Language learning – selling point, springboard or scratching for ideas?
Content Resources Manager, Education Services Australia
In several states and territories languages have recently been mandated as part of the curriculum, spurring many schools to establish or re-establish language programs. School councils have considered issues such as teacher availability, what is taught at the neighbouring primary/secondary school, and timetabling. Some secondary schools have looked at the viability of senior elective classes. Looming large in these considerations are the challenges that language courses pose.
In some schools, though, the story of the language course has been one of dynamism and growth. And many of these schools are using their languages programs as the springboard for external promotion, with terms and tags such as ‘Trips, Tours & Exchanges’, ‘International Program’ and ‘Enrichment Opportunities’ appearing on their websites.
A case in point is Coffs Harbour Christian Community School in NSW. For some time the school had been achieving good results in Indonesian, but class sizes at the senior level were small. In 2009, the school’s Head of Indonesian and English was given a challenge by his principal to find ways to boost numbers. By 2011 the school had the largest Year 12 HSC Indonesian language class in NSW, and in 2014 Coffs Harbour had 37% of Year 11 students choosing to study the subject. At the same time the school has forged deep links in Bali, through Coffs Harbour’s support for a development fund, an orphanage and a sister school on the island.
The LLS is designed to support schools and teachers looking to start or update language courses. It is targeted in particular to teachers and students of Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian in Australian schools. The LLS is accessed free of charge, and many professional learning resources are just a click away. Educators and students register online for full access to the site. There are over 30,000 active users of the LLS. The site has just won a Platinum Global Learning Impact Award at the 2015 Learning Impact Leadership Institute Awards in Atlanta, USA.
This article is an overview of what the LLS offers.
Thirty student activities, called learning challenges, have been created on the site for each language. Each challenge is bookended by an immersive graphic novel adventure set in-country, enlivened in each case by elements of gamification. The challenges are aimed at students in Years 5 to 9, which language teachers often describe as the most demanding age-group. Teachers can also create their own challenges, targeted directly at those students in their own schools who most need support, encouragement or just something different.
The LLS website also offers teaching materials that take students on quirky transmedia adventures: the Dragon Collective for Chinese learners, Inanimate Alice journals for Indonesian and Japanese students, and Claymation resources to support all learners. The module Language is a funny thing has links to resources designed to amuse and motivate reluctant learners. Ten Top Tips for Motivating language Learners provides professional advice.
The LLS links to free tutors services for Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese, based in Beijing, Bali and Japan. Teachers can schedule a free session for whole groups, small groups, or, after school, for teachers wanting to practise their own language skills.
Teachers can use the functionality of the site and the resources to set different challenges for different groups of students. They can also book the tutor service to work with one group while they work with another. Three professional learning modules provide advice about differentiation strategies in language classrooms.
Teacher professional learning modules support teachers new to teaching Chinese and Japanese. They offer advice about scope and sequence topics, sample programs and advice about classroom management. Leadership: Your School and Languages provides advice to school leaders.
In language studies many programs are underpinned by a core textbook, especially in secondary schools, but there is an increasing expectation that teachers use multimedia and digital resources to provide for different learning preferences and mixed abilities. Over 1200 such resources can be accessed within the LLS. Going digital: complementing your textbook provides some ways of connecting the resources with a Chinese textbook. Users can search the resource bank for digital materials that complement the topics in their textbooks for all three languages.
The site also enables teachers to upload their own learning resources, and combine them with the hundreds of high quality free ones on the site. Teachers can assign learning pathways to students which may then be tracked.
Making the languages program a selling point of the school
The story of Indonesian at Coffs Harbour Christian Community School is one of a number of case studies on the LLS site that show how schools have leveraged their language programs for promotional purposes, and as a means to build external links. For example the case studies show how a language program might connect to feeder primary schools, or universities. They show ways in which a language elective might be promoted to students within the school, including students wary of ‘hard’ subjects, as well as to non-language teachers, and to the wider school community. The case studies cover ways to manage the language program within the school curriculum, and discuss how links may be built with other countries, at the level of individual students (meeting students from the target culture can really make an impact), individual teachers, or the whole school.
Materials on the LLS can help to facilitate the steps mentioned in the case studies. The site includes advice about establishing and building sister school links in the target country. Users can download the World Student eBooks to support school visits to Japan, Indonesia and China. They can also download free games apps: Rasa Bahasa, Canyu Hanyu and NihongoGo; non-language teachers might be encouraged to have a go at the games. There are also professional learning modules that focus on links across the curriculum, to English, Geography, the Arts and History.