Teaching modern languages in primary school is a subject that I am passionate about as I have had my own positive learning experiences that I am inspired to emulate.
I have studied French academically for 9 years now, and my love for the language began when I was first introduced to it in Primary 6. I think I am living evidence that if children experience something from a young age and develop an interest, with consistency this passion can only grow.
In our first workshop with Carrie, I was intrigued to learn a variety of methods for teaching modern languages. I think an important point raised was that it must be as simplified as possible for pupils to be engaged and not give up hope in picking up new language skills – two important tactics to consider using are repetition and the use of actions to aid understanding.
One of the main reasons that pupils gradually lose the motivation to learn a second or third language is the fear of being wrong – I realise this from my own experience as a child, and also witnessing modern languages taught in schools. Children are afraid that they will sound silly or they have an intrinsic feeling that they cannot grasp a language that is foreign to them, so often will not even attempt to improve their understanding. An important element that Carrie touched on was to ensure vocabulary is practiced in larger groups so no pupil feels singled out and feeling as if their struggle should be kept to themselves. Confidence will be built when pupils feel they are in a safe, non-judgemental environment (Kirsch, 2008). Also, an alternative to assessing progress in modern languages could be to allow pupils the time to reflect on their work and therefore self-correct any mistakes they pick up on (Kirsch, 2008). This will also improve children’s confidence as they will not feel demotivated by someone else pointing out their mistakes.
Talking and writing in a modern language are more challenging than reading and listening as they require the production of new content instead of relying on recognition skills When trying to interpret oral in particular, clarity of instruction is important so that children know what they are being asked to do. A good example of a talking activity that could enhance learning is a game of Chinese Whispers for example, where pupils are encouraged to repeat the correct vocabulary so that it sticks in their memory.
Kirsch, C. (2008). Teaching foreign languages in the primary school. Continuum International Publishing Group, p.108.
Kirsch, C. (2008). Teaching foreign languages in the primary school. Continuum International Publishing Group, p114.
It is explicitly clear how writing is linked to listening, reading and talking – the 4 main aspects of language – and Pie Corbett has highlighted this in his idea of ‘Talk for Writing’. This is an effective way to introduce children to writing as children start by orally familiarising themselves with a story and then build the skills to be able to add their own twists to it – change the ending, explore characters further, create their own versions of the same storyline. This manipulation process is good as it develops children’s higher-order thinking and creativity, providing an easy stimulus that will aid children who cannot tap into their own imagination as easily as others can. Corbett explains how this is enjoyable to both girls and boys, important as the latter are usually lacking in language skills as they lack motivation. Talk for Writing is an interesting method to encourage children to write creatively without it seeming so daunting.
Writing is often a subject that children struggle with because it seems so arbitrary, but it is important to see it as just the next stage from reading, listening and talking. Teachers must support children in the early stages of writing by ensuring all children understand that they can do it – it is not just for the avid readers or the children who always seem to have thoughts they can put to paper. Writing cannot exist independently of reading, listening or talking so by linking all 4 elements together in a process like ‘Talk for Writing’, children will grow in confidence to write to entertain, to inform, to pursuade and eventually, to encourage others to write a response.
An idea from today’s first maths input that really struck with me was how innumeracy should be just as unacceptable as illiteracy. Far too many children in my generation and the next are complacent about lacking in basic maths skills and, as Tara Harper stated, this will be detrimental to the rest of their lives. It is important that we tackle this problem from the primary stage so that children can grow to be confident in their skills.
No one is born good at maths; it must be understood that it simply comes from practice, dedication and effort – in the same way you will never learn how to spell a word unless you familiarise yourself with it. I think a key lesson to teach children about learning maths is that even the ‘cleverest’ mathematicians out there have made mistakes to get to where they are. Absolutely nothing in life is learned without first realising what not to do, and so too maths. People are also frustrated with maths because there is only one right answer, as opposed to more interpretative subjects like English. To some, this might make maths easier to understand but I know that this used to frustrate me too. My own maths working certainly had some creative differences to the teacher’s at times! This should not dishearten children, though, because as teachers we should teach the recommended way we have tried and tested to be the easiest, but there will never necessarily be a right way.
Going back to my original point, I think it is a shame that so many children struggle and consequentially give up with maths at such an early age. Like it or not, maths is literally all around us – simply calculating how many minutes you have until you must be in school or how much change you should be left with after purchasing that toy you wanted. Maths cannot be shrugged off and the phrase ‘I can’t do maths’ should not be as socially accepted as it is. As teachers we will have the responsibility to equip our children with skills for life, so good numeracy skills are just as essential as being able to read and write.
My situation is quite fortunate because I was always in the ‘top group’ in maths and I have received a good example of how maths should be taught so that it is memorable and understandable. It is very important that teachers incorportate this into lessons and ensure that children can discuss and justify their thinking as when they can do this, it is clear they have understood and can do it again. According to ‘Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers: Learning How to Learn Mathematics’, it is fundamental that children are able to make ‘connections’ between their learning. This is where new knowledge is being built onto existing knowledge and so maths no longer seems daunting, but is easier in managable steps.
Over the next few inputs and on my placement, I look forward to learning how I can teach maths appropriately and help children to not be filled with dread at the thought of maths. Mistakes are acceptable; in fact, they are essential for learning and growing skills that will last a lifetime.
One of the most joyful elements of my primary school experience was drama as my school took great pride in putting on a pantomine every two years. I still remember today how amazing it felt to be a narrator for ‘Snow White’ in Primary 7 and from my experience I absolutely agree that drama is more than just the final show – it is also the process that counts. I have always been enthusiastic about putting on plays myself as a teacher and children feeling the same pride I felt, however I did have reservations about how I was going to successfully go about this.
Nikki’s first drama tutorial and the ‘Teacher’s TV’ Drama video have both helped me understand how to structure drama lessons and ensure children get the most out of them. The first key aspect of a drama lesson is to establish a ‘drama contract’, which establishes the rules and expectations that children must ahere to. I think that highlighting the 3 C’s – Communication, Co-operation and Concentration – will convey to children how drama means that no one is judged or ridiculed and everyone remains focused on the allocated task to maximise learning.
After this it is important for children to warm-up and get the mind and body ready for drama – this can be done through a fun game that works on vocal and physical warm-up and also teamwork, since drama is a good opportunity to be social and expressive also.
As for the main learning objective, children react well to visual stimuli so providing them with this will help even the less confident minds to engage in the activity. The ‘development’ process of the lesson allows the children to express their creativity by using their imagination to understand the topic. ‘Soundscape’ and ‘Bodyscape’ are two terms used in the ‘Teacher’s TV’ video to express how children should use sound and their bodies, without props, to tell the story to their peers. This is an engaging way for children to learn about a topic by being proactive and interpreting things for themselves, two key skills in drama.
This can then be followed by Performance if it is appropriate, as children’s motivation to participate is often driven by the opportunity to show off how far they have come. However in some ways, I think that performance is a form of evaluation so it should not always be the aim of a drama lesson. Evaluation is important as it allows children to consolidate what they have learned and think how to move forward with their new skills. Evaluation is also a key to building confidence and allowing children to evaluate their own progress.
Cooling-down is an important conclusion to a drama lesson so that children can settle down from the excitement and be ready to return to the classroom, until their next escape into the drama world.
My own pleasant experience of drama in primary school means that I am eager to promote participation in a subject where no one is judged according to ability or ridiculed for their out-of-the-box thinking. When I was a narrator sitting at the side of the stage anxiously for my cue, I had no idea that my brain was picking up so many useful transferrable skills as to me, all that mattered was that I made my classmates and audience proud. I also never fully appreciated the process before the end product – only the smile of success on my face as the curtains closed.
I was pleasantly surprised by Eilidh Slattery’s dance input and the importance of dance in the curriculum has become even clearer to me. In the Expressive Arts Principles and Practice (Curriculum for Excellence), it is stated that dance is essential to children’s educational experience as it “promotes self-esteem” and teaches “creativity and innovation”. It is also important to give children an outlet to express themselves and ensure their mental wellbeing. One challenge I thought I would face in teaching dance is that it would be difficult to get every child to engage in the activity, as there is a risk that dancing can be seen as more “girly” and boys will be hesitant to express themselves on the same level. However after today’s input it has become more clear to me how I could encourage every child to partake in dancing.
Since dancing is all about expressing yourself, I would encourage a lesson on children making up their own routines in groups – I think allowing them the opportunity to be imaginative will engage them more. Group work would also be useful as children can learn the importance of teamwork and leadership, but also compromise. Finally, by encouraging the children to perform in front of the class in their groups will ensure children acquire the skills we want to teach – ability to take risks, to be able to give constructive criticism and to promote confidence. Dance is also a great way to keep children fit in a fun and light-hearted way. Physical activity is important as according to the 2012 Scottish Health Survey, ‘almost two-thirds of 2-15 year olds met the physical activity recommendation of doing at least 60 minutes physical activity a day’. As teachers, we must continue to teach the importance of being healthy and engaging children in fun ways of doing this at school will be beneficial.
I think that everyone has preconceptions when it comes to dancing – I admit that I was also apprehensive at the mention of ‘dance’. Many people’s lack of confidence comes from lack of experience, so encouraging children to enjoy themselves through dance and also learn things from dance will be a great addition to their school experience and maybe even something I’ll be thanked for in my pupil’s Britain’s Got Talent awards speech!