Training confident primary modern foreign language teachers: is this possible on a primary PGCE course?
In, Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers Annual Conference (UCET) 2004, Leicester, UK,
19 - 20 Nov 2004.
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This research took place at a time of great change in the landscape for Modern Foreign Language teaching in England. In February 2002 the DfES published a new policy statement on language learning (DfES 2002) which outlined the government’s aim to offer all primary school children the entitlement to study a modern foreign language throughout Key Stage 2 by the end of the decade. A previous attempt to expand modern foreign language provision in primary schools during the 1960s and 70s was discontinued after an unfavourable evaluation of the pilot commissioned by the NFER. One of the reasons for the failure of this initiative was the inadequate training of teachers (Burstall et al 1974).
In order to address this issue the Primary Language Teacher Training Project was established in 2001which included a Primary Modern Foreign Language (PMFL) specialism as part of a PGCE or an undergraduate course.
The principle aim of this research was to investigate whether PGCE courses currently produce confident primary MFL teachers, and if so, how. The research focused on two essential aspects of language learning and teaching: linguistic competence and cultural understanding. The findings showed that trainees do indeed feel confident in their own linguistic competence and cultural understanding by the end of their PGCE course. It was found that most of that confidence comes from spending a month of school based training abroad. Due to the lack of time (approx 30 hrs) available to teach the PMFL specialism on PGCE courses, most tutors do not dedicate time specifically to developing trainees own language competences. This means that the month spent teaching in the host country is absolutely essential for trainees to make sufficient progress in their own linguistic and cultural development. It was also found that the amount of time a trainee had spent abroad before beginning the PGCE course was the strongest predictor of confidence in both these aspects. However there was also strong evidence that without adequate preparation in the home country about the differences in educational systems there is a danger that trainees return with a less positive attitude towards the host country (and a less critical attitude towards their own).
As PMFLs are not a statutory part of the primary curriculum, there is no statutory guidance as to how they should be taught. The research also explored which were the most important educational aims of PMFL according to PMFL tutors on primary PGCE courses as well as the trainees following the specialism. The findings show that there is a great difference in opinion about the educational purposes of primary modern foreign languages. Tutors tend to favour the more general language learning purposes rather than specific linguistic skills (although there is a great disparity amongst tutors) as opposed to trainees who rate linguistic competence more highly. However the PMFL courses tend to be biased towards a linguistic competence approach.
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