Learning French at Penn Wood
‘Learning a foreign language is a liberation from insularity and provides an opening to other cultures. A high-quality languages education should foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world’. The National Curriculum, 2014
How French is taught at Penn Wood
At Penn Wood, children are taught French in Key Stage 2 by a specialist teacher. The scheme of work is heavily influenced by the MARS-EARS pedagogical cycle of Gianfranco Conti, with adaptations to make it appropriately challenging for each year group.
Children are introduced to all new vocabulary for the topic at the beginning of the unit, and provided with scaffolds such as sentence builders (see below). They are then immersed in this vocabulary and complete a range of activities which challenge them to listen to, read, write and speak the language. The scaffolds are gradually removed as the children become more adept at using the language from memory. By the end of a unit, children should be able to recall vocabulary from memory, and use and apply it to read French texts, and write their own piece of writing independently. As children progress through the curriculum at Penn Wood, they accumulate more and more vocabulary, which allows them to express themselves ever more fully in French. A range of authentic French texts also compliment the curriculum and add both depth and cultural context.
In 2016, the Teaching Schools Council advised, in their MFL Pedagogy Review, that ‘content should be stimulating and widen students’ knowledge of the culture and history of the new language, without compromising the sequencing of vocabulary and grammar.’ We look to achieve a balance between these two aspects of languages teaching by giving children the tools to build grammatically correct sentences using vocabulary topics that they are keen to use an apply. For example, in Year 3, children learn to talk about what things they do day to day and learn how to describe which day of the week they do them. Year 4 will learn how describe both animals and people in their family, and how adjectives agree with the gender and plurality of nouns in French. These units will form a basis of knowledge that can be built on in Year 5 and Year 6, when children are challenged to reuse this vocabulary in different contexts, and using a wider range of verb conjugations.
Children are taught to read French words through explicit phonics instruction. They are taught the French alphabet and vowel sounds in Year 3, and then will come across an increasing range of digraphs that are relevant to their unit of study.
In addition, it is essential that children are made aware of cultural differences through learning about another country and its language and practices. Languages teaching must prepare children to be a global citizen now and in their future roles within a global community. Children will be given the opportunity to learn French through songs (e.g. Le facteur n'est pas passé for days of the week), stories and books – the golden thread that runs throughout our curriculum.
It is pertinent that schools provide a balanced and broadly-based curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and prepares them for the opportunities and responsibilities and experiences for later life; languages teaching is central to this. As stated in a paper on Modern Foreign Languages by The Association of School and Collage Leaders (ASCL), ‘Learning a new language and culture helps stimulate a child’s curiosity and makes them open-minded and tolerant of diversity.’
Broadly, our curriculum coverage at Penn Wood aims to ensure that all pupils:
- Understand and respond to spoken and written language from a variety of authentic sources.
- Speak with increasing confidence, fluency and spontaneity, finding ways of communicating what they want to say, including through discussion and asking questions, and continually improving the accuracy of their pronunciation and intonation.
- Can write at varying length, for different purposes and audiences, using the variety of grammatical structures that they have learnt.
- Discover and develop an appreciation of a range of writing in the language studied.
Learning another language presents opportunities for the reinforcement of knowledge, skills and understanding in other curriculum areas. According to a paper published ASCL, ‘Research shows that language learning at school boosts overall literacy.’ An understanding of the grammatical structures and etymology within a new language enhances children’s understanding of their own language and therefore links closely to the English Curriculum. We also know from research that ‘the ability to switch between languages develops cognitive flexibility and improves multitasking and creativity.’ (ASCL)
The Big Ideas within Languages teaching
The ‘big ideas’ in language enable teachers and children to organise knowledge and skill within the subject.
At Penn Wood, we are mindful of the following:
- Grammatical constructs - identify, use and manipulate a variety of grammatical structures in the language taught, as well as noting similarities with native languages.
- Vocabulary - develop and use a wide-ranging and deepening vocabulary.
- Linguistic competence – express ideas clearly and coherently, both orally and written.
- Global citizenship – develop a wider awareness of cultural differences and similarities
Teaching and Learning
High quality languages instruction values listening, speaking, reading and writing as four equally important elements. As part of the National Curriculum, it is expected that all children in Key Stage 2 are taught the following:
Speaking and Listening
- Listen attentively to spoken language and show understanding by joining in and responding.
- Explore the patterns and sound of language through songs and rhymes and link the spelling, sound and meaning of the words.
- Engage in conversations; ask and answer questions; respond to those of others; seek clarification and help.
- Speak in sentences using familiar vocabulary, phrases and basic language structures.
- Present ideas and information orally to a range of audiences.
- Appreciate stories, songs, poems and rhymes in the language.
Reading and Writing
- Develop accurate pronunciation and intonation so that others understand when they are reading aloud or using familiar words and phrases.
- Read carefully and show understanding of words, phrases and simple writing.
- Broaden their vocabulary and develop their ability to understand new words introduced into familiar written material, including using a dictionary.
- Describe people, places, things and actions orally and in writing.
- Write words from memory and adapt these to create new sentences, to express ideas clearly.
- Understand basic grammar appropriate to the language being studied.
In 2016, in their MFL Pedagogy Review, the Teaching Schools Council advised that ‘the four skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing should be taught together’ and at Penn Wood, these four skills form part of every lesson.