Faculty blog – a busy year for languages!

Wow, what a year in the language faculty! We have had some exciting new things happen this year and one of those is to have had a number of our ex-students coming back to the academy to complete work experience or to complete placements as part of their university course as part of their  training to join the teaching profession. It has been lovely to see how they have flourished and also it has been a joy to see their enthusiasm and joy in working with another generation of National students.

Reading continues to be a huge focus of the academy and in Languages we are driving this through the Accelerated Reader Programme and we are so lucky this year to have welcomed Mrs. Prestwood as out new LRC manager and she has made a flying start continuing from the great work Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Baker and Mrs. England did the previous academic year. The LRC continues to be a warm and welcoming environment and it’s a hive of activity at lunch time with reading groups and hard-working library assistants supporting the students with their learning or just checking the books in and out. Mrs. Prestwood has also successfully started a reading group with Miss Hyde and has even introduced ‘tech free Friday’ and still the numbers of students is thronging – so maybe we are turning the tide and  encouraging another  generation of book lovers? But what could be better than sitting and eating your lunch whilst discussing your favourite read or, even better, indulging in a good book? We would love for you to help us out and encourage your child to read daily. This reading could be fiction or non- fiction and even ten minutes could make a huge difference in all academic subjects.

World Book Day continues to be a growing success with faculty members but also teachers across the school getting involved with the spirit of the day and showcasing this year their favourite literary hero or villain. The students love this day with some fabulous activities planned by Miss Hornbuckle and Mrs. Prestwood in the library. We had quizzes and locate the characters through finding the teacher with the correct name badge. Whilst traditionally World Book Day is seen as a primary based activity, I think we are proving year on year as staff and students participation grows in the day we are showcasing our love for a good book and how characters are a huge part of our society. All lessons had starter activities delivered by staff to introduce their literary character and hopefully enthusing students to try a book they maybe hadn’t heard of or one they just never thought about reading.

This year has also seen us completely revamp our curriculum focusing on amazing literature from the 19th century to the present day, novels to blogs to tweets and this has proved successful with students. They are finding they actually get A Christmas Carol and they never realized how amazing the description is in The Hunger Games or that actually whilst a world without adults may seem perfect, in The Lord of the Flies we actually realise some rules and adults are needed for some harmony – although not always!

Whilst we don’t get out much in English, we do try and get to the theatre when and where we can. This year we indulged in a spot of Peter Pan at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and whilst we do look what is on locally, the Rep’s performances are always amazing and this year I think it was their best to date with a fabulous mix of song and story. MFL have missed their annual trips but watch this space for 2021 (fingers crossed).

Modern Foreign Languages

We have traditionally taught French as a first foreign language to students joining us in Year 7, however prior to the start of this academic year we decided to move to teaching German to our  Year 7 intake this year. There were several reasons behind this. Firstly, we are aware as teachers that French pronunciation can be quite challenging as a first modern foreign language and in our experience once students have learnt the main sound differences in German they are able to pronounce most words in the language correctly if they apply the rules. In addition, students appear to enjoy the sound of the German language more and students in general appear to be less inhibited at speaking it as pronunciation is more natural. If students find something comes naturally to them they will enjoy success and consequently the more success they experience in language learning the more they will feel motivated and will be willing to engage further with spoken communication. Traditionally at primary school children have learnt some French or even some Spanish but interestingly none of our feeder schools had taught any German. This meant that all students would be starting on a new learning journey together at National C of E Academy.

All MFL staff have been delighted with the enthusiasm and progress of their Year 7 German groups so far. To deliver our lessons we have also introduced a new teaching style and written an entirely new scheme of learning. We have based this on some of the ideas of Gianfranco Conti, a name currently at the forefront of language learning and teaching. The idea is that the focus from the beginning is on increased spoken engagement which builds confidence and success. Students work with vocabulary builder grids which present all the language, spelling and grammar for that topic. They then practise that language over and over again in a variety of fun ways including chanting, memory games, whole class activities and challenges. This results in the vocabulary and structures becoming embedded and only then do we start to introduce more written language but my goodness it also makes for a vibrant classroom where the noise just resonates positivity to their learning.

We have had lots of positive feedback from our Year 7 students and as teachers have witnessed the enjoyment of this fun and effective way of learning a new language. Students have fun in lessons and demonstrate an eagerness to learn new words and structures. We are also noticing from assessments that they are retaining more of what they have been taught. Following the success of this style of teaching we are already working to develop this further with Year 8 and 9.

So, I am sure you will agree it has been a bumper year already and we are working to reflect on this year’s achievements but also what tweaks we need to make so that 2021 is even better. Watch this space for future updates and take care and be safe.

Mrs Hunt

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