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Community/heritage language learning during the Covid-19 pandemic: Lessons for pedagogy and community building

We are a group of researchers based at the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, at Goldsmiths and UCL BiLingo. We are passionate about multilingualism and language education and want to share our passion with language educators from formal and non-formal educational settings, parents, researchers, policy makers and other interested parties.

The pandemic has brought about unprecedented change and we wish to collectively reflect on how it has affected language education in the UK and beyond. With this objective in mind, we launched a new virtual events series called ‘Re-imagining language education during and after Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and possible futures’.

For our inaugural event, we explored the impact of the pandemic on community/heritage language learning. Community/heritage language learning is at the heart of sustaining the languages, cultures and histories of inheritance of minority ethnic communities for the next generation. It plays a central role in cultivating children’s multilingual capabilities and strengthening their linguistic and cultural identities. Community/heritage schools are thus, important sites for language and culture learning and socialisation.

They are also hubs for communication and social interaction between different generations. These schools are frequently grass-roots initiatives organised and led by ethnolinguistic communities themselves. Because they are a community-based organisation, they may struggle with funding and material resources, but at the same time they are more resourceful, flexible and creative. Social distancing restrictions and school closures has meant that many schools have been forced to suspend their operation or adapt overnight and with little preparation to different forms of online instruction:

  • How have schools responded to the shift to online teaching and learning?
  • What forms of online provision have they developed?
  • In what ways has the digital mediation of teaching and learning transformed pedagogic practices?
  • What new roles, relationships and networks has it fostered?
  • How has it sustained a sense of community, belonging and wellbeing despite not being able to meet in person?
  • What are the gains and what are the losses of online teaching and learning and for whom?
  • What issues of inclusivity and social justice do these issues raise?
  • What new visions of community languages education are emerging during and after the pandemic?

To address these questions, we invited Ms Cátia Ribeiro Verguete (Deputy Director at Instituto Camões UK for the promotion of Portuguese worldwide and PhD candidate in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London), Ms Marianne Siegfried-Brookes (Deputy Chair at VDSS, the Association of German Saturday Schools UK, Director at the German Academy UK, and German language educator) and Ms Pascale Vassie, OBE (Executive Director at the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education) to share their personal and professional experiences.

To set the context of the panel discussion, Dr Vally Lytra (Goldsmiths) shared findings from her ongoing research project ‘Making sense of teachers and parents’ experiences with online teaching and learning in the Covid-19 pandemic’ which investigates to what extent and in what ways the pandemic has transformed Greek community language education in Switzerland. The webinar was moderated by Dr Froso Argyri (UCL BiLingo).

Watch the webinar and join the conversation:

Community Heritage Language Learning from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

Group members: Dr Froso Argyri (UCL BiLingo), Dr Jim Andrerson (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Vally Lytra (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Merle Mahon (UCL BiLingo), Dr Vicky Macleroy (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (UCL BiLingo and hld) and Dr Cristina Ros i Sole (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths).

Blog by Vally Lytra


Disappearing Londoners: monolingual voices in a multilingual city

The best Universities are looking for the most academically able students; our school community is full of exceptionally bright students, and our job is to empower them to achieve their potential, knowing that if they do this, nothing will stop them from reaching the highest of heights.

Sam Dobin, 2021

The aim of this study is to uncover the stories of three generations of four White British families who have lived for most of the twentieth century in the same streets in the East London Borough of Newham; to learn about life and how it has changed across the generations, how people have forged their own destiny within challenging circumstances and how they view their future in the area. The study is showcased through an interactive website which highlights the changing nature of work, skills, knowledge, traditions and ways of speaking. The website is designed and illustrated by the artist Zahir Rafiq and photographs are by Chris Kelly. It has been funded by a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship (2017-20).

Like most Londoners, I have been inspired to learn about the extraordinary success of students attending school in one of the poorest and most diverse Boroughs in the capital. In 2021, fifty-five students at Brampton Manor Academy in Newham, East London, have been offered provisional places at Oxford and Cambridge – more than from Eton, Britain’s most famous fee-paying school. I join the Director of their Sixth Form, Sam Dobin, in applauding his students when he says:

This achievement is even more impressive when we learn that only two per cent of the school’s students are of monolingual White British origin. The students are from many countries of the world and for most, English is not their first language.

But what of those not lucky enough to get a place in this school?  Sitting in one of the small terraced houses in the middle of the school’s catchment area is sixteen-year-old Emma. Her mum is looking for a good sixth form College for her daughter, since her secondary school, near Tilbury, doesn’t have one. In fact, the school doesn’t even have a steady supply of excellent teachers or indeed teachers at all; nor reliable heating or other essential equipment like books and computers. When I ask her mum why she doesn’t try to get her daughter a place at the highly successful school around the corner, her reply is telling:

Oh, that school isn’t for the white children around here. It’s only for the black children. The Head doesn’t want our children. It’s not for the likes of us.

What is going on?  Paradoxically, White British families such as Emma’s have been variously accused of being racist or displaying ‘white privilege’ by some academics and politicians. Yet for this small community of White British families remaining in East London, nothing could be further from the truth. Squeezed between suggestions of racism and privilege and accusations of lethargy and violence, the families in the website reveal a tenacity to keep high standards of behaviour as well as mental and technical skills in spite of the current tide being strongly against them.

Blog by Eve Gregory

Who are you? – On the voice, touch and film (making) as a pedagogical tool in the (languages) classroom

What is touch? How is touch linked to our sense of identity? How can we use film(making) to explore these ideas?

Film(making) opens up personal, sensuous and collaborative space(s) and horizon(s) for a playful encounter with being of and in this world. That is, a safe space to engage with that which excites us, makes us happy but also with that which scares us, unsettles us, upsets us and helps us explore our multiplicitous selves.

In German we call the act of watching television “fernsehen”. “Fern” means “far” and “sehen”, “to see”. Inspired by film phenomenological, feminist theories and critical pedagogy, I am passionate about the way in which an engagement with film allows us to see further than our own eyes, towards that which we can learn about if we are open to the possibilities, to listen attentively and not be afraid to ask questions. But it also lets us to look inwards, towards ourselves, to explore our own assumptions, misconceptions, prejudices, feelings and thoughts, including those that we might not be able to put into words (yet).

Minto Felix writes about how “to decolonise the curriculum, we have to decolonise ourselves” (2019: n.a.). In the past years, film(making) has become a focal point for me in my work as languages teacher, lecturer in initial teacher education, researcher and filmmaker. My audio-visual filmmaking practice A caressing dialogical encounter (2019) led me on my own personal quest to critically engage with these ideas.

Earlier in 2021, together with some former Goldsmiths PGCE Secondary Languages students, now NQTs, and partnership schools, we published an article in the Association for Language Learning (ALL) Languages Today Magazine (Issue 37) entitled Seven Starting Points to Decolonise the Curriculum, featuring amongst other resources, films to inspire and engage young people. Last year we had made stop-motion films together. Students on this year’s programme learned about the use of film in the languages classroom in a webinar with the educational charity Into Film.

It is our joint responsibility as educators to continuously reflect upon the questions: Who is represented? Who is speaking? Who is silenced? Which stories are explored or silenced? (Kramsch, 2011)? It is also, I feel on us to think about how we can educate our students who perceive today’s world as one in which the digital and the material are deeply interwoven (Pink, Ardèvol and Lanzini, 2016), to responsibly use digital tools and to use them to make our world more inclusive, more just, more equitable, more peaceful. Film(making) helps me critically engage with these ideas. In my work here at Goldsmiths but also as ALL Deputy Honorary Membership Officer, I see it as my responsibility to support languages teachers and students in whichever educational setting they work and learn to engage with these questions and issues. We must tackle the challenges we face collaboratively, together, as a community.

Blog by Dr Judith Rifeser (PGCE, FHEA)




Flying Over the Boundary: Working with Teachers at Fengshan Senior High School in Taiwan

She (Yu-chiao) asked me if I would like to join this project of making digital stories.

Little did I know that from the moment I said yes to her, an interesting and rewarding journey had begun.

(Peggy, EFL teacher, FSHS)

I was invited to present the Critical Connections Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project (2012-present) at a webinar held by Tohoku University, Japan in March 2021. It was a special webinar for Japanese-Content Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Heritage Language Education. Most of the participants were teachers of Japanese in mainstream or complementary schools outside Japan. While preparing for this webinar and looking through the data, once again, I was touched by the feedback from the teachers working with us on this project. In addition to benefiting the young participants, observing transformative pedagogy has been another important aspect in the multilingual digital storytelling (MDST) project. I would like to share a couple of examples from Fengshan Senior High School in Taiwan here.

Peggy, an English teacher at Fengshan Senior High School in Taiwan, was the first Taiwanese teacher we worked with on the MDST project in 2012. She was my classmate at Normal University in Taiwan. At one of our gatherings, she mentioned her frustration with the repetitive teaching materials she had to cover, the low motivation her students had towards learning English as a practical, live language but their obligation to take taking English as a subject which would be tested in their entrance examination to universities. I proposed she join our multilingual digital storytelling project. She decided to take the opportunity, which might be risky, for herself and for her students. Peggy started to learn about digital stories, mind mapping, filming, editing so that she could teacher her students. She was very pleased with her own professional development through working on the project. She was also amazed to see how her students’ engagement and motivation was raised by returning the ownership of learning to them.

Peter, another English teacher at Peggy’s school, acted as the lead teacher for the project in the following years. Peter commented that the MDST project was not just an opportunity for his students to learn but also for himself: ‘This process has overturned my attitude towards teaching’. He recalled a conflict he had with his students while working on the MDST project.  After their weekly presentation, he provided some ideas. The students took his suggestions badly. One of them shouted angrily: ‘What do you want Our story to be like?’

Peter commented:

As a teacher, I tended to give the students suggestions which I thought would be the most efficient way for them to tell the story and complete the project. Sometimes, I got worried because I could see them going around in circles, taking a long time. However, not all of them would accept my suggestions.

(Peter, EFL Teacher, FSHS)

Peter turned to me for suggestions. I proposed he allowed the students to express their voice in their own way and see what would happen. His feedback to me was:

I suddenly realised that this was something I had to learn. I always gave feedback and expected them to accept my comments. I should have respected their ownership of their story and raised questions when I had doubts. I should have allowed them time and space to review their story and consider whether any improvements were needed; just as I expected they would do with their classmates. I had forgotten I should have done the same.

(Peter, EFL Teacher, FSHS)

In the MDST project, the young digital storytellers are beginning to understand their own sense of agency and teachers are learning to trust their students and give them time to move through their stories. As Peter said to me: ‘It is like you have planted seeds in our heart and they keep growing’.

The MDST project continues to benefit and bring changes to young people as well as their teachers.

Peggy’s introduction and feedback

Peggy edited new.wmv from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

Peter’s introduction and feedback

Film 7: How Weird is Weird? by Fengshan Senior High School Introduction from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

Blog by Yu-Chiao Chung


Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing

If you have not done so, I highly recommend you read Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing published by the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning in November 2020. You can download your free copy here or buy the paperback on Amazon. The anthology was followed by a conference, Inspire (15-16 April 2021) in which some of contributors presented their work. In the anthology, you will find a series of essays, creative responses and meditations on the teaching of creative writing – and much else besides. The aim was to inspire the reader to write imaginatively, and to learn more about creative writing and how to teach it. The editors of this anthology (myself, Emma Brankin and Carinya Sharples) are practising creative writers and teachers of this familiar but possibly contentious subject. Creative writing is seen as a controversial subject for lots of different reasons: in academia because it’s viewed as lacking rigour, in schools because it might facilitate unsavoury views and images, in society as a whole because it’s perceived as a ‘soft’ subject. Watch this hilarious SNL sketch on YouTube which pokes fun at attitudes towards it:

Proud Parents

But people’s attitudes towards it need to change. This is, in part, what we aimed to do by publishing the anthology. The contributors to the anthology have a great deal of ‘real world’ experience of trying to impart our enthusiasm for reading and writing poetry, fiction, drama and creative non-fiction in diverse settings. We see this as an important social and pedagogical mission. We first discussed devising such an anthology in order to showcase some of the great work that the postgraduate students on the MA in Creative Writing and Education at Goldsmiths have done as part of this programme during the 2019-2020 sessions. Some of their work is in the anthology. What follows are the highlights of their work; an invitation, if you like, to read more!

Lexi Allen offers a concise, original piece based on more detailed research here. She writes of overcoming many barriers – both physical and psychological – to leave excerpts of her creative writing in a number of public settings – trains, libraries, bars and some virtual spaces too. Her work is inspirational because it illustrates how a writer can find a public voice and new resources of confidence in very surprising ways and places. Matilda Rostant shares her important findings for her research, focusing on the sometimes secret writing of fantasy fiction. She shows how there is an unjustified snobbery about genre fiction in many educational settings, and uses ‘autoethnography’ – a research-informed version of autobiography – to unearth some important findings about the connections with genre fiction and one’s own life.

Tanya Royer demonstrates how creative writers can research their unconscious using a series of mindful strategies such as meditation and free writing. Her findings are startling and moving, and reveal how creative writers can guide themselves to pen original pieces and find out about their own unconscious desires if they follow a strict research methodology. In his piece, James Ward admits to being intimidated by what he perceived to be his lack of subject knowledge in the field of creative writing. And so, setting out in a similar way to Tanya, he devised a regime of writing and reading exercises, which built up his confidence and unlocked his creativity. Anyone who has similar issues should read his article. Both James and Tanya (and many other writers here) show the power of what Peter Elbow, the acknowledged champion of this often-criticised way of writing, calls ‘free writing’. Elbow wrote in the 1980s (the edition I quote from is a later edition):

The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly. At least three times a week. They are sometimes called ‘automatic writing’, ‘babbling’, or ‘jabbering’ exercises. The idea is to write for 10 minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen-twenty). Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing.

Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you’re doing. If you can’t think of a word or a spelling, just a squiggle or else write ‘I can’t think of it’. Just put something down. The easiest thing to do is put down whatever is in your mind.

(Elbow, 1998: 3)

Free writing plays an important role as a pedagogical strategy in a number of pieces, but most particularly in James and Tanya’s.

Moving into the modern age, Emma Brankin explores how social media can be used to nurture students’ creative writing. The article is bursting with fascinating and very workable ideas, including the brilliant idea of the ‘auto-complete’ poem, which is a sort of modern day update of Elbow’s free writing concept. Teacher and writer Sara Carroll shows how teenage girls could be guided to be more critical and feminist in their perspectives. She uses free writing as one of many strategies to encourage her female pupils to think about the ways in which girls are conditioned in oppressive ways by a patriarchal society. Juwairiah Mussa shows how free writing and poetry can be used as a form of healing during extremely stressful times. Her pieces about living through lockdown are not only powerful examples of creative writing in themselves but also great models to share with creative writing students. Her reflections on the process of writing the pieces are pedagogical in that they guide the reader into thinking about the ways in which free writing can be healing and also help develop a greater awareness of the social, psychological and economic factors that shape who we are.

Carinya Sharples shares with Juwairiah a similar quest to find new ways of expression in her search to find a ‘third space’ where mixed-race writers can feel free to express themselves and explore their identities. Using various strategies such as ‘heritage objects’ ‘rivers of reading’ and the devising of mixed-race characters – all explained in her article – she reveals how creative writing can liberate and enlighten, and also challenge and disturb. Jake Smith draws upon a rich tradition of experimental writing in order to devise a series of learning activities and lessons that create astounding and thought-provoking writing. He uses experimental reading material as prompts to generate creative writing and offers his own free writing as a possible model to inspire his students.

So to sum up about the pieces by postgraduates on our MA, we could say that there are some common threads: there is a zest to experiment and to use both well-worn and unusual literary forms, from genre fiction to the most esoteric devices; there’s a deep commitment to giving both research and learning activities a serious theoretical underpinning; and, above all, there’s a profound commitment to nurturing playfulness around creative writing.

Blog by Dr Francis Gilbert

Michael Rosen on ‘Working in a Variety of Ways’

I work in a variety of ways at the same time. For the Centre, my contribution is to suggest possible talks, public conversations, and conferences and act as interlocutor where appropriate.

In broadcasting, I host a BBC Radio 4 programme about the uses of language, ‘Word of Mouth’ which falls within the old Reithian precept of ‘edutainment’, trying to be informative and entertaining at the same time. It mostly appears to be a conversation but it rests on the knowledge and scholarship of its participants.

With my son, Joseph Steele Rosen, we have created a YouTube Channel, ‘Kids’ Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen’. This is made up of over 400 videos consisting of poems, stories, jokes, book reviews and interviews with authors about the writing process. It has nearly 570,000 subscribers and over 100 million views. It’s an ongoing piece of work that we add to every fortnight and has a linked Teachers’ Channel. There is a new handbook to go with the channel written by a classroom teacher, Jonny Walker.

This is in addition to the four booklets I’ve written that have arisen out of the Goldsmiths MA in Children’s Literature, on issues such as how literary theory can be used in education, how to write and read for pleasure in schools. These are a continuation of books I’ve written for teachers and school students on writing and creative education such as ‘What is Poetry?‘, ‘Good Ideas’ and ‘Book of Play’.

Prior to the pandemic, an important part of my work has been to visit schools, libraries, book festivals and literary festivals to perform my poems, take part in discussions and run poetry workshops. Since the pandemic, I’ve been carrying on with that in the more limited form of zoom calls into schools. As part of this work, I also do talks for teachers’ INSETs, and teachers’ conferences on e.g., how and why we create a reading for pleasure environment.

I work within the field of Holocaust Education arising out of my own family’s experience, and in conjunction with my books, ‘The Missing’ and ‘On the Move’ (both published by Walker Books). In particular, I’ve worked with History Works doing workshops encouraging middle school groups to respond to Holocaust and genocide testimony, poetry and song on themes of persecution, refugees and resistance.

For children, I am continuing to write poetry, stories and picture book texts.

I’ve ritten books for adults such as ‘Alphabetical‘, ‘The Disappearance of Emile Zola’ and a memoir, ‘So They Call You Pisher!‘. Most recently, I have written a book about my experiences of Covid and recovery, ‘Many Different Kinds of Love’ (Ebury), which has taken me into the field of medicine education, patient testimony and nursing training.

Blog by Michael Rosen

Representation Matters in Children’s Literature

Ella Asheri, as part of the team at the Goldsmiths’ Development and Alumni Office, brought together this inspiring online event to ask difficult questions and discuss future directions within children’s and Young Adult literature. This overarching question framed the debate: What does it mean to see yourself represented in a story? The event was positioned in this way to spark debate and provide a space to discuss diverse stories.

Goldsmiths has been home to some of the most exciting and radical voices of children’s literature. From founding initiatives to promote creative learning in Arabic, to writing stories about black gay teens reclaiming their identities through drag, Goldsmiths alumni are leading the way in challenging societal structures by creating diverse stories for children and young adults.

(Publicity for the event which was held on 31 March 2021)

The panellists, alumni Soheir Abaza, Dean Atta and Nadine Kaadan, shared their experiences as writers and illustrators advocating for change in children’s literature. As facilitator of the panel discussion, I was lucky enough to have known all the panellists as students at Goldsmiths. Their biographies illuminate the groundbreaking work of the three panellists in the field of children’s literature and education.

Soheir Abazais a writer and teacher. She is a PhD Candidate with an MA in Creative Writing and Education (Writer/Teacher) from Goldsmiths in 2014. Soheir has initiated and led a creative writing programme for Syrian refugee children in Cairo, and has worked with Alwan and Awtar, an NGO that offers artistic, cultural and non-formal learning activities to children and youth in various urban and rural community settings throughout Egypt. Soheir co-founded Hadi Badi, an initiative that aims to promote children’s and young adult literature and creative learning in Arabic worldwide. Her book in Arabic ‘I Feel Like…’ encourages children to use their imagination to describe their feelings.

Figure 1: I Feel Like …’ by Soheir Abaza

Figure 1: I Feel Like …’ by Soheir Abaza

Nadine Kaadan is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator from Syria now living in London. She is published in several countries and languages and her mission is to champion empowered and inclusive representation in children’s books so that every child can see themselves in a story. Nadine has worked with young refugees in mitigating post-conflict trauma. Her books ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘The Jasmine Sneeze’ touch on Syria’s long and proud cultural heritage as well as the life of refugees. She has been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal and is the 2019 winner of the Arab British Centre Award for Culture. Nadine was selected as one of the BBC 100 Women 2020’s ‘most influential and inspiring women’ and was featured on their BBC 100 Women masterclass. She studied a Masters in Art and Politics at Goldsmiths in 2014.

Figure 2: Tomorrow by Nadine Kadaan

Figure 2: Tomorrow by Nadine Kadaan

Dean Atta is a poet and author. His debut poetry collection, ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger’, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize, and his debut novel, ‘The Black Flamingo’, won the Stonewall Book Award. He was named as one of the most influential LGBT people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday. Dean’s work often deals with themes of gender, identity, race and growing up – and has appeared on BBC One, BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and Channel 4. Dean regularly performs across the UK, and internationally. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Dean is based in Glasgow, and is Co-director of the Scottish BAME Writers Network and a patron of LGBT+ History Month. He studied a Writer/Teacher Masters at Goldsmiths in 2014.

Figure 3: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Figure 3: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The panellists shared their experiences as students at Goldsmiths and how the spirit of protest and radicalism had helped shape their creative work. All three panellists talked about their experiences of working with children/young adults and sharing their writing and books with children/young adults at different stages in the process. This part of the discussion also showed how sharing their diverse children’s stories can open up spaces to imagine and put into words difficult emotions and experiences and recognise the transformative potential of children’s stories for radical hope and social change. The debate moved onto questions of identity, social justice and why representation matters and what representation looks like in practice before talking about future directions and practical steps to bring about change in children’s/YA literature.

You can access the recorded Goldsmiths Connect event here:

You can find information about the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths which has 3 pathways:

  • MA Children’s Literature: Issues and Debates
  • MA Children’s Literature: Creative Writing Pathway
  • MA Children’s Literature: Children’s Book Illustration.

Blog by Vicky Macleroy

‘We get to read our favourite stories in new ways.’

A remark made by a Year 3 pupil in response to a unit of work based on Wir gehen auf Bärenjagd! (We’re going on a Bear Hunt), during which pupils had created their own class story, entitled Wir gehen auf Drachenjagd (We’re going on a Dragon Hunt). The collaborative research undertaken and detailed below investigates the embedding of languages using stories to teach and digital storytelling to motivate both teachers and children to engage with German in the primary classroom.

Since June 2018, we, the authors of this blog (Susi Sahmland, Senior Lecturer in Educational Studies and Claire Hackney, Languages Lead and Year 4 class teacher at a Primary School in Brockley), have worked together in what has proved to be a successful collaboration and partnership between a London Primary School and Goldsmiths, University of London.

Beginning by analysing the strong foundations already established in language teaching, in this case focusing on German, the headteacher and language lead (Claire Hackney) wanted to raise the profile of German at the school further and were looking to develop a curriculum bespoke to the school itself. The National Curriculum states that language teaching should ‘enable pupils to express their ideas and thoughts’ (DfE, 2013: 1), recognising that pupil creativity as well as engagement is at the heart of language learning and must be promoted in a primary languages classroom.

Through discussions together (lecturer and teacher), team teaching, and presenting our ideas at conferences and workshops, we have been able to continually evaluate our experiences.

Our collaboration has sought to create a curriculum that would develop not only pupils’ confidence when using language, but also their creativity and curiosity. The new languages curriculum builds on an already established literature unit incorporated during the autumn term which uses texts as foundations to underpin the rest of each year group’s curriculum.

Our focus class was a Year 3 class and the story book was Wir gehen auf Bärenjagd (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) (Rosen & Oxenbury, 2013), which was the central focus for the spring and summer term. The initial autumn term was spent working on vocabulary and themes connected with the stories; the spring term spent closely working on the text itself; and the final summer term on writing a digital story based on the text.

The texts in lower key stages were chosen for their familiarity to the children, as well as the repetitive phrasal structure of the language used, providing context and a connection with their own experiences. The theme and plot of the story allowed pupils to use existing knowledge of adjectives and animal vocabulary and build on this. When the story writing unit was introduced, the majority of pupils were immediately engaged and enthusiastic.

By presenting pupils with a creative outcome to work towards, children were also able to see a wider purpose to language learning. Reaction to using stories throughout the unit’s work and the new structure and content of the curriculum was positive from both pupils and the teachers involved alike. Staff were enthusiastic about using stories to develop children’s language skills and pupils eager to create their own variations on the story too. Teachers and pupils were able to focus on content, as well as context.

Since our initial meetings and collaboration, we have presented our approach to curriculum design at conferences, network meetings and in workshops in the UK and in Germany and we are sharing our ideas on the Future Learn MOOC, which will be live from the 10th May 2021.

You can access our recorded online event entitled ‘Collaboration – Creativity – Curriculum’ which was hosted by the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning in April 2021.

Blog by Susi Sahmland and Claire Hackney

Foreign languages as Cultural Capital: empowering UK students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the learning of Chinese

In the UK, Chinese language teaching has thrived in both independent and state schools as a modern foreign language (MFL). Due to its economic value in the global market and potentially representing a new source of cultural capital, Chinese is particularly important for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is therefore crucial that Chinese provision, as well as pedagogy for teaching Chinese in schools, are well-researched to ensure equal opportunities and high achievement for students.

In 2017, I completed my British Academy Small Grant funded research entitled, ‘Foreign languages as Cultural Capital: empowering UK students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the learning of Chinese’. The research investigated through classroom ethnography (1) whether and how teachers and students considered Chinese to be cultural capital, and (2) what pedagogies in the Chinese MFL class aided learning and ensured equality of achievement.

The study took place in Kingsford Community School, which advanced my previous Goldsmiths Award funded research (2010-2011) entitled, ‘Developing a bilingual pedagogy in the Chinese language class across mainstream and community contexts’. The findings from the two funded research projects have been presented at several international conferences and disseminated through social media such as Chinese Forum, Conversation and Faculty online broadcasting.

The key findings are summarised as follows:

  • Chinese as a MFL target language (CFL), is difficult and challenging in many ways that differ fundamentally from English and other European languages and therefore there is an urgent need to gain pedagogical awareness of CFL classrooms.
  • However, gaining a clearer picture of CFL does not mean pinning up the assumption that Chinese is so difficult that only ‘bright’ and talented students from advantaged backgrounds can learn it! The alienation remains, so does stereotype.
  • Kingsford Community School provides a good example for state schools of how the CFL class can be made compulsory, available, accessible and engaging to all students from diverse backgrounds.
  • Pedagogies for teaching Chinese are well-researched at Kingsford with a range of strategies developed which include bilingual approaches to aid the learning process and the maintenance of motivation and high performance.
  • There are many high achievers benefiting from bilingual learning experiences which means the challenge is less if learners are able and given opportunities to compare and discuss concepts in more than one language.
  • Chinese is negotiating its position as an equal with other MFLs to guarantee opportunity, equality and respect.
  • However, the current provision in terms of teaching hours and resources for gaining this equal position are far from adequate, and this pushes down demand and results in the loss of teachers and reduction of student numbers on courses.
  • Whether Chinese can be regarded as cultural capital that empowers students of all backgrounds depends on adequate provision, good pedagogies and a series of supportive policies in place. Schools and teachers cannot do it alone to ensure both equality of opportunities and achievement.

The above key findings have outlined a picture of both cautious optimism and rising concern, and suggested that without action from the government, changes in school policy and curriculum development, it will be hard for Chinese learning and teaching to meet these aspirations.

Part of the findings have fed into the PGCE Languages Programme and the GTP Mandarin course at Goldsmiths and served as reference for the training of Chinese language teachers and teacher education in the country and elsewhere.

Blog by Yangguang Chen

Vivencias and Lifeworlds in the Spanish classroom

On 12 April 2021, I had the pleasure of giving a guest lecture in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Princeton. This lecture-seminar was part of the training that Doctoral students in the department do as part of their postgraduate degree.

I presented a talk entitled ‘Vivencias and Lifeworlds in the Spanish classroom’ that talked about how language learning can be reconceptualised from being a way to acquire a body of knowledge and skills, or even a way of communicating, to be seen as a way of being and a way of living in the language.

I started the session by reading a poem in Catalan and asked students to suspend their rational minds while they turned their attention to how they perceived the language. I asked them to look out for the sounds and any other sensations that the poem evoked in them.

This kicked off our adventure to rethink the encounter with ‘another’ language in a different way: as the effort of being a person in the world or ‘languaging’ (Phipps 2007) from a multisensorial and performative way, or as ‘thought in the act’ (Manning and Massumi 2014).

I presented the concept of vivencias, an expansion of the concept of ‘Spracherleben’ by Busch (2017) to highlight the power of language to connect to our senses and our feelings, but also to our history and our relationships and entanglements with the world around us.

With a series of questions to the audience who were located in different parts of the world via Zoom, we explored the process of learning and speaking another language as a way of connecting with languages and cultures that draw on our past biographies as well as the ordinary and every day in our lives.

The discussion reflected on a way of reframing language as a process that mobilises one’s agency and affects in order to connect with our environment (social and material) to construct one’s own experience of the world.

Students took part in an exercise that has been very illuminating with students at Goldsmiths in the MA in Education, Culture, Language and Identity where they explored the role of objects and materiality in the construction of their subjectivities. They took it in turns to describe a ‘special’ meaningful object, which they brought to the seminar and showed to the camera, in terms of their cultural and linguistic identities.

The multiplicity of cultures and identities present in the seminar meant that this turned into a fascinating and stimulating session. Cloth bags, mate cups, musical instruments, paintings, and fluffy toys featured as cultural artifacts and everyday objects that are catalysts for a perceptive, reflective and imaginative exploration and the making sense of students’ vivencias (lived experience of life) in another language.

Blog by Cristina Ros i Solé