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The Draft National Curriculum: Good Teaching meets Brain Research. Westminster Forum, March 2013


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Title: The Draft National Curriculum: Good Teaching meets Brain Research. Westminster Forum, March 2013

The Draft National Curriculum Good Teaching
meets Brain Research. Westminster Forum, March

An old problem... The Prioress, Chaucer,
Prologue, late C14
  • And frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, 
  • After the scole of stratford atte bowe, 
  • For frenssh of parys was to hire unknowe. 

...but getting worse.
GCSE 2001 2012
French 321,207 153,436
German 130,627 57,547
Spanish 45,629 72,606
CILT Language Trends Analysis, 17.3.3013
A Level 1997 2012
French 25,881 12,511
German 10,440 4,478
Spanish 5,606 7,351
ALL member update, 22.8.2012
University language courses 2000-2011 University language courses 2000-2011
French - 42
German - 55
Spanish - 34
  • The Linguist, Vol. 51.2, 2014

Our new knowledge. The Learning Brain,
Blakemore and Frith, 2005
  • As we learn, brain cells form connections
    with each other that build into networks. These
    connections are strengthened with practice.

Brain cell Neuroscience and Education, Teaching
and Learning Research Project, 2007
Brain cell connections Neuroscience and
Education, Teaching and Learning Research
Project, 2007
To promote new networks, we need to
  • Understand how children need to adjust their
    thinking to use the new language
  • Explain new features clearly
  • Present work simply and attractively
  • Encourage and answer questions
  • Encourage children to practise

We hinder the formation of networks by
  • Copying. Children continually switch their
    attention between the master version and their
    own. This breaks connections before they have had
    a chance to form.
  • Overloading. Connections cant form if we give
    too much new material at a time, or present
    spoken language that is too fast for people to

The brain adapts itself to different languages
  • Reading Aloud in English and Italian, evidence
    from brain scans (active areas in black)
  • Left reading system of English and Italian
  • Centre sound processing more active in Italian
  • Right word form area more active in English
  • The Learning Brain, Blakemore and Frith, 2005

As we learn a new language
  • The structures formed in our brain as we learned
    our first language are extended and adapted.
  • These initial structures influence the way we
    learn, both the parts we find easy, and the
    errors we make. Swan and Smith, Learner English,
    CUP, 2nd Edn, 2001

English speakers need to adapt to
  • New relationships between written and spoken
    language, though still with a basis in phonics.
  • Gender in nouns that have no physical gender, and
    in associated pronouns and adjectives.
  • Greater variation in verb forms than in English
    (except for Mandarin!)

The areas of the brain used for written and
spoken language are interlinked and overlap Dr.
Matt Davis, MRC, Languages Today, Spring 2013
  • Hearing
  • Reading
  • Both

The Draft National Curriculum
  • Takes account of evidence from brain research,
    HMI reports and successful work in schools.
  • Uses a balanced approach that teaches spoken and
    written language together, using all channels of
    communication to build understanding.
  • Contains a clear pattern of progress in key
    skills, including sentence construction
  • Leaves scope for professional judgement.

Zim Zam Zoum
Little Tails of the Unexpected...Val Thornber,
Key Features
  • At least four years of language before secondary
  • Time for children to understand and make
    adjustments to their thinking without pressure or
  • No requirement to use spoken language at full
    speed before children can understand it.
  • No set units, prescribed resources or schemes of
  • Writing from memory, not copying.

Copying, Babylon, c1700 BC(The History of
Writing, S.R Fischer)
Copying errors from a Year 7 mixed-ability class
  • Quel as âge tu. Quel âge as-tu?
  • O habite tu Ou jhabites-tu Où
  • Où habite a Londres. Jhabite à Londres.
  • Common tappelle tú_ Comment
  • Je onzo age Jai onze ans
  • Ja un douze Jai douze ans
  • (experienced teacher, pupils had models of
    the sentences they were trying to write, from
    which they could copy.)

My First Steps in Spanish.
  • Colours. Rojo, azul, verde, amarillo, marrón
    introduce most of the variations between Spanish
    and English pronunciation, and the accent. Begin
    with rojo, say together, study, look away and
    write with finger on sleeve. Check. Repeat with
    other colours.
  • Explain Buenos Días! as a greeting, and what it
  • Sing Ser to 10 green bottles, with actions,
    explaining how Spanish takes advantage of its
    word endings to omit the short words we have to
    put in front of verbs.
  • Introduce masculine/feminine, via the idea of
    boys and girls words for younger children. Eg
    Soy una niña/un niño.
  • Build sentences about family/pets, around
    tengo/no tengo.

Key Features of French
  • The French like their spoken language to flow,
    and their written language to be precise.
  • All nouns have a gender. (Very occasionally, two
    le or la professeur)
  • The form of verbs varies more than in English,
    and the negative is tricky.

... a suggested first order...
  • Colours have key features vert, bleu, rouge,
    blanc, jaune, orange, noir, violet, marron. Say
    together, study, look away, write on sleeve.
  • Bonjour! (Gday). Drop the tongue to pronounce.
  • Sing and point (to self and people) pronouns
  • Sing and point être. I usually do negative first.
  • Sentence building with family and pets introduces
    gender and avoir, positive and negative.

Extensions suggested by Y4
Year 7, girl, assessed as dyslexic, before
sentence building work
Year 7, girl, assessed as dyslexic, after six
weeks sentence building work
Year 7, boy assessed as dyslexic
Year 4, higher-attaining girl
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