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Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Speaking up!

The point at which I fell in love with the French language is a difficult one to pin down. Undoubtedly I was influenced by the trips my parents encouraged and the role of interpreter which they bestowed on me at just 12 years old. I was terrified of my French teacher but recently took my family to see her home town of Aix-les-Bains because I surely recognise her impact on my life. I went to Oxford Poly to study for a French degree, determined not to "do" literature but within a year I had negotiated more literary study and still have a passion for the works of Mauriac, Camus, Baudelaire, Voltaire and Prévert. (read, discussed and analysed in both my languages). I created a drama project during my PGCE around the theatre of the absurd and the works of Ionesco. Working as an assistante during the 2nd year of my first degree was no doubt a turning point though - I began to understand that language learning is not just intellectually challenging, it is fundamentally transformative - it changes the way you understand others and yourself through interaction. I continue my language learning journey through interaction largely but not exclusively online using #cmc computer-mediated communication.

My community (language teachers/experts in a variety of guises and contexts) are struggling with the realisation that young people are increasingly not choosing to continue language study for single honours degrees, numbers on such courses have been in freefall. It is very upsetting for all of us to see that the qualification we so treasure is not featuring on more wish lists and this has been the subject of countless reports, discussions and soul searching. However, the very opposite trend has been seen in university-wide language study provision so clearly young people do still enjoy the thrill of interaction across cultures. Many of them have done so all their lives but have had little or no state recognition of their linguistic heritage. At a recent school event at my university I asked a group of 14 year olds why they thought languages were useful (expecting the usual list that pointed to employability). This insight came back immediately from a young Sikh - "you can tell someone something without the others knowing what you said". Out of the mouth of babes! Language encodes, linguists decode. That is a human skill, still unmatched by google translate, requiring sophistication, knowledge and skills way beyond those which can begin to be awakened at A level, that is just the beginning. In the UK we have to send a clear message from our community that the journey may be long but it is worthwhile. In schools we need to have the freedom to inspire, in H.E. we must be relevant and move with the times.  Most importantly our community must pull together, for the losses we will sustain otherwise are too terrifying to contemplate. Valuing language skills is valuing human diversity in all its richness, and respect for life gives hope in an era of instability and war.
This post was written to relate to UCML's support for A level Content Advisory Board's recommendations. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

It's good to talk!

This morning I moderated a twitter chat for #globalclassroom, something I participate in as often as I am able. The topic and questions are shared beforehand and I always try to collect some resources and reflect prior to the session to make it easier to keep up. When the time comes we have just one hour, lots of new people to meet and engage with and you never quite know how it will play out. 

Today's session was a subject close to my heart: how do we ensure that our learners have opportunities to develop attitudes to learning (or "habits of mind") that prepare them for the future as best we can. This is part of the role of an educator that I think is more complex than any other - the opportunity to support the acquisition of skills for life compared with simple transmission of information to pass exams. I'm not saying we don't have to do the latter, we do but it should not be at the expense of the development of the whole person. The amazing truth is we can do both well if we capitalise on the affordances of our technologies and our human creativity. 

I need to take a short digression on this topic. I didn't have time to share these during the chat. Take a look at these recent examples of discussions around this in the UK:
Tom Bennett @tombennett71 wrote this in the Guardian. I agree with his conclusion but I wish it were not framed in the usual dichotomy of facts vs skills, this is not a helpful distinction, I have blogged about before. Also this week, shared via twitter was a fabulous letter written to young learners at the end of their Primary school years showing how we can help to frame our need (parents?employers? politicians?) for measurable short term results in a wider context, that of becoming rather than being. (Interesting eh?)

Anyway, back to our #globalclassroom chat this morning. We wanted to draw out a set of global habits of mind, qualities that are necessary to interact effectively (whether as a young person or an adult) with others across national boundaries and contexts. The 16 identified here (p11) are all relevant but I would say from my experience of virtual exchanges and international telecollaboration that when languages, other cultures and technology are involved you have to take each of these to greater depths to succeed. Believe me, this is extreme HoM and deserves recognition and time to achieve within our existing educational frameworks. I await the #globalclassroom archives to see if we identify or describe others that are not simply other ways of saying what has been said already. Meanwhile I remain grateful to my international PLN and the #cmc that supports my learning for my ever expanding, rhizomatic learning happening in my home over a cup of tea and tweet deck :)