As a model, I believe it is possible to promote and develop bilingualism in an English-medium setting by using Schools as a learning organisation.
To begin, a focus must be made on a vision. The four purposes of the curriculum in Wales will naturally be at the heart of every vision however as part of this a reference could be made to the importance of language. As stated by the OECD, a shared and inclusive vision aims to enhance the learning experiences and outcomes of all learners. Of course, the vision should be created with staff, pupils, governors, parents and the external community. By doing this, we have an acknowledgement of ‘buy in’, meaning, everyone believes and follows the vision. A common direction of travel is created. Placing language as part of the vision is therefore crucial to the development of bilingualism or even trilingualism. It is about celebrating an identity on a global stage. Once the vision has been DEVELOPED, we then need to consider CREATING support for staff to make bilingualism a reality.
To create career professional development opportunities for the support of staff linguistic acquisition conforms with the professional standards that are already statutory in Wales. It is both an individuals and schools responsibility in terms of leadership to support staff in developing their language skills. Estyn already inspect for schools to have provided strategic support for the development of staff language skills. To make bilingualism a part of the development and creation process of schools as a learning organisations is therefore a natural step to take.
PROMOTING bilingualism involves the importance of working collaboratively. Staff need to feel confident in each other, they shouldn’t be worried about the way they might pronounce certain words, the key is encouragement, support and a belief that the whole team are working together for the common good of every pupil and the school . Learning a language through shared events, e-modules or enhanced learning opportunities are all part of the journey. To look at working with another school, linking with Welsh-medium schools or through the support of Welsh advisers, the key is to realise the importance of mutual respect.
ESTABLISHING bilingualism should be based on establishing a culture of innovation and enquiry not only in terms of language acquisition but also to develop methodolgy that supports pupils in their learning. The teaching of language requires more than one approach to succeed and it is very dependent on the nature of the class that is being taught. The professional standards state clearly that there isn’t one way of teaching but a variety of teaching methods. The best teachers innovate and differentiate according to the needs of the children in their class. It is important to have an open mind to adapting styles, to realise that not every style will work but to encourage learners to be actively engaged in enquiry.
EMBEDDING bilingualism means quite simply to consider what works? What has the greatest impact on the learners. Through dissemination of data (which will soon mean progression steps), sharing practice and observing the greatest impact then sharing this knowledge. Systems need to be in place to be able to examine progress but also to make sure opportunities are available for professional dialogue. Again this has to be built on mutual trust and respect in order to share those practices that might not have been as successful. The key after gathering all the information is to evaluate effectiveness and choose which practice you wish to embed in the school. The strength of this is quite simply, the school through open and honest dialogue have the evidence to show what works and doesn’t work for them.
LEARNING is the opportunity to then work with others. This can be sharing with schools, working with universities, business or other establishments. The idea is that a partnership is again built on mutual trust through an equal relationship aimed at supporting learning. Developing bilingualism is excellent as a vehicle for partnership working.
However, we mustn’t forget that learning is also the result of develop, create, promote, establish and embed. With this in mind, sharing our learning journey is key. The learning journey allows the school to respond quickly to challenges and opportunities as they arise. It is important to recognise parents as partners on this journey and when it comes to developing bilingualism we should be supporting them every step of the way and turning to Cymraeg i Oedolion, Menter Iaith and Yr Urdd as well as a Welsh Department in a University for support on this venture.
The SLO document states clearly that ICT is important in this process to facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration. ICT should be essential to the development and embedding of bilingualism within a school.
The final dimension is MODELLING and GROWING learning LEADERSHIP. If the school has succeeded in every other dimension of a School as a learning organisation, then it is the responsibility of the leadership that the vision and discoveries of the learning journey, the methodolgies deemed to be a success are fully embedded and monitored across the school. If a school leader is an agent for change, then their focus will be on improving learning opportunities and teaching for improved pupil outcomes. Therefore if a school has shown what works, has disseminated the evidence and embedded techniques then it is the role of school leaders to support this work. They will model the results, collaborate with others promote knowledge exchange and help to support leadership in others.
If a school is a learning organisation then we have an excellent opportunity to promote and embed bilingualism.
Yesterday, Kirsty Williams, announced the language continuum. This forms part of the area of learning and experience for language, literacy and communication.
We therefore have an opportunity of a lifetime to get this right but let us begin with a vision that supports the acquisition of language. Let us be a country that isn’t simply bilingual but is open to as many languages as a school is able to support and as many as a pupil can acquire. To be a bilingual country on the global stage provides opportunity for our pupils to flourish and succeed. I recently visited a school that is taking a trilingual approach to language acquisition. It is a newly established school. I haven’t checked for permission to use the name of the school but when I was given the opportunity to watch a year 5 class completing a diamond ranking exercise in Spanish, it was the highlight of last term. The buzz, excitement, pride and respect that I felt for the school was and is immense. They haven’t set a ceiling and they are well on their way in establishing processes. This can work, we need a vision and belief to make it work!