THE LANGUAGE FRAMEWORK

Sep 03 2017

The Language Framework


THE VISION FOR THE LANGUAGE FRAMEWORK

Part-way through my time at the Netherlands Inter-community school, a new principal was brought in. The new principal introduced a change in the vision and educational philosophy of the school. Given my language background, I was offered the position of Language Coordinator, which was something that really excited me. Upon offering me the position of Language Coordinator the principal showed me a diagram of the whole language umbrella on her office whiteboard. This was my job description – to connect every subject taught at the school to language. The original diagram of the whole language umbrella showed subjects dripping down in the form of raindrops. But I redesigned the whole language umbrella to incorporate the subjects into the fabric of the umbrella, with language as the nob on top holding everything together. I thought this would better represent the connection between language and all the subjects taught at school. This is shown in the diagram below:

Language Umbrella 

 

The Language Framework is based on this vision of the language umbrella, and all the decisions I made while creating the Language Framework supported the language umbrella. In addition to developing Language Framework the for the school, my job description also included: 

a)  Setting up the English as an Additional Language (EAL) department for the mainstream classes (students joining the English stream who spoke some to no English.)

b)  Creating language curriculums for the Modern Foreign Language (MFL) department. I had the Cambridge ESL resources available to use, but there was no set curriculum for the Bahasa Indonesia teacher. The principal wanted to start Dutch lessons for the English stream students, so I needed to develop a curriculum for what would be an entirely new course.

c)  Aligning the Dutch and English stream language curriculums as much as possible. The school offered two language streams, and students could choose to follow either the Dutch Stream or the English Stream.

d)  Mentoring teachers, and offering PD on any language related issues. 

THE INITIAL STAGE

My first step towards creating the framework included a full scale investigation of the Dutch National Curriculum, the Cambridge Curriculum, and the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). To be able to make the necessary links between all the IPC subjects, specialist subjects and language, I had to understand each strand of the umbrella. To do this, I interviewed teachers and observed classes. The interviews were essential because I couldn’t read Dutch, so I needed to understand absolutely everything from the teacher’s perspective. I looked at the teachers’ resources and inquired about their teaching methods. I did the same for the English stream, as I was unfamiliar with the Cambridge curriculum. From both streams I also had to learn about the IPC and how it was incorporated into classes. The IPC was also new to me. 

THE CREATION OF THE LANGUAGE FRAMEWORK

Once I understood each strand in the language umbrella, I was able to develop a framework that would connect each subject to the languages being studied, fulfilling the vision that the principal had for the school. The diagram below represents the Language Framework. 

Language Framework 

At NIS – Milepost 1 = Primary 1 & 2, Milepost 2 = Primary 3 & 4, Milepost 3 = Primary 5 & 6

1.  The Mainstream Planners: The IPC routing was mapped out by the IPC coordinators so that across streams teachers would follow the same units, and teachers across grades would also follow similar units. I learned that the IPC doesn’t provide a language or math curriculum – schools can use whichever curriculums they want to fulfill their math and language requirements. Ideally, the teachers should be linking those subjects to the IPC as much as possible, so I designed the mainstream planners to allow teachers to make these connections. The three Milepost tables to the left of the above framework show an overview of how the curriculums would link across grades, and build from one level to the next. The columns on each planner were placed in such a way that teachers first had to think about the IPC milepost subject learning goals they wanted to cover, and then link those columns to the math and language objectives from either the Dutch National or Cambridge curriculums. As hard as teachers try, there are leftover math and language objectives that simply do not connect to the IPC. This is why at the end of each teacher planner, math and literacy/language are included in separate tables. I should also note that the Physical Education (P.E.) and Music columns were filled out by specialist teachers and their objectives linked to the IPC as much as possible.

2.  The EAL Planners: When the EAL coordinator first began at NIS, her first question was, “Where is the curriculum my team is supposed to support? My job is to help students access the curriculum … where is it?” Good question, scary question …. In the framework above, you will notice the mainstream planners outline all subject learning goals, and end with vocabulary and grammar – this is essential. The mainstream teachers in both streams were required to list key vocabulary and grammar terms for each subject in the upcoming unit. This formed the basis for the EAL teachers to plan; their planners started where the mainstream teachers left off. From there they could prep learning materials which allowed them to be completely in sync with the mainstream lessons. The planners allowed them to view the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) objectives, so that as they were planning they could match their materials and lessons to meet those goals.

3.  The MFL Planners: These planners defined our department, and the IPC became the curriculum that we linked to the CEFR. The MFL department followed the same approach as the EAL department, planning on the basis of the key vocabulary and grammar concepts provided by the mainstream. We also looked at the language objectives provided to see if any were similar to the CEFR. These planners allowed language teachers to plan for their individual classes at differing student language levels. 

4.  The Mother Tongue Maintenance Planners: These planners were developed just prior to my leaving NIS, but they were never implemented. The idea behind these was for mainstream teachers to begin their detailed unit/lesson planning from the long range planners. We had students at the school who had never lived in the Netherlands, resulting in their having weaker academic Dutch. The purpose of teachers starting their planners with vocabulary and grammar was to make sure that at the beginning of each lesson key vocabulary was taught, ensuring all of the students understood the lesson. I should mention that these planners would have also been helpful for those English Stream teachers with EAL students in their classrooms who were no longer receiving support and might not know the academic terms being covered in the unit. In this case, the Mother Tongue Maintenance planners would have also functioned as EAL planners. 

THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FRAMEWORK

For a framework to succeed it must be accompanied by a timetable that allows for the proper implementation and maximization the framework. In order for the above framework to work, certain conditions needed to be in place:

a)  The timetable had to allow for team planning between the milepost teachers. We were able to design a timetable that allowed the mainstream teachers to plan together several times a week.

b)  The MFL team and the EAL team needed time to plan in teams on a weekly basis. 

c)  The mainstream teachers (Dutch/English) at each milepost level needed time slots in common so they could co-teach and run entry/exit points at the same time. 

THE IMPACT OF THE LANGUAGE FRAMEWORK

A few months after it was implemented, the framework became the foundation of the school – one teacher described it as the ‘heartbeat or pulse’ of the school. The mainstream planners were completed first, and the rest of the planners followed in unison. As the language coordinator, I had a bird’s eye view of all the language curriculums running at the school and could see how each teacher’s planners fit in with the others. This was essential to my role because I could use the planners to mentor teachers, and they were such a valuable tool. The impact on the students and student learning was simply stunning.

a)  The impact of cross-stream planning: As I mentioned earlier, part of my role as the language coordinator was to align both the Dutch and English language curriculums. This happened organically through cross-stream planning within the mileposts. For example, when the Primary 1 and 2 teachers met, they would compare the language objectives in the Dutch National and Cambridge curriculums, choose similar ones, and line them up with the IPC. Cross-stream planning was originally designed for this; however, it led to teachers co-teaching IPC lessons in dual languages. Students benefited significantly by hearing terms in both languages, directly impacting our ESL and Dutch Modern Foreign Languages classes. There was a remarkable improvement in students’ rate of learning in our classes.

b)  The impact on the EAL students: The EAL students were able to access the mainstream curriculum as much as possible and pull out sessions were minimized. The EAL teachers could prep materials in advance of the upcoming unit, so if the teacher changed plans they could react quickly. Also, the EAL team could see what was happening in Music and P.E., allowing them to prepare students before those lessons. (The EAL teachers did not accompany students to specialist classes.) 

c)  The impact on MFL classes: We moved as a unified team across 3 languages – English, Dutch, and Bahasa Indonesia. We linked directly to the rest of the school and moved in unison with each milepost. We were also able to scaffold each IPC unit and adapt to our students’ language abilities – beginner, intermediate and advanced. The best way I can explain the impact is through the following examples

-  A Dutch teacher came to my beginner English class to pull out students who needed to finish some work for him. He came to my class and realized that the material I was teaching his students complemented his IPC lessons, but in English, so he left without pulling out his students. The connection was clear and relevant. 

 -  An observer came to watch a Dutch lesson being taught to the English Stream students; they were learning about holiday vocabulary. She asked a Primary 1 student why she was learning that particular vocabulary in Dutch, and the student basically said, “It’s what we are studying in English in IPC, so now I am learning it in Dutch.” Even a Primary 1 student could make the connection between what they were learning in the mainstream class and the specialist classes. 

d)  Modern Foreign Language classes also started joining in on entry and exit points, which had a big impact on students. They were able to talk about and display their learning in three different languages, which was impressive. 

eOther impacts:

Math – In designing the framework, the math curriculums were also linked to the IPC, as they should be.

Music/P.E. – The music and P.E. teachers were meeting IPC subject learning goals and matching their curriculums with the IPC. The music teacher even went as far as to have his Milepost 3 students write original lyrics about an athlete during ‘The Athlete’ unit.

Library – You will notice that I included library in the above framework. I had worked with the librarian on a planner that would link the school’s library curriculum with the IPC curriculum. This would have also impacted student learning because the IPC would have extended to library time. 

f) Cultural Impact: The implementation of the framework and the timetabling allowed teachers from both streams to work together and learn from one another, combining the strengths from both curriculums and teaching methods. This helped develop respect and understanding between two cultures, an outcome reflected in student relationships. Children from both streams began to interact with each other on the playground and the language and cultural barriers began to dissolve – a beautiful sight.

FUTURE MODIFICATIONS TO THE LANGUAGE FRAMEWORK

The Language Framework illustrates the development of the language programs at NIS up until the time I left – had I stayed, I would have also made improvements to the P.E. and music planners. Ideally, the mother tongue maintenance and library planners would have also been implemented. The original framework is the foundation upon which everything is built, so the base diagram would need to remain the same; however, it is important to note that I would review planners on a yearly basis – mainstream, EAL, MFL …. Situations at schools are constantly changing; for example, if a teacher is going to have a split class due to a decrease in numbers, then the planner needs to be readjusted to accommodate multiple levels. I would also add reminders in the planners: for instance, the IPC’s learning goals were not on the current planners, but they could be added for teachers to consider as they planned. Planners need to be fluid, never stagnant, and they should always be pushing teachers to think and grow. And the framework implemented should stay true to the vision and philosophy of the school in order to have the biggest impact on students and their learning outcomes.