Sunday, 25 November 2012

SSAT Conference 2012 (3): Steven Fawkes

Keynote 1: New wheels? Innovations in language; progress in language learning.  Steven Fawkes.

 Steven is simply a brilliant speaker.  What he has to say is also brilliant.  His intelligent and clever use of language, humour, imagery and tone means that he can communicate sometimes controversial and critical commentary in a way which is absolutely compelling for all.

It almost seems blasphemous to attempt a summary of something which is such an integrated whole and delivered with such skill, but here goes …. 

His talk used the imagery/analogy of ‘wheels’ to explore to what extent we were being required to change, reinvent or ‘tweak’ our practice in the current climate.  A great image which really worked and which I am sure I will now appropriate!

1. A response to changes ….

  • There are many changes – this is to be expected from politicians who will claim that things need to change in order to make progress.  We need to identify which things we can affect, and which things are beyond our scope
  • We are losing support mechanisms / bodies (eg. QCA/CILt/LEA/ BECTA ect)
  • We still have our ‘shared history, profession, each other, ALL!
  • We need to question whether things are really ‘new’ – (do wheels need changing?) or whether they are things we already do/know about/ have in our attic (do we need to find/tweak our old wheel?)
  • The delightful ancient image of a ‘wheel of fortune’ illustrates how things change – sometimes you may be at the top of the wheel and fortunate, sometimes at the bottom and dressed only in your underpants (-you had to be there-) sometimes you are slipping back, sometimes moving forward .. but there are essential ‘principles’ which remain over time, regardless of the ‘age’ in which you are teaching
  • Despite what politicians may claim, change does not necessarily lead to a linear, an ever upward, onward trajectory in terms of progress. 
  • Note that during periods of ‘enlightenment’, some things are thrown into the shadow. Some words can be ‘in’ [currently: grammar,, literacy. Ofsted, rigorous] and others ‘out’ [culture, compelling learning experiences, social cohesion, skills, personalisation (aside: no one could ever define this one!) skills].  A diverting ‘game’ where we were invited to define words rarely used .
Things we can affect: access interesting resources; encourage curiosity; play with language; engage with people and culture. 

  • Examples of encouraging curiosity: show photos (which are personal, authentic, contextualised, arouse curiosity) and allow for spontaneous discussion.(who are they? What is happening? What are they saying? Steven shared wedding photos of his family at this point.
2. Ofsted

 Points about OFSTED which Steven shared with us (and at which point everyone in the room started writing!!)

  • 4 areas: Achievement, T&L, B&S, L&M
  • Overall question they ask while observing ‘is this good enough for the range of children in this class?’
  • Focus on achievement of different groups within the class
  • Languages should be developed not just tested (e.g. listening exercises should not be merely ‘summative’
  • Overriding principle:

Myths about ofsted:

  • ‘You have to do it like this’ .. actually no required method
  • ‘You have to report levels’ – no, levels are not used for  planning lessons
  • ‘You have to use a certain lesson plan format’ – no, this is just useful for ‘insurance’
  • ‘You have to use plenaries for assessment for learning’ – no, if constant AfL activities are ‘clunky’ (e.g. after every few minutes you interrupt flow of lesson to check progress) it detracts from time for learning
3. Learners
Main things needed: Engagement, active learning, less teacher focus.

Learning: not just remembering the learning, but knowing how to use it and wanting to use it

Wider context: how we compare with other countries.  When asked, our learners say they have comparatively lower level of confidence in using the language independently.  French in simlar position – their analysis is that it is because they over-emphasise the need for accuracy.  (General murmurs of assent to this in the room!)

New learners?  With a focus on exam success, a risk of reductionism.  Solution: find a different wheel to add to the movement ….. it may be in the garage!

Other changes: A level reform; Russell group support for languages; decline in HE languages; decline in experience of the year abroad (costly); universities moving to saying that languages are necessary for effective research.

Overall: Things we can do:

  • Re-discover things we used to do (new word coined by Steven: in – veter-ation!) Delightful examples from work  Steven’s former pupils did ‘in the past’ e.g. writing their own versions of La Fontaine fables
  • Be aware that there is a lobby in the House of Lords for languages
  • Be aware that some students are motivated by what will get you ‘good grades’ . others need more ’off the wall’ motivation and the ‘F’ word .. Fun! (e.g. choose to walk up stairs which make the sound of a piano keyboard rather than using the escalator)
  • Have the professional confidence to do carry things out – our responsibility to the future
  • CPD more difficult to get out on courses now .. so make most of remote, social, informal opportunities
  • Be aware of elements which are always needed: (4 skills; culture, vocab, grammar) and the activities we promote (explore, acquire and USE the language)
  • Do not limit to ‘what is needed for an A grade’ .. but teach what is of the ESSSENCE

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