Time for transition

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At the University of Chichester in June this year (2019), I presented a brief key note speech about transition.

I have to admit that like everyone else I do not have the answers. I could have shared facts,percentages of numbers in primary delivering primary foreign languages and which target languages are most popular.Others have already done this better. I decided that “honesty is the best policy” and that it was best to share my “on the ground” understanding of transition and allow the listeners and now you “the readers” of this blogpost an opportunity to reflect and potentially use these reflections to build effective, brighter futures for KS2 into KS3 (and beyond) language learners.

Just a bit of background.Since 1985 I have taught across both primary and secondary education.Primary Languages Network is my company, founded in 2011,supporting more than 370 primary schools to deliver languages. The PLN team of 24 experienced QTS teachers delivers primary languages to over 10.000 pupils in 50 of the network schools every week of the academic year.

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The team continues to inform my understanding of quality teaching and learning.My presentation was based upon what the Primary Languages Network team and network schools experience and understand about the challenges of transition.

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1.Transition isn’t a new idea.

All teachers deal with elements of transition throughout the academic year and across all curriculum areas,from when we first meet learners to when they leave us .We consider how we move from one unit of work to another,reflect on needs of learners, how we help learners to consider what they already know and how to build on this, how to transfer prior learning from other areas and re-use this and crucially we plan for transition from year group to year group and from one teacher and stage of learning to another.

Do we need to address how we look at “KS2 to KS3 foreign languages transition”.

Do we need to acknowledge that everyone brings understanding of transition to the the discussion table?

Do we need to refresh our view of this and consider this as a great opportunity for “joined up communication”?

2.Learners are inquistive,keen,want to learn more about their natural communication skills.

In my opinion,all teachers and learners understand that communication is globally important.

Woven through the school curriculum is empathy and understanding of cultures and means of communication and a recognition that:

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3. Harness the power of the primary language speaking community

At the conference,the video clip above of young children in a Warrington primary school captured on European Day of Languages 2018, shared the diversity of our primary learnng communities and the richness of language knowledge.We heard Farsi,Polish,Romanian, Spanish,Russian,English and the school primary language of French.I challenged delegates to consider how and why we,the language learning community,need to harness this.

The video is so powerful as children from EYFS to Year 6 speak in their home languages,in the school’s chosen target foreign language and in English. There is a willingness and joy to participate and a pride in the fact that the school possesses so many languages within its community.

Do we need to consider this richness and diversity as part of the big picture, when considering transition from KS2 to KS3. MFL?

Are we at risk of making learning a language even more of a silo- where one language is more important than any another?

Could we, in fact do we, miss out on linguists by ignoring often higher order language learning skills that our young learners already possess?.

4.Do you know what home languages your new Y7 cohort speak?

If you coordinate KS3 or are about to teach next year’s Year 7 then ask yourself this question.Are you aware of what cultural and language learning experiences the children have enjoyed in KS2 or enjoy at home or with family abroad?

A simple video clip made by Year 6 could help you- just like the one above. In my opinion it’s good practice to know what has been learnt and explored before.

Reflect upon whether this could be a starting point next year to build links and contact with your KS2 Year 6 teachers.

Get to know more about the children in the Year 6 classes that may be on their way to your KS3 department in 2020-21.

Share virtually, by video and even re-use these videos at the start of Year 7 to celebrate this diversity.

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5.Consider how this one statement joins up the communication between KS2 and KS3.

What about basing your first few weeks of teaching and learning in KS3 on developing a shared purpose to take what the children may or may not have explored or already know and set off on a more mature “KS3” learning journey.

Acknowledge what they have done and plan to deepen their understanding.

Take a KS3, year 7 look at what “liberation from insularity” and an “opening to other cultures” means and how exploring these concepts could help each pupil in their own individual futures.

We all have a responsibilty in this, in my opninon.I need to stress that transition wherever it occurs between KS1 and KS2 , between home languages and target school primary foreign languages, between KS2 year groups and between KS2 and KS3 needs to be based on “joined up communication” between the facilitators of the language learning.

6. Progress over 12 years of education.

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I welcome Amanda Spielman’s comment about progress across the 12 years of learning for our school age children. It seems to me truly ridiculous that in the past in England we waited until children are 11 years old to allow them the opportunty to officially explore other languages.

Very young children love the exploration of sounds,love code breaking, love collecting language!

Even today we have to accelerate language learning toward a GCSE it would not be quite so challenging, in my opinion, if developed progress over time which is appropriate to age and stage of the learners had been planned for. Whether we are linguists with great knowledge of one or several languages or teachers with limited knowledge of a language,we all have to play our part.

Language learning goes beyond being good at one language.

As the learners move from one learning stage to another,surely we need to develop and prepare pupils’ language learning skills for personal futures in which we as teachers will play a very limited part.

How do we embrace what has come before and not ignore or at worst negate this?

How do we embrace what children already can do in other languages and use this to enhance what we want them to achieve as the children from KS2 become the pupils of KS3 and KS4 and have to pass through our examination system?

7. Should progress in becoming a linguist be content bound?

How can we say a child who knows the most words, is the best linguist? Languages are not a memory game.Yes, memory plays a vey important role and speed of recall certainly helps fluency in both passive and active language use, however languages are much more than being able to remember prior learning.

We can not predetermine what progress learners make by just a list of words or being able to spot key structures in a sentence.

Let’s ask Year 6 teachers to be facilitators.To review what has been done before, to celebrate languages spoken by children in their classrooms and apply independent learning skills children have developed to language learning.

Let’s help Year 6 teachers to prepare their learners for the unknown and unfamiliar so that they approach this with confidence and enthusiasm.

Let’s provide time so that KS3 colleagues can experience the wealth of “ready” to learn pupils in Year 6 and inform and excite them about the linguists with fluency in several languages,who are going to help them to explore in detail a specific language from KS3 onwards.

8.Progress in languages is special.

It’s about the whole child and developing their educational right to communicate.

From the child about to start school, excited about everything they are going to learn and explore….

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….to the children at the start of KS2, able to say some words in a target language and willing to make mistakes and try.

The video clip below, I shared this too at the conference, reveals so much more than just the words the children have learnt.It shares how each child feels about speaking aloud..How each child remembers actions associated to words.Which children are more hesitant than others and which children are already developing great confidence and accuracy in pronunciation and more …..

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These snippets and windows on prior learning need to be collected and shared .What about using Efolios to allow teachers to see progress and to discuss what progress in language learning really is like?

Efolios work for us !We are lucky to be able to collect and share via our virtual learning environment in our network and already have established Efolios of evidence.This means that we can see the progress, year on year.

These two Year 5 boys in different schools speak in full sentences in French and Spanish (yes, with some errors and corrections and some inaccuracies in pronunciation).One video is a French descriptive text of an imaginary planet and the other is a independently built persuasive text including sequencing words about a holiday in Spain.

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Just two examples of work produced by children every week of the year in our network.The examples are current from the academic year 2018-19.

The self esteem and self efficacy is tangible.This is not new.We see this every academic year in different contexts in UKS2 ,Year 5. Steady progress is made to this point and enriched over years 5 and 6.

This self estem ,self efficacy and ability to feel it’s okay to make mistakes and try to correct and “move on” must be harnessed in secondary language learning.It’s a powerful resource.

9. Year 6 into Year 7 language learners

Transition between primary and secondary brings many challenges. Are language learning challenges an obstacle or an opportunity in your schools for joined up communication?

Let’s encourage Year 6 teachers to facilitate some independent learning.Use bilingual dictionaries,help children to listen accurately to native speaker pronunciation online or even better face to face, revisit and build on prior knowledge, take risks, explore new languages, transfer skills and be “primary” ready for secondary.

The gap between Year 6 and Year 7 is just 6 weeks. It is JUST SIX WEEKS! .

We need to see transition from KS2 to KS3 as an opportunity to establish “joined up communication” and not an obstacle to continued progress.

10. A primary -secondary road map that suits your learners’ circumstances.

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Don’t try to achieve all the bullet points all at once.This just won’t work.

Don’t try to resolve transition by just making one language the total focus from beginning of KS2 upwards.I am not certain that if you embrace this it, this does already or will enable all learners to be strong language learners. .

Embrace each bullet point above and work through them carefully with your own group of schools to find a best fit.

Keep at the centre of all your discussions the children.In my opinion it does not work to impose secondary language learning on primary learners.

Maintain onwards momentum and share evidence of knowledge, skills and progress as best suits your schools and systems.

Do request some allocated time and funding- albeit limited . Do have a vision and do have language learning aspirations for every child.

At the start of Year 7 explore languages and skills the children have and may not even know they have and then step into the world of just one language.

It’s not wasting time, because in my opinion if used effectively, the knowledge, that pupils and teachers gain through sharing and exploring in the first few weeks of Year 7, will help to build momentum and accelerate learning in one or hopefully two languages in KS3, KS4 and beyond.