Number one for English language teachers

English as a third language of instruction: the Basque experience in state schools

Type: Article

The Basque Autonomous Community has developed an experiment in Infant, Primary and Secondary state schools concerning English as a third language of instruction. Basque and Spanish are the two official languages, compulsory for all students. In this article I will explain how we have faced the challenge of incorporating the English language in terms of teacher training, methodological approaches and resources.

Introduction

Since the 80s, the Basque Autonomous Community (hereafter 'BAC') has the right to decide on about 45% of the curriculum. As we are a community with two official languages (Basque and Spanish), the Department of Education, Universities and Research decided, with the agreement of all political forces, to implement three different linguistic models (A, B and D) in all the schools: state, semi-private or private.

The A model has Spanish as the main language of instruction and the Basque language is given as a subject, four hours per week. In the B model, the non-linguistic subjects are given either in Spanish (mostly 20% or 30%) or in Basque (70% or 80%). The D model is the one that offers all the subjects in Basque and Spanish is given only as a linguistic subject (3 or 4 hours per week).

In the three different models the foreign languages have the same presence: they are taught as linguistic subjects. English is given as the first foreign language in the 99% of the schools, and French is given as an optional language for Secondary students only.

Dealing with three or four very different languages at school was (and it still is) really challenging. In order to have a holistic and integrated approach with languages at school, the Department of Education set several projects and experiences, one of which I’m going to explain through this article, the one related to the English Language.

Origins and development of the experiment

In 1999 a group of six teachers with experience in CLIL at Infant and Primary education started to devise curricular material for 4 and 5 year-olds. Their aim was to create didactic units linked to curricular contents, pilot these units in their own classrooms, improve them after having analysed and discussed them and, finally, present thеsе resources to groups of teachers that wanted to work on the language using a CLIL approach.

The first year of the experiment (1999-2000) 120 schools took part in the project. During the following school years the experiment went on using the same schedule: a group of teacher-advisers developing materials (didactic units to learn curricular content through English), testing them in class, making changes and improvements and sharing them with the rest of the teachers through fortnightly seminars. Today, all Infant, Primary and Secondary syllabuses have been covered.

Aims of the experiment

We defined the aims of the programme in three sections: those referring to the capacities which one wishes to encourage in pupils, those which concern improvement in the teaching practice of teachers specialising in the English language and those referring to the education system in general.

The ones related to students are the same as the ones found in any school system: to improve their knowledge and use of the English language as far as possible; to show interest and curiosity in the foreign language by developing positive attitudes towards their different linguistic uses (both formal and informal); and to recognise linguistic diversity and realise that languages and their different uses are channelled towards meeting the needs of communication between people.

To improve the teaching practice of teachers we aimed:

1. to provide specialist teachers with the methodology training required for carrying out the project in classrooms through fortnightly seminars within their teaching timetable;

2. to provide specialist teachers with linguistic training in English by means of training sessions, with grants to attend courses abroad or individual help in order to attend courses given within the BAC;

3. to attend to the needs of specialist teachers as far as possible in order to put into practice the teaching of the English language in the most effective way possible.

And for the educational system we wanted:

1. the teaching of the English language through curricular content to be carried out by the joint decision of a teachers’ staff meeting, with the approval of the rest of the educational community – in other words, that the specialist teacher should have full backing in order to carry out the project.

Teacher training

As we have mentioned before, teachers belonging to the schools that applied for the project attended seminars every two weeks, within working hours. That is to say, to take part in the project, the head of the school had to arrange their teachers’ timetable in order to have an afternoon free (usually from 14.30 to 16.30) to attend the seminars. This point was crucial for the success and good outcome of the project. Teachers were given time and space within their working time to receive good materials and resources ready to be used in their classrooms, had the opportunity to share their own experiences about using these materials and, above all, had the chance of analysing and reflecting on their work with the students. Issues such as classroom management, use of routines, types of assessments, etc. came up naturally and were discussed in a friendly and professional environment.

Resources

Our didactic units can be downloaded from the following webpage:
http://www.elkarrekin.org/elk/Lib/ingelesa.htm

We invite you to have a look at them and to share with us your impressions. We have had very good feedback from teachers all around Spain and even throughout Europe that confirm to us that what we offer is very useful for teachers that want to teach English using a more meaningful and content-based approach.

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