By Helen Phillips, OU Wales and Dr Sylvia Warnecke, OU Scotland, Staff Tutors Languages, Open University

08 December 2020 - 10:04

Teacher at desk with pupils

British Council

“When teaching Maths, at the beginning of the class we carry out a competitive game, the winner of which is ‘Maths Master’. I adapted this game to play at the end of the Spanish lesson using phrases and words learnt

 “We have begun greeting each other throughout the day in German. I have been listening to the children and can hear them saying ‘danke’ and ‘bitte’ to each other as well as a variety of staff around the school”

Teachers Learning to Teach Languages (TELT) is a professional development programme that aims to increase and improve international language provision in primary schools, offering teachers the opportunity to simultaneously learn a new language and the skills to teach that language in the classroom. TELT is a collaboration between the Open University in Wales and Scotland developed in partnership with SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages. This comprehensive professional development programme was made available to primary teachers across Wales in 2018 through funding from Global Futures and aligns with the overarching strategic aim to support teaching and learning of international languages for all learners and increase the number of young learners studying languages. 

TELT aspires to support teachers in the transition to the new curriculum for Wales by offering practitioners specific professional learning opportunities to help them in the journey to realise the new curriculum in schools. This is largely done by integrating languages and pedagogy learning and at the same time, developing intercultural and digital literacies. The programme, piloted in Scotland in 2017 and introduced in Wales in 2018, offers a range of languages to encourage schools to consider extending more language experience to children in the curriculum. To date, in excess of 100 primary school teachers from all educational consortia across Wales have enrolled in this professional development in either French, German, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese.

Developing a cross nation community of practice 

The Open University’s online infrastructure and geographical reach makes the TELT programme available to all primary schools across Wales including in rural and remote areas, which has helped create a community of practice of professionals teaching languages across Wales and beyond. This has shaped a unique learning environment; teachers engage in a focused and enriching learning process that is underpinned and informed by their professional knowledge of teaching in the primary classroom. It is a substantive offer allowing teachers to reach a level of language proficiency in order to feel confident teaching that language. The programme provides the opportunity to develop new teaching skills through guided direct application in a supported and reflective way. Teachers are encouraged to work collaboratively and adopt an enquiring stance and this approach is at the heart of all activities.

TELT involves a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning comprising two distinct strands; learning a new language and the pedagogy of learning how to teach that language. The rich exchange of ideas, knowledge and practice generated amongst teaching professionals who are students on the module is central to the success of the programme. A key feature is that TELT offers a flexible professional learning opportunity that allows teachers to fit their learning into their busy schedules and which makes the learning part of what they do every day in their classrooms. TELT aims to show teachers how to embed languages in their daily classroom and school routine and to make use of the CLIL (content and language integrated learning) approach to teach a new language in the classroom setting. This methodology encourages teachers to embed languages in connection with other subject areas, for example, PE in Spanish, Maths in Mandarin, thus harnessing pupils' motivation, skills and enthusiasm in new ways. Teachers are encouraged to extend language learning to the entire curriculum and school community through interdisciplinary learning, which includes links with various communities in and outside the school through targeted language activities and initiatives 

Raising awareness to support multilingualism in schools in Wales

One of the core principles of the TELT programme is the need to address the context of the increasingly multilingual society children grow up in. TELT has a strong focus on learning about culture with and through languages. The programme seeks to show that the key to successful language learning is the link between language and culture, as learning about culture adds depth, context and purpose to language learning. The programme content aims to link to a wide range of language initiatives in the community to demonstrate that languages are all around us, that they are not 'just' something we learn at school, thus it aims to demonstrate that such initiatives can have real inter-generational benefits. As languages are closely linked to communities and their language practices, evidence shows a real impact in the TELT programme, where, for example, bilingual pupils support primary teachers in delivering language learning and teaching. This is illustrated in the following forum post taken from a teacher learner’s reflective task on engaging children in the classroom setting.

“I liked that I was able to use a variety of strategies to get the children engaged in the task and this worked as I wanted it to. The children fed back that it was more fun because it was interactive, and they were able to pick up new words much quicker than if they had just had to define them and use them in a sentence. The children were engaged throughout the session if not a little too excited! I was relatively nervous delivering the session as I was conscious my pronunciation might not be quite right but the French speaker in the class told me I was doing a good job! It was a successful session, the children really enjoyed it and I can’t wait to do it again! “

TELT aims to nurture a multilingual community in schools by highlighting that language teaching pedagogy remains the same, independent of the language that is taught, by harnessing the languages skills pupils bring to the school from their homes and communities and by celebrating languages and cultures rather than an individual language. 

“ This course gives me a lot of insight into some of the difficulties of learning a new language which I have found useful in a school where each child has already at least two languages and a fair few have three.”

Partnership and working together 

The TELT programme could be considered as a blueprint of how the Welsh Government, regional educational consortia and the Global Futures network have come together in partnership to create sustainable, flexible and substantive professional development to support schools and learners. This unique setting has brought together communities of teachers both within Wales and across the UK to learn together and from each other. The content of the pedagogy requires teachers to apply what they have learnt on the programme to their own classroom setting and then share feedback with their online peer group.  Formative assessment revolves around the reflective and enquiring practitioner by sharing with the community of peers through forums and a Twitter hashtag. In 2019 the partnership evolved further when a TELT Alumni teacher and practitioner in Wales was engaged as a consultant Open University pedagogy tutor to help support Wales-based teachers on the programme. The idea that TELT teacher graduates will be able to champion languages and cascade and share their experiences with staff in their schools and communities is central to the ethos of sustainability. 

Learning in a pandemic the importance of digital technologies 

As the programme is delivered fully online, it continued during the Covid-19 pandemic providing a strong sense of community during difficult times. TELT participants develop digital literacy skills through their online study experience and are required to link to a wide range of external resources to support their language teaching. The pandemic has shown us that learning languages needs to harness the power of digital tools and the internet as an invaluable means of access to other languages and cultures. In 2021 we are taking digital partnership to a new level by setting up e-twinning projects between participating teachers and their pupils while studying on the programme, where pupils are encouraged to share and practise their language learning with each other through various channels and allow teachers to share their practice in new ways, too. This activity will be implemented in schools within Wales and between teachers in Wales and Scotland and seeks to bring about some rich and rewarding connectivity between geographically dispersed schools and communities. 

Language learning seen as a ‘growth mindset’ 

Since the start of the programme in Wales, feedback has revealed the positive impact and benefits of pupils and teachers being learners together. It has led to a ‘growth mindset’ where languages feature as a strong factor in the wellbeing of pupils and staff as it is a very social community-focused activity. It is worth noting that rates of retention and motivation on the programme are high, which is testament to the commitment to professional development amongst both full-time and part-time teachers who additionally have to manage their professional commitments. In addition, attainment rates among participating teachers are consistently high, exceeding the rates on other modules. This is linked to the direct collaborative application of the new skills in the classroom and pupils, with their teachers, having a voice in shaping the language learning together. 

Looking ahead 

It is hoped that TELT will lead to greater harmonisation of the standards of language and pedagogical skills in the primary sector across Wales, encourage the introduction of additional languages and help schools to prioritise languages in the new curriculum. Through the support of Global Futures, primary school teachers in Wales have access to the Open University’s established online infrastructure, whilst participating in the professional training programme. The ethos of the programme is the belief in the benefit and power of teacher-pupil co-learning. The interconnectivity between the teacher as a learner and the learning of children is key as teachers can authentically present themselves as learners, co-shaping the learning experiences with the young people they teach. The TELT programme and its growing uptake across Wales is an indicator of how we can look for, successfully collaborate and shape practical ways to share experience and expertise across education sectors in order to achieve the aspiration of supporting excellent teaching and learning of international languages for a range of learners.

Helen Phillips & Dr Sylvia Warnecke

Helen Phillips, OU Wales and Dr Sylvia Warnecke, OU Scotland

Staff Tutors Languages, Open University