We’ve been blogging at some length about the new Education Law and particularly about what it means for teachers of English. In the new curriculum for Foreign Languages the Key Competences to be developed have undergone change. There are now six, namely:
In this blog post, we’re going to deal with the key competence of mediation and consider these questions
1. What is mediation in a broad sense?
2. Why is mediation important?
3. What sub skills are involved in mediation?
4. How can we develop (and how are we already developing) this competence in our students? We will further expand on this point in the next blog post.
- What is mediation in a broad sense?
The definition of mediation in the LOMLOE (click the link and scroll down to number 4) is paraphrase / translation of how mediation is presented in the companion volume to the CEFR (from page 103). Indeed, it was the new emphasis placed on mediation in this document, including can-do descriptors, that saw it being integrated into curricula around the world. In Spain, Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas have been teaching and assessing mediation since way back in 2019!
A mediator, then, is a ‘social agent’ who ‘creates bridges’ and helps ‘construct or convery meaning’. (Council of Europe). In other words, a mediator helps someone understand something they don’t understand.
Mediation can involve:
- Mediating a text – helping someone understand a text (written, spoken, a video, an infographic etc) that they don’t have access to because of ‘linguistic, cultural, semantic or technical barriers’
- Mediating concepts – ‘facilitating access to knowledge and concepts for others’ – we teachers do this every day!
- Mediating communication – facilitating successful communication where there may be misunderstandings or disagreements
2. Why is mediation important?
Well, the world is changing and the focus on mediation reflects this. To begin with, only about a fifth of English speakers are native speakers (depending on how you define the problematic term ‘native’) and there will inevitably arise cultural and linguistic gaps in communication. Furthermore, more and more people work across different fields and don’t ‘speak each other’s language’. I experience that in my own job: when the finance team sends spreadsheets I need them to put their mumbo jumbo into layman’s terms! There is so much information out there these days: just think about the internet. And that information is available in a multitude of formats. And we often tell people about what we find out: changing the format or deciding what bits to leave in our explanation and what bits to leave out depending on our listener: all mediation. And within education of course, you have mediation going on all the time: teachers are masters at it as we put what we know across to our students in ways they can understand (teaching is more than transmission of knowledge of course, but that’s one for another day). Globally, we might talk about mobility, immigration and a need for better international relations: mediation is key for all these areas.
3. What subskills are involved in mediation?
Enter the descriptors! Just as the CEFR has can-do descriptors or ‘subskills’ that indicate a certain level of competence in the areas of speaking, writing, listening and reading at a certain level (eg B2) , the companion volume includes descriptors for mediation: so in teaching and assessing mediation these descriptors need to be at the forefront of our minds.
Page 104 of the companion volume shows the grouping of different activities and strategies for mediation (click to enlarge):
You can check out the activities and strategies and their individual descriptors in the companion volume, but another very manageable way of accessing the descriptors is to use the teacher toolkit on the Global Scale of English – a Pearson tool which has taken the CEFR learning objectives and expanded upon them and mapped them to a more granular scale with collaboration from thousands of teachers around the world. Here is a short video to see how to access the mediation descriptors for ‘collaborating in a group’:
4. How can we develop (and how are we already developing) this competence in our students?
It’s important to note that when looking through the activities, strategies and the individual descriptors, much of what is there we will already be doing. We just haven’t been labelling it as mediation and we haven’t been signposting it to our students. And we possibly haven’t been specifically creating tasks to work on the strategies and then assessing how well our students have mastered them.
We might split ‘working on mediation’ into two parts:
- Activities we do in class that develop different mediation subskills.
- ‘Bespoke’ mediation activities. Ie. activities where we put multiple subskills to use with the aim of facilitating someone’s access to a text or facilitating communication between two people.
Let’s consider 1.
Have you ever got your students to:
- Write a report of a class discussion?
- Take notes in a video to pick out the main points?
- Introduce someone else in the class?
- Work on a group task together with students bringing other students into the discussion and everyone making suggestions?
- Summarise a written or spoken text?
- Ask questions to check THEY are being understood?
- Explain what a graph or bar chart means?
- Relate a story or a film to their personal experiences?
- Invite other members of the class to speak?
- Give an example to make something clearer?
- Explain task instructions to a student who doesn’t understand?
You probably have done some or all of the above: in that case you’ve been developing some of the subskills that a mediator has at their disposal (all of the above are simplified or paraphrased descriptors). But now, given the appearance of mediation as a key competence for foreign languages in the LOMLOE, we might be more rigorous about including these types of activities in our planning. That’s only the half of it though…
In our next blog post, we are going to look at point 2: ‘bespoke’ or ‘full’ mediation activities for mediating a text, mediating concepts or mediating communication. See you soon!
For more information on the GSE, which can be used to write curricula, plan lessons and assess, click here.