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Sarah Rae: an innovator in modern foreign languages – University of Reading

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Sarah Rae: an innovator in modern foreign languages

A love of languages, flexible education and inspirational teachers have given Sarah Rae the fulfilling vocation she always dreamed of.

Sarah Rae had never intended to go into education and took work as a PA while she considered what career to pursue. With a degree in languages and occasional work translating, Sarah knew she wanted to use her language skills in a role that fulfilled her.

“I really wanted a more inspiring, rewarding job that used my languages, so I did an observation in a secondary school. I knew it was for me straight away and I decided to go for it. It was definitely the right decision!”

Sarah Rae

Sarah's first step into the world of education was when she enrolled on a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at the Institute of Education in 2010. Due to the Institute of Education's excellent network of local schools, Sarah went straight into a Reading Partnership School to teach. She was immediately absorbed into her new career. Rewarding, challenging and a lot of fun; it proved the perfect route for Sarah.

Flexible study and excellent partnerships

Thinking about further qualifications within education, a year later Sarah returned to the University of Reading to complete her Master's in Education with a specialism in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL).

“The MA was really flexible and this meant I could continue to work. An added bonus was that I had 60 master's credits accrued from having done my PGCE with Reading. The fact I was entitled to an alumni MA discount, made it a very easy decision! ”

Sarah Rae

As a teacher in one of the Institute of Education's partnerships schools, Sarah really benefited from the close working relationship between the Institute of Education and the school in which she worked.  Not only were the school very understanding but the inherent flexibility of the Institute of Education's career-friendly MA Education enabled Sarah to continue in regular employment.

“I couldn't have done without that flexible part time aspect of the MA; even with that, I worked constantly as I had my job challenging me as well, but I found I enjoyed studying better the second time around. It was so inspiring because it linked directly to what I was doing in the school. I found I could focus aspects of my study on certain classes at school, to their benefit as well as mine.”

Sarah Rae

Content and Language Integrated Learning

In her role as a teacher, Sarah has embraced a new and exciting teaching methodology, Content and Language Integrated Learning, where students are immersed in language. Using this method, the teaching of any subject, a science for instance, is conducted in a foreign language. The course content for the subject remains the same but the foreign language used is at a level all students can understand. Sarah believes that working in a foreign language engages a higher level of thinking in students.

Sarah found that simplifying the language and removing communication difficulties placed all students on an even level. The simpler terms used, although in a foreign language, meant that students who were more proficient no longer had an advantage over those who usually struggled with their learning.

Using this methodology, less able students have been found to work at higher levels, leading to increased confidence.

“I am very proud of getting this into my school's curriculum. It's very rare in the UK, but in pursuing the method, I saw enough evidence to lead to timed lessons: Geography, Music and Food Technology were all taught in French. It was a true culture shift and it worked.”

This fascinating research-led teaching grew from Sarah's master's studies and she became keen to integrate the method into her school. Working closely with the Institute of Education's Professor Suzanne Graham and on other projects with other universities, Sarah delved deeper into the research of bilingual education.

Sarah's career has also benefitted from her MA-led enthusiasm and hard work: she became Head of Language Specialism, an innovator in her field and International Education Coordinator.

“We have just been conferred with an International Schools Award from the British Council, which I am delighted about. What I studied at MA is still very much integrated with the school and its department of languages.”

Sarah Rae

Inspirational teachers

Sarah cites Professor Suzanne Graham as an inspiration due to her wide research interests and great expertise in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), not least her innovative work in a research programme centred on excellence in language teaching, called PDC in MFL.

“Suzanne drew me towards a lot of research that was very inspirational. Once in that field you get these contacts and research time that is frankly impossible when you're only teaching as there is no time to think. Doing the MA lets you take a step back to absorb and appreciate the good work of the University and that impact is hugely positive on my day-to day-work.”

Sarah Rae

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