Below is a photo of some of our recent Under the Mountain in tasks- Missing poster for the twins, a letter to their family from the twins before they investigate the Willberforce's house and examples of 'empathy for the evil slug aliens' activity mentioned yesterday.
This afternoon I went to a rather poorly attended central office organised forum for schools planning to start a LOTE program by 2015. The state government set a goal of having all students from prep to 10 learning a second language by 2025. To make sure schools don't procrastinate they require all schools to be teaching LOTE to preps by 2015.
Presenters showed how video conferencing has been used in small schools to deliver LOTE.
(Assuming that you have the expensive equipment....which we don't have. A cheaper alternative was mentioned utilising teacher laptops and cameras which was sold to us as easy to use but I was far from convinced. A cobbled together makeshift device should not be seen as a viable alternative to proper video conferencing equipment. Maybe DEECD should try to find out if the equipment is being used in the schools who were given it several years ago and if not then redistribute them, I'd like to see that.)
I have serious doubts about the viability of using video conferencing which flies in the face of the personalised learning approach we use for every other curriculum area in our school. I have also spoken to very experienced Prep teachers who laughed at the prospect of prep students engaging with video conferencing.(Currently the children are using their iPads to access LOTE apps with some guidance from me. They are compiling an interactive glossary for their chosen language on their iPads as well as recording themselves and others in conversation on the Garage Band app. It is not the same as having a teacher but it is a start and worth a trial) I still believe a teacher would be preferential but the cost is excessive and it has proven difficult to find staff willing to work in a small rural school for a small time fraction. ( Since 1997 we have attempted 4 times to launch a LOTE program but we always lose staff because of the small time fraction or because older staff members have chosen to retire or reduce their time fraction. To employ someone for even a 0.1 time fraction, which is one day per fortnight would cost us between $7000-9000 which would put a severe burden on our budget bottom line and would also be out of proportion with what we spend on all curriculum areas.)
DEECD continues to have misplaced faith in the capacity of technology as the best way to deliver LOTE. ( In the 1990s it was satellite TV brought directly into schools via a dish put on our roofs! it was an unmitigated and expensive failure. I think our dish ended up being a garden fish pond.)
Video conferencing is only as good as the teacher fronting it and the teacher in the classroom who has to manage it ( and manage the technical hiccups and delays) If DEECD had made a serious effort to recruit teachers in LOTE from the 1990s we might be able to meet the self-imposed quotas they have given us.
There was some discussion about preparing primary students for languages taught in secondary schools but my students will be attending 5 different schools and learning potentially 8 different languages.
I asked about the start up grant ( $10000) offered last year for schools starting in 2013 but the time line for applying for the grant was unreasonable. Apparently a similar but probably less generous grant may be on offer for 2015. Regional Office was pressuring schools into using the money to buy video conferencing equipment ( at a cost of $10000) but the timeline was too short to make informed long term decisions. There was even the suggestion from them that we take up Korean because there was a Korean language delegation in town!
I would like to see the following approach to the full implementation of LOTE across the state system:
Get rid of the self-imposed goals and make them a recommendation.
Increase funding to schools who find they need to spend a disproportionate amount of their budget on a niche domain ( subject) LOTE.
Get serious about training LOTE teachers. They have made some efforts recently in this area but it is just the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to what we need. LOTE teachers also need an incentive to work in rural areas and work as 'shared specialists' in small/remote rural schools.
Ensure all schools who want to use video conferencing get the equipment they need not be expected to concoct a 'poor mans' version of it using teacher leased laptops or buy the equipment themselves
Reintroduced the LOTE establishment grants
Invest in personal learning technology for LOTE such as LOTE apps for iPads.
I made a few contacts with central office personnel ( put names to faces) and will take my time next year to decide what is best for my students and the school with a plan to introduce LOTE gradually from 2015 with face to face teaching.