in the first place, and which foods are in season when.  Even if we don't get onto that, they will be finding out the names of more fruits and the locations of more countries, which can only be good.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Primary Languages Show 2011

On Friday I made the 360 mile round trip from Sunderland to Liverpool for the 2011 Primary Languages Show.  In my post about the 2010 show I said that I would attend both days this year, and indeed that is what I booked for.  Unfortunately the show was reduced from two days to one this year due to LAs' budget cuts and uncertainty about the future of Primary Languages.

Nevertheless, there were still plenty of appealing workshops to attend, in most of the sessions too many to choose from.  The ones that I chose reflected the priorities that we have in the local authority at the moment and also my own personal interests.

Toto et les graines magiques: Strategies for storytelling
Chris Behagg from West Sussex LA gave us plenty of ideas for using a story to its maximum linguistical benefit.

Matisse Magique!
Maria Roberts, also from West Sussex LA, showed us this project, which combines Art and French for upper KS2.  It showed me that there is so much more that I can do with my Gaudi project.

The West Sussex Grid for Learning is packed with resources for MFL.  They don't know if the resources will still be there in September, so download them now!

Story Making in French
I had wanted to attend Jo Cole's session last year, but it was all booked up.  I was not disappointed.  Jo's strategies and rationale for story making in the languages classroom make so much sense and, if you can find the right story, are straightforward to do. 

Les Animaux du Monde
I'd met the human dynamo that is Liz Black before, and enjoyed chatting with her again.  Her web pages on the Stokesley School website are packed with excellent ideas and resources for KS2-KS3 Transition.

A particular highlight of the day for me was the keynote address by Professor David Crystal, which addressed multilingualism and why it's A Good Thing.  He said a lot of very sensible things about languages in general.

Rather than say too much else here, I'll put my notes below and you can read all about it at your leisure.