Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Some notes from Language World

On Friday 22nd March I attended the first day of ALL Language World in Nottingham.  It was my first time at Language World and also my first time presenting there (on mini-books - I blogged about it here).

I attended a number of different sessions, many about the new curriculum proposals, and made quite a few notes.  I'll reproduce them here in case they are of interest.

Coming to terms with the new National Curriculum
Ann Swarbrick, Bernadette Holmes and Rachel Hawkes
The draft Programme of Study for Key Stage 2
Therese Comfort

The draft Programme of Study is brief but has rich "springboard" comments.  It has the potential to enliven the curriculum and lead to greater independence and rigour.

Its opening statement about MFL is good and provides a good vision of a language learner.  It is, however, the only mention of intercultural understanding.

Key Stage 2:

The word "Literature" in the draft Programme of Study refers to songs, stories, poems and rhymes.  The term needs to be interpreted and a solution found in the run-up to September 2014.

The phonics, patterns and sounds of the language are given even greater importance.  Children need to be able to recognise patterns and therefore reproduce language.

Children need opportunities to 

  • interact with the language (via songs and rhymes, for example)
  • explore patterns and sounds
  • form a rule
  • test their hypothesis
  • apply phonic and word knowledge to create new meanings that are motivating

There is also a new emphasis on seeking clarification and help, which should be planned for and not just incidental.

Reading and writing: What does "simple writing" mean?  Does it mean that the ideas should be simple?
The "conjugation of high-frequency verbs" has also been signposted and will unnerve many teachers, although children are likely to enjoy the challenge.

Non-specialists and even some headteachers will be flummoxed by the lack of detail in the subject content.  It needs more focus.
"key features and patterns of the language, how to apply these, for instance, to build sentences" - there is a huge amount in this but it is not helpful for all practitioners.  Support for teachers is going to be crucial to KS2 MFL succeeding.

A bit of jargon: GPCs - Grapheme Phoneme correspondences

"Technical terminology" - Therese recommends that we have a look at the Y3-Y6 information to see what they are expected know about in Literacy.

Key Stage 3:

There is a need for secondary schools to provide modern languages from the KS2 List of Seven (French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek) plus others.  Although the subject for KS3 is to be known as "Modern Languages" and therefore is not expected to include Latin or Ancient Greek.  Secondary schools should have a language learning environment and culture.

MFL is now a 7-14 curriculum, so there are huge implications for transition.  Teaching in KS3 is expected to build on KS2 not ignore it.

Differences in the draft Programme of Study include translation, transcription and the reading of literary texts, as well as an emphasis on the spontaneity and independence of the learner.

KS3 requires students to listen to a "variety of forms of spoken language" to obtain information and to respond appropriately.

"Literary texts" can be anything non-fiction.  Authentic texts are listed separately.  Some children's and young peoples' books are surprisingly accessible, for example Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which has been translated into different languages, Mafalda and Cuentos de 50 palabras.

Translation is also mentioned, and must be seen as a tool or a method but not as a methodology.  Translation is a cognitive reflex and students will translate in their heads anyway.  We need to harness this and use it constructively.  Translation both ways is recommended, as is using it as a way of exploring the links between language and grammar, or looking for the meaning behind the meaning.

Collaborating with other schools
Debbie Chrysostomou and Katie Belshaw

Tudor Grange Academy, Solihull

Students and staff working with other local secondary schools and primary schools.

"Europa Day" - A foreign street set up in the school hall to promote authentic language.  Visited by students from different cluster schools.

Lead learners - a small group of children from each school who had some input and then shared it with other children in their school.

Collaboration between different age ranges to promote KS2-KS3 transition, and to build positive attitudes towards MFL before Year 7.  Y6 and Y7 can exchange work on a common theme, which makes for appropriate reading texts, particularly for Y6.  Each can provide information that the other needs - language with a purpose.

New Perpsectives on Grammar
David Crystal

David Crystal delivered a fascinating one hour lecture without notes (as far as I could see) and with no visual aids.

He began by acknowledging that his area of expertise is the English language rather than foreign ones, but "We have one thing in common - we all hate Mr Gove equally".  

"Grammar" always meant "analyse" until the beginning of the National Curriculum, and now that is coming back with the new Year 6 SPaG test.
Grammar is not being (and was not in the past) taught alongside semantics and pragmatics.

"Meanings in dictionaries cannot succeed without the grammatical perspective"  for example, the word table needs some context so that we know which definition of table it is.

"Sentences exist to make sense of words" and sentences are the study of grammar.  Without grammar we can't make sense of words.

We need to teach structures and their use.  This was the problem with the communicative approach in MFL.

Semantics: what a sentence means
Pragmatics: the choices that you make when you use language and the effects that your choices convey

An example of semantics vs pragmatics is tu vs vous in French.  There is a straightforward difference in meaning as well as a choice that needs to be made about which one you use and when.  So much so that French even has a special verb tutoyer.

Another good example of semantics vs pragmatics is the Active vs the Passive voice.
Grammar allows you to identify them.
Semantics identifies the difference in meaning.
Pragmatics asks why there are two forms, how they are different and when you use each of them.

Children should be taught the pragmatics of grammar systematically and not just occasionally.

Grammar is the means to an end.  Vocabulary is the hard part, because there is so much of it.


  1. Thanks for the notes. By the way, David Crystal was a lecturer of ours back at Reading in the 70s. He was always interesting.

    In the KS3 section did you mean "fiction" rather than "non-fiction" for literary texts?

  2. Hmm good point. I definitely have non-fiction written down.

    I am a big David Crystal fan. Mr Gove should go and listen to him making grammar this interesting - he might learn something.

  3. I'm also a big David Crystal fan and was at Reading in the late 60s, early 70s too (but did Italian not Linguistics so only knew about him from friends). Thanks for this post, Clare. I like the idea of 'literature' as our I Can Read and Let's Read series might be useful for primary teachers.