Promoting Language study in primary schools


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Promoting Language Study in Primary Schools: mainstream teacher attitudes as a factor in success of language programs Presentation by Marina Houston at AFMLTA conference Sydney 2009

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Promoting Language study in primary schools

  1. 1. Today I would like you to take away with you the following Promoting language study in primary schools: Primary classroom teachers form a significant group of school community that can be mobilised to support language programs in schools. Mainstream teacher attitudes as a factor in There is a range of things that can be done in success of language programs this direction. Some are school-based, very practical and Marina Houston could be implemented almost immediately. University of Canberra Some are system-related, and could be viewed as ‘medium-term’ strategies. Dialogue, Discourse, Diversity And finally, there are ways to go which are AFMLTA Sydney 9th -12th July 2009 really long-term in human terms – may involve several generations. References Distinct features of my study Crozet, C. (2008) ‘Australia’s Linguistic Culture and Its Impact on 1. The focus on primary teachers Languages Education’ in Babel, Vol 42 Number 3 April 2008, pp. 19-23. 2. The ACT educational context / attitude to language / Liddicoat, A., Scarino, A., Curnow, T. J., Kohler, M., Scrimegour, specific languages A. & Morgan, A.-M. (2007) Report ‘An Investigation of the State and Nature of languages in Australian Schools’. METHOD University of South Australia (October 2007) ‘Attitudes Towards Study of languages in Australian Schools’ Total of 19 primary teachers contributed their (2007) A Report for the Australian Council of State Schools opinions (through survey or interview or both) Organisations and the Australian Parents Council based on 15 classroom teachers returned the survey research conducted by Solved at McConchie Pty Ltd (March 6 primary teachers were interviewed: 2007) Lo Bianco, J. & Aliani, R. (2008) ‘Executive Summary and • 2 language teachers , 3 classroom teachers and 1 Recommendations’ (‘The Centre of Excellence in LOTE Study’). classroom teacher who also teachers a language University of Melbourne. (May 2008) (European) ‘Review of the Commonwealth LOTE Programme’. Erbus • 30-50 minutes per interview Consulting Partners. (December 2002) • One teacher wanted to be interviewed more than Scott, M. (2009) ‘Cinderella takes action: A local initiative to once promote languages’ in Babel, Vol 43 Number 3 May 2009, pp. 32-35. • Most data collected in the first half of 2009 My study and its limitations My informants This is a pilot study. A small sample, which would allow us to map out ACT Primary school teachers (18 from state schools themes and a range of opinions. and 1 from an independent school, with many years of experience working in the government sector) The participants were all voluntary. So it is very Length of teaching – from 6 months to 43 years likely that these are the people who cared in some Length of being in the current school – from 6 way about the situation with languages. months to 6 years The people for interviews were chosen as those who Teaching grades: Preschool through Year 6 I thought were likely to be prepared to give their Only one respondent said that his/her school did not time. 5 out of 6 teachers were the people I had met offer a language. before, and I knew they had an interest in education. The 6th teacher was recommended by a The majority were in a school with an Asian 3rd party, and it was my one and only meeting with language (this was accidental; the original plan was that teacher. to survey equal numbers of teachers from schools offering a European and an Asian language). 14 teachers came from Anglo-Celtic (English- The opinions presented may be opinions of the speaking) backgrounds and 5 had another language people who were to an extent interested in the spoken in the family when they were young. issue. No comment can be made on the opinions of the people who did not wish to share them. At present, 16 teachers spoke only English at home, and 3 spoke English and another language. 1
  2. 2. Languages in the ACT 4.3 Preschool to year 6 requirements Curriculum 4.3.3 Schools have flexibility in how they ‘Every chance to learn: Curriculum implement their curriculum plans and framework for ACT schools deliver their teaching and learning programs, provided that: preschool to year 10’ (2007) (The information available on the ACT Each year, from year 3 to year 6, schools DET website) provide students with a minimum of 60 minutes per week of languages education in one of the eight priority languages – [There is also a ‘Languages support French, German, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese/Mandarin plan (2008 - 2010)’ ] and Korean 4.4 Years 7 to 10 requirements Languages in the ACT government schools 4.4.3 Schools have flexibility in how they implement their curriculum plans and A 3-year plan of introducing languages programs deliver their teaching and learning across the schools in ACT (2008-2010) programs, provided that: Primary Schools, High Schools and Colleges The DET has acknowledged that there needs to be continuity in language offering movement In years 7 and 8, schools provide students between sectors, and appears to be working on with a minimum of 150 minutes (or one organising ‘clusters’ of primary schools feeding into high school. line) per week of languages education in The DET particularly supports languages one of the eight priority languages - education in one of the eight priority languages – French, German, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese/Mandarin Japanese, Chinese/Mandarin and Korean. and Korean Languages distribution in the ACT Issues perceived by languages government schools teachers Teaching language in a school is hard work At college (years 11-12) level, most ‘popular’ languages are French, Japanese and Chinese. At present there is only one school in ACT – a college where Korean and Hindi are is offered in Years 11 and 12. At high school level, the languages offered are mostly French, Indonesian and Japanese. 2 high schools offer Chinese, 2 high schools offer German, 2 – Italian, and 2 high schools offer Spanish. At primary level, Japanese is offered in 16 schools, followed by Indonesian – 10, and French – 7. At end of 2008, there were 12 primary schools where language was not being offered. The plan is to continue introducing languages this year and next. 2
  3. 3. A special language classroom in the school Feeling different and isolated Language teachers often feel different and / The language teachers commented or isolated in their school. exceptionally positively on situations over Language teachers state that they always their teaching time when they had a special have to prove something to colleagues and language room. parents / justify the existence of the language program in the school. All acknowledged that having to run from The isolation is felt by most language classroom to classroom was not ideal. teachers, and particularly by teachers from Asian backgrounds. Only a minority of the teachers surveyed (7) said that there is a language classroom in their school; out of these 7, 6 are in one and the same school and 1 teacher is in a private school. Being of a different cultural background First generation Asian teachers’ teaching style and need for help An issue that some language teachers face Language teachers from Asian backgrounds is being from a different cultural acknowledge that they may not be fully familiar with background, especially from a different the teaching style that Australian children are used ethnic / racial background. to. They speak about their need for support from other staff in this area. Some Asian background teachers commented on the attitude of the school staff to them and / or to other colleagues from Asian backgrounds. Attitudes of the school community Classroom teachers’ attitudes towards languages: explicit and implicit An issue raised by all the interviewed language teachers has been that of Classroom teachers’ attitudes towards attitudes of the school community. languages can be both explicit and implicit. The Liddicoat report (Oct 2007) acknowledges They can explicitly state that the that the success of language programs language class is a pretty useless thing depends on the attitudes of the school that is just a waste of time for many community. students. According to Lo Bianco & Aliani (2008, p. 5), LOTE teachers mentioned ‘the importance However, more commonly, classroom of supportive attitudes and the fact that teachers’ attitudes are implicit. schools, local community and parents needed to make a clear show of support for LOTE and value it as a subject.’ 3
  4. 4. Findings and discussion A language teacher: Language teachers who I spoke with strongly supported the thesis: According to this teacher, what The success of language programs classroom teachers think about depends to a large extent on the attitude of the mainstream teachers. language is extremely important. Report (March 2007, p. 23): ‘A number of language teachers said that The attitudes of classroom other teachers in their schools are also teachers are important. reflective of an unsupportive community viewpoint.’ The report notes the lack of any ‘plan to address the complex set of societal and attitudinal factors which combine to constrain this curriculum area.’ A classroom teacher Can a classroom teacher make a (also a language teacher) difference? Language teachers believe that The teacher argues that for most children the attitude comes from home. definitely ‘yes’. This teacher shows awareness that she, as a classroom teacher, can shift parents’ attitudes. Pedagogy The Report (March 2007) notices the mismatch that often happens between the pedagogy of teaching English and teaching LOTEs. A classroom / language teacher commented about It asks if the language teachers are making the the importance of the link between literacy in English and learning other languages: necessary classroom links, and if the can make The language teaching pedagogy and the English these links. teaching pedagogy need to be similar. This way students will respond better to the language classes. The report recommends: ‘The correlation between literacy in English and A language teacher also brought up the issue of learning other languages needs to be made pedagogy, saying that when the two were congruent, there was a higher likelihood of the explicit. Language teachers and English teachers success of the language program. should ensure that the pedagogy used in English She also acknowledged that this is one of the areas of is consistent with, or at least overlaps with the the challenges for overseas trained teachers, pedagogy used in language classes.’ particularly the teachers of Asian languages. (Report March 2007, p. 26) 4
  5. 5. The March 2007 Report (P. 47) notes that many A language for students of below ‘stakeholders’, do not support ‘compulsion’ of average English performance language for all students. If a student is below average in his/her About 20% of principals and language advisors are English language performance, should against compulsory language for students who he/she be in a compulsory language struggle with English. The Study did not survey classroom teachers. program? Why? Why not? Many surveyed parents state ‘teach English first’. My respondents were split on this issue, some The Report recommends the level of compulsion of arguing that such students should still be able to languages be maintained, not to send the wrong learn a LOTE. messages about language education, but increase the quality of provision. The Report cites anecdotal evidence of LD students However quite a few teachers stated that a LOTE enjoying language classes. was not appropriate for such students. Interestingly, most of these teachers seemed to The Lo Bianco & Aliani Report (May 2008, p.7) states imply that the ‘below average’ performers were that language teachers believed that ‘the elective students with learning difficulties and/or ESL. nature of the subject … [negatively] impacted on student motivation.’ However other classroom teachers (survey) state Hours of language per week that they think a ‘good’ language program will have one or two half-hour classes per week. Language teachers tend to support increased hours of language per week (which would be expected). This shows: Opinions about ‘how much’ language in the curriculum is needed vary among classroom (1) language classes are still viewed as an teachers. ‘optional extra’, not something that should Some teachers recognise that the proposed time of happen regularly / for extended periods of one hour per week (or the commonly practise times of 30 minutes per week may not be sufficient for time language learning. (2) language classes are viewed as something to be entertaining / approached in terms of Some classroom teachers (interviews) state that it is the process rather than long-lasting sometimes better not to have any language than just once a week for half an hour or even an hour. achievement This suggests a view of language as not a serious (3) classroom teachers are not aware of how curriculum area (KLA), an optional extra that languages are learnt – one or two half-hour can be considered under some circumstances. But can be easily discarded. sessions per week would not be sufficient for any substantial language learning Mainstream and language teachers What would a good language planning together program look like? Do the language teachers and mainstream There are three major aspects that teachers in your school plan together? classroom teachers consider to be The answers fell roughly equally among ‘never’ (5), ‘rarely’ (3) and ‘sometimes’ (7). important for a good language Not a single teacher ticked off the ‘often’ box. program: the language teacher Do mainstream teachers and language teachers need to plan / work together? the program The overwhelming majority of the respondents 12 answered ‘definitely’, 2 teachers answered the adult participants involved ‘maybe’, and only 1 ticked the ‘no’ box. 5
  6. 6. Do you think that each primary school should offer language lessons? Findings Summarised Classroom teachers would like to see a language Most teachers state that schools program in their school. should offer language programs; There is not much planning together between classroom and language teachers. But both groups are positive about it. ‘yes’ – 12 ‘maybe’ – 2 In relation to language for a child with a ‘below average’ English performance, some classroom teachers said that such students could actually enjoy a ‘no’ - 1 language program, and learning a language could be culturally enriching for all. Many however do not envisage language being compulsory for all students. Students with LD and from ESL backgrounds are often classed as somebody needing extra English tuition, and thus not suitable for language learning. Comments about the ‘crowded curriculum’ indicate that language is viewed as an optional extra. Conclusions Many classroom teachers viewed the integration This study revealed that language teachers view of the language curriculum with the mainstream classroom teachers’ attitudes towards language in one as being crucial for the ‘good’ language the school as being a key factor for the success of program. the program. As key elements of a good language program, Classroom teachers see the link between the many classroom teachers emphasise the quality language and mainstream programs as being of the language teacher as well as the quality of important. However they do not display much the language program. awareness of the impact they can potentially have Many recognise the need for a link between what on the success of the language program. language teachers and mainstream teachers do. Classroom teachers appear unaware of the A minority (4) acknowledge an active role that influence that they exert on the students’ and mainstream teachers can take. their parents’ attitudes towards languages in schools. Most surveyed classroom teachers support Classroom teachers view language language learning generally and would like to see a programs largely as something for students language program in their school. to enjoy / have fun within. They are not sure if studying a language should be compulsory for all. The educational value noted is that of Some teachers seem to be aware of the cultural learning. There is no reference to value language can have in inter-cultural language competency or being able to use learning. language for any of the purposes for Having an opportunity to learn a language on equity grounds is important to some. which for example English is used. However knowing somebody who did not The language teacher is expected to be enjoy the language in school could justify well qualified and passionate about their not making languages compulsory. job. There seems to be lack of awareness of the cognitive benefits of language learning as The language program should be a well as its humanistic value (such as ‘quality’ one. promoting a more just and harmonious society). 6
  7. 7. Recommendations At the School Level At the School Level The ‘whole school’ approach to language / that which involves support by principal, executive teachers and classroom teachers can be The language program needs to be integrated so recommended. that it is considered a part of the mainstream curriculum. Their role as active participants and possibly In terms of the themes being studied, explicit leaders in a school community in relation to reference could be made to the language / culture languages could be brought to the attention of / country. classroom teachers. They could be promoting Time and space and opportunities need to be languages in school generally, for example provided for classroom teachers to plan together. showing their attitude to students, planning with Time and space and opportunities need to be language teachers, and outside the school – provided for classroom teachers to be part of communicating with the parents and wider language classrooms. community. The focus on training ‘quality’ teachers needs to continue. Both the DETs and faculties of Pedagogy education should have a role here. Teacher training courses need to include explicit expectations for classroom teachers This study provides support for recommendation of to know about how the first and second the Report (March 2007): languages are learnt. Language teachers and English teachers should ensure that the pedagogy used in English is consistent with, or at least overlaps with the pedagogy used in Further education regarding the effects of language classes (p. 26). additional language learning needs to be provided. This could dispel the common The implications for teacher education are as misconception of languages being suitable follows. for only proficient uses of English. Teacher educators need to develop in our graduates an awareness of the necessity of linking language teaching pedagogies across languages. Further education about the range of For language teachers, explicit teaching about cognitive benefits involved in language pedagogies commonly used in Australian mainstream classroom needs to be provided. learning as well as its humanistic values (such as promoting a more just and harmonious society) could be planned. In summary: 1. Primary classroom teachers form a significant group of school Promotion of the value of community that can be mobilised to support language programs in languages schools. 2. There is a range of things that can be done in this direction. Further promotion of languages in a wider community is important as this shapes Some are school-based, very practical and could be implemented almost immediately. views of classroom teachers about the Some are system-related, and could be viewed as value of languages. ‘medium-term’ strategies. The March 2007 Report (p.29) notes a need And finally, there are ways to go which are really long- term in human terms – may involve several generations. for ‘a far reaching public awareness campaign’. “The mediocre state of language learning in this country is For this purpose, all language champions not from lack of effort or money being spent. The reality is need to work together, using all possible much more complex, and we would not pretend that there is a simple solution to resolving the intricate interplay avenues to promote languages. between a variety of social, cultural, economic and political forces. The current situation in Australia has taken many years to develop, and is thus likely to take The value / importance of languages could many years to change.” be further reinforced in teacher training (Review of the Commonwealth LOTE Programme. Erbus Consulting Partners. December 2002, p. xiii) courses. We need to fight for space in the language education curriculum, which could also be reinforced across other disciplines. 7