Right upfront, I should clarify that I teach Japanese and German and that my understanding of Chinese and Italian is limited to a couple of words. So why have I even bothered looking through the drafts of two languages I won’t have to implement in the classroom? Well, I have never liked the feeling of being unprepared and figure these two drafts, written mostly in English, will contain some information and clues for all languages as to what we can expect in the drafts of the language specific documents yet to come. I’m going with the “forewarned is forearmed” line and have already taken note of some of the things I need to think through and work out a way to introduce or adapt. Admittedly I have focused my attention on the 7-10 Sequences of both and only the Second Language Learner Pathway for Chinese. From my quick look over the F-10 documents, I believe my assertions outlined below apply across the board.
Will the language content change?
On the weekend I went to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the Lyric Theatre in Brisbane. If you’re not familiar with it, there is an old but still good film version. At the start we see Nellie Forebush, an American nurse, in the home of Frenchman and plantation owner Emile De Becque. He asks if she learned French at school to which she is happy to answer in the affirmative. “So you can speak French then.” She gives a nervous little laugh then says, “No, but I can conjugate you a few verbs!”
Obviously Language education has already made considerable progress from the time when success in language studies could be guaranteed with rote learning of vocabulary lists, verb conjugations and definite, indefinite and posessive article declension. We’ve been through the translation approach, into the communicative approach and seem to have been there for a while now. Even so, our idea of content has tended to be defined by topics. Take a look at the Senior Secondary curricula around the country and you will find content divided into prescribed Themes (eg The Individual) under which are listed Topics (eg Personal Identity) with which we find Suggested Sub-Topics (eg Family, friends and relationships). These are usually accompanied by a list of expected grammar and script characters where applicable. Look at the majority of textbooks commonly used for junior and middle school classes and they are divided into chapters which are built rather neatly around lists of vocabulary for a specific topic with grammar thrown in to make use of the vocabulary.
When you look at the ACARA documents you won’t find listed topics etc and it can be rather overwhelming when that’s what you are expecting. I started looking at the Scope and Sequence documents which are in table format, rather than the longer, wordier Sequence. If you haven’t yet looked at them, I suggest you ignore the urge to take the quicker table option and go straight to the Sequence. You’ll save yourself minutes of panic and doubt. Rather than just containing the Content Description in point form, the lengthier document fleshes each one out with extra detail and examples, as well as Band Descriptions and a full Achievement Standard description in paragraph form. The extra details immediately put my mind at rest that the language elements covered and the level of language expected of my students is not terribly different. (Please note though that this relates only to language – more on culture later.)
The difference is that in the Australian Curriculum: Languages, content is described as how the language is used. In fact, each of the Content Descriptions begins with a verb! Interact, Describe, Express, Write and so on. There is also an increased focus on collaboration and “with others”. We will also need to provide ample opportunity for our students to be creative with the language and to use digital tools for this purpose.
So while the topics we have previously used to direct our thinking and planning are still there, they are less a focus than the USE of the language. This is not a bad thing, but will require a change in thinking by many of us as ‘knowing’ language is overtaken by ‘doing’ language. And isn’t that a good thing! We’ve always known we were teaching a practical subject, now we get the chance to prove it to everyone else!
Next post: Understanding… What it means in the new curriculum and why it is already changing how I plan to have my students use class and homework time