Taking forward Curriculum for Excellence
As those responsible for curriculum design now have less than a year to produce a workable curriculum in keeping with the principles of Building the Curriculum 3, they are bound to have questions for us all regarding what we intend to do, change and keep when CfE is applied.
If you have read any of the articles I have written about CfE, you will know that I am certainly not in favour of wholesale change (in any case, no-one has yet told us exactly what we need to change!), though I am very happy to accept the principles behind CfE since I believe they are the very principles we have striven to uphold over the years. I also agree that good practice is worth recognising and should be shared by us all.
Because I believe we will all shortly have to make suggestions and produce work which promotes the four capacities, I have written the following article which contains some positive suggestions for inclusion in the "new" curriculum (which are, in fact, based on what I think are good ideas from the "old" curriculum). I would like this to be the start point for debate on the nature of the future curriculum. Please feel free to respond as you wish, but it is important to respond - we need to try to exercise some kind of control over something which could slip away from us.
Curriculum for Excellence - some positive suggestions for a way forward
CfE offers a definition of elements which go to make up good practice. It is not proactive, nor is it descriptive - it is a vaguely philosophical proposition which, like much that is philosophical, calls practice in to question rather than provide solutions.
It would, perhaps, be unwise to take the CfE pronouncements made so far too literally and start the process of abandoning the present S1-S3 curriculum, to replace it with some sort of (undefined) project-based venture spanning three years. The only suitable interdisciplinary project that spans all topics and subjects (that I can think of) is life itself, and we have spent many years trying to increase our knowledge and understanding through analysis of individual parts of life. Granted, we may have forgotten to show the interdisciplinary relevance of these individual parts, but it does seem unwise to abandon a system that has, by and large, served us reasonably well in favour of some vague project-based system.
This is not to suggest that we should not engage in a process of change and evolution, but I would suggest that solutions are more likely to be found by addressing how we teach rather than focusing on what we teach.
The CfE capacities are a distillation of good practice that already exists. We need to persuade people of the value and effectiveness of such practice by observing and sharing that which works, having reflected on why a particular approach may be successful. We need to share not just materials, but methods of motivating pupils, thus entering the domain of Learning and Teaching.
In S3 and S4, texts may deal with broader themes than we are in the habit of treating, and debate on issues arising need not be undertaken in the FL. Clearly this element could be added and adapted for debate or essay writing in the FL on the theme discussed, but in the first instance the important thing is to introduce and discuss themes leading to thought and consideration of topics such as poverty, justice, social relationships, or the nature of success. At H and AH levels, there is already some attempt to introduce such texts, though this is uneven and somewhat heavy-handed in places. There is room for development of such themes within ERV and folio work, but this may be left largely to the individual. It would surely do no harm to produce a short "exemplar" unit of how to treat a film or book, investigating suitable characters and themes. At the very least, it might be sensible to share materials which have been used successfully in the past.
If we encourage pupils to discuss themes of greater weight, hopefully they will develop a greater sense of responsibility while achieving a sense of success through their contributions to a debate of some gravity, thus allowing them to gain confidence in their knowledge and understanding of a variety of issues.
Of course, there must also be room for motivation in the form of fun and inspiration through a variety of tools and methodologies. Good and educational points can be made through fun activities.
CDs can be used in a variety of ways - pupils can listen to and discuss songs, fill in gaps in the lyrics, sing along with them!
DVDs also offer a number of activities - pupils can review films and discuss their themes, they can answer questions (in the FL) on what is happening in particular scenes, or sequences can be used as an alternative to traditional Listening Comprehensions. They can also be used as fun items for the end of the period/week/term.
Internet - teachers and pupils can find a variety of texts/materials to support what is being done in the classroom (video reports, study guides, song words, interviews, games, reference and research). Pupils could also create their own site, or part of one, in the FL which could be accessed by correspondents anywhere in the world.
DVD documentaries - pupils could create their own documentaries on the local area, a book or film studied for NAB/Folio work, the Scottish school system.
Interdisciplinary projects - some subjects will lend themselves more readily than others to such tasks, but examples could include:
concert (with French songs) + music
background to book/film + history
French cuisine + H.E.
School trips offer
a great deal to pupils in terms of confidence-building, increasing
responsibility toward others, and making academic subjects real - e.g. a trip to
In the past we have held a concert featuring songs studied in the French course. As an extension, we could record/film songs sung by pupils, or extracts from plays, or dialogues created by pupils.
There has been much emphasis on provision and use of High-tech equipment, but this is not enough on its own - pupils must feel some connection with or possession of what they are doing. Equipment should serve the idea, and not become the focus of attention in itself.
The point is that through activities such as the above, and others like them, tangible success can be achieved through effective contributions by pupils (and teachers), leading to an increase in confidence and a sense of responsibility towards the self, but also towards others as we work together as a team. The four capacities apply not only to pupils, but to school staff as well. It is therefore imperative that recognition be given to those ideas that advance the principles of CfE rather than blindly push forward radical change for its own sake. It is surely not necessary to re-invent all that has gone before, nor is it necessary for every teacher to re-invent the wheel as we all scrabble around trying to a) work out what, exactly, is being sought through CfE, and b) try to work out how to achieve it - individually.
In S1 and S2 we could continue to build pupils' awareness of the world around them through suitable texts, use of CD, DVD and internet. We could also encourage them to research a real town (through the internet?), and produce a piece of work comparing that town with their own.
The grammatical basis needs to be maintained (especially as it is often only in studying an FL that many pupils encounter grammar to any great extent), but this can be presented in a livelier and more interesting way using technology and through shared resources and ideas. This may help motivate pupils who presently give up their study of an FL at the end of S2. Languages for All is coming to an end, and we need to think of ways in which language learning is seen as relevant and desirable.
As I have suggested above, we need to respond and take control of this initiative - we do not want a situation where a scheme we may disapprove of is foisted upon us.
It is becoming clear that we are expected to lay the groundwork for CfE without knowing exactly what is involved. I'm sure we will be asked to match the outcomes to existing courses (and adjust them where they are found wanting), when the final outcomes are released in January.
In the meantime, by way of preparation for CfE, a colleague suggested a CfE audit of each unit of work we do with the various year groups, seeking ways in which the four capacities are advanced already, and ways in which they can be developed. While I totally agree with the notion of an audit, I think a "generic" audit may be less onerous. I suggest we focus on the various types of task we set our pupils, and investigate them from the point of view of the capacities, literacy and numeracy, since these types of task will be repeated across a number of units.
Texts may be used from a variety of sources, on a number topics, leading to discussion in class.
Exploitation of texts for vocabulary and structures will promote successful learning.
Answering questions and contributing to discussion on the theme of the text demonstrate effective contributions.
Discussion of the theme may lead to the development of responsible citizens.
Positive advice and praise offered re pupils' contributions should lead to increased confidence.
The points made above will largely apply to Listening, though success in understanding combined with praise will help build pupils' confidence.
Discussion of the set topic in class, respecting the views of others in debate and recognising others' valid points all promote responsibility. Participation in discussion and the content of notes demonstrates effective contribution. Completion of a piece of writing to a high standard combined with praise or recognition will develop a sense of success and confidence.
The points made for writing will apply equally to speaking, but a successful performance in the FL will contribute even more to all the capacities.
The production of dialogues by pupils will help develop literacy, preparation skills, the ability to put yourself in the place of others, develop language skills (knowledge of grammar, dictionary skills), discussion with others (social skills), organisation and performance.
It is quite clear that all the above will contribute greatly to the four capacities.
Conversation with an assistant
This will follow a similar pattern to that of dialogue production.
Use of CDs
CDs could be used as part of Listening development, so the points made about Listening will apply, but use of CDs and songs may also develop judgment skills, analysis, focusing on listening to particular words, and there is the possibility of discussion of culture and theme.
Again, this is clearly in keeping with the development of the four capacities.
Use of DVDs
This will be similar to use of CDs, though closely associated with discussion of character and theme, and the development of analysis and writing skills.
Lessons of this type will encourage concentration, analysis, and will allow for application across the curriculum, developing literacy skills.
Other types of activity such as the production of DVD documentaries, organisation of and participation in a concert, researching folio pieces on the internet, all contribute to responsibility, confidence, effective contributions and success.
Underpinning everything, of course, is discipline and good behaviour in class. Recognition of, and respect for others' contributions, will contribute to overall development, will emphasise the importance of co-operation with others, and may well allow qualities of leadership to emerge.
By way of preparation for CfE, a colleague has suggested a CfE audit of each unit of work we do with the various year groups, seeking ways in which the four capacities are advanced already, and ways in which they can be developed. While I totally agree with the notion of an audit, I think a "generic" audit may be less onerous. I suggest we focus on the various types of task we set our pupils, and investigate them from the point of view of the capacities, literacy and numeracy, since these types of task will be repeated across a number of units.
An audit of the Modern Languages Draft Outcomes, with reference to "Metro" (though this can easily be adapted to suit any course).
Overarching experiences for learning new languages
Through my learning of a new language:
I gain a deeper understanding of my first language and appreciate the richness and interconnected nature of languages
We regularly draw parallels with English (and other languages) when we give vocabulary, and discuss structures and grammar in general. This allows and enables pupils to develop a deeper understanding of their own language as well as the FL. Grammar and grammatical terms (applicable to English) are reinforced and taught even where these may not be covered in English (or other) classes.
I enhance my understanding and enjoyment of other cultures and of my own and gain insights into other ways of thinking and other views of the world
Numerous contexts are used to provide vocabulary, and also background information on various aspects of life elsewhere. Contexts include personal information and formalities, the European community and FL-speaking countries, family and daily routine, schooling with particular reference to subjects and sporting activities. We also discuss home life, discussing food and daily habits, and towns and communities. Use may also be made of films and video clips from internet sites to introduce broader issues and themes.
I develop skills that I can use and enjoy in work and leisure throughout my life.
Communication skills gained through knowledge of an FL (and mother tongue) may be used in a large variety of ways in terms of work, leisure interests and holiday-making. There is the possibility of gaining promotion at work, or being invited to travel on behalf of work as a result of language skills. This extends to skills to do with meeting people, knowledge of other cultures, and the exercising of tolerance and understanding toward others.
Overarching experiences for all language learning
In all my language learning:
I communicate, collaborate and build relationships
Work is done in a number of ways - paired work, group work, in conversation with the teacher (both in spoken and written form), allowing pupils to develop relationships with one another and with the member of staff. Pupils may be asked for contributions to a discussion, a dialogue or a brief descriptive paragraph, sharing their thoughts and ideas, and listening to those of others.
I learn to reflect on and explain my thinking
When pupils answer questions such as "how" and "why", they are encouraged to give reasons for their thoughts and answers, necessitating thought and reflection. This applies equally to linguistic and thematic reflection. Discussion arises as a response to stimulation through judicious questioning.
I develop my understanding of how language works and what is special, vibrant and valuable about other languages and cultures and my own
The answer to this is largely covered by the response to the first two overarching outcomes, but it should be noted it is also important to recognise the importance of idiom (differences in ways of expressing ideas).
I engage with a rich range of texts in different media
A variety of text types and media are used regularly: book, internet, worksheets, Metro Electro, Boardworks, interactive whiteboard, computer, bibliobus, wordsearch, film, magazine articles, video clips from internet, texts of teacher's own fabrication.
I explore the richness and diversity of language, how it can affect me and the wide range of ways in which I and others can be creative
We extend pupils' vocabulary in a variety of contexts and invite pupils to produce their own material in written form, for internet, posters, pictures, dialogues, paired speaking, enabling pupils to deal effectively with various situations and improving their communication skills.
I appreciate the power of language to influence and bring about change
This can be achieved through successful communication - understanding questions and situations, and making appropriate responses, making statements or suggestions while giving reasons and opinions.
I develop an understanding of relationships, motivations, ideas and actions
This can be achieved through research and investigation into topics and situations (linguistically), while social education is undertaken by way of interaction with other pupils and members of staff.
I take advantage of the opportunities offered by information and communication technology.
Pupils can take advantage of internet access, interactive whiteboards, computers, DVDs, video clips, good quality sound systems, digital cameras and audio recorders.
Literacy and numeracy
If literacy and numeracy are to be improved, it is strongly suggested that efforts should be made to embed this improvement across the curriculum rather than introduce separate tests (aimed at what age group, and for what purpose?) which would simply replicate elements of English and Maths testing.
Assuming literacy can be defined as "expressing oneself with clarity and accuracy", we are of the opinion that pupils would be best served through increased rigour in language correction across all subjects.
Curriculum for Excellence
Audit of Metro 1 at Second level
Listening and talking
LAN 251MA Listening for information
I can listen to and show understanding of familiar instructions and language from familiar voices and sources.
Pupils are encouraged to use French in simple situations in class. One of the first things we do is teach class room language (instructions, excuses, asking for help) and it is used on a daily basis. Pupils get used to the voice of their teacher and the voices of the speakers in the course book and IT material.
LAN 252MB Listening and talking with others
I can listen and respond to familiar voices in short, predictable conversations using straightforward language and/or non-verbal techniques such as gesture and eye contact.
There are opportunities for short predictable conversational responses, which arise from routine class work with the teacher, with a partner or in end of module assessments.
LAN 253MB Listening and talking with others
I can take part effectively in prepared conversations by sharing information about myself and others or interests of my choice, using familiar vocabulary and basic language structures.
There are opportunities for prepared conversations by preparing for and carrying out the mini test midway through each module and in preparing for the end of module assessments.
LAN 254MB I can ask for help confidently using learned phrases and familiar language.
Pupils are taught how to ask for help if it is required. Each end of module assessment includes this as a revision point.
LAN 255MB I can participate in familiar collaborative activities including games, paired speaking and short role plays.
There are opportunities for familiar collaborative activities in each module. Every unit has an "A deux" activity and each mini test is done with a partner. There are end of module class activities which involve songs and music as well as poetry. There are role play activities such as buying souvenirs and asking for and giving directions.
LAN 256MC Organising and using information
I can deliver a brief presentation on a familiar topic using familiar language and phrases.
There are "en plus" activities such as "Prepare une presentation"
and throughout pupils will undertake brief presentations on une journee au college, uniforme scolaire, ma chambre, mon week-end.
LAN 257MC I have worked with others, using ICT where
appropriate, and can contribute successfully to presentation in English, supported by use of the language I am learning, on an aspect of life in the country where the language I am learning is spoken.
Pupils may work individually, with a
partner or in a group to research an aspect of
LAN 258MD Using knowledge about language
I can use my knowledge about language and pronunciation to ensure that others can understand me when I read aloud or say
familiar words, phrases and short texts.
Pronunciation and intonation are taught from the beginning of the course. Correct use of both is regularly demonstrated by the teacher and pupils' attention is drawn to both when listening and talking activities are being done.
LAN 259ME Finding and using information
I have demonstrated my understanding of text by matching the written word to pictures and by reconstructing the text in a logical sequence.
There are frequent activities which involve deconstruction and reconstruction of text, with explanations and grammar points being an integral part of these processes. There are also opportunities to use supported templates for writing activities which further encourage the use of accurate French. There are many picture matching exercises in the text book, in Metro Electro and BoardWorks.
LAN 260MF Reading to appreciate other cultures
I have worked with others to read and discuss simple texts in the language I am learning. I can share simple facts about features of life in some of the countries where the language I am learning is spoken.
Teachers routinely exploit opportunities to discuss aspects of life in foreign countries, where appropriate, and with reference particularly to French speaking countries. Use is made of ICT to find attractive and engaging materials to supplement the course book. We learn about daily routine, school life, fashion, customs and local community. Pupils are encouraged to be tolerant of other cultures and ways of life.
LAN 261MG Reading for enjoyment
I have selected and can read, on my own and with others, a variety of straightforward texts of different types, including short imaginative accounts and poetry, which may have been adapted.
Pupils may access a wide range of authentic and adapted reading material: Metro Electro, BoardWorks, the internet, Bibliobus, magazine articles, film posters.
LAN 262MH Using knowledge about language
I can understand how a bilingual dictionary works.
Pupils are shown how to use a dictionaries (paper or software), glossaries and word lists. They are encouraged to make bilingual lists of new words in their jotters.
LAN 263MH I can make comparisons and explore connections between spelling patterns in English and the language I am learning.
Pupils are encouraged to look for and recognise word and spelling patterns. Where it helps they are taught to look for words within words and every opportunity is taken to exploit this technique.
LAN 264MH I can recognise and comment on other features of my own language which help to make sense of words in the language I am learning.
There are frequent cross references made to the similarities and differences between English and French grammar. Proper grammatical terms are used from the beginning of the course and pupils are encouraged to be observant of the processes at work. They are taught to "look, see what you are looking at, understand what you see, learn from what you understand and act on what you learn".
I have used the support of others and accessed appropriate reference materials of my choice to help me plan my writing, using ICT when appropriate.
LAN 265MI Organising and using information
I can use familiar language to describe myself and to exchange straightforward information.
Each end of module assessment has a writing activity. Pupils are given time to prepare these tasks and are encourage to source material for each topic. These will include factual statements and personal observation or opinions. Topics are: Self and family, the school community, free time, local area and planning for a holiday.
LAN 266MJ Using knowledge about language
I have used my knowledge of language and success criteria to help me, and I can check that I have written familiar words and phrases accurately.
The pupils' workbooks have an extensive end of module checklist for preparing assessment tasks. These prompt the pupils to reflect not only on what they have learnt, but how well they have learnt it. There are examples of simple, good and excellent categories for writing. They are encouraged to check for spelling and meaning when they are preparing these tasks.