By Tony Calderbank*
British Council and Qatar Foundation International (QFI) launched part one of their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) study plans this week. Otherwise known as a scheme of work, this planning document is a key tool in any teacher’s tool kit. It has been designed to support teachers working towards the exam and those who wish to introduce Arabic to students with no previous knowledge of the language.
What is a scheme of work?
A scheme of work is a document that summarizes the content of a course of learning. It provides an overview of what needs to be taught across the academic year. It is a plan which outlines what the teacher and learners should achieve throughout the course and the steps they must take to get there. It divides the course content into individual weeks to help the teachers organize and plan their lessons and assess learners’ performance.
What does a scheme of work contain?
A scheme of work maps out the different elements of language that are contained in each chunk of learning. It indicates the grammar, vocabulary, script, skills, and culture that will be covered in each week or lesson. It shows what resources and activities will be used to teach the language and what tools and techniques can be employed to assess progress and learning. It allows the teacher and the learner to see the beginning, middle, and end of the year’s learning journey. Different schemes of work go into different degrees of detail, and the secret is to maintain a balance between thoroughness and concision.
Why does a teacher need a scheme of work?
A scheme of work shows the teacher what language learning outcomes are to be achieved during the year. It serves as a practical interpretation of the syllabus and works as a guide to monitor progress so that both teacher and learner can understand “where they’re at” at any given point. The scheme of work allows teachers to plan lessons that are part of a meaningful sequence of learning rather than standalone items and to include the recycling and review of language and topics as needed. It maintains focus but still allows for creativity and individual approaches.
Emma Young, Assistant Consultant at the British Council and a former modern foreign languages teacher, explains that “Within a languages department, it’s important to have everyone on the same page but give them room to be creative – a good scheme of work can allow for this.”
She adds, “It makes it easy to discern where students should be, from week to week, and gives all the information needed to form a well-rounded lesson regardless of your teaching style.”
Why did we create this scheme of work?
Many Arabic language teachers in our UK network, who attend our conferences and workshops, work outside the state school sector and often lack the contact and support of a modern foreign languages department. From our conversations, it also became clear that some required support and advice around teaching the Arabic language to non-native speakers from scratch and addressing language learning as a cyclical and progressive process. At the same time, we wanted to provide those Arabic teachers teaching towards the GCSE a solid basis upon which to commence that journey with their learners.
Rachel Flatman, Schools Consultant with the British Council, says, “Many of the teachers we work with have asked us: where to start with teaching complete beginners and where a student should be at, after X number of lessons? We hope that this scheme of work will go some way to addressing this.”
How did we create this scheme of work?
After significant discussions, QFI and the British Council gathered a group of Arabic and other MFL teachers who agreed on a template that contained a termly curriculum map with learning objectives and language taught together with a weekly plan broken down into script, grammar, vocabulary, skills, and culture. We also included suggestions for midterm and end-of-term assessments as well as a link to the theme or topic on the GCSE syllabus. We agreed that the scheme would cover a school year of 35 to 40 weeks with two lessons a week.
We then commissioned two experienced MFL teachers, Samira Dani and Nezha Rida, to populate the content. Both have taught Arabic, French, and Spanish in British state secondary schools and have worked as examiners with the UK examining boards. They brought exactly the kind of experience we needed.
We then shared their draft with Arabic language teachers and textbook writers in the UK. We also shared the plan with colleagues in the US from whom we received some especially useful feedback around culture and developing cultural competency. The comments and suggestions that came back covered every aspect of the scheme and sparked a rich discussion around “using language in communicative contexts” and what constitutes “authentic language.” We decided that it would be useful to include an introduction to the scheme of work in which we allude to many of the issues raised by the reviewers.
The scheme as it now stands is a distillation of all this and yet remains at its heart the beginning of a pathway towards the GCSE, which is the standard examination taken by British students. In its current form, it tests the learner’s ability in Modern Standard Arabic, fuSHa. “We have tried to keep it to a format that should be familiar to MFL departments in UK schools,” says Rachel, who was closely involved in the scheme’s development.
Is a scheme of work all the teacher needs?
No. The scheme of work allows the teacher to arrange a sequence of learning across a whole school year and see how grammar, vocabulary, script, skills, activities, culture, recycling, and assessment can all be balanced. In addition, the teachers still need to plan their lessons and design tasks for assessment. They need to consider pupil input and feedback, exercise the freedom to change and amend topics and content, and select the relevant resources for the learners’ needs as well as appropriate teaching techniques and approaches to make the course interesting, meaningful, and fun.
Can students benefit from the scheme of work?
Yes. The students will know what to learn and when. The way they will be assessed. How all the different things they do fit together. Understanding the plan will give them a sense of security to know what is coming and what is expected to achieve. They will be prepared for what is going to happen and report back to their parents.
At the same time, as students progress through the scheme of work, there may well develop a perception of how the different elements of the language learning process interconnect.
What are the next steps?
Before we start work on the next stage, we will take time to reflect and see how the scheme works for more of QFI and British Council’s teacher network: how they’ve used it, if it’s been useful, and what suggestions they have for how it can be improved. We are sharing it with the Arabic teachers and will have a webinar in the summer term to explore reactions and talk in more detail about the scheme and how to plan lessons and assess learning.
QFI and the British Council would also like to convene a working group where teachers from the UK and the US. They will share how they plan lessons to build even stronger international linkages and strengths across teacher networks. Whatever the degree of detail in the scheme of work, it is the lessons the teacher gives that create pleasure, enjoyment, and inspiration. Our goal is for the scheme of work to provide some underpinnings and structure that will allow teachers’ creativity to shine through.
*Tony Calderbank is QFI’s UK Consultant.