During the 2013-14 academic year, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation worked closely with a small number of Language Futures schools to refine the approach further and to collect evidence of its impact on students’ attitudes to, and progress in, language learning. A student perception survey was designed to capture pupils’ views across five broad areas: motivation, learning approach, relevance, progress and relationships. The survey was also completed by comparator groups of non-Language Futures students taught by the same teachers.
The results showed that on 36 out of the 39 measures, Language Futures students reported more positive perceptions of their language learning. For 14 of these statements, at least 30% more Language Futures students chose the desirable responses, compared to the control groups and for a further 10 statements the difference was between 20% and 30% in Language Futures’ favour. Results include:
I am happy to be learning a language: 96% strongly agree/agree compared to 71% in non-LF group.
I am interested in what I am learning in my language lessons: 82% strongly agree/agree compared to 54% in non-LF group.
I want to carry on learning my language even when I’m not in school: 47% strongly agree/agree compared to 7% in non-LF group.
Mostly, I feel strongly motivated to learn my language: 73% strongly agree/agree compared to 39% in non-LF group.
My language learning is important to me: 76% strongly agree/agree compared to 39% in non-LF group.
I want to continue with my language learning to GCSE level: 59% strongly agree/agree compared to 18 % in non-LF group.
My parents or carers support my language learning: 80% strongly agree/agree compared to 39 % in non-LF group.
The role of the teacher represents a fundamental difference in the Language Futures approach. Whilst the teacher is an expert linguist and has a deep understanding of how languages are learnt, and therefore the strategies to be used to support this, in the Language Futures classroom he or she will not be the expert in all or even any of the languages chosen by the students. Although making the shift to a Language Futures approach is not easy and may be a challenging prospect at first, particularly needing to let go of control over exactly what and how students are learning, teachers have found the experience reinvigorates their professional practice.
A teacher perception survey carried out in the same schools in 2014 found that teachers identified improved independent learning skills and increased student motivation (stemming from the challenge of working more independently and greater ‘ownership’ of the languages) as key benefits of the approach. Results include:
I have become a more effective teacher: 100% (strongly agree/agree).
I enjoy teaching more than previously: 75% (strongly agree/agree), 25% (don’t know).
Language Futures has helped me to improve my language teaching: 75% (strongly agree/agree), 25% (don’t know).
I am confident about helping students learn languages that I do not know myself: 100% (strongly agree/agree).
Language Futures will have a long term impact on my teaching: 75% (strongly agree/agree), 25% (don’t know).
The Language Futures Experience:
‘’In Language Futures, pupils enjoy being an expert in their chosen language, whilst using skills and strategies suggested by the teacher and mentors. Pupils are keen to use the approaches they themselves find most useful. Having this sense of ownership over their learning is very motivating for pupils, who feel they learn more effectively when given more independence.’’
”Language Futures really suited me, because I could learn what interested me, as well as what was required of me. I loved being able to learn the culture about the cultures of Spain and Latin America alongside the spoken and written language because it like I was getting a more rounded, useful and adult Spanish language under my belt.”
‘’I value the unique approach to teaching foreign languages by allowing students to learn to learn. Students are guided towards the acquisition of skills and methodologies that help them to direct their own learning experience. Being so engaged, I feel they can make the experience personal and unique and suited to their own abilities and strengths.’’
”In Language Futures we get to learn in the way that we want to learn and it’s also very interesting. It is nice to be in control of our own learning and be really independent. Mentors are really good because it’s nice to have someone with a cultural knowledge of the language, they are great advisers and help us with pronunciation in a more relaxed and informal way.’’
Over 2016-17, a rigorous research exercise is exploring and evaluating the impact of the Language Futures approach on learners, teachers, and the wider school community, particularly parents and mentors. Research focusing on learners is exploring their learning outcomes, evaluating linguistic competence, progression, motivation and engagement, and autonomy. Research focusing on teachers is exploring the role of teacher-facilitator while research on the wider school community is examining the effects of the Language Futures approach on perceived home-school relationships, as well as on mentors.