1. General information on INCA project

INCA- Intercultural Calendar for Early Multilingual Learning aims to develop innovative materials for teaching languages to pre-primary and primary learners (ages 5 to 7), to motivate early learners to foreign language learning and to improve intercultural understanding and multilingual comprehension.

The project’s objective is to introduce early learners from seven participating countries (EL, FR, ES, UK, DE, EE, CZ) to seven languages (EL, FR, ES, EN, DE, ET, CZ) originating from five different language groups (Greek, Romance, Germanic, Slavic and Uralic language groups). The project has developed an autonomous package of innovative tools for multilingual learning (levels 0-1) and intercultural understanding and has evaluated and disseminated those tools to kindergartens and primary schools around Europe.

All participating countries have contributed with their customs and traditions to the creation of an interactive intercultural calendar. Through this calendar, -month by month- young learners are familiarized with the different languages in different cultural backgrounds. The project’s idea was based on the “cooperation of cultures” and intercultural dialogue. The target groups (pupils of 5 to 7 years old) can acquire basic skills of listening, responding, speaking and writing in one or more languages, selected from the seven language versions developed.

In order to meet its objectives, the project has developed the following package of teaching materials including:

1) A DVD (software)

Description of the product

INCA DVD is elaborating an interactive intercultural Calendar containing around 60 three-dimensional videos including representations of customs, traditions and celebrations from all participating countries (EL, FR, ES, EN, DE, EE, CZ). These videos are used to introduce early learners to language learning and to promote interaction between education and culture. The project has used modern ICT technology, 3D graphic design, video animation technology and audio techniques.
The DVD’s playful side favors the stimulation of children who are immersed in the story. The user’s attention is stimulated by a question (the questions) asked at the end of each tradition. It also summarizes the keywords that were part of the story with their accompanying visual presentation in order to anchor them in the mind of the users. Sometimes these are words commonly used; sometimes these are specific words that are not part of common general vocabulary.

Product’s approach

This software is part of a series of products following the methodology of teaching young children. This methodology aims to foster in children an immediate motivation which is different from that of an adolescent or an adult. It concerns the affective aspect of learning a foreign language and insists on relationships between the linguistic system and fun activities.

2) Printing materials

The printing materials are addressed to teachers and have been developed to elaborate the language material and evaluate the pupils’ progress. The printing materials include two books:

First Book: Contains language material for the seven language versions. It is addressed to levels 0-1.
Second Book: Contains exercises and activities for the seven language versions.

3) Web site

The web site is developed in seven languages including a Forum and is supporting the project’s actions and disseminating its results around Europe.

INCA products can be used as an autonomous learning method or as a supplementary tool at kindergartens and primary schools in a once a week basis.

2. Participants to the evaluation process

All 7 partners (EL, FR, ES, UK, DE, EE, CZ) of our project have evaluated our products to kindergartens and elementary schools of their countries and abroad.

The 6 partners (EL, FR, ES, DE, EE, CZ) have used the same model of evaluation and the same questionnaire translated into seven languages. Specifically, 39 teachers and some parents from these countries have answered the questionnaires from 29 kindergartens and elementary schools in all countries involved.
These teachers have tested INCA products to their pupils either individually, one child per computer, or in small groups (2-4 pupils per PC or TV set) or even using wall projectors for large class presentations. We estimate that around 570 children from these countries have participated to the pilot application of INCA products.

However, a different model of pilot application was used by our seventh partner, «North Ayrshire Council» from Great Britain, a Public authority that supervises 58 primary elementary schools and nursery schools in Scotland, UK.
More specifically, the materials have been piloted by an early years’ teacher who was involved in the production of the materials. This has enabled her to become familiar with all aspects of the product, discuss with colleagues at different stages within the school and with a view to leading a dissemination of these materials across the authority. Each secondary school in the authority has a number of associated primary schools which are referred to as “cluster” primary schools. Some of these schools have nursery schools as part of the primary school, some have a nearby local authority nursery school and in other cases there are private sector partner nurseries. Dissemination plans were to have the inclusion of each of these types of school on a “cluster” basis. There were a number of reasons for choosing this model. Professionally this was designed to enable a demonstration of the materials to the teachers from these cluster schools; practically it enabled a physical distribution of the materials as it was planned to issue to attendees.

Also, some independent teachers and University professors have evaluated the materials and some parents have tested INCA materials at home with their children and have answered to the questionnaires.

Therefore, the following results have been gathered by the answers of 38 respondents from 29 institutions from (EL, FR, ES, DE, EE, and CZ) and from the Final evaluation report of the British partner who has tested the materials on the 58 elementary and nursery schools of its authority.

3. Methodology

The evaluators had to fill the evaluation form (see sample of the evaluation form questionnaire). The form included 15 questions (9 closed and 6 open). The methodology used by the partnership to evaluate teaching materials gave the possibility to trace participant’s views and opinions on the content of the project.

The teachers have used the products together with their pupils, for approximately a two months period. The pupils were divided in age groups which were among 5 to 7 years old.

The pilot application took place in two phases. During the first phase the evaluators used a Demo of the product’s software and at the second phase the evaluators have used the final products of INCA package.

4. Summary of Results

First phase of Evaluation

The results of the First phase of the pilot application of INCA software (June- July 2009), helped us make some necessary adjustments to the DVD, concerning the content, the quality and the technical requirements. The results of the First phase of INCA evaluation included mainly remarks referred to the technical characteristics of the DVD rather than remarks for the language material. The following remarks and suggestions were considered and corrected at the final version of the product e.g.:
1) Missing flash logo from the introduction of INCA demo.
2) Amelioration of INCA human 3D characters.
3) Highlight INCA 3D objects used for the vocabulary.
4) Correction of technical mistakes, such as blinking 3D items, 3D imperfections, problems with animation etc.
5) Correction of audio mistakes and subtitles
6) More exercises and activities to the books
7) Common elements among European customs (We have created a table at the Web site, after this suggestion)

Second phase of Evaluation

During the Second phase (October –December 2009) of the evaluation, the teachers have used the Final products (DVDs + books). Most of the respondents were the same as during the First phase of the evaluation, but in some case new respondents have been added too. Also, some parents have tested the products with their children at home.

Summarizing the respondent’s answers and suggestions it became obvious that the participants liked the idea of creating an intercultural calendar for introducing young children to seven foreign languages and familiarize them with customs and traditions unknown to them.

The products were mainly used by English teachers who used the English part of the DVDs. The minority of foreign language teachers used the French, Spanish and German versions. The other versions were not used as classroom activities. However, the DVD was played in all seven languages for the young students to have the chance to listen to other European languages, very different from their own and the languages they are learning and are more familiar with, so as to encourage them to language learning in the future. Also, some kindergarten teachers used their mother tongue version too in order to help the preschool children understand better the narration of the customs.

Summary of the answers to the closed questions

The majority of the teachers (52%) answered that the DVD was relevant enough to the children’s needs and only the 13% thought that the DVD was not really relevant to the children’s needs.
The 46% of the teachers found quite satisfactory the relevance of the books to the children’s needs. A 37 % found the books satisfactory enough to the children’s needs and only a 5% didn’t find the books relevant to the children’s needs.
The majority of the teachers (50%) found the whole product relevant to the teachers’ needs and only a small percentage (2%) believe that the whole product is not relevant enough to the teachers’ needs.
The books are relevant to the teachers’ needs according to the 49% percent of the total. 24% found the books very satisfactory to the teachers’ needs. Only a 3% didn’t find the books relevant to the teachers’ needs. 51% of the respondents believe that teachers from other institutions will find the DVD relevant to their needs, while 25% believes that the DVD is quite relevant to other teachers needs and a 4% percent believe that the DVD probably is not relevant to other teachers needs.
A large percentage (52%) found the product useful to foreign language teaching, but a 2% believe that the product is not useful at all. Also, the majority of teachers (47%) that have used the product with their children are willing to use it again. Only 3% is not going to use the product again with their children.
45% of the teachers will recommend the product to other professionals, while 30% seem enthusiastic about the product. Only a 2% of the teachers won’t recommend the product to other professionals. Most of the teachers that have evaluated the product have already used it with their children. From those who haven’t used it yet, a percentage of 14% will certainly use it, a 18% believe that they will use it, while only a 3% won’t use it at all.

Summary of answers to opened questions:

At the open questions, teachers gave suggestions concerning the ways the products could be improved.

Suggestions for the DVD:

The idea of comparing customs from different countries was received with enthusiasm. Knowledge about festivities and comparison between countries was considered a very good idea. Also, the comparison among languages was considered very interesting by the teachers. INCA software was also considered as a good starting point for discussions (related to geography, history, and people) about Europe. The video length was considered appropriate for young children and the presentation of vocabulary and exercises very visual and appealing. Some teachers would prefer to delete some specialized words (e.g. tatties) and add more basic vocabulary. Some teachers would like to see more countries to the next edition of INCA DVD. Some teachers suggested that more information concerning the specific customs would be useful. Some teachers thought that the Spanish version was spoken too fast and the English version too slow. Others considered reading time left on DVD sometimes too fast. Some teachers suggested that the DVD should include Muslim and Jewish customs too.
There were also suggestions for more interactive and playful activities to be added. There were also suggestions that the material is more suitable for older children. Some teachers found the texts too complicated and the need to listen to the mother tongue version necessary. Some teachers wanted the DVD to include a summary of topics and titles. In most cases, the guidance was considered enough; some teachers needed an explanatory introduction. Some teachers made a selection of topics of the traditions, according to the age group. Most of the teachers made no modification to the product, but few teachers made adjustments according to their class program.

Suggestions for the Books:

Many teachers thought that the graphics of the books should be in colour in order to stimulate the interest of the children. Another suggestion was to present the books material in electronic format too (or upload it on the web site), so the teachers can download the material (per book page) and allow teachers to amend these to suit the needs of individual / groups of learners. Cross referencing of the text with the DVD would have been useful.

Final Conclusions

INCA software was considered by the majority of teachers as an innovative product for language learning that is based on a very interesting idea that promotes intercultural learning. The DVD is promoting multilingualism in Europe and at the same time is introducing children from an early age to various European languages and cultures. Many suggestions have been made for the amelioration of the product that will be considered and realized at the next edition.