What I’ve learned through trial-and-error
In the first few years of my career as a primary school teacher, and in spite of having a degree in French and Hispanic studies, I didn’t teach a great many language lessons of my own devising. Between specialist teachers and bought-in schemes of work, I never really had to plan my own lessons. So when I returned from my second maternity leave and was asked by my then-Head to take on the role of specialist French teacher, I was incredibly excited but also rather apprehensive, particularly about ensuring that pupils made good progress over the four years of study at Key Stage Two.
When I first started teaching in my role as French specialist, I stuck fairly closely to the scheme that the school was already (on paper at least) using, but it didn’t take me long to realise that it wasn’t really tailored to the needs of our pupils and that some units would need adapting. It also didn’t have the strong phonic grounding that I knew pupils would need if they were to become increasingly independent in their language-learning. So I began augmenting the pre-planned lessons of the scheme with ideas and resources from fantastic sites like Lightbulb Languages, and activities from Sue Cave and Jean Haig’s wonderful Physical French Phonics. I gathered ideas from the fabulous Languages in Primary Schools (LiPS) Facebook Group and found inspiration in brilliant books such as Danièle Bourdais and Sue Finnie’s Games for Teaching Primary French.
By the end of my first term, and after attending a couple of training courses, I was ready to begin planning some units by myself, moving away from the school’s original scheme and weaving together phonics, vocabulary and grammar to build units that engaged pupils but also ensured steady progression over time. I’ve now been working on my scheme of work, on and off, for the past few years, tweaking and adapting as I’ve learned more, been inspired by others and identified areas for development. Below are some of the things that I’ve learned – mostly by making lots of mistakes – as I’ve grown as a languages specialist, increased in confidence and gradually planned an entire scheme of work from Year 3 to Year 6, which caters for the needs of all pupils.
Ensure that you have a clear road map for progression
The Languages Programme of Study for Key Stage Two is, unfortunately, a very short document of just three pages in length, containing thirteen statements which lay out the basics of what pupils should be able to do by the end of the four years of statutory language study at Key Stage Two. These statements, some of which are extremely broad, show us what pupils are expected to be able to do by the end of Year 6, but are not broken down into the smaller steps that learners will need to take in order to be able to demonstrate progression over time.
Luckily, several wonderful practitioners have already done all of the hard work of breaking down the Programme of Study to enable teachers to plan lessons and units of work which allow children to develop their skills and build on their learning year by year. Both Sue Cave and Rachel Hawkes have a range of great documents on their websites, meaning teachers can plan for, assess and record the progress of their pupils over time. When planning my curriculum, I found Sue Cave’s KS2 Progressive Attainment Targets really helpful in ensuring that tasks were set at the correct level and there was a good balance in terms of speaking, listening, reading and writing.
As well as creating an overarching long term plan for all four years of Key Stage Two language study, I have spent the last few months breaking down each year group into a considerably more detailed long term plan, showing progression in vocabulary, grammar and phonics within a particular year group, as well as referencing links to literature, songs and culture. These plans give a really clear overview of my scheme, year group by year group, which is especially helpful if, like me, you are expecting “the call” in the near future and may need to discuss progression in more detail. Examples of both can be viewed below.
Make phonics an integral part of your scheme
Getting familiar and confident with phonics in the target language is so important if pupils are to develop accurate pronunciation and intonation, learn how to spell with accuracy and be enabled to decode unfamiliar vocabulary with increasing independence as they move through the school. The Languages Programme of Study also directly references the expectation that pupils will learn to “link the spelling, sound and meaning of words.” The teaching of phonics should be woven through any scheme of work and the incredibly helpful Physical French Phonics and Physical Spanish Phonics offer a wealth of resources and ideas for introducing the phonemes and graphemes of the target language, linking actions to particular sounds in a similar manner to Jolly Phonics. The great thing about both of these books, which come with a CD of resources, is that they introduce all of the key phonemes of the target language through the kinds of vocabulary we would naturally teach to young learners – things like colours, numbers and days of the week – making it very simple to weave through a scheme of work. Sue Cave, co-author of both of the above-mentioned resources, has made a great training video on how to embed phonics within your scheme of work, which is well worth a watch if you are still in the early stages of developing your phonics coverage. Take 10 Phonics is another good resource, which you may already have in school.
Ensure that content drives unit selection (not the other way around)
Sometimes, it can be very tempting to teach a particular unit of work because we can think of lots of great activities related to a topic and we know that the children will enjoy it. I certainly did this a lot initially. Of course, pupil engagement is incredibly important but, for me, units of work should be selected according to the extent to which they allow us as teachers to deliver the age-appropriate vocabulary, grammatical structures and phonics that enable learners to make progress over time. It can take quite a while to consider which vocabulary and grammatical structures need to be included in each year group and I have spent a lot of time over the last few years cross-referencing the lexical units in my scheme with lists of high-frequency words in French, as well as with my progression documents, to ensure that pupils are given multiple opportunities to meet different grammatical concepts at varying levels of complexity. Clare Seccombe has written an excellent blog post on how to select the vocabulary that we teach to ensure that learners are able to communicate effectively in the target language, even from the very early stages of languages acquisition.
Weave culture through your planning
Culture, although not explicitly referenced in the Programme of Study, is still an integral part of language-learning. Children love to find out about the customs and traditions of the country (or countries) where the target language is spoken and I find that units of work based on an aspect of culture generally lead to high levels of engagement with the vocabulary, grammar and phonics being studied. Over the past year, I have been making a concerted effort to find ways in which I can adapt some of my planning to really bring the cultural aspect of language-learning to the fore and have planned several new units which incorporate the key vocabulary, grammatical structures and phonics for a particular year group whilst also allowing pupils to engage with culture in meaningful ways. A unit of work on the tradition of le goûter, for example gave children opportunities to work on giving opinions on particular foods, whilst also learning about this important tea-time tradition, and generated some great spoken and written work in Year 3.
Don’t forget the wider French and Spanish-speaking worlds
As part of our collective responsibility as educators to decolonise the curriculum, we must ensure that learners understand that French and Spanish are not just spoken on the continent of Europe but also in countries many thousands of miles away from the place where the language first evolved. Having conversations around the reasons for this are also very important, as are nuanced and non-stereotypical images of life in the wider French and Spanish-speaking worlds. From units of work on carnival, to studies of particular countries and comparing the weather in Bogotá and Madrid using live web cams, turning pupils’ eyes out to the world outside of Europe is incredibly important in helping them to appreciate the global reach of the language that they are learning and the great cultural richness and diversity of the French and Spanish-speaking worlds. To help bring this to life even more for young learners, through letters, video calls and collaborative projects, I can definitely recommend using the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms service or its Partner Finder to create links with schools in different parts of the globe.
Find somebody to bounce ideas off
One of the things I missed the most when I moved away from being a class teacher was the opportunity to share ideas and work alongside colleagues during the planning process. I have been very lucky to find some incredibly supportive specialist language teachers in my local area, both through chance meetings at training events (a big shout out to you, Angela) and also through the local Primary Languages Hub, which I run in conjunction with the Association for Language Learning. Having colleagues who can help review planning and offer suggestions for improvements is invaluable when you are working in isolation. And if you don’t have a hub for primary language specialists in your local area, there is a wonderful community of incredibly committed and creative practitioners on Facebook in the previously-mentioned Languages in Primary Schools (LiPS) group and lots of inspiration to be found on Twitter amongst the #mlftwitterati community.
Have you planned a scheme of work for languages in your school? What were the biggest challenges for you? As always, I love to hear about your experiences.