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Internationalisation at UCL IOE: drawing on student cultural capitals

Verna Brandford discusses the opportunities students have in the PGCE in Modern Foreign Languages programme to draw upon their own cultural experiences.

16 September 2015

Verna Brandford, Lecturer and Tutor on both the Secondary PGCE in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) and Teach First MFL London Regional Subject Lead talks about how they encourage students to draw on their own cultural experiences.

"The PGCE programme in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) covers the nature and principles of language teaching and learning and cultural knowledge. Students specialise in French, German or Spanish, and undertake subsidiary study and school experience through which they normally teach pupils aged 11 to 16. This programme has been designed to enable students to be granted Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) for Key Stages 3 and 4 (11–16 age range).

Sessions on culture and global dimension

The course tutor offers a session on culture through which student teachers are encouraged to think what it means in their teaching subjects and draw on their cultural experiences throughout the course.

The course tutor also invites a staff member from the Development Education Research Centre of the UCL Institute of Education into the session to talk with students teachers about Global Dimension. The detail information about Global Dimension is available to them through Moodle.

Drawing on cultural capitals of students and pupils in their placement schools

The course has culturally diverse student body e.g. British, Chinese, French, German and Spanish. The course tutor tries to ensure that students do not always get together with others from the same language group and everyone speaks before they leave the classroom. Student teachers are also asked to be aware of cultural capitals of pupils in their classrooms at placement. I instruct students to find out what pupils know already and not to make assumptions that they know nothing.

In fact, pupils often tell a lot of information that student teachers do not know. That makes those pupils feel they had something offered and had knowledge that is not drawn upon.

A week abroad

The course offers a week trip to a European country, such as Germany, Italy and Spain, which is designed for student teachers to learn cultural aspects of pedagogies.

This trip is optional and self-funded, but a number of students have participated in this trip – 24 students (12 Spain, 7 Germany and 5 Italy) in 2015. Those participants usually stay for a whole week in schools to do observation of classes and collaborative teaching.

Reflective log on students’ own cultural experiences

The participants in the week trip abroad have to complete a reflective log on their experiences during their stay in the host schools. They are asked to describe the five sections that include:

  • thinking about their expectations and cultural comparisons;
  • first impressions about schools and people;
  • observations of teaching and learning;
  • interviews with teachers or pupils in their host schools; and
  • lasting impressions.

Moreover, student teachers of Teach First programme are also asked to record their previous and ongoing intercultural encounters and experiences, together with their biography of intercultural competences including their personal history and characteristics that may have influenced how they respond to intercultural situations. In fact, student teachers find those forms really useful.

Challenges: a lack of funds for students studying abroad

A number of students of MFL or other subjects in the PGCE programme are interested in the week trip abroad, however, a lack of financial support discourages students to participate in the trip.

They will be able to apply for Erasmus funds if that travel period is longer than a few weeks, but at the same time meeting all the requirements for Qualified Teacher Status might be jeopardised."