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Blog post Part of special issue: Spotlight on language and literacy

Editorial: Spotlight on language and literacy

Barbara Skinner, Professor in TESOL and Education at Ulster University

Findings from studies captured in this special issue make for compelling reading about the direction of language and literacy research in the UK and further afield.

Ian Collen, from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, kick starts this collection by reporting on the first British Council survey of language trends in Northern Ireland. Ian finds that most language learning in Northern Ireland continues to decline, and suggests in his post how modern language learning uptake might be improved. Sarah O’Neill, also from Queen’s University Belfast, reinforces the message of the struggles facing modern languages in Northern Ireland, and reports on the day-to-day challenges facing two modern languages teachers and their desire to reimagine the current GCSE. From the University of Cambridge, Karen Forbes and Nicola Morea’s research explores the existence and scope of language-related policies in secondary schools in England and finds only six of the schools researched had any form of dedicated whole-school language policy. One contradiction they discovered was the tension between promoting multilingualism in schools and maintaining high standards in English use and proficiency.

The next two blog posts in this series focus not on modern languages but on language as an enabler or barrier. Michael Inglis and Alice Deignan, from the University of Leeds, find that adapting to changes in science language can be challenging for pupils transitioning from primary to secondary school. Part of the challenge for school pupils lies in dealing with science words which are polysemous to some extent, that is, they have more than one meaning – such as the difference between breakfast giving energy and the mechanical energy of a car. In her blog, Sally Ann Jones, from the National Institute of Education in Singapore, investigates ways in which pupil–teacher classroom interaction can support thinking skills in English and mathematics lessons. Her research team labelled the genre of talk in English lessons as routine, while the genre in mathematics lessons was labelled as guidance; with routine focusing on the elicitation of talk in language lessons and guidance focusing on the accomplishment of a mathematical procedure. This special issue concludes with a blog by Dominic Wyse and Alice Bradbury from the Institute of Education, focusing on the need to gain perspective on media responses to educational research (especially research like theirs) on the teaching of reading and writing, which can be emotive.

I would like to thank all these authors for agreeing to write for this BERA Blog special issue. These contributors share a passion and dedication to improving education in the field of language and literacy. Education research is not easy to do in isolation, it needs collaboration with others; so, if after reading this collection, something has piqued your interest, please get in touch so more quality education research can be done.