In order to plan effectively for change, the department went through a process of rigorous self-evaluation, at that time referring to ‘How good is our school? (third edition)’ to identify potential factors that might impact on language uptake in the senior phase. All staff in the department were involved in these evaluation processes, which took the form of classroom observations, course audits, pupil surveys and feedback from parents.
Learners’ experiences – while most young people reported positive experiences in the languages department, from the information gathered it became clear that these experiences were not consistent and that a review of courses would also require a review of pedagogy. There were no whole-school language and cultural events or excursions abroad to enhance the experiences of language learning in the department.
Curriculum – the curriculum structure did not provide young people with the opportunity to study both sciences and languages. At the point of choosing subjects for the senior phase, many learners elected to study two sciences which impacted on the number of young people who then chose to study two languages.
Discussions at departmental meetings gave staff the opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts on the content and structure of the new courses, thereby giving them ownership in the implementation of change. When designing these courses, the department consulted all relevant documentation, which included ‘Building the curriculum 3: A framework for learning and teaching’ and ‘Curriculum for Excellence: Modern Languages principles and practice’. Development work to create lessons, resources and assessments for the broad general education was built into the departmental improvement plan and progress was regularly discussed and tracked at meetings using a visual display to record the success of the team. To ensure that learners and parents could engage in this process of change, the department created pupil course plans, which allowed learners to track their own progress and for parents to support them in their learning.
To enhance the pedagogy of the department, sharing good practice became a standing item on the departmental agenda. All staff actively engaged in this process. Staff researched and developed new ideas and activities to motivate learners, put it into their classroom practice and then shared the most successful techniques at team meetings. This type of practice ensured more consistent experiences for learners in the department and created a more positive language learning environment. This was highlighted in the school’s observation procedures in October 2012, where the overall quality of the learning experience in the Modern Languages department was identified as being very good.
"The overall quality of the learning experience in the Modern Languages department is very good. The departmental team is to be complimented on the consistency of learning experience that was witnessed by the Senior Management Team."
The department has provided greater opportunities for young people to develop their cultural awareness and to use their languages in relevant contexts. It was evident in feedback from learners that they wanted more opportunities to use their language outwith the classroom. Consequently, in 2012, the department launched the first trip to Barcelona. This has been a successful venture and has been cited in S6 yearbooks as the most memorable experience by many young people who participated. It is now an annual school trip, enjoyed by both pupils and staff, and has become a feature of the life of the school. The department also runs annual tapas night at local restaurants for S3-S6. These are very popular as learners enjoy the social aspect of these evenings where they can chat with their teachers and friends, experience Spanish food and use the language they have been learning in an informal setting. More recently, the department organised an expedition to Nicaragua in Central America. This was a learner-led initiative. After positive experiences in the department of languages senior pupils wanted to take the skills they had been learning and use them in a community where Spanish was spoken. In order to promote L3, the French breakfast has become a successful annual event which involves all pupils in S2. The format for the breakfast has changed every year and has included a French photo booth, French dress theme for the day and French films.
Listen to pupils talk about their experiences of language learning at the school:
To further enhance learners’ experiences, the department took part in the ‘Our Europe’ competition, which is organised by Scottish European Educational Trust (SEET) and has now evolved into ‘Our World’. A representative from SEET visited the school and delivered a workshop to S3 learners to introduce the competition. This event was successful in that it helped to reinforce the message delivered by the department that language learning is important and that, as young people, they have an important role to play in both the European and global community. Four pupils from St Thomas Aquinas were selected to take part in the final stage of the competition and received the ‘Peer Choice Award’ at the Scottish Parliament for their video entry.