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Moving Through Languages: Schools and Universities Working Together conference report (II)

This conference, a collaboration between Network for Languages London and Language Acts and Worldmaking, focused on transitions between language learning and teaching from Primary to Higher Education, writes King's College London BA student Holly Henry.

This was the first time this conference was run in collaboration with Language Acts. The day focused mainly on collaborative teaching efforts between schools and universities, but the round table event at the end of the day opened a discussion as to how we can keep this conference running in following years.

After a welcome speech by Professor Debra Kelly, the Keynote presentation was delivered by Helen Myers from the Association for Language Learning London and discussed constructive responses to the ongoing curriculum changes which are happening across all Key Stages. Helen highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities to encourage language learning, such as learning through song, and from social and cultural events such as school exchanges. Her research into the severe grading of Modern Languages was insightful and she spoke of how networking can have constructive outcomes in solving these problems.

The day consisted of a wide selection of breakout sessions held by guest speakers, with presentation sessions focusing on the three themes of Primary/Secondary Transitions, Secondary curriculum changes and Secondary/University transitions.

One breakout session held by Bernadette Clinton (Hackney Learning Trust), Raquel Tola Rego (Parkwood Primary) and Marie Drucker-Allister (Petchey Academy, Hackney), focused on practical ways in which London boroughs can make primary/secondary transitions effective, and how Hackney has implemented structures to support the transition of Spanish teaching.

Raquel explained her work with students from Parkwood Primary, and the enthusiasm the whole school has for Spanish classes. The school sends Year 5 students on an exchange trip to a town in Spain each year, which is subsidised for students through fundraising which everyone in the school gets involved with. This showed how cultural and social trips can be one of the most effective methods of language learning and engagement. She went on to describe a whole series of other extra-curricular methods of language learning, such as an Art project, a joint trip (with the Petchey Academy) to the Zorrilla exhibition, and even parent Spanish lessons. Marie Drucker-Allister then spoke about the collaborative work between both Parkwood and Petchey Academy. Young Language Leaders from year 7 embark on a 10 week course in which they teach students from years 5 and 6, helping them to develop their leadership skills and responsibility, whilst learning from each other in a team environment.

In a second breakout session, Jesús Hernández González spoke about the resource The Language Magician, explaining how teachers and students can use this programme to develop their language learning. Teachers can easily see the level their students are already at, whilst students enjoy what is essentially a game – they do not see it as compulsory learning, but rather a fun challenge.

One final breakout session was led by Dr Jonathan Kasstan (University of Westminster), and Dr Michelle Sheehan (Anglia Ruskin University), and discussed the importance of Linguisitcs within Modern Foreign Language learning. Their project, ‘Linguistics in Modern Foreign Languages’, has worked with pilot groups to assess the potential for the inclusion of linguistic topics in the Further Education MFL curriculum. The project is concerned principally with taking drastic action to address a crisis in MFL teaching and learning. The ultimate aim of this project is to drive stronger uptake and results in MFL study, and to enthuse and better prepare candidates for entry into MFL at university by bringing about a change in the curriculum. 

To end the conference, a round table discussion was held by Debra Kelly, asking guests how to move forwards with Network for Languages in order for conferences and events such as this to happen in the future. Debra thanked Professor Catherine Boyle for providing a space at Kings College London to hold this year’s event and a range of ideas were discussed, with regards to the future of Network for Languages, such as a membership model, or working as a collective with a rotating committee of 6 people. The importance of social media pages and Facebook groups was highlighted, and Debra also suggested that the mission of these events might be changed: to bring schools and universities together.

Guests expressed their desire to revive the teacher mentoring scheme, and most importantly, to keep this important networking space alive. 

Are you a languages teacher who wants to join the Network for Languages London mailing list? Email languageacts@kcl.ac.uk telling us what language and stage you teach and we'll keep you informed of our networking events.