Blended Learning for Modern Languages at King Edward's School, Witley
King Edward’s School, Witley stands out for its rich historic connections, inclusive Christian ethos, lively international mix of pupils and the deep affection that pupils and parents feel for the School. Creative thinkers, problem-solvers, social advocates, and independently minded entrepreneurs learn what they are capable of within our peaceful setting in the Surrey Hills.
This is certainly true in the Modern Foreign Languages Department. According to Gwendolenn Holtham, Teacher of MFL at the school;
While learning English and German in France, speaking out loud was what I enjoyed the least. I (and everyone else) would avoid eye contact with the teacher when they looked for a victim to answer a question, and always felt self-conscious about speaking in front of everyone else; and as a rule we would make fun of anyone who would even attempt a decent accent, accusing them of trying too hard. I was therefore very surprised when I started teaching in England and found that pupils here were keen to speak and didn’t mind getting pronunciation wrong.
Ten years on, pupils are still eager to participate in class, but it seems to me that pronunciation is becoming worse; they never cease to amaze me with the new ways they find to mispronounce sounds that seem very straightforward to me. This is a concern I share with my colleagues and nothing we had been doing, such as setting up pair work activities or modelling correct pronunciation and trying to get pupils to think of pitfalls, seemed to work. The fact is that classroom-based lessons do not invite meaningful speaking activities. Even in a small group, individual pupils only get a very limited amount of time to speak and receive feedback, and as the teacher struggles to listen to every pair, conversations tend to veer towards weekend plans (not in the target language!) and all pretence of practising pronunciation is forgotten.
Now enter Sanako UK. During the last UK lockdown we were very lucky that our Head of Department arranged for us to try Sanako Connect while teaching from home. Suddenly, there was an easy way for pupils to record themselves reading out loud, or to record their lines in a pre-recorded conversation – no excuse for not completing the work! Everyone could speak, and everyone got the chance to be listened to by the teacher (albeit not always “live”, although this facility was available to us).
Enthused by the possibilities, our school invested in a Sanako Study 700 Language Centre that was installed over the summer, ready to be put to use as soon as the new term started.
We are still finding our feet with the lab and the activities we set are rudimentary, but it is obvious that it will become an invaluable resource. In one recent lesson I listened to pupils, one by one, reading a text in French to me. Errors tend to get diluted in the classroom and it can be harder to spot patterns, but listening through the headset and giving each pupil my full attention enabled me to spot which mistakes were made consistently, which were made by some more than others, and give instant feedback.
The Study 700 will also be very useful for IGCSE pupils who will pack in more role play and conversation practice than their predecessors could have dreamed of.
Additionally our Standard Level and Higher Level IB learners, who prepare for different speaking exams, will certainly benefit from being able to work for a full lesson in the same room and at the same time, but on different tasks. The future of speaking certainly looks brighter for teaching staff and pupils alike with our blended learning solution of Sanako Connect & Sanako Study 700.
Gwendolenn Holtham - Teacher of Modern Foreign Languages