European Centre for Modern Languages

The Reflective Practitioner

Mary Rose

This embraces the concept of the teacher as a learner and the teacher as a professional. Every teacher has a professional responsibility to be reflective and evaluative about their practice. As a result of this reflection teachers will be able to identify how to improve their professional activity in order to improve the quality of pupils' learning. Reflection causes teachers to evaluate what happened and why; it encourages teachers to try out new ideas and promote changes in pupils' learning behaviour. Reflective partnerships between teachers are particularly effective. Peer mentoring partnerships will support individual teachers in reflecting on and describing their practice. As a result of these focussed discussions a teacher is able to better understand practice and be able to take steps to improve practice. A further extension of this formative analysis is for the peer partnership to engage in supported school-based enquiry. An enquiry may relate to individual teacher or whole school practice; the issue or question to be investigated may become the focus for a piece of collaborative action research.


This case study illustrates the model of the reflective practitioner

Context: The Sir Bernard Lovell Specialist Language College: a mixed comprehensive school for over 1200 pupils aged 11 - 19.

The Curriculum Director, a modern linguist and a Senior Teacher Researcher attached to the International Learning and Research Centre, carried out focus group discussions with a sample of 56 pupils in the first year of their secondary education early in the Spring term 2002. The teacher researcher has analysed and reflected on the results of the pupil discussions to help her improve the quality of teaching and pupils' learning experiences in her department.

Practitioner Reflection

In the light of the Key Stage 3 Strategy and the proposed introduction of a framework for teaching Modern Foreign Languages in England, it was felt that our focus should be directed towards how experiences in primary phase language (EFLL) and literacy might :

  • influence the shaping of future teaching and learning programmes
  • improve the learning experience at the point of delivery

The pupil focus group discussions consisted of groups of 8 pupils from 8 tutor groups, with an equal balance of boys and girls in each group. At least 2 pupils in each group had been taught French in year 6 at primary school. Although 90% of pupils had some previous experience of learning French as part of their primary curriculum, the patterns of provision are so varied within partner schools that only a smaller proportion could be said to be continuing French following study in year 6. Although the focus groups were originally selected in order to provide a control group of pupils who had never experienced early foreign language learning, it is clear that the variety of experiences described does not allow for as clear a comparison as was originally intended. It is, however, significant that most of the pupils had experienced French in the primary classroom, albeit in different ways and year groups. This once again highlights the implications for continuity in year 7 if only progression in French and the 'areas of experience' are considered. The results of the discussions would seem to suggest that skills, perceptions and attitudes linked to languages could be addressed to make the most of prior learning.

Half of the pupils in the sample learn French as their main foreign language, with the other half learning German with French as a second language. Students are allocated a language according to their tutor group, in half year groups. All pupils took part in a weekly Language Awareness course throughout the Autumn term (approximately 12 hours), followed by an intensive Japanese course (approximately 6 hours). Following this, they began their second foreign language course in either French or German for an hour each week.

The following key points and questions were used in all the focus group discussions.

  • What do you know in French?
  • What do you think you can do in French?
  • What would you like to be able to do better?
  • Pupils were asked the following in French, with prompts where necessary:
    • Comment t'appelles-tu?
    • Quel âge as-tu?
    • Où habites-tu?
    • Qu'est-ce que tu aimes faire?
  • What do you know about France and French culture?
  • What differences are you aware of between France and the UK?
  • Have you ever visited France and would you like to live there?
  • What have you enjoyed about learning a language?
  • How has learning a language helped with other subjects?

The pupil responses to the discussions were based on personal impressions of their EFL learning at primary school as well as their experience of the modern languages curriculum in year 7 of secondary school. While reliance on memory may not give us the most accurate picture of their understanding and skills, it does offer us the opportunity to evaluate both pupil and teacher perceptions of progress and attainment.

In reflecting at this time, pupils were able to clearly describe their prior language learning, and had a good awareness of what they felt were the 'basic' areas of language they had covered while at primary school. It is interesting to note that the level of confidence shown remained high across both halves of the year group when asked to provide examples or say how well they knew the vocabulary. All the focus groups identified the areas of numbers, the alphabet and greetings as vocabulary they knew well. These relate to the QCA Key Stage 2 units shown to be covered by all schools surveyed in Phase 1 as well as the initial content of both first and second language French courses in year 7. Clearly, most of the language cited has been reinforced in Key Stage 3, although pupils did comment on this later in the discussions.

Upon further questioning, however, pupils had a more limited range of vocabulary that they could recall without support. For example, in all groups pupils were fully confident of being able to count to 10 in French, but this diminished as the range was extended to 1 - 20 or 1 - 50. These findings were also borne out in the use of basic questions to assess pupils' speaking skills. While the standard of pronunciation was good or very good, and most pupils were able to answer most of the questions with prompting, a far lower proportion were able to answer independently or with any extension vocabulary. This raises issues for both primary and secondary phases. Teachers will need to consider the teaching and learning programmes in terms of consolidation, assessment and reinforcement of vocabulary. It highlights differences in teacher and pupil perception of what has actually been learnt and retained to a degree which allows for independent and spontaneous use of the target language. Areas to investigate might include how prior learning of key vocabulary is taken into account for planning both within and across Key Stages as well as how formally or informally these elements of language acquisition are measured across a period of time. Are teachers and learners able to 'recycle' vocabulary in a variety of contexts and situations in order to provide positive reinforcement, consolidate prior knowledge and opportunities to creatively assess pupils' range of language? Next steps would need to look into how the 'basics' can be consistently reinforced and how progress can be monitored in order to facilitate greater progress and planning for continuity and extension at Key Stage 3.

The pupil perceptions of the tasks they are able to carry out in French offered some interesting comparisons between the two half-year groups. While responses were not significantly different in speaking and reading, there was a marked difference in pupils' attitudes to listening and writing in French. The Primary EFLL programme has relied on speaking, listening, reading and responding. However, across the whole sample a significant proportion of pupils perceived writing in a foreign language to be 'difficult'. This observation led to a general question about what pupils would like to be able to do better, and in all cases, writing was highlighted as an area for improvement.

When discussing attitudes to writing, pupil responses remained positive, and demonstrated the will to improve their own performance and learning rather than let any difficulties demotivate them. This is of great importance when considered in the context of later and more problematic learning experiences in the secondary phase. Pupils discussed particular difficulties with differences in spelling, word order, the use of accents, and relating the written word to the spoken word. Some felt that their pronunciation suffered once they had seen vocabulary in the written form, and they expressed the problems they had reconciling their own idea of how a word might be written with how it is actually written. They felt that this caused problems with copying single words and then using them in short phrases, as it took them longer to be accurate and certain of their spelling. If we consider pupils' recollections of the activities they were able to undertake in French, we can see that while they may have had limited experience of writing at word and sentence level in both phases, they are still encountering difficulties and have not had the opportunity to expand their skills at text level. This poses a question about the potential and the appropriateness of developing writing in the primary phase, and how greater progress can be made in this skill area in Key Stage 3.

When asked if they would find it useful to be taught the 'rules' of spelling in a foreign language, as they had been taught when developing English, all pupils were in agreement that this would help them considerably. They did not question this approach or give any indication that it would be out of place with their language learning experiences thus far. This example offers us an insight into how writing might be established and supported within the primary curriculum, then reinforced and taken forwards in Key Stage 3. It would seem worthwhile taking this investigation further to relate specific EFLL language and literacy strategies to successful pupil outcomes in writing in both primary and secondary phase.

Pupils' attitudes to language learning echoed the 'confidence, interest and enthusiasm' found in primary phase. They were proud of their knowledge, and of the 56 pupils surveyed, only one was negative about learning French. It is interesting to note that their motivation at this stage in year 7 remains high, both in their language skills and their knowledge of another culture. The importance placed on setting the language in a cultural context in early foreign language learning had been reinforced in most of the groups surveyed, with those no longer learning French as their main language demonstrating a very good level of knowledge from earlier experiences. Pupils were very keen to share their positive views of French culture and what they felt to be the main differences in lifestyle. They were most interested in aspects of daily life such as school, daily routine and how celebrations take place. These topics form part of the languages curriculum at Key Stage 3 and link strongly to issues of global citizenship, and the interest indicated by the focus groups point towards the need to address their enthusiasm with creative approaches to resources and active learning experiences in the secondary phase.

Pupils were able to offer a wide range of responses when asked what they enjoyed most about learning a language. Again, this provides an interesting comparison with the range of answers one might expect later in Key Stage 3 and beyond, and a future step would be to investigate responses from a focus group at the end of the key stage. In the discussions, there were no significant differences between teaching groups or languages. Pupils were very clear about the advantages of their langauge learning experiences in year 7. They appreciated the chance to take their knowledge further, to consolidate and improve what they had previously covered, and the curriculum time given to languages. None of the pupils mentioned repetition of what they had already done, but talked about welcoming the opportunity to cover areas of vocabulary in more depth, over longer periods of time, and being able to produce more with this knowledge. It is not insignificant that in all groups, pupils identified games and ICT as the activities they enjoyed most. In this study, all pupils in year 7 have at least one hour per fortnight of ICT in modern languages, and this is clearly a way of ensuring both continued motivation and offering a new way of developing their language skills. It also offers a pathway for further collaboration with primary schools, in the use of specific software or target language when using computers, for instance. These simple approaches would be of great benefit in both phases and offer some consistency and continuity in a contained 'area of experience'.

It is of great interest to see that 6 of the 8 groups felt that one of the greatest benefits of learning a foreign language was that it helped them to learn another one. If we also relate this to the issues attached to progress in writing, we will need to consider how understanding the systems and conventions of one language (foreign or mother tongue) can create an impact on teaching and learning an additional language.

In the focus groups, pupils talked about being able to enjoy diverse language experiences in year 7, and about how they would welcome the opportunity to learn languages of their choice in later years. This level of motivation, interest and awareness is very pleasing and offers us many challenges. As this level of enthusiasm does not currently extend to the majority of pupils at the end of the key stage and beyond, we are able to highlight the need for high-quality diversification which builds on pupils' language skills in general rather than those linked to their grasp of topic-based vocabulary (cf. the new proposed Key Stage 3 Framework for Modern Languages). This is a consistent and clear message throughout the analysis of the pupil responses

Collaboration between primary and secondary phases would seem to be most beneficial when linked with teaching and learning strategies based on both mother tongue and foreign language acquisition and production, as well as an investment in providing clear cultural contexts for languages through citizenship and international education at both formal and informal levels. The development of a framework for teaching and supporting writing in both phases would also support pupils and respond to the issues they raised in the survey. It would be a significant step towards allowing pupils greater control, progress and independence in their use of language and help them to keep their sense of motivation and success.

As a result of this analysis and reflection we will need to investigate:

  • progress made in the four skill areas (with a focus on writing)
  • how specific teaching programmes and methodologies have supported pupils' learning
  • to what extent pupils have developed an understanding of the concepts of language
  • continued tracking of pupils' attitudes towards modern languages


This case study illustrates reflective partnerships and peer mentoring between teachers.

Context: Longwell Green Primary School is a community school for 370 pupils. It offers a curriculum which has a strong international dimension and was awarded 'The International School Award' in 2001 for outstanding practice.

The Headteacher and the ICT Co-ordinator are part of the Headteacher and Teacher Research Team attached to the International Learning and Research Centre.

A study of a Year 4 class (8 and 9 year olds) creating an Animation to facilitate learning.

Information about the participants

D4 is a mixed ability class of 25 children. There are 15 boys and 10 girls. Claire Dean joined the staff in September 2001 as a newly qualified colleague, Clare Stead has taken on the specialist role of ICT teacher since September 2001 having had 8 years primary teaching experience.

Starting date of work: November 2001 _____________Date now: May 2002
Author: Andy Leggatt, Headteacher Researcher


As headteacher I was interested to see the impact that the use of animation would have on the quality of the pupils' experiences, specifically how structured collaborative working would facilitate learning. In addition we wanted to explore the value of the cross curricular element which was threaded through the project. The questions we set out to explore centred around: How do children work together? what can be gained from working in this way? and what quality were the outcomes? Clare Stead's rationale gives the background to her thinking ………

"I was taught how to make animations on a course two years ago and I immediately found the idea captivating. I am constantly looking for interesting ways to deliver the curriculum and I felt that in animation I had found a fantastic new vehicle for developing and broadening cross-curricular teaching.

As a Year 4 teacher I had to teach the Tudors and Stuarts and felt that the drama of the beheading of Henry's wives would be a brilliant place to start to make History come alive for the children and to give them a real purpose for their learning.

During the Millennium the school had performed "Around the World in a 1000 Years" - a musical history of Britain. One of the catchiest numbers from the show had been "The Six Queens of Henry the VIII". Intuitively I knew that this would give the children inspiration and a starting place for their animations.

One of the Year 4 teachers was keen to undertake the project along side me and she was enthusiastic to try out new and interesting teaching methods. As a result we were able to collaborate and effectively team-teach strands of history, ICT, art, design and technology across the curriculum."


The project was planned to take place in week 10 - 14 of the Autumn term and formed part of the study of the Tudor period which is in the school's Year 4 history syllabus. During this time 4 dedicated lessons in the school's ICT suite were timetabled for the filming and evaluation activities.

The teaching objectives were described as "learning opportunities" and encompassed

  • use of ICT in a real context ie making a film
  • working together as a team. Model construction, story planning, creating the animation and editing the film
  • successful outcomes impossible without co-operation
  • learning opportunities to undertake different roles, eg leader, manufacturer, filmmaker, cameraperson and director
  • opening up of further possibilities eg silent screen montage (the words)
  • use of audio, and music, title pages
  • create the story and write the text to go with the animation
  • take digital photos of the creation of the animation and import into text to create a photo storybook
  • use the animation for topic work as a culmination of a project eg Henry VIII and his wives. Children would research the topic, create the sets, design the costumes, write the story line, plan the storyboard, create the story continuity through word plates eg silent movies.

Four detailed lesson plans were drawn up to cover a) Research, b) Planning and Creating,
Filming and d) Evaluation (see Appendix A). The headteacher was involved as an observer as was the Senior Adviser from the Local Authority. As the school was in the throes of an OFSTED inspection in week 4 of the project so the ICT inspector was invited to observe the final evaluation lesson. The digital camera was used to keep a photographic record of the progress of the work. It was important that this project was seen as taking place within the normal class timetable and not as some kind of exotic extra. Both teachers felt confident that the project would succeed and shared their enthusiasm from the beginning. This was reflected in turn by the children.


The sequence of lessons and observations took place as planned. The research lesson included the children working as a group to find information about Jane Seymour from text boxes, using family trees, sharing information from their research with other groups, use of the internet, working alongside adults as role models, and using CD ROMs. This lesson was observed by the Head and detailed feedback given which informed lesson 2 which was the creation of storyboards, characters, props and backdrops. Again, through external observation and detailed feedback it was possible to give professional validation regarding the quality of the teaching and learning taking place. The actual filming which took place in lesson 3 was a living example of collaboration. The filming could not have worked at all without the children taking specific roles and interacting successfully. The benefits of collaborative working was a recurring theme and the necessary process skills were highlighted in all of the teaching. The professional cycle of teaching, observation, feedback, enhanced teaching was planned for from the beginning. Part of the professional understanding, and which led ultimately to the great success of the project, was that all of the teachers involved were operating in the zone of conscious learning. They knew what they were doing, what the children were expected to do and that through supported reflection they would improve next time.


It was clear that the project was highly successful. From the Headteacher's perspective it was apparent that the careful planning, reviewed during and after each lesson was important. There was a flexibility which allowed for nuances in the teaching and for the ways in which the pupils responded. This flexible approach, whilst never deviating from the shared purposes behind the activities, gave a dynamism to the process which fed into a virtuous spiral. It also provided clear evidence of the benefits of working collaboratively for staff and pupils. This is a useful model readily understood by and practicable for the reflective teacher.

The benefits of an external observer acting as a critical friend was useful in that it helped to clarify what was actually happening in the classroom. The focussed reviews added understanding in that, as the observations were evidenced based, it was possible to pick out significant moments, actions, and responses which moved the teaching and learning process forward. The use of skilled analysis working in partnership with colleagues is rewarding and powerful provided the feedback loop is maintained sensitively and objectively. One of the reasons for the success of the project was the high degree of mutual professional respect which existed between observers and observed. This was a high risk undertaking which extended the creative and teaching expertise of the staff and in turn the learning of the children. In order to foster a climate within a school whereby staff are prepared to go beyond the norms they must be valued and know that the occasional failures are a consequence of pushing out boundaries. There seems to me to be important lessons for school managers in this.
To provide exciting learning opportunities for pupils we must have staff who in turn are excited by teaching. It is possible within the natural curriculum to find creative opportunities provided the school's ethos is one of professional trust and the leadership of the school is sufficiently brave and visionary to empower staff.

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