LANGUAGES WITHOUT LIMITS
Effective professional learning takes place when teachers and others engage in collaborative enquiry.
Professional learning is most effective when participants actively engage in building their expertise, as they work through the practical implications of learning for themselves in their own contexts and as they access and use research and reading as part of reflective practice. Working with colleagues through dialogue and reflection to analyse and develop professional practice is an essential part of developing and deepening understanding.
Extract from: Change Matters: Ideas into action (LTScotland, 2010) p.9
In the course of the curriculum development projects described elsewhere on this website (see related pages, left) it became clear that 'the language' was not the main problem for struggling learners. Despite the fact that all the schools who took part chose to work with their 'most challenging' class, and the fact that most of the language teachers involved assumed at the outset that the language was too difficult for the learners in question, in not one of the projects was the language content watered down. What did change was the approach taken by the development team: identification of barriers to learning ('What's stopping them learning?'); assessment of learning needs ('What helps them to learn?'); and the adoption by the class teacher of approaches and procedures that were flexible enough to respond to the range of needs presented.
The key to this work in each of the schools that took part was the formation of short-life working teams made up of the MFL teacher and a member of the school's learning support staff – often one who had worked previously in MFL classes. The programme they worked on together is now available online as Maximising Potential, but in fact much of the content of this Languages Without Limits site is based on insights gained in this and earlier projects designed to develop inclusive practice in MFL classes.
Some of the problems encountered, and how they were tackled, are described below.
Forming the team
Forming the team is probably the most difficult part of the whole exercise, because the school's Senior Management Team has to be persuaded to make the timetabling allocations and arrangements that are required to make it work. In most schools, support personnel are in limited supply and often deployed to help in Maths and English classes only, or they are charged with assisting a designated pupil. A really good case has to be made if some of their valuable time is to be spent in the MFL department. Some of the arguments used:
– Equality and equity: All pupils have a right to be taught to the best of the school's ability. If , in respect of some classes, there is a feeling that 'we could do better', there has to be a mechanism for achieving that improvement. Doing more of the same will not achieve a different outcome.
– The project is time-limited: Improvements will be achieved within a pre-agreed time-span (a term, two terms, a school year).
– Professional development Teachers are entitled to opportunities to improve their teaching capacities, and improvements gained through work with one class will be applied to others. A requirement to report progress can lead to developments that improve the capacity of the MFL department as a whole, or even to the whole school
Unless SMT is convinced of the value, it is difficult to persuade the person responsible for drawing up the school timetable of the value of providing co-ordinated schedules that allow the team members time, not just time to work together with the designated class, but time to plan and review, too. Just getting together as the class arrives, with no time to plan and prepare or to review the effectiveness of innovations, renders the team teaching ad hoc, and the value of the exercise is transient at best.
Room 6, period 4, OK?
And there's the next difficulty: once the MFL and Support teachers have succeeded in getting time together, what do they do? If they have never worked together before, or if work has simply involved helping a pupil of two, or helping to keep order in a difficult class, and especially if the support specialist is not also a language specialist… what can they do together now?
The projects on which this website is based provide a detailed programme of work that includes advice on how to get started and on how to work together effectively.
The latest version of the project is known as Maximising Potential. It can be found on Learning and Teaching Scotland's website:
Some archive material from the earlier projects can be found here.
Well, what do we do now?
Effective Provision for Special Educational Needs (EPSEN)
EPSEN: Download EPSEN on collaboration and roles
And an example of a task sheet for revisiting all the tenses collaboratively.
Examples of some helpsheets designed for practising word-order in yes/no and information-seeking questions about events in the immediate future. Could be used collaboratively or as consolidation work for homework.
[Links checked 28.7.11 unless otherwise indicated]
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