An afternoon with Julie Prince

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the Phonics & Literacy in Language Learning course, held by Julie Prince as part of the DfE training programme. What a blast!!
We started off with Phonics and I remember Julie saying she had taught a Year 6 class from scratch despite the class having had French for several years. This grabbed my attention straight away! How do our children learn their own language? It’s only now since having two children of my own and doing phonics with them that I see language patterns and construction in more depth and truly recognise the value of phonics within the national curriculum. I was intrigued with learning about “hearing & identifying sounds, producing sounds, phoneme-grapheme correspondence, decoding, synthesing” for a foreign language and fun ways to approach this within the classroom.
I’ll definitely be working on this with my Year 6 class as they’re all heading off to schools where their current language will carry forward onto the KS3 pathway. The benefits are huge for a KS3 teacher to get pupils in their classes who are already familiar with sound patterns in their target language and half the battle towards accuracy marks in the speaking exams. As a KS3 teacher, I’ll be looking at this in greater detail and seeing how I can adapt the training materials into the other languages we offer, such as the grapheme-phoneme hop board game, sorting activities via hula-hoop Venn diagrams and sorting trees!
During the Literacy session, I was so pleased to hear too that Julie recommended teaching dictionary skills from Year 3 onwards. Language learners need to be confident learners and I’m a firm believer that it’s far too late in KS3 to start to teach learners new activities whereby they are required to speak out/chant/repeat without having experienced this in primary languages. Children need to feel comfortable with it – it’s hard enough starting secondary school with new people without being made to say something in a foreign language in front of an unknown class. We could be seriously jeopardising some of these children’ attitudes towards modern languages by putting them on the spot to carry out such activities. In my opinion, learning to be confident in languages and knowing it’s ok to make mistakes is part of the journey and if that’s instilled into them in KS2, we as KS3 teachers need to ensure there is a gentle transition so that the children can recognise the links being made with prior learning.
I do, however, have my head well and truly on my shoulders and recognise that the constraints of the KS3 curriculum which include both time and content restraints mean that language teaching is very different to teaching at KS2. Teaching at both levels, I enjoy the freedom of creating my own content whilst following the JLN scheme of work at KS2- I’ve taught the children about traditions such as Christmas, carnival etc, based lessons on Valentine’s Day, World Book Day and now planning Easter activities. I love making languages “real”. I have no formal written assessments, no speaking exams, no data collection, analysis and grade reporting and the almost unobtainable end levels of progress that I must meet at secondary level. It’s easy to say, “Well I just don’t have the time” and I agree, we can’t teach phonics and literacy for weeks on end, but we can delve back in and out of it, we can make reference to sound patterns as we go along and we can make links to provide a smoother transition between primary and secondary.
The fun element for me came back into languages during that session with Julie, Janet and all the other determined, hard-working colleagues who were present. Cross-curricular activities make languages more current and the clothing song which involved all of us using pronouns and present tense verb endings correctly to the tune of the national anthem is making me smile right now writing this.
Most schools in my area had, until recently, little to no language links amongst primary and secondary language staff, but thanks to the DfE training, we should be able to bridge that gap and at least liaise with each other. It was both pleasing and reassuring to hear that at the Phonics and Literacy training session, five secondary colleagues were also present. I’m on a mission with Janet to help promote primary and secondary language colleagues to work together…so again, wish me luck!!

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