The Teaching School Council's Modern Foreign Languages Review, a review of modern foreign languages teaching practice in Key Stages 3 and 4, was published in November last year. As previously mentioned, I attended Ian Bauckham's session at Language World, which gave an excellent overview of the report. It is a report into the situation in secondary schools, but I wanted to see how relevant it is to current practice in Key Stage 2, which, after all, lays the foundations for the study of languages in Key Stage 3 and beyond.
The review says:
"2.14 The focus of this review is secondary school modern foreign languages pedagogy, from Year 7 to GCSE. However, much of what we say is also relevant to pedagogy in the upper end of primary and at post-16. Our findings and recommendations are consistent with the current changes to the national curriculum and examination specifications."
If we are to rethink upper Key Stage 2, then this will necessarily also have implications on content and methodology in lower Key Stage 2.
The review does not ignore the value of language learning in Key Stage 2. References to primary education are made clear in the report's key recommendations:
Key recommendation 6:
"Languages teachers should know and build on the grammar taught in the key stage 2 national curriculum for English."
Key recommendation 7:
"Secondary schools should know about the modern languages taught at their feeder primary schools. Wherever possible, they should support language learning in primary schools and plan to build on pupils’ primary school language knowledge."
It is just as important for KS3 teachers to be aware of the terminology taught in English in KS2 as it is for primary language practitioners. Those of us on the chalkface are impressed daily by children's knowledge of complex grammar and grammatical terminology, and it is important that we are aware of this and that we make a conscious effort to use the same terminology as the children are taught in GPS/SPaG.
I have written at length previously about the importance of primary and secondary schools talking to each other so that new Year 7 students can make the best possible start to their KS3 language learning careers. I always send information to the feeder secondary schools that my Year 6s will go to, but for the most part I'm not sure that it is read or taken notice of. I certainly get very little feedback.
"7.1 …However, failing to take account of the language knowledge that new Year 7 pupils bring with them is to waste an opportunity, and may be demotivating for them."
The review says that, when planning curricula, teachers should focus on vocabulary, grammar and phonics.
"4.1 Vocabulary to be taught should be informed by frequency of occurrence in the language, and special attention should be paid to common verbs in the early stages. Many language courses are organised around thematic topics, such as ‘free time activities’, ‘the environment’, ‘home and family’ etc. which act as ‘vehicles’ for vocabulary. In such cases the choice of vocabulary can be too specialised, teaching relatively rarely used words at the expense of common words which it is harder to plan for re-encountering later.
4.2 In the early stages of a language course, particular attention should be paid to the planned building of pupils’ verb lexicon, focussing on the meaning of the stem or infinitive form of common verbs. A strong basic verb lexicon has been found to relate positively to pupils’ ability to effectively manipulate those verbs at later stages.
For example, 25 commonly occurring verbs in French are: avoir, être, aller, faire, dire, pouvoir, vouloir, savoir, voir, devoir, venir, suivre, parler, prendre, regarder, croire, aimer, falloir, passer, penser, attendre, trouver, laisser, donner, aimer."
When planning my schemes for Spanish and French at KS2, I have to admit that I considered the usual topics such as colours, animals, weather, sports and so on, because that is what is traditionally taught (and often what children like to learn about) and not because it gives children the best access to this key language. There is definitely a case for revisiting such planning once armed with a list of key language and structures and examining how it might best fit in.
The next point about teaching vocabulary is something that I think KS2 is getting better at, partly because of the requirements of the KS2 Languages curriculum and partly because of the requirements of the KS2 English curriculum:
"4.3 Teachers should develop a strong repertoire of techniques for teaching vocabulary and having pupils practise, reinforce and use it. This repertoire should be a subject of constant professional development and discussion. It should include explanation of the origins of words, and patterns within them, including shared roots, and patterns that are particular to individual languages, such as the use of prefixes in German. Words with shared roots can be recognised more quickly than words with no connection to the first language. This can be helpful in the early stages of a course, though pupils need to understand that it does not always work, and to beware of ‘false friends.’"
"5.3 We recommend that standard grammatical terminology is taught to pupils. This has sometimes been eschewed by teachers in recent decades, but we see no reason to do so. Giving pupils clear knowledge of accepted terminology is empowering and facilitates application of concepts associated with that terminology in different contexts, including in future language learning.
Practice of the grammar point in ‘input language’ (listening and reading), doing structured tasks which require identification of a grammatical feature and linking it to a meaning or function, normally with other contextual clues stripped away. For example, distinguishing between different tense forms with no adverbs of time to offer clues; or distinguishing between different persons of verbs without the pronoun to assist. This aspect of grammar practice is very underdeveloped in many contexts, and not well supported by many course books. Too often, teaching jumps from a formal explanation straight to a demand to use the grammar productively. This can lead to poor mastery."
"6.2 There is significant evidence, including from the most effective practitioners, that direct and systematic teaching of phonics in the new language is a more reliable method for assuring accurate pronunciation and spelling. However, this is still relatively rare practice in classrooms.
6.4 The aim should be that a pupil can pronounce most words accurately from the written form, including those not yet explicitly taught; and that they can produce a potentially accurate spelling of new words. Various exercises can feature as part of a planned approach to teaching and practising phonics, such as note-taking, dictation or dictogloss.
6.5 There is now significant expertise in teaching English phonics in primary schools. We recommend that teachers familiarise themselves with this range of techniques and develop their capacity to apply the relevant principles to the teaching of phonics of the new foreign language."
Phonics is, of course, an integral part of the KS2 Languages curriculum, and something else that primary and secondary colleagues should be talking to each other about.
The review also points out the importance of meaningful contexts in which to place the learning:
"8.2 Such material should be stimulating and chosen to extend pupils’ knowledge and widen their perspectives. Using the new language to teach pupils about the history, culture, and literature of the new country or countries is a very effective way to do this. A similar approach is used in Latin courses, where the language which is being systematically taught is at the same time used to teach pupils about Roman life, culture and history to convey interesting material and broaden horizons beyond what pupils bring themselves."
Key recommendation 3:
"The content taught through the new language should be stimulating and widen pupils’ knowledge of the culture, history and literature of speakers of the new language, without compromising the necessary sequencing of vocabulary and grammar."
Teaching history and culture alongside the apparently ordinary topics, this giving an extra layer of depth to the learning, has huge value. I am sure that something can be found to enrich each topic area that we traditionally teach in KS2, particularly if we continue to find links across the curriculum to other subjects.
I shall now be looking into high-frequency language in French and Spanish, considering the vocabulary which is appropriate to KS2 and examining how it can be incorporated into my schemes of work. I shall also be researching cultural and historical aspects that can enhance or replace the learning contexts.