Lessons from abroad

liz blogOur subject association ALL and the Association for Science Education play a big part in the lives of members of my family.  Whilst reading the Education in Science magazine in September (Number 261) the article Learning lessons from Finland and Estonia by Dr Neil McIntyre caught my attention. Neil gained a chemistry PhD at St. Andrews and works currently as a chemistry teacher at Webster’s High School in Angus, Scotland. Recently he was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship which enabled him to spend a month studying good practice in science education in four schools in these countries. The paragraph Other factors of his article hit me. I asked him if I can quote his words…

‘Although the focus throughout my Fellowship was issues relating to best practice in science education, it did not escape my attention that other factors were likely to be playing a role in explaining Finland and Estonia’s success. For example, I was constantly impressed by the language skills of the pupils I met. All senior pupils could speak a minimum of two languages fluently – usually their mother tongue and English. However, some could speak three or four languages fluently by the time they were sixteen. Although it was beyond the scope of my Fellowship to study this in any great detail, I was continually impressed by the ability of pupils to speak multiple languages and I began to question whether this had a knock-on effect and helped pupils in other subject areas, such as science.’

He told me too about informal conversations with pupils that he had during his month abroad. In a school in Finland one girl told him that she is learning Swedish but wasn’t fluent in it. When she read Swedish texts she could identify certain words in a sentence and then try and fill in the blanks to understand what it said. She then went on to speak about maths and how sometimes she recognises parts of a question but isn’t entirely sure how to tackle the question. She mentioned how the two are related – figuring out the Swedish and maths. In both subjects she has to figure it out. Neil and I agree that thinking about how studying subjects in depth where they have to problem solve probably have a positive knock-on-effect to other disciplines where they also have to do this.  As we will be considering ways of preparing our pupils for the rigours of the new GCSE and A level exams, we can think about how the tasks we are asking our language learners to do in class are helping them to develop the key skills that will ensure they are successful. You might like to look at the Science Across the World section and read what is said about languages on their excellent website!

Wendy Newman, the professional officer at ALL works very hard publishing the weekly ALLNet newsletter for the association members. She regularly gives very useful links so it is a good idea to join the association if you are not already a member. It is definitely worth the money, in my opinion! (Take a look at this link for information about learning languages and Maths.)  She is also the editor of our subject association magazine, Languages Today. Recommended reading!

This week she has drawn our attention to the ALL Connect training that is going on around the country and the really useful blog.

I hope you find these training resources helpful.