Language Learning in Secondary School Poland

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: Zespol Szkol Gimnazjum i Szkola Podstawowa nr 13 (PL)

1 Profile of school

1.1 Main characteristics

Szkola Podstawowa nr 13 is a mixed state school with 381 pupils. It has two levels, an elementary school level and a lower secondary level. The language of tuition is Polish, which is the language spoken at home by the pupils.

1.2 Language teaching in the schools

For the purposes of this case study, we will be referring to the language teaching in the Lower Secondary level of the school. Two foreign languages are taught in the school, English and German. English is a compulsory subject for all pupils. At the time of the first eTwinning project for this school in 2005, ‘eTwinning as a factor in integrating young Europeans’ there were no external examinations in English. There were only internal exams. The exams have been introduced this year. English is taught to intermediate level.

Learning German is not obligatory in the school. However, all of pupils of the Lower Secondary School learn it as the second foreign language. There are no internal or external exams in German.

There are no language assistants in the school, but there is extensive use of ICT during the implementation of international projects including the internet, video conferencing, video story telling etc.

The pupils in the school have taken part in several pupil exchange programmes. For example in May 2006, there was an exchange of pupils with UK school Rutlish Merton School, London within Pupilpower Plus Project. The school won second prize in a competition related to this project, funded by the British Council. During their stay in the UK, they visited their eTwinning partner school – The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. The visit was organised through the motivation and commitment of teachers of the partner schools involved in the eTwinning project.

In the school year 2006/2007 the school was involved in a Socrates -Comenius Language Project 'Culture as a way to get to know and understand each other' which involved an exchange of pupils and teachers with French school College Pays des Abers (23 pupils and 3 teachers took part in the exchange).

From 2008-2010 another Socrates Comenius Bilateral Project 'Taste for travel' has started. This also will involve an exchange of 22 pupils and four teachers with Spanish school IES Fonts del Glorieta.

2. Profile of the language initiative

2.1 General description of the eTwinning action

The eTwinning action is one of the activities that make up the Comenius programme, the school education section of the Lifelong Learning Programme. It currently has 60,000 registered users. Schools and teachers often opt for eTwinning, as it is an easy and non-bureaucratic means of starting a European project. It is unique among the Comenius actions, insofar as it has a dedicated communication space for teachers equipped with a wide range of online communication tools designed for use in the project implementation. Unlike the Comenius school partnership programme, there is no funding for schools involved in eTwinning, and many teachers use eTwinning to begin their Comenius projects while they are waiting for approval, or else to continue the project after the funded period is finished.


The importance of language learning is central to the work of all Comenius actions, and eTwinning is no exception. Within eTwinning, it is impossible to carry out a project without touching in some way on language. This language can be the mother tongue of the project schools, or, as is more often the case, a common third language used as the medium of communication.

 

2.2 Description of the language initiative

The project entitled ‘English as a factor integrating young Europeans’ was an eTwinning project with a UK partner school – The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, teacher Alan Crease.

The project aimed at discovering Polish and British cultures in the context of European culture through cooperation among teachers of both schools, exchange of information and conducting research together. It strove for mutual understanding of differences between the two European countries, concerning contemporary issues, history, traditions, and different ways of thinking, lifestyles and ethnic diversity of the citizens.

The most important part of the project was conducting research, in the form of a survey, on young people's attitude towards learning foreign languages. Pupils were actively engaged in research process, they got valuable knowledge about the role of foreign languages in their schools and countries. They investigated factors resulting in interest in language learning. They discovered the truth about the state of foreign language learning and teaching and how to eliminated routine in every day learning. They got to know what types of activity were liked the most and what to avoid. That is why it was possible to improve work in language lessons, which led to the improvement of school work. The results of the survey were an excellent source of auto-evaluation for both schools.

During the project, pupils attended extra English classes which took place in the computer room once a week for two hours. They communicated with teachers of the partner school by writing e-mails, chatting, taking part in video-conferences, collecting and preparing materials for the project, creating the website of the project and commenting in the project blogsite.

This project received many awards including:

The project has also received the eTwinning quality label at national level in both countries and also the European Quality label.  Since the end of that project the two schools have continued to collaborate together in further eTwinning projects.

3 Evaluation

3.1 Success Factors

One of the major factors of success was the support given to the project and its activities by the head teacher in both schools. This had the result of increasing teachers' interest in international projects, in particular in the Polish school. This was achieved by promoting the school in the local community and Europe by promoting the website of the project on the internet, organising an exhibition of end products, organising a competition of knowledge of the United Kingdom. As a result there was greater support and enthusiasm for the project from the parents with a heightened interest in the language learning of their children.

One of the unexpected results mentioned by the Polish teacher was that through sharing experiences, there was a marked improvement in their teaching methods and techniques.

Another factor of success was the self-directed nature of the project by the pupils. The teacher had to learn to become a facilitator rather than an instructor. The project required the pupils to set the pace and develop the content of the project on their own. The project was inevitably pupil-led to a large extent and involved peer work in teams. The teachers found that this was an approach that produced good work from pupils and they have incorporated it increasingly into their normal teaching.

 

3.2 Success Indicators

By learning to use blog sites, wikis and visual media alongside the more familiar email and chat rooms, the pupils extended their ICT skills and of course the eTwinning project set their foreign language communication within the framework of a purposeful interchange of ideas rather than a sterile classroom exercise.  The project obliged them to devise, execute and take responsibility for a project over a number of months and thus developed their long-term planning skills. The project offered real and relevant opportunities for linking with native English speakers in all four-skill areas, (reading, writing, listening and speaking) in ways that would have been impossible before. It also provided increased motivation for the pupils to learn and use a foreign language.

Furthermore, the project was interdisciplinary as it combined pupils’ knowledge of different subjects, such as English, ICT, Citizenship, History, Biology, Geography, Religion and Math and helped them to understand the very important place that knowledge of foreign languages plays in all subject areas.

In relation to the pupils’ foreign language skills the Polish teacher remarked the following improvements:

There was also a very positive result for the pupils involved. The Polish pupils found working on the project was both very interesting and motivating. They were full of enthusiasm and new ideas. They enjoyed chatting with the U partners and had a lot of satisfaction with using English with native speakers. Carrying out the tasks connected with the project increased pupils' self-esteem. The only disadvantage noticed by the teacher was the lack of financial support within eTwinning to organise the exchange of pupils.

 

3.3 Additional comments

The very positive result in the motivation to learn a foreign language experienced by the Polish partner was not totally shared by the UK partner who felt that it was the foreign partners who got the real linguistic benefit, while the benefit for their pupils was more at the cultural level. He saw his pupils take on the role of facilitators for the other non British partners as English was the only language they have in common.

He observed that schools on mainland Europe are usually two or three years ahead in their English than the UK pupils are in any language, and he feels that gets exacerbated in the case of a second language. He remarked that if it is not a level playing field in terms of language proficiency, then real communicative exchanges don't take place. In his experience of another eTwinning project he surmised that although his pupils are smart and used to achieving, they quickly perceive that their partners are far better in English than they are in German and become frustrated and wonder what is the point. When that happens, a project becomes artificial and loses its magic.

However he does think that doing a project in German with eastern European countries does offer a chance of a 'real' language project but finding a group of the same age with the same skills is difficult. Because he believes that thinking is so insular in the UK, he is very pleased with the success he has had in raising some awareness in the school of the partner schools in Poland, Slovenia, Germany and the Canary Islands through eTwinning and other projects. There was in fact some foreign language spin-off.  The school introduced mini Polish lessons at school and the boys were enthusiastic to continue. There is a slot on Thursday afternoons where the boys already learn Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian and it is  likely that Polish will be added to that.

Finally on a personal level, his own language skills are expanding as he is perfecting his Polish!