National Curriculum (2014) – Modern Foreign Languages

“Liberation from insularity.”

“Provides an opening to other cultures.”

“Deepen understanding of the world.”

These are things that I am delighted to see included in the MFL section of the National Curriculum (2014). Mainly, though, I’m just happy that MFL is finally statutory from KS2 – that is from age 7, for all those who aren’t from the UK. Although I’d prefer to see languages offered from a younger age, I am glad they are now available for children across the country.

The Department for Education states that some of the aims are: to foster pupils’ curiosity; for children to communicate in speech and writing; and to discover and develop an appreciation for language and culture. This last one is interesting, because it gives the impression that the government aren’t in favour of rote learning. Whilst, generally, the curriculum is good and seems to be based on current good practice models in language teaching and learning, there are just two problems I have with it.

1) Children will read great literature in the original language
What is great literature? Do the government really think that our children, who aren’t learning languages through immersion, will be reading ‘great literature’ by age 11? Do many of our children read great literature in English by age 11? What is great literature???

2) Children will have a continuing development of pronunciation
Will they? Doesn’t this require their teachers to have good pronunciation and speak with the correct intonations and accents? I know that, from my teaching trip to Germany this summer, one of the girls I travelled with spoke German with a strong Lancastrian accent. As such, much of the pronunciation was wrong and she felt that many people struggled to understand what she was saying. She had this accent because her teacher at secondary school was from Preston, as she was too. So, does this development of pronunciation and accuracy require specialist teachers? If so, is that wise? What message does it send to children, if their class teacher doesn’t teach them particular subjects? Will they think that those subjects are as important?

Now… the good stuff.

There is so much that the government have got right with this provision of MFL. For example, almost 60% of the focus is on practical communication skills – speaking and listening. Schools can offer ANY modern foreign language, OR an ancient foreign language. This is excellent because, as the curriculum says, learning an ancient language can: provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension; develop an appreciation of classical civilisation; lay the grammatical foundation for learning a modern foreign language at KS3 (age 11+). Schools will no longer provide a random mixture of several different languages, but focus on one language. For children, this means that they are more likely to make substantial progress. Of course, the progress of children in these languages will depend very much on their school’s priorities – something I will be looking at in my small scale research project at university.

I truly believe that learning a language does ‘liberate you from insularity’, and also ‘provides an opening to other cultures’. These are things which are needed now, more than ever, as we live in multi-cultural communities and interaction with other cultures is made easier with the ever expanding technologies of the 21st Century. Will children who have teachers who value languages and are fairly proficient do better? I think so, but it is probably too soon to tell.

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Voices in Education

Isn’t it fascinating, that there are so many different voices in education?

Children. Parents. Ofsted. Campaigners. Business. Education Practitioners. League Tables. News Editors. Unions. Governors. Local council. Charities. Celebrities. Communities.

People.

So who contributes to educational policy and direction?

It is easy to assume that the government only listens to themselves… but do  they? The following video would have you believe that Michael Gove doesn’t listen to anyone but himself.

I’m not going to lie, I love this video. It shows how wrong Mr Gove has been on so many issues. But does he really just make things up as he goes along? I don’t think so.

Of course, he has ignored many voices on different issues. But don’t all politicians? And hasn’t he listened to voices over aspects of the new National Curriculum? E.g. backtracking on the initial withdrawal of Sp&L from English PoS.

So… who does contribute to educational policy and direction?

Me. You. Us.

We all have a voice. Let’s not waste them.

Bullying

Short disclaimer: there is an ongoing investigation into the incident I write about at the moment. I will not name names and will try not to be too specific. I’d hate to be seen as unprofessional. This is a reflection on the effects of bullying, not a witch hunt for blood.

Recently at university I was the subject of a misplaced joke. Some might call it bullying, whilst others would just say it was a misplaced joke. I’m not sure what I call it. I want to let you in to how this ‘joke’ made me feel – immediately afterwards, and over the following weeks.

#fugly #slut

These were the words left for me on a board when I came into a study room to do exactly that: study. I had booked the room for 3 hours, with some friends, so we could work together on a presentation. As I walked into that room, I was breathless. I felt winded. And as I turned to look at my friend who was with me, I cried. This was followed by a brief lull in the emotions as we waited for the rest of our group… but when they walked in, I cried again. In fact, the afternoon was not a productive study session. It was interspersed with crying, paranoia, anxiety and great sadness from within me.

That night, at home, I sobbed down the phone to my mum. She was horrified that not only had it happened, but that it could have been written by someone who is training to be a teacher. To her it wasn’t solely about the nature of the words and how hurtful they were, but also about professional conduct. I went to sleep, feeling soothed, thinking ‘tomorrow is a new day!’ And it was. It was a Friday. I wasn’t in university, my housemate was away, I was alone. Or, at least, I felt like I was alone. I spent the entire day watching Geordie Shore (which is atrocious, but highly addictive) and eating rubbish. I just sat and let the waves of sadness, waves of anxiety and waves of inferiority wash over me. I didn’t believe the words they had used to describe me, but I felt insecure. I knew then as I know now, I am not a slut… but I felt dirty and weak.

For me, you see, the story actually begins 5 years ago. 5 years ago, I was a different person. I was insecure and weak. I was paranoid and anxious. I was depressed. Not as a result of bullying, but as a result of having the wrong priorities in my life. I had absolutely hit rock bottom, which included a brief encounter with suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, because of my ever-loving parents, I was able to move home and begin to fix myself. It was a very long process but, with their love and support, and the love and support of wiser friends, I was able to get back on my feet once more. Earlier this year I took the final step I needed to heal: counselling. I was able to, with a supportive professional, come to terms with my angers and anxieties; my insecurities and paranoias; and I was able to leave it where it belongs… in the past.

If we now jump back again, into the present, you may now begin to understand why I spent a week feeling sick and crying. It wasn’t all the time. It was, like I said before, waves. I was fine, until I wasn’t. The misplaced ‘joke’ broke me in the immediate aftermath. It brought me back to my teenage years. I was insecure. I definitely didn’t think I was pretty. Those insecurities were never things that I was bullied for at school. But they were insecurities which were never dealt with. And they did control my first few years as a young adult, from 18-21 years old.

I’m done, now, with this incident at university. Obviously, I hope there are certain outcomes, but the best outcome for me would be that the perpetrator realises that it was never about offence. If you take me out of it, it is about what is ok to say, and what isn’t. It is about professionalism. If you leave me in it, it is about this misguided thought process of the 21st Century. It is about people thinking they can say and/or write what they want, without thinking more deeply about the person they’re talking/writing about.

For me, as a professional, this is the challenge. Michael Gove, I know you won’t read this… but I wish you would. It isn’t about the facts which we fill children’s heads with. And it isn’t about how well they will contribute to society, economically. It is about working out what each child’s insecurities are, and tackling them. It is about teaching children to have respect and empathy. It is about guiding children and teenagers and young adults away from those feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Finally, it is about how well children today will contribute to society, emotionally and socially. I believe that all practitioners need to reflect on the new National Curriculum (2014) and upon their own practice. We all need to work out how we can develop children’s emotional and social intelligence; how we can nurture each child’s health and wellbeing. For me, that begins in the classroom. It begins with the teacher.

Education: The Political Football

It is a term many of us will have heard before: political football. It is one that I have, personally, used many times. It is something which educators in Britain, and other countries, today will understand. I won’t go into the ins and outs of politics, as this blog is solely a reflection of my practice and policies which may affect that practice. It is also a reflection of the articles, books and journals which I read. So… let’s begin.

“We need a system designed not for yesterday, but for today.” (Blair, 1998)

I am passionate about education. I believe in it. I believe that every child in the world should have access to a rich and diverse education. Over my life time, which isn’t very long, I have seen only 4 governments: John Major’s; Tony Blair’s; Gordon Brown’s; and David Cameron’s. Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of the changes which have been made recently, I do agree with some. I believe that children today are very lucky to be educated in England.  I believe that, despite what some people would have you believe, we have a strong army of excellent teachers who feel as privileged as me to be involved in the education system.

What I don’t believe in is the education system being used as the aforementioned political football. I don’t believe that politicians should use educational policy to win votes. I don’t believe that politicians should manipulate the curriculum on a whim, just to score some points over the previous leading party. Education is vital! And not just for the future economic status of our country.

“It’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp.” (Robinson, 2006)

This is something which is backed up by many people, including Sue Pollard in her book ‘Toxic Childhood’. There is an argument here that, by stifling children’s creativity, we are going to end up unable to take advantage of the world which previous generations have created for us. Ken Robinson is a campaigner for creativity in education and schools, and I found myself really moved by something he said in a TED talk a few years ago. Education has increasingly become about training children up into adults who can slot into a job which contributes economically to our society. Artists and musicians do not contribute economically to our society, so they’re not important… or are they? Is there something which is more important to our society’s development than being economically afloat? I believe that there is. I believe that through a diverse and creative curriculum, children can become thinkers. Children can grow and develop into adults who are able to think. I posed a thought to Michael Gove at the London Festival of Education in 2012, which wasn’t answered: surely by curbing children’s access to creativity in the classroom, you are condemning a generation to being incapable of original thought.

I’m not arguing against the importance of literacy and numeracy lessons. I’m just simply arguing the case for creativity and diversity within the classroom. I am especially arguing the case for the development of our children’s social and emotional intelligence. A man by the name of Robin Stern argues this case in depth: it is the adults who, as children, were well developed socially and emotionally manage to cultivate successful relationships and careers. It is these children who are socially and emotionally secure who feel safe in a creative and curious environment. And as Robinson says, ‘curiosity is the engine of achievement.’

The Reflection Debate

The Reflection Debate

In our first session (in week 5… get your head around that) we looked in small groups at two passages addressing reflective practice and presented our findings to the other groups. It was interesting to see how much of what was written about we had already figured out for ourselves, and made it really clear to people how simple it can be to be critically reflective in their assignments. Whilst this exercise was valuable, I’m not going to talk about the specifics of what the articles said, but rather write about the thoughts I’ve had which stemmed from these articles.
Debate 1: Reflection is surely a constant cycle.

What I have found, from placement and lectures, is that my reflections are usually a constant and ongoing cycle. I have an experience, reflect upon it, learn something new, adapt the experience and try a new approach, which then leads to having another experience etc. It is ongoing and, whilst in school, I find myself reflecting on my feet whilst the lesson is ongoing. This enables me to change the lesson then and there, if I need to. However, this isn’t actually constricted to school time: I am a highly critical person in all that I do, and so I find myself second guessing most of my actions almost immediately. I began to understand this side of myself around February 2013, and since then have been making a conscious effort to be less critical, and more reflective. Anyway, I digress.

Although reflection is a cycle, I found myself wondering whether it needs to be so constant, in order for it to be effective. If we apply what article A said about ‘deep’ and ‘surface’ learners, with a focus on quality thinking, then effective reflection must be done when there is time. We need to find time to think clearly about what has occured, before discussing it with someone (either a peer, or an advisor) to get their reflections on the subject, so that we can gain a balanced reflection. The argument is that if we take the time to reflect, away from the situation, the greater our judgement can be.

Whilst I do think it is important to arrive at these ‘greater’ judgements, through solid and deep reflections, I think that it is also important for an effective teacher to be able to reflect on the spot. Perhaps, different kinds of reflection are needed in different situations.

Debate 2: Reflection is personal… but you need to discuss it.

One of the confusing things for me was that reflection is, and always has been, something which is entirely personal. After all, how can someone else reflect on your situation, when only you know exactly how you feel? However, the case is put forward in article B that a very important part of reflection is discussion.

For me, discussion must be involved in effective reflection. Without reflecting upon how I judge myself, using discussion with peers, my tutor and a counsellor, I’m not sure I would have realised just how critical I can be. I had spent the last 2 years believing that being critical and being reflective were ‘basically the same thing’. I think that, whether we are aware of it or not, other people are usually involved in reflective disscussions. After all, I cannot count the number of times I have sat with friends and run through plans, lessons and social dilemmas with them – never mind the amount of conversations with the class teacher I have had after every lesson, each one reflective.

When we get children to write sentences, they are encourage to read their sentence aloud to their partner. This is to see whether their sentence makes as much sense outside of their head, as it does inside. Then the case for reflective discussion is simple, because it is surely a similar kind of thinking. If we want to make sure that what we are thinking makes some sort of sense, then a simple way to do this is to talk to a peer or an advisor. I have realised over the past 6 months that my peers or tutor don’t need to understand exactly how I am feeling and that, in fact it can be helpful to gain a rational and disconnected viewpoint. I put my increased confidence in the classroom down to the fact that I finally felt comfortable discussing my reflections with the class teacher. These discussions then led to further pedagogical development.

And finally…

Reflection is a powerful tool which, I believe, allows us to unlock our minds and freely criticise, in a positive manner, our actions and experiences as we strive for effectiveness in the classroom.

What is education?

What is education?

What is education for?

Is education a cognitive matter or more than this?

Which has more importance and value, training or education?

Is there a difference between these terms? If so, does it have significance?

List some educational aims. Rank them in order of importance. Why?

These were all questions that informed discussion in this week’s tutorial. The aim: to begin to define our own personal educational philosophy. Whilst in Paris in July, I brainstormed many of the ideas surrounding the above questions. I became a bit arrogant and thought I had my philosophy sussed… until I went to Kenya. My tutor asked us to reflect on these questions as a starting point for our philosophies, and I turned to my brainstorms in my notebook. Unfortunately, this brought over a huge sense of sadness and realisation that my short teaching trip in Mombassa this September has completely altered my vision of education. In short, it was a life-changing experience. And so, once more, I must define my own philosophy of education. I’ll start today by unwinding ‘What is education?’

Of course, this isn’t as difficult a question as you might first think. It comes across as one of the trick questions, where you think that the answer can’t possibly be as simple as what is in your mind… or can it? For me, education is dependent on your own cultural context. It shouldn’t be, but it is. For me, it is as simple as this: education is the key. It is the key to: the future; a peaceful and respectful society; the end of so many problems.

I believe that the key to education is something that we are currently missing in the UK and I believe this for a few reasons.

1)   The perception of education as valuable and precious to all

In the news this week a new competition was announced, for the best teacher in the world. It is, apparently, an attempt to honour the profession in a similar way to the Nobel awards, because teaching is a profession which is, increasingly, seen with dissatisfaction. Many adults fail to see the value in education, whilst also failing to see education as a life long journey. At the same time, many children profess to hate school because it is boring. It is something which they have to do: not something which they want to do. Going to school is all the education they need, it isn’t life long, and it isn’t valuable for many. Too many children in western culture fail to see education as something which valuable and precious for each individual and, as such, they don’t grasp onto all the opportunities afforded them.

2)    Aspirations for the future

This feeds perfectly of the previous point. All children have aspirations for the future, however many of those aspirations have become slightly altered in recent years to be geared towards a life of celebrity and riches. Don’t get me wrong, there are thousands upon thousands of children in the UK who have fantastic aspirations AND realistic role models (my next point). There are thousands of children in this country who will work hard and continue to learn throughout their life, and they will fill many respectable jobs whilst contributing to society in a variety of ways. That is not the child I am writing about. I am writing about the child whose sole ambition is to become rich and/or famous in the quickest way possible. This is the child who differs from their counterpart in Kenya. Whilst many of the children I met in Kenya were avid football fans, and many proclaimed to have the skills needed to make it big in the professional world one day, not one of them shied away from the aspirations that they knew only education could bring them. All worked tremendously hard at school, and all held a very similar aspiration: to escape from the poverty they were born into. They might not have had any power over what kind of life they would lead as a child, but they recognised that they solely had the responsibility and power to change that life, through education.

3)    Realistic role models

The final reason I believe that the UK is generally missing the key, perhaps the point of education, is that we fail to give children realistic role models. With the increase in social networking, has come an increase in the insight that is available into celebrities’ lives. There has been a swell of reality television programmes, alongside endless talent contests. Football has become an even greater force, as their private lives have become open to the public, and many children today look either upon their football or musical favourites to shape their identity. This isn’t a rant: I desperately followed the stories and woes of the Spice Girls when I was just 8 years old; I cried when Take That split up; I had a shrine like area of my room filled with ‘Gladiator’ memorabilia and Russell Crowe’s face everywhere. That is, and always has been, the story of childhood. We all have heroes that we look up to when we are children.

However, it is easier today than it ever has been for children to find their identity in a celebrity who perhaps isn’t the most realistic choice of role model. Children cannot necessarily choose wisely when it comes to who their role models are, however it is also up to teachers and family members to provide children with opportunities to find realistic role models. Whilst I was at primary school, my mum gave me a book to read (which is still on my shelf at home) entitled ’10 girls who changed the world’. This was a book filled with 10 real people who had grown up to change the world, but because it was written from the perspective of their childhood it resonated with me more easily. From then on I held Corrie Ten Boom and Joni Eareckson as role models, and later Ellen MacArthur as I started sailing as she reached fame. I was probably never going to be a famous sailor, even if I did think I would beat her record. It was OK for me to dream big, just as it is OK for children everywhere to dream big… but not at the expense of education and their view of it.

Education is as simple as this for me: it is the priceless opportunity, that can value and nurture creativity and originality, whilst freeing your mind and giving a context for life.