Harness Primary Languages Power


Primary languages power!

Yesterday I could see, feel and hear this “power” in the Primary Languages Network CPD "getting ready to go back to school" for our associate teachers.

The annual CPD day is powerful!. it is an opportunity for the associate teachers who work in 47 of our 272 schools on a weekly basis to share,network and develop as primary classroom practitioners.On a weekly basis they see and experience how young children progress in language skills.

The team is now 19 strong. Each member contributes throughout the academic year to our groiwng wealth of evidence of progress in primary language learning, both of young learners and the schools that commit valuable school budget and timetable time to target language learning .Within the team there is expertise in Literacy, Sport ,Drama, Dance,Music,Art, Maths, Special Needs.EAL. What a powerful dream team! All are QTS,most have done PGCEs,all with experience of teaching a primary foreign language. Some are native speakers,some primary class teachers, some with leadership experience, some current/ former secondary language teachers, several ex- secondary  Heads of Departments,some language teaching material designers, some ITT trainers,several language tutors.All of them believe in the power of primary languages and how we need to harness this progress in KS3 and beyond.

Nowadays the team inspires me and powerfully drives forward the materials, planning and next steps in the growing network.Everything discussed yesterday will be shared with at least the 272 schools in Primary Languages Network. Most of the new ideas will be shared more widely through webinars, CPD and training and via our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Today I feel I need to ask though "are we (the wider modern foreign languages' teachng community) taking the POWER of the primary practitioner and primary language learning seriously?" A challenging question!

Currently our PLN practitioners are a strong and positive example of the raft of primary languages' practitioners nationwide.They do share and they do speak out but I am not certain that therir voices are being heard LOUDLY enough. I genuinely believe that we can not keep on ignoring the effective good practice taking place in primary schools. I acknowledge that there is still work to be done however I think that "primary languages power" should not be ignored later in secondary language learning.The progress being made should be celebrated and built upon!   

Evidence of progress! Where's the evidence? Well there is evidence and I am certain that primary practitioners would be keen to share the evidence..Each week in classrooms across the country children in very different settings are exploring the four core language skills, developing and extending cross transferable language learning skills, growing in confidence and interest in learning other languages and making links between home languages and a new shared class target language.

Look at pupils' work and see the evidence.Please look with a "primary" eye at the work of "emergent language learners".Remember that learning a language is a long term progression and don’t expect perfection.Reflect on mistakes older learners make and see the potential of the young primary learners. Listen to the children who have learned a foreign language for four years now and can independently produce spoken and written simple sentences, identify nouns , adjectives ,verbs and manipulate these, not always perfectly but willingly,bravely and adequately.

Right now,whatever the progress ,interest and enthusiasm generated, this is a positive platform to be built upon in secondary language learning. (I speak here with the voice of secondary German teacher from 1985-2004 and the voices of my secondary colleagues working in primary languages). KS2 children sing songs, play games, create purposeful display with their own work, progress steadily over four years  from word to phrases to sentences in their speaking and writing of a target language. Their learning will have been age and stage " emergent language learners" appropriate. This needs to be embraced.

Certainly,the tangible "primary languages power" felt yesterday in the CPD session,is informed and strengthened by the growing bank of  evidence of progress made by young learners. This is coupled often with creativity and this should not be feared.It’s brilliant to explore target language colours for example in Art and Design or to use simple classroom commands in PE.In primary there is a willingness and ability to push creative boundaries in primary language teaching and learning.Sheer joy! 

Primary language learning should never be perceived as insignficant or ineffective.The evidence is out there! It could just be a story a child heard or participation in a class assembly that creates the willingness to want to learn more about a foreign language in the future, but it is ALL significant.It needs to be harnessed and celebrated.   

Tomorrow at the start of the new academic year pupils at the start of KS3 will be happy to go back over familiar language.What a great place to start as there is comfort in this for the new pupils in a brand new school.Revisiting and re-using is not redundant learning. Eleven years olds will be hoping though that this will be with a more mature approach than in primary school. For example ,they will happily go back over colours and give you time to teach other children in the room,who may have learnt a different language but they will be looking forward to writing a colour poem or to reading a challenging text too. And what if they have learned a different language in KS2 or none at all? This does not mean that the children can’t catch up or even progress ultimately more quickly than others. Ifg this were the case then many linguists would have been stukc ina one foreign language silo.Why not challenge them to apply prior language learning skills from a different primary foreign language or from their own home language skills or their primary literacy and problem solving skills ?Yes this can be challenging - but should not be viewed as an obstacle.  

Certainly here within the school members of Primary Languages Network there is evidence of progress. We are a practical hands on teacher led community, which supports, develops and inspires colleagues  whatever their experience of delivering primary languages.We work with all school settings,who often nowadays have very limited or no significant budget for primary foreign languages. This year we intend to evidence and share more widely what we see week by week.  

Yesterday as I observed this strength of knowledge and experience amongst my colleagues, it struck me what a waste it will be yet again if we do not  harness the "power" not just within our network but across many other providers' and schools' KS2 primary languages work too.

The start of a new academic year is a great time to listen to the power of the expert primary practitioners and to allow the new cohort in KS3 time to feel confident enough in their new surroundings to actually share what they already know or to make links from familiar to the unfamiliar.

Why? Well these pockets of effective progress ,such as the PLN associate teachers and the network schools in Primary Languages Network  have laid down, are important building blocks that can lead to improvements at the start of KS3 and then on in to KS4 and beyond.

This academic year please do not ignore the power of primary languages practitoners. Take a good look at your new Year 7 language learners as they arrive in your classrooms in the next couple of days. Afford them time to settle in,.Don't worry about revisiting the familiar but look for new approaches with the familar that are age and stage appropriate for eleven year olds and add challenge and build on the power of primary language learning.