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Subject Knowledge And Understanding Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3668 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Teaching requires us to transform the knowledge possessed into suitable tasks which lead to learning. “Personality and personal style influence your effectiveness as a teacher.” (Learning to Teach 2005.). Effective teaching occurs where the learning experience structured by the teacher matches the needs of the learner. Learning an additional language depends on better lesson planning, cultural awareness and differentiation.


In this assignment I aim to explore issues relating to the Communicative Approach, which makes us consider language not only in terms of its structure (grammar and vocabulary), but also in terms of the communicative functions that it performs. I have chosen a unit from “A Complete Guide for Urdu Examinations” to see how effective that unit is in Urdu language teaching. I shall look not only at language forms, but also how it affects individuals when they want to communicate with each other. I will concentrate mainly on one chapter, which addresses the processes the learner goes through when learning their second language and how teachers support them and facilitate these processes. I shall review the materials observed and used in one curriculum unit which introduces learners to the concept of grammar and tenses.

In my review I shall discuss the modifications to the material that, in my opinion, will make it more accessible, interesting and relevant to the delivery of the National Curriculum, MFL teaching and learning strategies.

I shall make a lesson plan to show how I would extend a topic of the module to be appropriate to a “gifted and talented” ‘GCSE group’ reflecting upon the rationale of this lesson plan.

I shall be considering how I would apply various strategies to cater for these students. I shall reflect upon and evaluate how this whole unit of work incorporates issues relating specifically to the teaching and learning of modern languages; including national curriculum requirements and how the unit delivers them. I will describe how the module and materials used in incorporate wider learning theories on teaching and learning, and what kind of opportunities they provide to address the challenges such as PLTS (personal learning and thinking skills) amongst others. I will also demonstrate the ways in which I would modify the materials used in school.

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Language learning theories

My consideration of learning theories will be based on the following broad understanding of their main characteristics. The work of the behaviourist psychologist, Skinner, is associated with ‘conditioning through principles of stimulus and response’ and ‘the law of positive reinforcement’ (Wood, 1988). The behaviourist approach to education might be what Alexander (2005 a: b) terms teaching as transmission: “primarily as a process of instructing children to absorb, replicate and apply basic information and skills.” While the following discussion will admit a place for such activities in learning process, the approach has limitations: “Direct instruction is best used for knowledge transmission, for showing, telling, modelling and demonstrating. It is never, on its own, sufficient to ensure deeper understanding, problem solving or creativity.” (Desforges 1995: 129).

My focus is on the secondary curriculum for MFL and its implementation in Urdu language classes. I shall review unit 7 of a book titled “A Complete Guide for Urdu Examinations” by Zarina Khand, 3rd edition printed in 2003. This book is used to teach Years 9 & 10 classes in my placement school.

I shall focus mainly on one chapter from Unit 7 (Weather) as I have observed delivery of one lesson related to this unit. The unit concerned in this course book is essentially communicative in its approach in the activities it presents. All four of the national curriculum attainment targets of listening, speaking, reading and writing are covered in almost equal measure.

Learning a foreign language is a continuous and complicated process. The salient features of Piaget, for this assignment, are the notions of ‘child centred’ learning through individual experimentation, and the formation of what Vygotsky would term ‘spontaneous consents.’ Key processes are ‘assimilation’ – forming understanding or schemata of the outside world, and ‘accommodation’ -adapting “developing understanding and expectations to the realities and constraints of the social and physical world” (Wood 1998, p7). This author sees the ghost of Piaget’s notion of ‘staged development’ in the UK national curriculum, with its key stages (KS) and attainment levels.

I see Vygotsky as representing a more specific social constructivism, which emphasizes the socio-cultural nature of all learning and the role of ‘the more experienced other.’

Burner’s extension of social constructivism into modern languages again stresses the cultural nature of teaching and learning and develops the idea of the ‘spiral’ curriculum, where teaching, as it moves upward, constantly circles back to build upon previous understanding” (Bigge and Shermis 1992: 140).

Communicative language teaching (CLT), has been a dominant paradigm in recent decades. It involves the use of language for meaningful purposes, authentic materials, communication, independence and unpredictability, responsiveness to individual needs and interests, and the teacher’s role is that of facilitation rather than control (Mitchell 1994). A communicative approach, however, can be seen to extend beyond the teaching and learning of languages, given the primacy of spoken language and ‘oracy’ in education.

Bigge and Shermis (1992:254) define something as ‘understood’ if a subject “sees how it can be used to fulfil some purpose or goal.”

Recent research by the GTCE (2005) found that “pupils suggested that their learning experiences could be enhanced if tasks were more closely aligned with the social worlds in which they lived both inside and outside the classroom.” I will attempt to consider the benifits to learning of communicative classroom language in general, and look for ways to apply this principle to meet individual students’ unique learning needs. The infinite complexity of human interrelationships and the particularity of dynamic situations cannot be fully captured by generalized understanding or a single theory of learning.

Classroom observation, is inevitably shaped by the particular purpose of the observations (Wragg 1994), and my student teacher’s lens will no doubt emphasize certain aspects of learning to the possible exclusion of others. For instance, the development of subject knowledge and ‘learning to do’ might tend to take precedence over ‘schooling’ in the sense of socialization and learning a certain way of being.

Drawing from these theories, both the text book and my lesson plan introduce new ideas, vocabulary and grammar in a communicative context first, and then asking pupils to construct their own work.

In the context of the chosen topic of ‘Weather’ it is my role as a teacher to guide and support pupils as they work through the Key Stage 3 curriculum. At level 3 they can use set phrases with only minor personal modification to talk about the familiar topic of weather in their country, and at a level 6 or above using descriptive language, a variety of structures and using different tenses.

To achieve this, the student needs the ability to use grammatically correct language, and this is a key component and an integral part of effective communication in any language. Students also need to understand the essence of a word, phrase, or passage sufficiently to get the right idea being expressed, and to build up vocabulary that they both understand and can use expressively. This would include use in written work and speaking and listening activities such as answering questions on passages that are presented to them either as written or spoken text. Whilst the textbook and the school’s scheme of work do encourage progression by moving pupils to new and more complex activities, I feel that the ‘writing frame’ that I have devised for my class provides students with a clear structure to their work and also sets out a logical process, showing them how to set about the task constructively using the language knowledge that they have acquired. For a G&T class this would be extended e.g. by requiring use of different tenses, and therefore show a route to achieving the upper NC levels that they are capable of in this activity.

According to Gwen Goodhew in ‘Meeting the needs of Gifted and Talented students’ inclusion of activities to use and evaluate learning is an important part of catering for G&T pupils: ‘Teachers should regularly check lesson and unit plans to make sure that there are plenty of activities that, as a matter of course, require pupils to apply, analyse, synthesize and evaluate their knowledge.’ At the end of the unit and in my lesson plan pupils are required to create their own piece of writing, using their own ideas, an example of Goodhew’s principles in practice.

The vocabulary that I am covering in this lesson relates to the words سردی (winter), گرمی (Summer), برسØت،بØرش (Rain), برف بØری (Snow falling). The G&T students will be required to use this vocabulary and identify differences with the future tense from the text they have read. This option allows the pupils to think for themselves and work independently as they identify the correct answers through their application of the grammar that they have just noted down. Turner stresses that ‘Organising the grammatical core in conjunction with the topic areas means that structures are always contextualised and related to language use.’ (Turner, cited in Pachler & field, 2001:132).

In the unit under review, the writer has frequently used both past and present tenses throughout the chapter but doesn’t include the future tense which could be easily used in the same way.

Present Tense Øٓج سردی ہے۔ (It is cold today)

Past Tense Ú©Ù„ بØرش ہوئی۔ (Yesterday it was raining)

Future tense Ø´ØÙ… Ú©Ùˆ برف بØری Ú©Ø ØÙ…Ú©ØÙ† ہے۔ (There might be snow this evening)

With regards to the use of the future tense, for G&T class, I would push them to use as many examples of their own as they could. This would be taking their work from a level 5 to a level 6 or 7, giving pupils the means with which to express themselves and convey opinion more fluently.

The four seasons mentioned in the text can also be used to bring in discussion of different geographical and cultural environments. In this way, contemporary issues such as cultural differences and recent current affairs or news events could have been discussed and the activities would be contextualised so that they would have more relevance to the learner. The few examples that the material offers in terms of cultural awareness are tokenistic and do not really allow much insight into Pakistan’s beautiful weather compared to English weather. In the cloze activity below, students will describe weather in locations such as Scotland, Lahore and Manchester:

سکØÙ¹ لینڈ کے۔۔۔۔۔علØقوں میں۔۔۔۔۔۔۔برف Ø¨Ø Ø±ÛŒ ہوگی۔

Ù„Øہور میں۔۔۔۔۔۔ہے۔

Ú©Ù„ Ù…Øنچسٹر میں۔۔۔۔۔۔ہوگی۔

In this chapter I haven’t seen any activity leading to interaction among pupils and the teacher, although the importance of this is emphasised in the communicative approach to language teaching. The purpose of language teaching should be to enable the learner to become competent enough to use the target language for effective social communication. Regarding MFL teachers’ responsibilities, Pachler and Barnes (2009:61) mention that they should: “select relevant, varied and appropriate material” for their pupils: “Provide them with ample opportunities to practise the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing”; and later: “Develop their cultural and structural understanding.”

In this chapter there could have been more interesting and productive activities based on the text, with reading and writing. I will include listening and speaking activities through pair and group work, to provide opportunities for communication.

I have included an activity a written question-and-answer activity, and also writing a paragraph on the difference of weather in Pakistan and England. A third activity providing pupils with visual support (pictures and photographs) to lead to a spoken discussion about what they can see in the pictures and the fourth activity is a dialogue with a friend who has had a holiday in Pakistan, with the questions provided.

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According to the QCDA (2009), there are many opportunities to incorporate PLTS (Personal, learning and thinking skills) into modern language teaching: “The modern foreign languages programme of study provides a rich and exciting range of opportunities to develop PLTS as an integral part of subject teaching and learning. Explicit and implicit opportunities are present in the key concepts, key processes, range and content, and curriculum opportunities.”

The lesson plan that I have produced for G&T pupils offers the opportunity for the pupils to enhance skills in all of the PLTS. For example, through using resources such as dictionaries and text book use students demonstrate independent working. Working out for themselves the meaning of what they have read in the text book starter, and from the grammar used within it will show their creative thinking. Working within their groups to assess what worked well in their individual tasks, and sharing ideas and thought processes will show their ability to work as a team.

Students will also develop confidence and the ability to take risks by formulating their own ideas for the imaginative activity and to present to these to peers, which will also show that they are self managers. Effective participation will come out through their own and others’ views of their work. Reviewing their own work in line within the given criteria, and feedback from others to review will encourage reflective learning. Learner independence is important. More able and exceptionally able pupils are often effective independent learners. MFL trainee teachers can try to build on this by encouraging more able and exceptionally able pupils to reflect on how they learn to practise and exploit their new language.

Use of ICT

The material does not meet the standard for the national curriculum in terms of providing knowledge and understanding skills by using a range of resources, including ICT for accessing and communicating information. Pachler, Barnes and Field (2009:313) suggest that, “ICT can play a key role in the development of listening, speaking, reading skills as well as transferable skills such as independent learning.” To practice the learned language structures, ICT could just easily be used which would vary the activities and make them more relevant to learners who are routinely exposed to ICT across the curriculum. In my lesson plan, I have incorporated a task to use ICT and produce a video, an activity which will accommodate visual and kinaesthetic learners.


With regard to numeracy, I have developed it further in my lesson plan by including numerals in sentences such as the following which refer to maximum and minimum temperatures:

لندن Ú©Û’ جنوبی علØقوں میں Ø°ÛŒØدہ سے Ø°ÛŒØدہ درجہ حرØرت 45 ڈگری Øور Ú©Ù… سے Ú©Ù… 30ڈگری ہوگØÛ”

Ù¾ØکستØÙ† Ú©Û’ وسطی علØقوں میں Ø´ØÙ… Ú©Û’ وقت درجہ حرØرت 25ڈگری ہوگØÛ”

Teaching and learning strategies

This is an area that I would like to address in my own teaching. I find the term ‘strategy’ somewhat problematic, in the sense that it is overused, carries overtones of management jargon and – like any ‘buzzword’ – has a tendency, in my experience, to lose its explanatory value. However, its usefulness to teachers may lie in its implication of purpose, of leading towards a longer-term goal. This is the sense in which I understand the term here.

The lesson begins with pupils reciting, from memory, a paragraph in Urdu about the weather. While rote learning is foreign to the communicative language teaching paradigm, this exercise has the value of reinforcing the language and developing familiarity, as pupils hear the phrases repeatedly from their classmates. An element of competition no doubt provides motivation for some students, though this should be placed in an atmosphere of fun and mutuality: Social – if not necessarily communicative – learning.

The use of a video clip will particularly benefit pupils with a visual learning style, but I feel that this change would be the valuable for all. Activities like this show the teacher’s ability to share the classroom atmosphere with the group, where pupils could engage in some dialogues and enjoy themselves while they learn. The class will go through a worksheet, filling in gaps in a series of sentences. This given framework will provide pupils with ‘scaffolding’ onto which they could ‘hang’ the right words, rather than having to produce whole sentences themselves.

Analysing ‘A big picture of the curriculum 2009’ (QCDA: 2009) it is easy to see how this mirrors both PLTS, and the “Every Child Matters” agenda in the way that it:

Has clear aims that reflect the national aim for education and learners, needs as individuals and citizens

Promotes the intellectual, personal, social and physical development of all learners

Establishes high expectations for all, extending horizons and raising aspirations

Identifies outcomes relating to knowledge, skills, and personal attitudes and attributes

Is underpinned by clear values.

(QCDA: 2009)

Considering the statement of Norbert Pachler and Kit Field, (2001) that “quite a number of grammar points can be taught in the target language, if there is an element of physical demonstration and visualisation” I would use a tense timetable to describe the concept of time used in the different types of tenses.

Knowledge about language is hardly noticeable in this unit. I would introduce grammatical rules by using inductive and deductive approaches for example I would use the question and answer method in the inductive approach and use the simple grammar rules with examples in my deductive approach.

Knowledge of grammar is helpful especially in the case of Urdu as the verb agreement with gender and number of subjects is important. Acquiring knowledge of grammar may be very interesting for some.

Some people derive great pleasure from the learning and use of conscious rules, and I am one of them! “Mastering” the subjunctive in French was very satisfying for me, and I rekindle this sense of victory every time I plan and say sentences such as ” II faut que j’aille.” It is sometimes hard for people like us to understand that this sort of pleasure activity is not real language acquisition Krashen (1981:187).

To create the cultural awareness I would include contextual materials related to Pakistani weather, and weather in England to introduce the present, past and future.

For attainment targets, to achieve AT1 and AT2 I would include speaking and listening activities by using the question and answer method. To achieve AT3 & AT4 I would introduce texts such as stories. To cater for VAK learners, I would also introduce visually motivating activities, for example video, attaching the pictures with context/text.

I would also introduce potentially motivating activities such as re assembling text and oral presentation through conversation and dialogue. I would also introduce the maps, producing and responding to different types of written activities in target language.


My critical study of the unit provided me with interesting insight into teaching and learning processes. In my view the unit as whole is not up to the standard of language teaching in modern times. The most neglected aspects of language teaching in the unit are: teacher / pupil interaction, interaction among the pupils, VAK learning and functional skills. The unit does not make the job of a teacher easy and it is left to the teacher’s discretion to make it relevant and interesting for the pupils. I cannot visualize any independent effective learning from the unit.

It touches on to all the four skills but not sufficiently. Grammar plays a vital part for English speaking Urdu learners. I have provided a lesson plan with this assignment, which incorporates grammatical structures to improve pupils’ understanding of different structures.

My study of the unit made me realise how important and relevant the guidelines provided by the National Curriculum and National Strategies are. It is the responsibility of the teachers to stay up to date with recent research and make the teaching material relevant to the needs of the learners.


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