Bienvenue a Belleville, Kirkie

28th May 2010 at 01:00
A fictitious village provides the backdrop for a secondary school and its cluster primaries to help pupils learn French and bridge the transition gap

There are not many teachers who can see anything positive in the recent Icelandic volcanic eruptions and related travel delays. But for Kirkintilloch High's headteacher, they have highlighted the importance of languages for staff stranded abroad.

Eddie Muir talks of teachers having to rearrange flights and negotiate extended stays in a language they are not confident in, while back at school, ironically, colleagues are taking part in a showcase event entitled Belleville, highlighting the relevance of the French language.

Belleville is an imaginary French town recreated today at the East Dunbartonshire secondary as the grand finale of an exciting transition project with its five cluster primary schools.

At Le Centre Sportif they incorporate French numbers and colours into activities; at Le Centre Culturel they taste a sample of French culture; at La Mediatheque they interview a French musician via Glow and watch a video of a school performing French rap, and others act out a cafe scene; at Cafe Belleville, pains au chocolat are on the menu; and at Le Terrain de Petanque they try their hand at boules. There is plenty of opportunity to try out the French they have been learning.

As a transition project, Belleville is certainly different. Each cluster in the authority was given Scottish Government funding for Curriculum for Excellence transition projects, says Mr Muir. "We needed to look at our modern foreign languages teaching, particularly as we lost our language assistants in the authority, so came up with a collaborative project where pupils could see French used in context."

Teachers from the five primaries met regularly with Kirkintilloch High staff to work together and compare, each taking a part in the planning of the big day.

Lisa Murray, the P67 teacher at Hillhead Primary, was pleased to see the pupils so excited after their hard work. "Our pupils did art work for Le Centre Culturel, looking at French-speaking celebrities, and researching and writing a short biography in French for each. We also put together a French questionnaire which we uploaded on Glow. Lots of our kids don't have the opportunity to go to France, so it lets them see it in a real- life context, thus making French relevant."

Andrew Jackson, a P7 teacher at Oxgang Primary, rates it highly both as a French project and a transition project. "We have used today to get the pupils to speak French as much as possible and to motivate them," he says. "It is not just an isolated subject. As a transitional project, it is hugely useful. Lots of kids are confident about going up to secondary, but some are anxious. This has given them the chance to come up here and mix with other kids."

Kirsten Green, a P7 teacher at Harestanes Primary, feels the day has brought everything together. "There is real ownership. They now know why they have been doing the work in class. Since telling them they were coming here, they have had their heads down and have worked hard."

Amy Mcleod, 10, from Hillhead, has enjoyed the day. "It has been fun learning about other countries. I have never been to France but I want to go."

Allum Turnbull, 12, from Oxgang, has, and he is proud of how he got on. "I was able to speak French, to say things like hello and to order food."

The Kirkintilloch High first-years also played their part, helping organise the different parts of Belleville. They made up souvenir packs for the primary children with bookmarks of French comic strips and a French recipe. Prior to the event, they had taken the recipe, translated it into English and made it in home economics.

Central to the success of Belleville has been the collaboration across the six schools. "It was wonderful to touch base," says Caroline Edwardson, principal teacher of French at Kirkintilloch High. "We had some honest conversations and have built up a much stronger foundation.

"It helped us appreciate the difficulties primary school colleagues have in teaching French. All were using different material, resources and methods, so we have worked towards a consistent approach to teaching. We have helped primary schools define topics, and set basic grammar. And we have also looked at evaluating skills and how to recognise when pupils are at a certain level."

Working together has helped the schools develop a streamlined approach for children moving from primary to secondary. Ms Edwardson says: "It means that French can be seen as a progression, and not two separate learning experiences. We will capitalise on it and develop it further.

"Hopefully, the primary schools will go back and have a think about using French in PE. And we hope Belleville will become an annual event. We see it now as fine-tuning what we have put in place."

Time will tell whether exam results and uptake of Higher French will be affected positively but, if nothing else, it has helped raise the awareness of the value of language, particularly for those children who have never been to France.

Mr Muir says: "We have demonstrated that language is practical wherever you are. The children have seen it used in context and we are convinced it is sustainable. The hard work has been done."

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