Fun with a foreign tonge;Effective teaching and learning;Conference;Making the Connection;Preview

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Joe Adrian plots the progress of the Government's project to encourage primary language at Paisley University

The pioneering introduction of modern languages into primary schools has been matched by a growth in foreign languages at the Craigie campus of Paisley University.

Since 1993, languages have been offered in the postgraduate secondary course, the BA in media studies, the postgraduate certificate in primary modern languages and, most dramatically, in the BEd course.

For many years Craigie students had been able to study a language as an academic option, but when the BEd programme was checked three years ago the training implications of the Government's Modern Languages in the Primary School project were examined.

Until recently primary teachers were trained for the MLPS through the Scottish Office's 27-day programmes in French, German, Spanish or Italian. By this October more than 3,500 teachers will have taken these enormously popular courses.

But what happens when these courses come to an end, and how does the profession increase the number of teachers able to teach a foreign language to P6 and P7 pupils? One answer to both questions lies with teacher education institutions like Craigie and the inclusion of a language in the BEd curriculum.

At Craigie, the MLPS is included in two European modules taken by all second-year students. This is a compulsory 40-hour course which aims to enable all students to support foreign language teaching in their future primary classrooms. Forty hours would not enable students to teach the language themselves, but it does give them an insight into the nature of the project and ways in which they could help a trained MLPS teacher.

Second, if the student teachers wish to attempt to deliver MLPS themselves, they have to follow their second-year training with further language work in their fourth year. In 1996-97, about 25 students completed the 150-hour course (with 60 hours' class contact) and this session about 50 students want to do more language work.

That is more than 70 per cent of the student population and indicates that the students perceive the increasing importance of primary languages. Those responsible for the course would also suggest that the high uptake reflects the fact that the students enjoy themselves.

Taken together, students who have pursued the core plus option components will leave with 100 hours of class contact in MLPS. They will have had both training in the language itself and in appropriate methods of teaching it to primary pupils. In other words the course is designed to reflect the style and content of the 27-day Scottish Office courses, which are now in their fifth year.

How does the Craigie course compare with the national training? Staff have been involved as tutors on at least five national training courses and so should be able to make comparisons.

On the one hand, despite the attractiveness of the Ayr campus, students do not enjoy the relaxed surroundings of local hotels which were the locations for early MLPS national courses. Nor can tutors afford the time to engage in all the practical activities and games which contributed to the popularity of the 27-day courses. There is also less overall time available in the Craigie programme.

But on the positive side there are generally two tutors for each class of 25 or more students. Students can also be asked to do more in terms of coursework, consolidation in writing and language learning.

Although their foreign language competence is not tested in second year (assessment then takes the form of an essay in English on MLPS in Scotland), written and oral competence is examined in fourth year.

Judging from this year's results most students who completed the option are as competent in the language and its methods of delivery as teachers who have been trained by the same tutors in national courses.

Moreover, many of the students have a recent Higher or good Standard grade in a language which means there is a freshness and confidence about their oral performance that will stand them in good stead in the classroom. The Craigie course is also relevant to national developments in that it reflects the competences identified in the national training programmes. It also draws unashamedly on the excellent teaching and learning resources provided in these courses.

The education faculty at Paisley is seeking to play a serious role in the training of future teachers of languages in Scottish primaries. But much remains to be done.

Only French is offered currently, though German is being considered. A two-year part-time postgraduate certificate in primary modern languages which seeks to build on the competences achieved during the 27-day programme (or Craigie's 100-hour BEd training) has recently been successfully completed by local primary teachers, and it will be evaluated and amended in the light of student comments.

Joe Adrain is a lecturer in modern languages at the Craigie campus in Ayr of Paisley University

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