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Tuesday, 21. November 2017

Proposal to enhance teaching of vehicular language for SWALS

European School Mamer Forums SWALS Proposal to enhance teaching of vehicular language for SWALS

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    Gregor Prajs

    DRAFT Version

    Subject: Proposal to enhance teaching of vehicular language for SWALS (Students without language section) in European Schools

    Situation of pupils following SWALS system in European schools has changed considerably since its introduction, and their learning of their vehicular language (labelled L2) is interrupted when they advance to secondary cycle. We, parents of the pupils in European School Luxembourg 2, believe that an adjustment in the teaching programme is urgently needed to ensure sound continuation of learning. Furthermore we believe that such an adjustment (as elaborated below) is possible without additional costs. We believe it will not only solve the unbearable situation of SWALS pupils but also benefit other, notably bilingual, pupils.

    For SWALS pupils language L2 coincides with their vehicular language in which they are taught during the 19 years of their school life. Mastery of their vehicular language is therefore a prerequisite for following the entire school curriculum, participation in class and, ultimately, success of their entire education. While other pupils learn L2 to gain an additional manner of communication, SWALS pupils are using L2 as their only passageway to the world of learning. Therefore, we believe that special attention should be dedicated to the teaching process of vehicular language (L2) for SWALS. If they cannot be provided with excellent opportunities to learn this language, then they are seriously disadvantaged in their entire education and discriminated against other pupils (who as a rule study their vehicular language at the highest level).

    In primary cycle SWALS pupils have been following the lessons of their vehicular language (L2) with their schoolmates. Although the language classes for SWALS and native speakers were labelled differently (L2 and L1 respectively), the lessons were taught by the same teacher at the same time, following the same programme. Through such extensive exposure SWALS pupils gained a high level of their vehicular language (L2) and henceforth they got equipped for their studies in vehicular language. According to school reports and other feedback from teachers they were not lagging behind their peers who learned the language as L1. Finally the system has proven to be efficient from the organisational perspective and beneficial for all pupils.

    Recently parents have noted that in primary cycle some discrepancies have been introduced in the assessment and organisation of the vehicular language for classes with SWALS (although labelled L2 for the latter). We urge the schools not to change the unified approach to the teaching of vehicular language in primary cycle, which has been proven effective since its creation.

    The teaching of vehicular language changes significantly for SWALS pupils when they advance to secondary cycle. While sound continuation of curriculum is provided for their peers (native and non-native speakers), SWALS pupils start learning their vehicular language (labelled L2) together with pupils, for whom L2 is not their vehicular language and who have been in the previous years exposed to this language for less than 4 hours a week. Classroom, teacher and programme are shared among SWALS pupils, who have been following all classes in their L2 for 7 years, and their new schoolmates, who will only be able to be taught in L2 two years later (and then only the least complex subjects). We firmly believe that given such considerable discrepancy in prior knowledge, quality teaching of the L2 in the same classroom and with the same programme is simply not achievable. SWALS pupils are in such setup not able to progress in their vehicular language (L2) as much as their schoolmates who continue to follow vehicular language at L1 level. This approach critically influences the entire learning process and discriminates SWALS pupils in relation to other pupils.

    When SWALS system was created, pupils were entering the European school from their national school systems and hence in the context of this transition the problem described above was not pertinent. Recently, however, we witnessed a promotion to the secondary cycle of the first generations that have been following SWALS system since nursery (i.e. 7 years). Our experience shows that the problem they face when they start learning their vehicular language at lower lever is serious and needs to be addressed urgently.

    From our experience it proved to be impossible for the teachers to efficiently work with pupils with such heterogeneous prior knowledge of L2 as described. Therefore SWALS pupils unavoidably experience a considerably lower level and quality of their vehicular language (L2) teaching, and the classes are perceived by the pupils as extremely demotivating and unchallenging. Moreover, as education continues, this lower level of vehicular language (L2) starts to impact the entire learning process in other subjects.

    Many parents of SWALS pupils have subsequently started looking at alternatives to European school for this reason. Some SWALS parents have due to this reason already opted out of the European school system, willingly sacrificing the lessons of their mother language to enable their children to gain the best possible knowledge of their vehicular language (which SWALS system in the European school could not provide).

    Last year, with the help of Mr. Emmanuel de Tournemire, the director of the European School Luxembourg 2, we tried to address the problem by the means of utilising the learning support facility. Such “à la carte” solutions however cannot be adequate to solve this structural problem. We believe a change in the overall organisation of language studies is needed.

    We propose that L2 teaching is reorganised following below requests:
    1. European School acknowledges that in primary cycle the language L2 is taught at two levels; the regular level for pupils with their section (2h30-3h45 weekly exposure to L2) and on advanced level for students for which L2 coincides with their vehicular language (i.e. SWALS pupils).
    2. Vehicular language for SWALS pupils (labelled henceforth as: advanced L2) in primary cycle continues to be organised together with the language L1 of students with their language section following the same programme.
    3. In the secondary cycle additional effort is taken to organise L2 lessons either following the same logic as in primary cycle or separately on an advanced level in parallel to regular level L2 (i.e. L2 in place now). Such advanced level L2 should be a continuation of curriculum taught on advanced level in primary (in contrast to the described drop of the level students are experiencing now).
    4. The advanced level L2 in secondary cycle should aim at proficiency level higher than regular L2 (regular L2 aims at C1 at the end of Secondary cycle). It should follow its own programme, which can be largely aligned with L1.
    5. Throughout the school life and especially at the beginning of secondary cycle a mechanism for transition from regular to advanced L2 should be put in place for pupils who have so far followed regular L2 level. Pupils should be admitted to advanced level, if from pupils’ language assessment it is evident that they are able to follow the advanced programme. This would be especially beneficial for bilingual students who could join advanced level L2 starting in secondary cycle.
    6. Advanced L2 should be subject to normal pedagogical framework rules (grouping of classes in case of less participants etc.).

    We note that in primary cycle such a solution has de facto already been in place and has been employed efficiently for many years. It would consist of relabeling of the subjects (for SWALS “language L2” would be relabelled to “advanced language L2”) and therefore implies no organisational or budgetary changes for primary schools.
    In secondary cycle it implies a slight regrouping of the classes but the number of teaching periods stays identical, they can be performed by the same teachers and should therefore imply no additional costs for secondary schools.
    The additional required effort of adjusting the programme would be offset by substantial benefits for SWALS students who, under such a system, would be able to attain the same level of their vehicular language as their peers. If implemented, SWALS pupils will be able to continue building on their attained knowledge of their vehicular language in secondary school and will continue to be adequately equipped for the rest of their studies. At the same time such a solution will significantly benefit bilingual students (and other students with advanced knowledge of L2) who would otherwise not be challenged by L2 classes.

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