How introducing a “learn as you teach” experience in your school can help develop a progressive primary MFL curriculum

12th June 2017 at 16:16

Language learning

If you already have in place many of the strategies for leading and growing your primary French or Spanish mentioned in my first article, but have experienced a little frustration with your resources or the use your teachers are making of the resources you have made available. 

Alternatively, if you think, on closer inspection, that you have only really enabled your non-specialist teachers to pull together a primarily “noun” based scheme which does not really move pupils forward in terms of both using and developing more complex structures, sentences or some tenses for speaking and writing purposes: Please read on.

The importance of developing a progressive primary MFL curriculum

Taking that first step at primary level in their language journey is key to pupils benefitting from all that key stage3 has for them. It is a requirement for them being able to progress with ease towards a GCSE

Even if pupils are not able to continue the language they began at primary at secondary level, these language skills are transferrable. 

A solid starting base in French over a range of topics, structures with a suitable foray into other tenses will facilitate pupils in making that slick transition into learning Spanish, for example, at secondary level. This is because they already have some key language learning skill components that they are able to apply to their later studies. 

Learn as you teach – how does it work?

  1. Ensure that your curriculum does not have a complicated house style. Your teachers need to be able to understand how to access the material quickly.
  2. Start with year 3 and roll that year out across your KS2 phase. Support your coordinator in ensuring that each year group has an opportunity to learn each year of your KS2 curriculum as it comes out. This is strategic to sustaining your curriculum.  Even if teachers leave at the end of a year, some staff will remain with experience of the year and will be able to help newcomers.
  3. Ensure that the first year 3 is both within the grasp of your year 3 pupils and covers a range of topics and structures. The year must also be designed in a cohesive manner such that older or more able pupils have opportunities to both cross-pollinate and extend their learning. (See considerations for designing or sourcing a Primary MFL curriculum below).
  4. Adapt to the expertise within your school. It is not only pupil confidence that can be fragile. Your teaching colleagues may also be feeling a little fragile with respect to delivering their MFL. To this end be flexible. My own feedback from schools with respect to the materials I have designed, though universally positive, has been mixed in application. Some schools have opted to deliver a half-term’s worth of unit in a term, stretching out their delivery so as to ensure that the delivery of the content is secure and relieve pressure on teaching staff.  Delivery can always be speeded up as staff become more confident and familiar with their material and teachers, even if they just cover my year 3 materials in Lower KS2, will still have made a significant start on delivering national curriculum objectives


Language learning

Teachers at Featherstone Primary in Staffordshire investigating a “Learn as you teach” approach to their primary French

Considerations for designing or sourcing primary MFL curriculum

(1)  Your teachers must be able to cope with it.  That usually means that everything, every small step from one lesson objective to the next, from one unit to the next must be there for them together with all practical teaching tools including presentation and differentiated work tasks. In short the resources must serve as a distance learning and teaching tool for teachers.  I previously described these lessons as being akin to webisodes.  Something teachers can take in over a lunch break and deliver in the afternoon with little to no previous preparation other than copying appropriate materials for pupils.

(2)  Sensible progression in structures must be built into each individual unit for use with the vocabulary of the topic including the possibility of extending structures or re-using previous learned structures in a different context.  I personally favour not only the horizontal progression over the course of a year outlined above but vertical progression through themes.

(3)  Sensible opportunities for recall (language learning is very much a skill based subject) must also be included as well as a variety of activities building towards an even coverage of skills eg. listening, speaking, reading and writing.

(4)  Sensible native speaking support within the materials is also a must for me, such that the non-specialist teacher can learn to speak along with pupils.  Both pupils and non-specialist teachers need opportunities to hear and experience a range of native voices.

(5)  A range of learning opportunities to suit all types of learning styles must be included – that is to say visual even animated learning sequences must be provided together with singing, rapping, and kinaesthetic activities to support learning as well as seeing the written word.

If this has whet your appetite to introduce the “learn as you teach” experience in your school, that both delivers and trains non-specialist class teachers and HLTAs, please sample the following resources:

Free Year 3 French & Spanish work scheme

Free French lesson

Free Spanish lesson

Year 3 Spanish Autumn term

Year 3 French Autumn term

Suzanne Webster is a retired  primary languages teacher and now writes and trains for Five Plus Solutions Ltd. She tweets at @Primary_MFL