Language learning in transition - the experiences and attitudes of Year 9 language learners in a New Zealand high school.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMasters of Teaching and Learning
With a new national curriculum, the New Zealand Ministry of Education has created a new learning area – Learning Languages. From 2010 all schools will have to show they are moving towards providing programmes for language learning for all students from Years 7 to 10. In preparation for this, primary and intermediate schools have been increasingly offering diverse programmes of language learning to their students, and high school language teachers have noticed an increase in knowledge and experience from their Year 9 entrants to language classes. This gives rise to the question of how teachers at high schools are able to manage language classes where students have a very diverse range of experiences of learning another language.
This study is a case study from one high school on the phenomenon of language learning, as experienced and explained by nine Year 9 students. The students are asked to explore their current and previous language learning experiences in group interviews, and especially to discuss the issues which they have found in their classes.
The students are from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences of learning another language. Their discussion is honest and wide-ranging as they talk about their experiences, giving reasons for their language choice, and explaining what they like and don’t like about their learning. They offer opinions on co-operative learning, mixed-level classes and the difficulties and benefits of learning another language and they make suggestions about what helps them learn best. A recurring theme in their discussion is one of relationships – family connections which may make a particular language more attractive, teacher-pupil relationships which foster learning, and, more especially, the peer-relationships which support (or occasionally inhibit) learning, and provide social support and a social network of friends. Overwhelmingly, they say they would rather study with their friends in a mixed-level class, than learn in a class which is streamed to their own level. Analysis of data further reveals that identity negotiations, which may not be recognised by the students themselves, play a part in the learning process.
The study concludes with recommendations for practice and pedagogy, based on the students’ conversations. The four recommendations are about diversity – exploring the extent of diversity in the classroom, creating an environment which supports diversity, creating programmes which allow diverse students to learn together and creating opportunities for them to learn from each other.