With an educational reform in sight, naturally we’d all like to know just what effect it will have on our foreign language teaching practice and the way in which we will be expected to work with, incorporate, and draw on the new curriculum. Clearly, we can expect to encounter both structural changes and changes in the terminology we use to describe our students’ learning. That said, the way we ensure our students acquire knowledge and apply learning strategies particular to foreign language learning will hardly be affected.
The first structural change of note is the way the new law orders and organises learning objectives so that these can be accommodated into the reinstated three-cycle Primary programme. The subsequent reordering of subjects is done with the aim of fomenting the development of students’ competences by area. This means that assessment in Primary will grade students on their development of competences and will be reflected in an Exit report unique to each student at the end of the Primary stage.
Another novelty in the new law affects the number of hours we are required to teach in each subject area. In the case of Foreign Languages, the amount of teaching hours has been set at 120 hours per year in Primary first and second cycle and at 125 hours in Primary third cycle.
As expected, we will be required to become familiar with a range of new terms in the LOMLOE. Objectives are the learning goals learners are expected to have achieved by the end of the Primary stage and are closely tied the Key competences and the Core skills. The Key competences are identified in the Exit Profiles of Primary students and are the Spanish Education System’s interpretation of the competences identified by the Council of the European Union as being necessary to ensure lifelong learning. The Core skills, on the other hand, are designed to guarantee that students have assimilated the basic knowledge needed to understand a subject area or field of knowledge and are the link between student’s Exit Profile, the relevant Essential knowledge and the subject areas or subject fields covered by the Assessment criteria. This Essential knowledge includes the factual knowledge, skills and attitudes that comprise a subject area or subject field and their acquisition involves the assimilation of Core skills.
Another term we must become familiar with is Learning situations. The new curriculum establishes that these situations should allow students to carry out actions associated with Key competences that enable these competences to be developed.
Turning to the pedagogical principals underpinning the LOMLOE, the new legislation gives a lot of importance to the fact that the official languages in Spain should be used as support during the process of learning a foreign language. The new law also establishes that oral comprehension, expression and interaction must be given priority during the Primary Education. Likewise, it should be noted that express mention is made of the desirability of learning subject areas in a foreign language, though it is pointed out that the terminology specific to these subject areas must also be acquired by a student in their own official language.
The LOMLOE states that within the specific foreign languages curriculum, the Plurilingual competence is one of the Key competences to be reflected in a student’s Primary stage Exit Profile. This explains why the curriculum gives central importance to the two main aspects of plurilingualism, namely the communicative and intercultural aspects. This entails students not only be aware of the workings of a foreign language, but also demonstrate curiosity about the social and cultural milieu that foreign language exists in.
As a result, a student’s own experiences when carrying out simple communication acts should form the basis for the development of the Core skills needed to learn a foreign language more formally. It follows that we will continue using tried and tested teaching strategies, such as facilitating communicative practice opportunities in which students’ comprehension, production and interaction with peers are all equally essential, though it will be necessary to reflect on our teaching practice in order to make sure linguistic diversity is kept to the fore.
Essential knowledge, which includes knowledge, skills and attitudes, is grouped into three blocks by the LOMLOE. The first block, Communication, stresses that all the Essential knowledge needed to carry out communicative activities, such as comprehension, production, interaction and searching for information, should be systematically activated. The second block, Plurlingualism, emphasises the importance of a student’s capacity to reflect on the Essential knowledge needed to understand and produce a foreign language, as well as the importance of the linguistic repertoire each student brings with them. In the third block, Interculturality, Essential knowledge and respect for other cultures are linked to the foreign language in question and emphasis is placed on the fact that learning about a language and the culture it forms part of should offer students an opportunity for personal enrichment. The LOMLOE also establishes that Essential knowledge is underpinned by six specific competences (understanding texts, producing texts, oral expression and oral interaction, using communicative strategies, using personal linguistic repertoires and respect for linguistic diversity), which, in turn, are linked to the descriptors in a student’s Exit Profile, where what they are expected to have achieved by the end of the Primary stage is established.
Having analysed the curriculum novelties outlined in the LOMLOE, the main conclusion to draw is that our role as foreign language teachers hasn’t changed at all. Essentially, we must carry on striving to develop our students’ linguistic abilities, whilst maintaining a gradual approach to the development of their oral and reading comprehension, their oral production skills and of their written production skills. It is already widely accepted that learning a foreign language necessarily involves exposure to and understanding of the culture of which that language forms a part, an approach that does not differ from our current, long-standing practice. However, what we do need to start taking into account is the fact that many of our classes are already plurilingual, which makes it unnecessary to look beyond the classroom to bring students’ attention to this fact. To this end ensuring students’ are aware of plurality and linguistic diversity should form part of our wider goal to help our students recognise and appreciate these phenomena in society as a whole.