St Robert’s Catholic School in Newtown, Victoria, now embraces the Italian language every day.

There are many internal and external factors that influence how fast students pick up a new language.

While education has undergone a major paradigm shift, favouring a more autonomous, learner-centred pedagogy, teachers of language can still struggle to make learning relevant, motivating and fun for all.

Given the challenge of acquiring a new language, both a change in pedagogy and organisational structures may be needed to create the optimal conditions for student success.

A growing number of Catholic primary schools across Melbourne have been brave enough to have higher expectations for language learning and progress; this is the story of the “Teachers as co-learners” model.

How does it work?

According to Sarah Kelly, primary principal at St Robert’s, the “Teachers as co-learners” model isn’t about changing one thing.

“Sometimes it’s about disrupting the norm and changing almost everything,” Kelly said.

“If we want to see different learning outcomes, we need to look critically at the support mechanisms that are in place and focus on taking the next strategic, evidence-informed step forward.

“At first, conversations about real improvement can be confronting but our students are all entitled to a quality learning experience and this includes languages. ‘

“At St Robert’s, the team needed to be given permission to play, find the joy and create a unique model of language learning for our school.”

The idea is simple; essentially, all teaching staff need to explicitly make time for 10 to 15 minutes of Italian language learning every day.

We emphasise that teachers are not teaching Italian; they are proactively learning together with their students.

Classroom teachers are well-supported to use (Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools developed) resources and tools that are mapped against the Victorian Curriculum: Languages.

The focus of the language being introduced, practised and used in class by teachers and students every day is communicative and relevant to allow learners to express ideas and speak about their learning every day.

In the case of St Robert’s, it is important to point out that in the first year of this approach, none of the teachers spoke Italian.

Strangely enough, this seems to be the reason why this model is working and growing.

The model is supported by a language expert who empowers the classroom teachers to learn.

Claudia is the new dynamic and enthusiastic assistant who is supporting the teachers and students to use “high frequency” language every day at St Robert’s.

Shifting to an agile daily language immersion experience, which is inclusive of all, has greatly improved our students’ and families’ confidence in learning Italian.

It is quite humbling to witness the fun and enjoyment that is happening in all of our classrooms.

Yes, teachers being co-learners is both a quiet and meaningful revolution.

Claudia Aperi on facilitating the model

My name is Claudia Aperi and 10 months ago I joined the St Robert’s Catholic School community as an Italian language assistant.

I personally consider this new Italian program particularly fascinating for many reasons.

When I learned languages at school, I experienced long, boring lessons that focused on grammar, with no room for error.

The program at St Robert’s is so different from my experience of traditional language learning.

It is very interactive and engaging and the students are actually confident to speak!

Daily contact with the language makes a huge difference.

If students only learn language once a week they struggle to remember and don’t have the confidence to use it.

Also, we don’t teach topics; the vocabulary we teach includes functional words that can be used every day, no matter what topic or subject we are learning about.

In this context, the students are starting to use their new language skills to communicate and express simple ideas.

Each word in a sentence is learned with a gesture.

This makes the lessons fun and active for the children and teachers.

In addition, it helps students to remember and be able to use the language confidently with their peers.

The use of intentional gestures also supports vocabulary acquisition.

In the daily lessons, everyone has fun, suggesting new gestures and games for using the language.

Using gestures, the students are able to remember the words and then make sentences, building their language more easily and quickly.

Everyone at St Robert’s learns Italian but the promotion of the Italian language doesn’t finish in the classroom, it continues throughout the day.

In the morning as the children come to school, I welcome them in Italian and I constantly talk to them in Italian during their breaks and even during their sporting activities.

Every moment of the day is a good opportunity to practise this wonderful language and the school leaders are very supportive, offering guidance and suggestions for classroom participation and teaching strategies.

Instead of using a bell or music to signal the end of class, I have suggested we create a short Italian message to create another authentic opportunity for students and teachers to learn the language.

Learners are also immersed in Italian in context during their specialist subjects as well, where I introduce new “high frequency” Italian words, which are linked to music, art, yoga, sport, technology and gardening.

The children seem very enthusiastic and curious to learn.

The process of learning Italian is a comprehensive process and this language is very much a part of the school community.

The program is still new but as soon as you walk into the school you can hear: “Buongiorno, come stai?”

I love how much everyone wants to learn italiano!

Student feedback

Students in our class are learning to speak Italian more confidently through enjoyable daily lessons.

These lessons are always fun for everyone and we are developing a stronger understanding of Italian words, sentences and gestures.

During each lesson the use of gestures provides the opportunity for a broad range of activities.

Claudia is heaps of fun and allows us to feel comfortable in the class even when we might make mistakes.

Our favourite part of the lesson is when we all interact and speak Italian with each other.

The daily Italian lessons at St Robert’s taught me so much Italian in a short amount of time.

Claudia did a great job maintaining the Italian lessons during home learning.

I loved learning Italian and was proud to win the first Italian Grade 6 award at St Robert’s last year.

Claudia is doing a fantastic job teaching us Italian.

I like that we have the lessons everyday as it helps me to remember what we have learnt.

I also like that we get to learn a language because it will be helpful if I go to Italy one day.

Italian is fun, I say the words I learn at school at home to Mum and Dad.

Parent feedback

The introduction of Italian lessons at St Robert’s has been a resounding success in our family.

The immersive format has seen our children proudly speaking Italian at the dinner table within a few weeks.

The daily lessons, led by Signorina Claudia, are fun, short and memorable and the Italian language has become as much a part of their daily routine as brushing their teeth!

As class teachers are present and learning Italian along with their students, the language is reinforced throughout the school day.

Bravo!

Classroom teacher feedback  

Through this program, we are not only immersed in the Italian language, but also the culture of the country.

Our students learn more quickly because we incorporate the phrases in our daily classroom routines.

My students and I are enjoying every step of this fantastic experience.

How fortunate we have been to have such an enthusiastic and authentic language educator as Signorina Claudia.

She has been wonderful with the students and very supportive as staff have learned alongside her.

 Her enthusiasm and gentle approach with staff, students and our school community are very much appreciated!

Grazie.