e.twinning projects – motivation for language learning/intercultural awareness

Author(s): Maria do Carmo Goncalves
Institution/Organisation: Regional Direction of Education of the Algarve

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of project

This is a national programme created following signature of a protocol on cooperation in the field of education on 10 April 2006 in Paris between the Ministry of Education of the Portuguese Republic and the Ministry of National Education of the French Republic.

This protocol, which is based on the desire to improve the teaching of foreign languages and to encourage multilingualism, relates to the teaching of Portuguese in France and of French in Portugal.

Following signature of the protocol and in view of the need to set norms for the project, a document was approved defining the European Sections of the French Language (Sections Européennes de Language Française (SELF), which sets out a list of recommendations aiming to facilitate follow-up and evaluation of the first phase of the experiment by the Ministry of Education.

The first phase of the experiment covers a period of three years starting in academic year 2006/2007.

Development of these sections is in line with the context of  the relevant European Directives and, notably, with the text entitled “Promotion of Teaching of European Languages and Linguistic Diversity: A Plan of Action” published by the European Commission. The present experiment was initiated in the Algarve at the Escola Básica dos 2º e 3º Ciclos nº2 de Quarteira.

The European section of the French language at the E.B.2,3 nº2 de Quarteira was opened at the start of the academic year 2006 for a period of two years, and involves the 8th and 9th year ‘collège’ (roughly junior secondary school) classes which have completed the cycle corresponding in Portugal to primary school in France (3rd cycle).

The start of the project was marked by a high degree of creativity and dynamic input from the young teachers. These teachers, fired by a desire to see their pupils succeed, saw the teaching of a non-linguistic subject in French as a response to demotivation of their pupils who, regarding it from the less favourable position of the persons receiving the tuition, had rather tended to lose sight of the interesting aspects of learning a subject in a foreign language.

The project arrangements stipulated teaching of mathematics (part of the timetable) in French. The classes involved in the SELF started the experiment in ‘collège’ in the 8th. year, although the experiment was supposed to cover a full cycle (7th, 8th and 9th years). But the school was of the opinion, after analysis of the characteristics of the pupils, that these two classes were the most suitable for inclusion in the project.

Thus, the constitution of the study group was as follows:
9th A – class integrated with 22 pupils, 16 boys and 6 girls, average age 14-15 years;
9th C – class integrated with 19 pupils, 10 boys and 9 girls, average age 14-15 years.

1.2 Range of languages studied

In Portugal study of a second language starts in the 2nd educational cycle and there is a choice between French, English and German. Certain schools already offer Spanish during this cycle on an experimental basis. Pupils at nursery school (maternelle) have their first contact with English at this level, but this is a very recent development in educational policy.

Virtually all the 2nd cycle pupils in the Algarve are studying English. This is not attributable to the imposition of any educational policy, but more to the fact that, since the 1980s, the pupils and families in this region have veered towards English for a number of reasons. Two foreign languages are studied as from the 3rd cycle, one of which is the language chosen in the 2nd cycle, plus a second language where there is a choice between French, English German or Spanish.
In the present case, the pupils studied English during the 2nd cycle and then chose French as the second language (LV II), which enabled the start of the SELF experiment. When the teacher responsible for the second language spoke to them about the European sections, they opted for it voluntarily.

1.3 Learning outcomes

It can be assumed that learning mathematics in a foreign language will strengthen motivation to learn that language, mainly because of the broader interdisciplinary element involved and the opportunity to learn a vocabulary which had not been studied previously. In addition, the pupils have contact with other sections studying different non-linguistic syllabuses.

In the final analysis, the purpose of the European sections is to promote intra-community exchanges, both real and virtual, a purpose which is fulfilled within the framework of the section now under review.

1.4 Practical realisation

The teachers responsible for this project are the school’s coordinator of languages, the French teacher and the mathematics teacher. The European section is integrated into the school’s educational project.
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The pupils study mathematics in two languages: in their native language and in French during one part of the lesson (45’). During this part due allowance must be made for the fluency status of the pupils and some parts of the tuition may be given in Portuguese during the initial months. This is necessary in order to facilitate a smooth transfer to the lessons subsequently given in French only. The programme, the syllabuses and the objectives are those which have been accepted by mathematics teachers and are based on specific directions and advice given by the Portuguese Ministry of Education. The foreign language (French) is stepped up (45’) in order to facilitate expansion of the subjects discussed to include socio-cultural, historical and literary aspects of French-speaking countries.

Work performed in a non-linguistic discipline DNL) but in lessons conducted in a foreign language is subjected to qualitative evaluation.

The Portuguese Ministry of Education and the French Embassy are following this project closely by making coordinated visits to the school, holding specific training courses for the teachers involved, holding meetings with the players in other sections and by providing specific documentation on official programmes running in the two countries and on teaching within the framework of the EMILE project.

The group (teachers and pupils) makes study visits to other schools involved in the same project and undertakes a wide range of cultural activities together. For example, the section from the Quarteira school was a driving force behind the meeting of French language European sections held at Tocha in May 2008.

The possibility of creating a Franco-Portuguese, or even a European certification is being studied.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

The town where the EB2,3 nº 2 de Quarteira school is situated is a community comprising a profusion of pupils from various origins and cultures, which is constantly growing. The social problems inherent in such a mixture are certainly present, for example, and are attributable mainly to social isolation and lack of social or economic roots in migrant, immigrant and emigrant populations.

Thus, the school is integrated into a community which has its roots in agriculture and fishery but is currently undergoing major transformation due to the development of non-durable industries like tourism and construction which are exerting a significant impact on the hotel sector, retail trade, service industries and on the region’s traditional economic communities.

The greater part of the population is dependent on tourism and the services relating to it. They are compelled to work to ruthless time schedules and are exposed to strong seasonal and migratory cycles. Some families are living only temporarily in Quarteira and have no family, cultural or social links with the town.

Quarteira has gradually become an example of a town where children no longer receive a traditional upbringing in the bosom of their family and are left to their own devices, because the family nucleus only comes together for a few hours each day. The school is therefore expected to replace the family in matters relating to education, culture and even as a source of emotional fulfilment.

A school exhibiting a high degree of socio-cultural heterogeneity, where pupils’ motivations, abilities and interests vary widely, is expected to create educational conditions and strategies which are sufficiently differentiated to enable their adaptation, as far as possible, to the needs of individual pupils or groups of pupils and to compensate differences between them by diversifying the available educational and academic support systems.

The creation of the SELF is one of this school’s responses to a school population which is only weakly motivated to learning foreign languages, all the more because the French language is in bitter competition with English and is attracting less and less pupils. The school welcomed the project and the parents have supported it enthusiastically, because learning foreign languages has always been regarded in this major tourist region as an advantage in the labour market.

Both the classes involved in the project have poor records in mathematics. The heavier emphasis on the French language is perceived by all concerned as an interesting innovation.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

The aim of this project is to develop the pupils’ linguistic ability within a specific context, i.e. to let them learn a subject in a foreign language, in view of the fact that it is well known that a person learns a language better and more quickly if it is used for acquisition of knowledge and know-how in other subjects.

The pupil enriches his vocabulary, can understand another subject in a foreign language and discovers new coherence in his efforts to learn and increase his knowledge.

He develops a wider multilingual awareness which enables him to learn other foreign languages more easily.

He broadens his cultural vision and acquires greater ease in forming contacts with people of a different nationality and also a greater degree of self-confidence.

At the professional level the pupil will be better prepared to face Europe’s new economic challenges.

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

Indicators capable of demonstrating the success of this experiment become visible in the results achieved by the pupils at the end of the school year. The results are conclusive. The average marks achieved in French (as a foreign language) have risen significantly. Only one pupil in class A and three in class C received a negative mark. The evaluation of the French sequence of mathematics tuition reveals that only two pupils in each class have received the mark ‘unsatisfactory’.

Pupil assiduity has been very good. Very few pupils have been absent. The highest number of days of absence during the school year was three.
9th A – class of 22 pupils. Only one boy failed to obtain his 9th year diploma.
9th C – class of 19 pupils. All pupils obtained their 9th year diploma.

Linking the project to various exchange projects and holding class meetings (in Paris and Strasburg) have helped to give it a clear European perspective.

Pupils have taken an active part in programmed activities, notably at the SELF meeting in Tocha where they presented a short stage play in French.

Pen-friend and electronic exchanges have been consolidated. The two classes have also travelled to France and visited Paris.

Twelve pupils entered for the DELF examination at A2 level. Two of them did not appear, one girl fell ill, the rest passed the examination.

The greater part of the pupils want to remain in a SELF when they go on to senior secondary school.

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

Firstly, that learning a foreign language can become a more attractive and motivating exercise in direct proportion to the degree of innovation contributed by the educational strategies used. Secondly, the decision to conduct mathematics tuition in French enabled the use of new educational strategies that produced very good results from the pupils. Although admission to the European section has not proved a panacea for learning problems, it has made it possible to put a slightly different focus on the responses received from the team and has, at pupil level, promoted a greater awareness of potential benefits obtainable both in proficiency in the foreign language and in the subject, in which part of the tuition was given in French.

Although the section was supposed to last for a full 3-year cycle, these pupils only spent two years in it and due allowance must be made for this by the competent authorities, in view of the fact that the experimental phase has now been completed and initiation of new SELF projects in Portugal is now planned on a much wider basis.

The schools will be able to strengthen the sections by introducing French-language tuition in two non-linguistic subjects. This is the situation defined in the official executive document, but which did not apply at the EB2,3 nº2 in Quarteira, where the available human resources in the form of teaching staff were not large enough to enable a prospect of that scope.