New approach in language lessons helps pupils progress more quickly
By Richard Garner, Education Editor
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
A pioneering project that is helping thousands of primary pupils to learn a foreign language shows they are progressing at about twice the rate of children using traditional textbooks.
A study of 1,000 pupils learning French through lessons delivered via a CD-Rom revealed significantly higher achievement during the course of a term. The results – to be published today – show their performance went up – on average – by between 0.5 and 0.8 of a level more than those using textbooks. A pupil is normally expected to take a year to progress by one level.
The study, by researchers at Durham University, is the first to indicate such a massive difference in performance between pupils learning through new computer technology and those still studying through traditional teaching methods. It has major implications for helping the Government to deliver its new requirement that every child should be learning a foreign language at the age of seven by the end of the decade.
The biggest fear among teachers' leaders was that there was likely to be a shortage of trained language teachers in primary schools to deliver the pledge. But under the project – devised by Monkseaton High School in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, the first school to opt for "trust" status in the country, and which is in partnership with the Open University and Microsoft – teachers can start learning the language alongside their pupils if there is no one trained to deliver.
If there is a trained teacher on the staff, they can then develop and adapt the units of the programme – which include stories and visual images of France thought more likely to spark interest in the subject than a traditional textbook.
At present, the project is delivering lessons to 1,600 primary schools. Paul Kelley, Monkseaton's headteacher, says the success of the programme has led to courses being created in Spanish, Mandarin, German and even English as a foreign language for pupils with a different mother tongue.
"Languages are so important for the future prosperity of this country and new approaches may make all the difference in changing our attitude to other languages," Mr Kelley added.
The research also shows that pupils using CD-Roms are more likely to rate themselves proficient in French and one of the best in the class than those using books.
In 2007, pupils aged 10 and 11 at Greenfields Primary School – also in North Tyneside – achieved grades equivalent to a foundation level GCSE pass five years before they would normally sit the exam.