Scottish Storyline Method Of Teaching Foreign Languages Education Essay

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It is inescapable that all first language learners, with few exceptions, will learn a first language. Conversely second language learners' success is not assured, may well become fossilized, and learners hardly ever achieve native-like command of their second language (Wikipedia 2009a). A second language is any language learned after the acquisition of the first language or mother tongue, regardless of the situation in which it is learned or the purpose for which it is learned. However the main and defining difference between a first language and a second language revolves around age (Cook 2001, Mitchell & Myles 2004, Wikipedia 2009a). The crucial distinction between a foreign language and a second language is in reference to why we use that language. A foreign language is learned for use in a region where that language is not generally spoken (Wikipedia 2009b).

In regards to the advantages and disadvantages of teaching foreign languages to young learners in comparison to adults then it is a controversial area. However what can be generally asserted without clearly contradicting the data is that under natural circumstances and conditions those whose exposure to a second language commences in childhood in general ultimately surpass and outstrip those whose exposure begins in adulthood. This is even though those who commence their exposure in adulthood typically show some initial advantage over those whose exposure to a second language commences in childhood (Singleton [1989] as cited in Cook 2001). However teachers or second language learning experts are rarely the ones to decide when children are taught a second language. Rather it is almost without fail that educational systems make those decisions and usually arrive first at a decision of the optimal learning age based on political or economic grounds, and then seek justification for their decision. Consequently, regardless of the various advantages and disadvantages of learning foreign languages at various ages, the overriding importance for teachers is to understand that at particular ages students prefer and are suited to particular methods (Cook 2001). Does the Scottish storyline method provide the methods that are suitable for young learners and their particular needs in the pursuit of learning a foreign language? How far has the Scottish storyline method been taken on and accepted in the world of foreign language teaching?

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The Scottish Storyline was a creation of staff tutors, Steve Bell, Sallie Harkness and Fred Rendell, at Jordan Hill College of Education, Glasgow, 1967 (British Council 2006, Harkness 1993, Pendarvis 1998, Storyline-Scotland retrieved 2009). It was a direct and immediate response to the Primary Education report of 1966 which recommended a more integrated teaching approach that would produce an education of the entire child, a student centred education based on developmental norms and inductive learning (Churcher retrieved 2009, Pendarvis 1998). Has the storyline method, as a response to the requirements of the Primary Education report of the mid 1960's, provided a more integrated teaching approach and to what extent? What possibilities does the storyline method provide in relation to linking students' foreign language lessons to their wider learning and experiences in an integrated global environment of the twenty first century?

The staff tutor group worked with teachers and staff responsible for curriculum development aiming to give the necessary support needed to move to an integrated system (Harkness 1993, Storyline-Scotland retrieved 2009). Gradually a methodology materialized that has been cultivated in the west of Scotland over the last thirty years (Storyline-Scotland retrieved 2009). What are the principles and foundations of the storyline method and how beneficial are they in the teaching of foreign languages to young learners? Are there any problem areas of language learning where the Scottish storyline method falls short and how can these be overcome? How demanding is the storyline method of the teacher and is it justified by the output of the learners?

Although the storyline methodology therefore emerged against a backdrop of teaching children it was designed for teaching young children subjects in their first language and its use has almost exclusively been in that sphere (British Council 2006). The leap to using the methodology for teaching young learners foreign languages can therefore not be taken automatically and needs further research and experimentation. In fact by the turn of the twenty first century in spite of Storyline's positive recognition and interest internationally it has still not been fully exploited for foreign language teaching (Churcher retrieved 2009).

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The storyline method is founded and established on several principles that may be called the principles of story, anticipation, teacher's rope, ownership, context, and structure before activity (Creswell retrieved 2009). The story form being a pivotal element of human experience provides children with a predictable linear structure (Creswell retrieved 2009). The story form is a cultural universal, all people in all places enjoy stories and far from being just some informal or casual entertainment it mirrors a fundamental and powerful form in which we make sense of the world and our experiences (Egan 1998). This furnishes children with a meaningful framework for learning what we are trying to teach them (Creswell retrieved 2009).

Certain key aspects of the story form are utilised by the storyline method, namely the setting, characterisation, and plot (LTS retrieved in 2009a, LTS retrieved in 2009b). The scene is set in a particular time and place leading to the way of life of that time and place being investigated (Storyline retrieved 2009). Often the learners will become the characters that are created leading to students feeling personally involved (Storyline retrieved 2009, Storyline-Scotland 2000). This imaginary environment that is created often grants ample room to engage with sensitive issues such as family relationships or other delicate issues such as drug abuse (Storyline retrieved 2009, Storyline-Scotland 2000). This may be more difficult in a foreign language lesson but certainly the sense of personal involvement of the children is something that would be a motivating aspect in their pursuit of a foreign language.

This sense of student involvement is carried on through the principle of anticipation where a logical progression and narrative sequence enable children to follow the story from one episode to the next with each episode being dependent on the proceeding one (Creswell retrieved 2009, Storyline retrieved 2009). The introduction and use of anticipation by way of the logical progression of the story is merged with other child experiences such as the curiosity of the students and appealing to their fantasy (Churcher retrieved 2009, Creative, Dialogues retrieved 2009, Ehlers retrieved 2009). Pupils questioned about this approach have responded with excitement, enthusiasm and interest leading to children feeling they are part of an inclusive learning environment (Creative Dialogues retrieved 2009).

Learners' feelings have an important influence in the process of learning a foreign language. Particular consideration is drawn by Ericsson (1997 as cited in Churcher retrieved 2009) to the significant role of self esteem and risk taking in the learners readiness and eagerness to speak in the foreign language. Ericsson (1997 as cited in Churcher retrieved 2009) analyses how an array of differences among learners within the affective or "feelings" sphere of human experience can effect their willingness and desire to speak within the foreign language (Churcher retrieved 2009). Successful language learning is governed by the learner's readiness to take risks. Those possessing higher self esteem are more capable of taking risks and therefore progress, develop and are more successful in their language learning (Churcher retrieved 2009). Storyline bestows a relaxed situation in which the learners feel well at ease, unthreatened and accepted. This is in particular the very atmosphere that can be exploited for foreign language lessons leading to the provision of a context being created and opportunities being provided for expression by a wide range of personality types (Churcher retrieved 2009).

The principle of the teacher's rope is the storyline itself planned and prepared by the teacher. The teacher can plan the storyline and have the security of knowing what knowledge, skills, attitudes, and specific curricular goals they intend pupils to acquire (Creswell retrieved 2009, Harkness 1993). The teacher holds this rope which advances sequentially but with enough flexibility to allow various bends and twists that enable the pupils' responses to be a vital part of the development and give children their control (Creswell retrieved 2009, Harkness 1993). However the temptation for the teacher to over control the pace of the lesson must be resisted if we are to empower children and avoid killing their creativity (Churcher retrieved 2009). If the temptation to over control the pace of the lesson is avoided then the storyline method gifts pupils with a wonderful sense of involvement and control that makes the method a very child centred methodology and provides for genuine student centred learning (British Council 2006, Churcher retrieved 2009, Harkness 1993, Pendarvis 1998).

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The control that the storyline method gives children leads to the principle of ownership which empowers children with a feeling of responsibility. The storyline method reveres and respects children by beginning each episode with key questions designed and submitted and expounded upon by the teacher, recognizing that children are not empty vessels and collectively know far more on a subject than as individuals (Creswell retrieved 2009, LTS retrieved in 2009b, Pendarvis 1998, Storyline retrieved 2009, Storyline-Scotland 2000). This recognition of children's minds not being simply vacant stems from the theory that knowledge is complex and many layered and that learning is guided by one's prior knowledge and experience (Storyline retrieved 2009). This is referred to by storyline as the principle of context. New learning must be linked to previous knowledge so that learners can move from what is known to the unknown. Context provides children with the reason for learning and a predictable linear structure in the form of story, a context the children understand (Creswell retrieved 2009). Storyline seeks to take advantage of this and practically utilise the existing knowledge of students, their ideas and their prior experience (Churcher retrieved 2009, Harkness 1993, LTS retrieved in 2009a, Storyline retrieved 2009, Storyline-Scotland 2000).

Establishing learning on one's previous knowledge, experience and ideas poses, in the eyes of many teachers, a problem if we are to adapt the Scottish storyline for use in teaching foreign languages. One of the difficulties foreign language teachers often have to contemplate and consider is the starting knowledge of the learners and the input necessary to engage children in the desired language activities (Bell retrieved 2009). Therefore to utilise storyline to recycle and revise language previously learned seems an obvious choice, however the potential to employ storyline to introduce new language with an initial teacher centred presentation appears more dubious (Churcher retrieved 2009). This leads many foreign language teachers, despite hearing and reading about the storyline method and showing an interest in adapting the techniques of storyline to language use, to give up quickly. They are confronted with the conclusion that the storyline method is useless for language teaching as pupils either have no or too little knowledge of language to formulate essential questions during their reconstruction (Bell retrieved 2009, Ehlers retrieved 2009).

However if a closer look is taken it can be seen that in fact storyline with its emphasis on learning being based on one's previous knowledge, experience, and ideas does present a great opportunity to teachers of foreign languages. There exists a tension and conflict in modern foreign language teaching between providing learners with adequate support and structure through which to understand and devise language which can lead to artificiality, and the freedom to experiment without guidelines based on their previous knowledge and where they would like to take their knowledge possibly leading to inaccuracies and incomprehensibility (Churcher retrieved 2009). Here is where the storyline method can bridge the gap.

In the area of speaking storyline can proceed significantly to transforming speaking to learn into speaking to communicate. Storyline manages to adopt the characteristic of "unpredictability of speech" which is a feature of real life, whilst maintaining an overall direction by means of the key questions technique (Churcher retrieved 2009). Storyline does not naturally take on the use of drills and therefore it could be concluded that the introduction of new vocabulary in a storyline lesson is a less obvious choice, nevertheless it should not to be ruled out completely (Churcher retrieved 2009, Pendarvis 1998). Concern has been raised about the capacity the storyline methodology has to input new language (Creative Dialogues retrieved 2009). It has occurred that pupils learning through the storyline methodology have had setbacks such as stopping speaking in full sentences and regressing in their learning (Creative Dialogues retrieved 2009). However opportunities exist for language input, for example when children are at the stage of designing a topic such as a busy street. Ownership will be achieved by the children as soon as the street has been created which leads children to feel highly motivated to discuss and feel expert (Bell retrieved 2009). The larger the model the more opportunity there is for language stimulation such as vocabulary needed to present and describe the buildings. Teachers could then proceed to tasks designed to advance and promote word production and problem tackling (Bell retrieved 2009).

Certainly the role of grammar through the storyline methodology is an under explored role, and it may be easy if care is not taken to neglect reading and writing (Churcher retrieved 2009, Creative Dialogues retrieved 2009). However if adequate care is taken by the teacher storyline presents numerous opportunities for foreign language teachers to develop skills in the area of reading and writing by harnessing and drawing on pupils' knowledge and language awareness to good effect in the subject (Brandford retrieved 2009). In reading storyline can assist in imparting linguistic tools to enable learners to transfer relevant reading skills they have acquired to their foreign language learning (Brandford retrieved 2009). In the area of writing the storyline approach reinforces and underlines the focus of different genres and draws on the learner's experience as active participants and their knowledge of writing such as writing frames, to foster confidence and give them a sense of achievement in the target language (Brandford retrieved 2009).

The key aspect in utilising storyline's principle of basing learning on previous knowledge, ideas and experiences in the area of foreign language learning is insuring that incidents in storyline developed by pupils are clearly commensurate with the linguistic levels of the pupils involved (Brandford retrieved 2009). This leads to the great challenge for foreign language teachers of incorporating into lessons suitable materials and activities at appropriate moments (Brandford retrieved 2009).

The principle of structure before activity requires that before we ask children to construct their conceptual model we must make sure that we give them the chance to drive their prior knowledge to the edges. The teacher should provide appropriate structures whether in the form of a frieze, research, writing a report, or a presentation. This structure then enables children who don't possess the necessary skills to proceed and those children with more skills can use the structure or diverge (Creswell retrieved 2009). Scenarios can be created through visualisation with active pupil involvement (Storyline retrieved 2009, Storyline-Scotland retrieved 2009). Visual texts are far more meaningful than any textbook and as well as providing help to less able students still have an open ended feature encompassing more able students and promoting discovery learning (Pendarvis 1998, Storyline retrieved 2009). This stems from storyline's recognition of the limiting effect that direct observations can have on children's ingenuity and imagination at an early stage of study (Storyline retrieved 2009). Rather storyline gives children the opportunity to make their own hypothesis and own their own model, test their model, adapt it and review it (Storyline-Scotland 2000). This is in contrast to a traditional approach of children usually being sent to see the right answers before they have had a chance to design the questions they need to ask (Storyline-Scotland 200). For example if we take a storyline based on the management of staff in a hotel, the storyline method would allow the children to first design their own model of the management of staff in a hotel before taking them for a trip to a hotel to see the real entity.

The teacher's role therefore becomes one of a facilitator, providing little direct instruction (Pendarvis 1998). Good teaching revolves around the quality of partnership between teacher and learner, and being able to design appropriate and effective learning (Storyline-Scotland 2000). The teacher's role becomes a creative one as a designer of education, modelling good questioning technique, and encouraging their students to be independent learners (Storyline-Scotland 2000). This builds an atmosphere of mutual respect, which is affected either positively or negatively by many aspects. Even small matters such as the teacher helping the students display their work can have a positive affect on mutual respect (Storyline-Scotland 2000). However the facilitative approach is more difficult than it appears and a teacher who is a trainee in the field or topic will not only not find good answers or good sources of information, but possibly won't even be able to find good questions (Pendarvis 1998).

The difficulty that the facilitative approach can pose for a teacher is compounded with the high work load and preparation of resources the storyline method imposes on teachers in relation to the output achieved, which is often a learning outcome that is unpredictable (Churcher retrieved 2009, Creative Dialogues retrieved 2009). With two hours per day from a normal busy school timetable often suggested as the amount of time needed to be spent on the storyline method it has to be asked as to whether what is learnt through storyline is worth the time spent on it (Pendarvis 1998). There has been criticism that valuable time is often spent drawing friezes and that the method itself risks loosing its advantage if it is used too often (Creative Dialogues retrieved 2009, Pendarvis 1998). Therefore it must be looked into as to whether this time spent on storyline could be spent on other methods such as immersion techniques that may have better results (Pendarvis 1998).

The modern foreign language teacher's knowledge of the other curriculum areas and their willingness and ability to incorporate relevant aspects into the planning and delivery of the foreign language storyline lesson is of paramount importance if pupils are to be encouraged and inspired to make connections in their learning (Brandford retrieved 2009). This is exactly the purpose storyline was created for. The inception of storyline was as a practical solution to the problem of integrating the curriculum in response to the recommendations of the Primary Education report of 1966 which sought a more integrative teaching approach which would lead to an integration of the curriculum as a combination of interrelated subjects rather than as a number of discrete subjects, and to the promotion and advancement of skills of social interaction (Churcher retrieved 2009, Pendarvis 1998, Storyline-Scotland retrieved 2009). These goals that revolve around a more integrated approach to the curriculum can be achieved through key features possessed by storyline of integration in both skills and subject specialisations and its planned series of episodes (Harkness 1993, LTS retrieved in 2009a). In addition to this it must be realised that the Scottish storyline method is a fully integrative approach in its true sense. There have been other attempts at integrating studies. For example the topic web approach for thematic interdisciplinary studies had at its centre a target theme and from this centre a number of aspects are studied (Storyline retrieved 2009). Integration by this method therefore is just merely a series of random forays into subjects whose common factor is something or anything to do with the key idea (Storyline retrieved 2009). Storyline in contrast enables true curriculum integration (Storyline retrieved 2009).

Exploring a more integrated model of language teaching can only serve to motivate learners to participate and partake in the language learning process and ultimately raise achievement levels (Brandford retrieved 2009). Indeed it has been seen that modern foreign language's most successful and flourishing lessons are those which integrate a number of activities and exercises to develop the different skills and which are carefully chosen to build on previous knowledge and understanding. Storyline attempts to encompass these aspects and provide a number of opportunities to integrate and develop each of the four skills thereby integrating the whole curriculum (Brandford retrieved 2009). This enables pupils to make coherent connections in their learning experiences across the curriculum which includes reading and writing activities and strategies but also encourages them to draw on their knowledge and understanding of the world in foreign language lessons (Brandford retrieved 2009).

This emphasis on integration contained within the Scottish storyline opens the door to modern foreign language lessons raising the cultural awareness of pupils and contributing to their social development and future citizenship in a multicultural society (British Council 2006, Churcher retrieved 2009). This approach provides answers to the fragmentation of learning that has traditionally taken place in classrooms despite an environment and setting of a world demanding more highly skilled workers, workers who can be integrated, workers who can work independently while linked to many global work groups (Storyline retrieved 2009). The Scottish storyline approach with its emphasis on the art of curriculum integration enables students to learn the skills of integration which are characteristic of the twenty first century (Storyline retrieved 2009).

The reality is that education systems are affected by the societies in which they operate and reflect values that represent current thinking in these countries (Storyline-Scotland retrieved 2009). With the need for integrated skills in the world of the twenty first century the Scottish storyline corresponds with these values precisely. The storyline method empowers educational establishments and teachers to prepare lifelong learners and competent decision makers who can make connections between real life and academic skills, concepts and attitudes (Storyline retrieved 2009). This has to be the way forward as although in the past the teacher was the authority by means of the textbook, and knowledge was something learnt with the emphasis placed on the content not the process, this is no longer the case (Storyline-Scotland 2000). Now the approach and access to facts and information is easier and we have moved from a fact-based education system to a skill based system through which methodologies such as the Scottish storyline can be utilised to the full (Storyline-Scotland 2000).

Despite the Scottish storyline not being specifically designed for teaching foreign languages, the possible drawbacks in certain areas such as new language presentation, and the heavy workload needed by teachers it does provide a viable teaching methodology for young learners of foreign languages. Teachers who wish to employ the storyline method need to be knowledgeable of the other curriculum areas, care must be taken for teachers not to over control the pace of the lesson, and effort must be made to introduce suitable materials and activities at appropriate moments. If this can be achieved then the Scottish storyline method offers an approach that is child centred, makes children feel relaxed, involved, gives them ownership and respect, provides an inclusive learning environment, affords them with a purpose for learning, enables children to make coherent connections in their learning experiences, which creates a truly integrative approach.