Supporting diversity through targeted language skills development

Alison Fenner, Lecturer, International Study and Language Institute  j.a.fenner@reading.ac.uk                                                                                                               Year of activity: 2016/17

Overview

The project responded to a perceived need for additional support in the development of oral language skills among some students learning a language with the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP). It took place within the context of the IWLP Language Learning Advisors’ peer advisory scheme. There were clear benefits in terms of the development of coaching skills and increased employability for the Advisors, and improved oral performance and confidence for the students they supported.

Objectives

  • To provide and monitor targeted support sessions in oral work and pronunciation
  • To improve student speaking skills and confidence
  • To work with and train selected Language Learning Advisors in this area
  • To create a body of material for use in future years
  • To disseminate the practice through student presentation within a School staff forum

Context

With the increasingly international nature of IWLP classes, it has become evident that some groups of students at beginner level find oral work and pronunciation more of a challenge than others, depending on their linguistic background. (For example, some Asian students may find European pronunciation challenging and vice versa.) The Language Learning Advisor scheme, which I have run since 2012 and which usually operates on a one-to-one basis, was extended to small groups of students to provide additional support in this area.

Implementation

As IWLP German Co-ordinator, I decided to set up these sessions with German beginner classes in 2016-17. I had already trained a cohort of Language Learning Advisors for the year. Advisors (students recruited from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies and higher IWLP classes) normally offer one-to-one advice to IWLP and DMLES students on the acquisition of effective language learning strategies and independent learning.  I invited three Advisors with relevant experience, ability and pedagogic commitment to run regular small-group sessions with the emphasis on oral work and pronunciation. I successfully applied for PLanT funding to pay the students for the sessions. During the year, I held feedback meetings with the Advisors in which they shared their experience and developing expertise. I also sought feedback from the IWLP students attending the sessions, and was able to perceive a clear improvement in oral performance and confidence in students in my own beginners’ German class. In June 2017 the Advisors and I presented the project to ISLI staff at the ISLI Learning and Teaching Research Forum.

Impact

The project worked well. The beginner students reported an improvement in pronunciation and increased class participation and confidence, and spoke of enjoyable learning sessions and friendly and helpful Advisors. The Advisors acquired intensive coaching skills which will benefit their future employability as well as the opportunity to present to UoR staff within a tutor forum. The Advisors’ reports on their activities and experience gained this year can be passed on to future Advisors.

Reflections

The enthusiasm and commitment of the Advisors were major factors in the success of the project. They were willing to commit time and effort and enjoyed seeing improvement in ‘their’ students. They are all interested in teaching as a future career and so were doubly motivated in developing their teaching skills. We had some very useful meetings in which students’ needs were analysed, and ideas and activities were shared and their effectiveness evaluated. The students with whom they worked appreciated the help and the benefits to their oral performance. The only challenge was to maintain regular attendance at the small-group sessions at times when students had a particularly heavy workload; at times attendance decreased, which is perhaps unavoidable since the sessions were not compulsory.

 

This entry was posted in Case Studies, Curriculum Framework, Diversity & Inclusion, Funded Project Examples, International Study and Language Institute, PLanT Projects, Student Engagement, Student Support, Teaching Approaches and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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