MFL - Topsy-turvy learning

4th January 2013 at 00:00
What happens when you let the children do the teaching?

A funny thing has happened at our school. Outwardly, everything looks just the same. But the normal order of things has been turned upside down: the children have taken over.

A few months ago we made a short film entirely in Spanish with a small group of Year 4 children. It won a competition and caused something of a stir. Now we seem to be in the middle of a learning epidemic where the children are leading the way.

Such is the seductive cinematography of the director that at every showing, whether to an audience of 16 in class or 500 in assembly, the children watch spellbound, caught up in this alternative reality as though they have stepped out of the wardrobe into Narnia. Learning spikes massively, with pupils of every age group now able to express scepticism (No creo en el martin pescador, no existe!), disappointment (Que triste!), horror (Es horrible, un desastre!), relief (Que tranquilo!) and admiration (Es tan bonito!) with total conviction. They didn't learn these things from their teachers, but from the actors.

In choir we learned a Spanish hymn for our harvest festival celebration. Sing up, I urged the children, set a good example: how do you expect your teachers to learn unless you enunciate those all-important words clearly?

When I circulated information about online courses offered by the Instituto Cervantes, I was astounded by the take-up, with no fewer than 10 non-specialist staff stepping up to the plate. I know many want to contribute to our integrated learning programme, spearheaded by a bunch of enlightened nine-year-olds in the design and technology workshop. I decided to ask one or two colleagues about their motivation. The dreams are diverse, but in every case the can-do attitude is a gift from the children.

At morning registration we regularly interact with the children in Spanish, talking about their readiness for the day ahead or reinforcing ethical principles. It is always exciting to see the pace accelerate as children spark off each other. But the words that resonated most when I left one classroom recently were those of the teacher. "I learned something today," she said. "I'll be trying it out later." I was reminded how wrong it is to view learning as a one-way transmission of knowledge: that shared sense of perpetual discovery is more of a never-ending loop.

Dr Heather Martin is head of modern languages and curriculum coordinator at St Faith's Independent Prep School in Cambridge

What else?

To get pupils or staff started with a new language, try the TES MFL primary collection. bit.lyPrimaryMFL

Use famous Spanish songs to develop pupils' vocabulary in Malena113's musical lesson. bit.lytesSpanishSong.

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