Words don't fail us now;Subject of the week;Economics and Business

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Helping students to make sense of business studies language is reaping rewards, finds Clare Jenkins

When Hala Saliet started teaching GCSE business studies at Salendine Nook High School in Huddersfield, she had just one group, with a GCSE pass rate of 43 per cent. Today, five years later, more than 200 pupils take the subject, with 60 per cent gaining grades A to C. The reason? A new approach to the teaching of the subject, especially to its language.

Business studies has its own specialist language - "abstract and formal and therefore alien to most children's language experience", as Mrs Saliet describes it. Yet, it also traditionally attracts less academic pupils, who are only introduced to the subject and its terminology in middle school. These three factors conflict.

As she says: "We end up with less able children thinking it's an easy option, then realising it may be more difficult than other subjects." The problem is greater among multilingual students, and 60 per cent of her Year 11 students (twice that in other subjects) are from ethnic minorities.

The school's language development co-ordinator, Miriam Shorter, confesses that she found the amount of specialist language and knowledge required by business studies overwhelming. "They come to it totally cold, without previous life experiences, whereas with child care or sports studies they will know something from life. It's a large jump for them to make."

Concerned with her subject's low status and the underachievement of students, Mrs Saliet decided to tackle the problem. She did so through a pound;10,000 research project funded by the University of Hudders-field and the Training and Enterprise Council.

Two years ago, she circulated a questionnaire to pupils, many of whom pinpointed spoken language as the major impediment to learning. So, working closely with Mrs Shorter, she set out to address language, and the application of language and knowledge through new materials and teaching strategies. In addition, the new materials and techniques aim to raise pupils' awareness of the subject, motivate them to take an active part in research and discussions, enhance their communication and presentation skills and raise their understanding of local business affairs.

One problem with the language is visualisation. "In French, a house can be visualised. But what does value-added look like? Or mixed economy?" Existing textbooks, she feels, do not address these problems. "Vocational-level materials try to simplify too much. They use case studies followed by theories. But no one is addressing language."

In devising her own package, Mrs Saliet divided the GCSE syllabus into eight modules, all colour coded for easy cross-reference with her Active Learning packs: Business Location, Business Foundation, Markets amp; Products, Types of Business Organisation, Business Structure amp; Decisions, Marketing, Finance and People At Work. The Active Learning packs themselves include four sections - TrueFalse, Multiple Choice, Anagram, Missing Words - to help develop subject-specific vocabulary across the syllabus. There is also a reference book, glossary, business thesaurus and a variety of graduated pupil-centred activities.

Because of the unfamiliar language, students progress from oral and aural exercises to written ones: "If you can talk the language, you can understand the concepts." At the end of every module, they analyse an advertisement or article in the light of what they have learnt.

But are the teachers therefore encouraging pupils to use jargon? "Yes," says Mrs Shorter, "but it's not jargon for the sake of it. It's compressed language, a sort of shorthand for when they talk among themselves. There's a jargon that's blinding with science. This is jargon that gets to the subject's heart."

The second issue Mrs Seliet addressed was the integrated topics approach. "We tend to teach modules in a vacuum," she says. "For example, marketing, ownership, types of industry, types of economy. But we need to make links. Most of the existing materials don't address this. They're good at explaining a topic, but not the relationship between different topics."

Her materials do this through graduated tasks that cover the whole range of business topics, from types of ownership through methods of raising finance and types of markets, to aims of promotion, cash flow forecast and the management of human resources. "So, for example, at the end of Year 11 we show the links between deeds of partnership, which we did at the beginning of Year 10, and contracts of employment. They are two contracts but of a very different nature. We ask what the differences and similarities are between them. It's like building blocks."

Other materials include a general cross-curricular pack introducing pupils to communication and organisational skills and, for teachers, packs on organising field trips and how to write a simulation.

The modules - now available as computer software - are being evaluated by local schools and by an independent evaluator, with a view to publication.

For more information send an SAE for a leaflet to Hala Seliet, Salendine Nook High School, New Hey Road,Huddersfield, West Yorks HD3 4GN Email: h.seliet@btinternet.com

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