MLTA ‘Leadership in Languages’: Q&A panel
How to get senior classes?
Ravenswood is a K-12 non-selective independent girls’ school on Sydney’s North Shore and
offers the IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma as an alternative to the HSC in Years 11-
12. Six languages are offered: French, German, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin), Latin and
Spanish (IB ab initio). The Coordinator leads a team of 11 (one Chinese assistant, 3 part-time
and 7 full-time teachers, most of whom speak at least 2 languages other than English) and
oversees K-12 Languages, including all HSC and IB Languages.
Despite having relatively healthy numbers in Years 11-12 each year for all six languages, it has
become an alarming trend that the classes are being combined (HSC/IB) as a way of reducing
cost to the school and being ‘fiscally responsible”. What is the ‘magic number’ and why does
it change from year to year? (Can be very frustrating!)
Another trend is that the IB is becoming more and more popular, leaving the HSC in its wake.
Great for Languages and the IB, but not ideal for the HSC, effective teaching and learning
practices, particularly in Year 12, when the courses diverge and Higher Level is introduced.
This trend is now having an impact on the part-time staff allocations and is setting a
precedent which worries students and parents (and the language teachers!)
Challenges and ‘big questions’:
How do we get enough students continuing with their language into Year 11 so that we
can create separate HSC and IB classes?
(Some teachers are so keen to allow their students study a language in Stage 6 that
they will teach combined classes of Beginners and Continuers and/ or teach all lessons
off-line – this shouldn’t have to happen!)
How do we encourage a passion for languages in our students so that they seek life-
long language learning and want to use languages in their life after school?
Compulsory language to end of Year 9 (or the last compulsory year of study) – how do
we stem the ‘mass exodus’? Why are they dropping language in such big numbers?
Be proactive! What is that ‘magic number’ to run a class anyway?? (varies from school
to school, principal to principal ) Don’t let Languages be the victim – be the
‘warrior’! Fight the ‘fiscally responsible’ line they give us – what about the value we
are giving these students?
HOWEVER, you need to have a good relationship with the executive/decision-makers
so that concessions can be made and rules ‘bent’
Run an online ‘electives’ survey with Year 9’s – read and analyse results: why do they
KEEP a language? Why do they DROP it? (share results) then REACT to its messages
Run a focus group after subject selections have been done (eg Year 10) – what needs
to be addressed? May need to have some tricky conversations with certain teachers…
We need to ENGAGE our students with interesting programs (which get the balance
right between fun and rigour, technology and verbal communication/written work;
flipped classroom; giving meaningful feedback) and choose resources and texts which
are inspiring and relevant, not outdated. Just keeping on with the same program year
in and year out is ‘suicide’!
The students need to feel valued and that they have a good relationship with their
teacher, in order to want to continue with that language
‘See’ the student – personalised emails acknowledging successes and encouraging
improvement (as per Liberty Campbell’s presentation)
‘DELF scolaire’, ‘Fit in Deutsch’ (+ Chinese and Japanese external programs) – allow
the advanced students to be extended and gain meaningful accreditation at the end of
each year, as well as their school level.
Immersion experiences in Year 10 eg Global Experience program (sister schools)
Overseas tours – cross faculty or interschool if necessary (if can’t get the numbers)
We need to ‘think outside the square’ when it comes to timetabling and offer creative
solutions and flexibility to individual cases, in order to allow our students to continue
with their senior language study (eg ‘blended learning’ - 2 languages on one line) or
cross-campus /cross-school classrooms (eg Willoughby Girls’ and Mackellar Girls’)
Work closely with your local uni – Year 10 French Day, Year 9 ‘experience languages at
uni for a day’) Creates meaningful links for tertiary study, career and language.
What to fight for:
Quality time for lessons per cycle (especially in combined classes)
A ‘senior space’ – kitchenette for coffee/hot chocolate etc – give the juniors a
‘tour’ of the facility to show them what they can look forward to!
A dedicated language space (languages centre; language lab)
Resources: equipment, technology, texts and resources
Teachers who are passionate, skilled, dedicated, enthusiastic, who develop a rapport
with their students and who make their subject RELEVANT in the eyes of her students
Time to plan as a team
Cultural excursions and activities. It’s not ‘just about going to a restaurant’ as they
Compulsory Language study in Stages 5 and 6!
What to read:
Dr Ruth Fielding’s (University of Canberra) publication entitled:
“Exploring Effective and Sustainable Language Programs in NSW Independent Schools”,
A snapshot of Language Learning in 2014
Copies available from the AIS website or through Merryl Wahlin (via email):
Bronwen Calcraft, Ravenswood Languages Coordinator
1 August 2015