University of Stirling Schools Event
In June 2019, French at the University of Stirling ran a series of seminars, CPD workshops and plenary sessions for Higher and Advanced Higher pupils and teachers from schools across Scotland, supported by the ASMCF Schools Liaison and Outreach Fund and by the University of Stirling’s Division of Literature and Languages (@litandlang).
Building on the success of a similar event in June 2017, also generously supported by the ASMCF, this year’s activities were jointly organised by Cristina Johnston (French) and Peter Baker (Spanish) and, as had been the case in 2017, demand was such that, having initially planned to run a single day-long event, we expanded this and ran the event twice, on consecutive days. Over the two days, this enabled us to welcome around 250 pupils and 40 teachers, representing over 30 secondary schools, following a call for expressions of interest via SCILT (Scotland’s National Centre for Languages – @scottishcilt) and SALT (Scottish Association for Language Teaching – @SALTLANGS), as well as through our own existing networks of contacts across Scottish secondary schools.
Both days followed the same structure:
11-11.40: Culture classes for pupils/CPD I for teachers
12.45-1.30: Language classes for pupils/CPD II for teachers
1.40-3: Plenary session focusing on Study Abroad/Time Abroad and Languages & Employability
3-3.30: Closing reception
At the end of the initial welcome to all participants, pupils were divided into language-based groups and, for the following three sessions (mini-lecture, culture class, language class), French and Spanish sessions ran in parallel. For French, the mini-lecture was delivered by Aedín ní Loingsigh and focused on ‘Race, Religion and the Republic’ with the explicit aim of introducing pupils both ‘to the meta and the content’ of a French lecture. To that end, the lecture gave an overview of recent key events in French politics and society from the 2005 riots to the 2019 controversy surrounding the sports hijab, while emphasising the importance of, for example, ‘the question mark in any piece of analysis’ and offering guidance to the pupils as to how they might use lectures and lecture notes in their own University language studies.
The French pupils were then split into smaller groups of around 15 pupils and in those smaller groups, they were given first a seminar-style culture class and then, after a well-earned lunchbreak, a language class. All of these sessions were led by teaching staff from French at Stirling (Elizabeth Ezra, Cristina Johnston, Hannah Grayson, Aedín ní Loingsigh, Emeline Morin, Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau, Beatrice Ivey and Fraser McQueen) to give the pupils a real sense of how it feels to be in a University Language classroom. The culture classes continued the contemporary emphasis and took, as their starting point, extracts from Autour il y a les arbres et le ciel magnifique, a collaboration between pupils from the Lycée Alfred-Nobel in Clichy-sous-Bois and author Tanguy Viel. The pupils undertook some small group work, analysing written ‘auto-portraits’ that form part of the book, and linking the ideas and themes they noted in those extracts back to the broader socio-political themes that had been discussed in the opening mini-lecture. The language classes involved written and oral/aural work, encouraging the pupils to see how those different elements work together in the University language learning environment.
While the pupils were in their culture and language classes, the teachers were brought together for two CPD sessions over a working lunch. The CPD sessions were led by Emeline Morin and Aedín ní Loingsigh and they focused, firstly, on questions relating to the challenges of assessment and feedback, and secondly on a more wide-ranging discussion of the question of the transition from secondary school language learning to the expectations and requirements of University-level language study. Feedback from the teachers (via questionnaires distributed at the end of each day) has been extremely positive with comments highlighting, for example, the value of having an opportunity ‘to discuss solutions with fellow teachers’ and that they found it ‘encouraging to hear development suggestions regarding transition.’
As part of the second CPD session, teachers were also given a brief guided tour of our exhibition ‘Experiences of Exile’ which forms part of Fiona Barclay’s AHRC-funded research project ‘From colonisers to refugees: narratives and representations of the French settlers of Algeria’ (@frenchsettlers). The tour was led by the project’s Research Assistant, Beatrice Ivey, and, as with the other CPD content, responses to the exhibition and, crucially, to the possibility of teachers finding ways of linking culture and language more consistently in the school classroom were very positive.
The final session of the day brought all the pupils and teachers back together in a large lecture theatre where they were able to listen, first, to a presentation by our Faculty Employability Officer, Elaine Watson, both about the wide range of careers and further study degrees involving languages can lead to and on the ways in which Universities can help students of languages develop their CVs. This was followed presentations by around a dozen different current students and graduates of French and/or Spanish at Stirling over the two days, all of whom spoke with great enthusiasm and eloquence about their own experiences as students of languages and, in particular, about time abroad as part of their degrees and about their career paths or plans following graduation. What was particularly striking about these presentations was the genuine sense of opportunity that the students and graduates described having experienced becausethey chose to study a language, as well as their emphasis on language learning as a means of developing confidence, adaptability and independence. One commented, for instance, ‘if I can navigate France through train, plane and Uni strikes, I can do anything’, while another noted that her semester abroad had enabled her to ‘learn so much in such a short space of time.’
All in all, two busy but hugely successful days and French at Stirling look forward to continuing their schools outreach work over the year ahead, as well as to organising similar events in the future.