I've mentioned in another post our links with the Museum at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, and how they commissioned our Year 7 pupils to create a French version of their Farm Stamper Trail.
This ended up becoming part of a whole curriculum built around real tasks and tangible outcomes. Pupils could use their French in an Art Exhibition, a café, the Francovision Song Contest (thanks to Rachel Hawkes), Flat Stanley letter exchanges with pupils in France (thanks to Kate Shepheard-Walwyn) and story books in French for Primary pupils.
The idea was that challenging our pupils to be creative would mean we would have to put in place a curriculum that secured the language needed in order to equip them to be creative. A curriculum which supplied the building blocks and honed their ability to express themselves with increasing independence.
As part of the LinkedUp initiative in 2010, we worked with 3 other schools to run similar projects. Straight-away I need to show you this video. (Click here if the embedded video doesn't load.)
These are pupils from Broadland High School where teacher Catherine Van Battum was one of our partners on the project. There are several things to say about this. Firstly it was a huge event for them. The setting, as you can see is perfect and they had a wonderful afternoon. The company who did the filming was led by a local TV news presenter who brought immediate celebrity status. And the pupils' work was then used by The Broads Authority to advertise the Norfolk Broads abroad. They made videos in French, German and English. This was a big part of the project: Pupils' work to be commissioned for a real purpose, and then for an external client to provide feedback and celebration.
Secondly, it also fulfilled the other purpose of the project, in that it threw light on the curriculum. When the pupils were first given the task and left to see what they could come up with, they produced almost nothing. The teachers had to work hard to show them how key structures for describing can be put with new words looked up in the dictionary. And how powerful language such as "on peut" can unlock a whole range of sentences. It also showed up different levels of confidence in speaking or reading aloud, including the importance of the sound-spelling link. The project became a powerful driver for pupils wanting to deliver work of high quality, and also for the teachers in thinking through how their curriculum enabled this.
We invited Mark Curtis of Sir John Leman High School to act as mentor to the whole project. Mark was a Senior Leader with responsibility for Curriculum and Learning, but he was also a Technology teacher. In the post on making writing in French into a hands on practical experience, I mentioned how we often use Technology Lessons as a metaphor for the processes involved in language-learning. Mark's input was invaluable, with his interest in Deep Learning. This was the model we adopted for the LinkedUp project and for many of the Units in our curriculum: The task had to be big, meaningful, and authentic; require independence, teamwork and creativity; and be used and celebrated by an external client.
This fits with the idea of Task Based learning in languages, although the "tasks" don't have to be as large scale as this. In fact a task can be an entirely classroom based activity. The difference between a task and an exercise being that for an exercise, there is an expectation that the pupil is practising a certain language point. For a task, the pupil has to draw on the totality of their language knowledge in order to complete the task. It has an important role in developing pupils' awareness of their evolving interlanguage - its usefulness and its limitations.
I should definitely mention the other schools involved in the LinkedUp project. Partly so you can see how their projects fit with the idea of tasks that drive the curriculum, and also to celebrate the wonderful experience of working with colleagues on exciting initiatives. Laura Chapman at Litcham High worked on teaching PE (handball) in French and on another project with Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse museum. This time it was with the museum café, producing an interpretation wheel which explained British dishes (Toad in the Hole?) to Spanish visitors. And Adam Berry at Hellesdon High School worked on producing guides to the local area in French for the Red Cross to use with refugees.
It was a great example of how CPD does not have to be about going on a course. It can be about a rich and enlightening collaboration between schools, involving staff and pupils. And it can have a permanent impact on the vision for languages and the curriculum.