Modern Foreign Languages 5-11: A Guide for Teachers

Author(s) Jane Jones, Simon Coffey
Publisher David Fulton Publishers Ltd
Published 2006
Pages 186
Price £16.00
ISBN 1843123908
Reviewed by Dr. Ruth Heilbronn
Institute of Education-University of London
Review published 28 March 2008

The book is part of Fulton's 'Guides for Teachers', subtitled 'issues for teachers'. It sets out to provide support in enabling the introduction and sustainability of MFL in the primary school curriculum. Its underlying aim is for MFL to be embedded in the curriculum 'in a context of the whole school, as well as that of transition'. The book is based on national developments and informed with practical evidence and reference to a wider European research base, and the authors are well-known and experienced MFL researchers, educators and writers in the field.

Each chapter begins with a brief overview, including a boxed area in which several key issues are identified. The chapters continue with a substantive discussion of the issues raised and conclude with a round-up of concerns and points for discussion. The text is grounded in practical examples from Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 schools, with illustrative quotations and thumbnail sketches. Where relevant and accessible, current research and theory is cited to illuminate and give weight to the practical evidence provided of successful practice in the development of the MFL curriculum within the primary curriculum.

The first chapter deals with the recent policy decisions around the introduction of MFL into the primary curriculum, examining the evidence and practicalities. The KS2 Framework, while not uncritically endorsed, provides a good basis for supporting the implementation of MFL in the curriculum, and of enabling its effectiveness. The need for planned continuity, cohesion and progression across school phases, 'both vertically through the years and horizontally across the curriculum' is firmly flagged up. MFL has crept into the primary curriculum 'unremittingly, like the tenacious ivy' and needs 'secure roots' to enable sustainability. For successful implementation the authors maintain that the school culture needs to be that of a 'learning community' led by a head with vision, particularly for developing an 'international mindset'. Certainly much research on schools as learning communities would endorse this view. This second chapter on school leadership places the development of the MFL curriculum in the heart of school planning. Specific features of a school culture conducive to developing sustainable primary MFL are outlined.

A substantive middle section of the book contains individual chapters on the bread and butter of MFL learning and teaching - methodologies; teaching approaches; learner strategies and preferences; assessment; new technologies, and 'cultural learning'. These chapters are highly practical, and based on sound language acquisition theory, grounded largely in the communicative language teaching methodology. So, encouragement and practical support is given for presenting new language; getting pupils to use the target language, and encouraging them to build on what they already know, using various strategies. It is heartening to see judicious examination of the various theories cited in support of the advice given, which is generally nuanced and maintains a critical stance. An example is the comment about a teacher's evaluation of her lesson, in terms of having structured it around her identification of the multiple intelligences in her class. The authors comment that the lesson could be considered 'effective' for different reasons, such as 'interactive learning and variety of activities taking place and a fun and relaxed atmosphere'. They caution that 'care must be taken, as with respect to all theories, not to adopt the idea of different cognitive learning styles blindly or to accept these on an over-positivist basis'.

The two final chapters deal with transition issues and with training and professional development. Here numerous, pertinent questions are raised. Some of these current hot topics revolve around needs, such as cross-phase continuity and progression, requiring liaison personnel, and good records and transfer systems. Further, we currently need teachers from the secondary sector to support primary schools in delivering the MFL curriculum, which has logistical and resourcing implications. A supply of well-qualified primary MFL teachers is required, with good subject knowledge in the areas of language competence, cultural knowledge and pedagogical practice, which 'on a cross phase basis are cornerstones of the professional learning agenda'.

In policy terms it is regrettable that MFL was reduced in status as an optional subject in KS4 in 2003, in tandem with the intention for all KS2 learners to have an entitlement to foreign language learning by 2010. The introduction to the book does stress the wider benefits of MFL learning. I should also like to have seen more, within the substantive discussion in the book, on the contribution that MFL learning might positively make to influence children's overall motivation and self-esteem in learning across the board.

Having said this, Modern Foreign Languages 5-11 could be extremely useful in inset and curriculum development. This is an accessible, well informed and clearly presented book. It retains a critical perspective towards research and policy initiatives whilst providing a strong practical basis for implementation. Readers wishing to pursue some of the issues and evidence in more depth can access the comprehensive references section. The book also has a useful and practical index. A must for every primary school and non MFL specialist involved in MFL curriculum development in the primary school.