Teaching Slovenian represented a major challenge. Most students were familiar with Slovenian. Some spoke Slovenian at home, others at least understood it. Most students were familiar only with a Slovenian dialect, and came to school to learn what was almost a different language. All lacked training in grammatical concepts and structures, since this was a period when according to current theories language was learnt spontaneously, without the need for grammar. Consequently grammatical concepts and rules of writing were learnt only in language classes.
The teachers were all experienced and developed their own strategies to deal with a range of problems. While they had extensive teaching materials, these needed to be adapted to the capabilities of the students. It was soon discovered that no suitable course book existed, so teachers made use of the available materials, selecting from the texts the most interesting, highlighting some aspect of Slovenian culture, and adapting it to the students standard. In this, they were remarkably successful.
Initially each language developed its own syllabus, with the HSC as the only structure and standard uniform across all languages. VSL with its high concentration of language teaching expertise was at the forefront of development of quality, innovative language programs, particularly at the time of the major language curriculum reform of the nineties.
In 1991 a common curriculum rationale for all VSL languages, methodological approach and organisational focus was defined in the Course Outlines. These were developed by faculty coordinators for all VSL languages for every year level, and provided the basis for the development of syllabi by individual teachers. It was the most effective and significant initiative put into practice by the VSL, serving at the same time as a vehicle for professional development of the teachers and a unifying curriculum principle.
The Course Outlines were methodically implemented since 1991, with a process of review every two years and incorporating education reforms represented by Curriculum and Standards Framework, so-called CSF.
In the nineties the VSL developed and published valuable teaching and professional development resources, which addressed the needs of the teachers: guidelines on teaching mixed ability classes; assessment and reporting; teaching grammar in context and teaching the VCE.
There were three major stages of language reform: the VCE in 1991, the CSF in 1996, and VCE Course Design and CSF 2 in 2002. These stages are reflected in major curriculum documents for Slovenian language:
Slovenian Course Outlines 7 to 10, VCE 11 to 12 (VSL,1992,1995),
Slovenian Multi-level Syllabus (VSL,1996),
CSF Slovenian Guidelines (VSL,1996),
CSF and VCE Slovenian Course Outlines 1 – 12 (VSL, 2003).
Slovenian was introduced into the school system at a time when the education system was preparing to respond to the demands of a fast changing Australia, – the impact of a great variety of ethnic groups, a fast moving and vigorous economy and challenges of the technological age.
Ongoing processes of the VSL LOTE curriculum provide its students a balanced set of learning experiences which are active, cooperative and participatory and which give students maximum opportunity to realise their potential. Curriculum development is based on the communicative approach to language teaching, aimed at the intellectual, social, emotional and creative development of all students and is inclusive of gender, ability and background. Learning tasks and assessment practices are structured in such a way that student progress is measurable and so that participating students are enabled and encouraged to perform well.
With new migrants from different areas arriving in Australia, more languages were being introduced into the school. Those who continue to arrive are reflected in the large classes at the VSL. There is no migration from Slovenia, so the numbers of enrolled students have been steadily falling. Slovenian parents born in Australia have shown less commitment to maintenance of Slovenian language in the home or encouragement of their children to attend Slovenian classes.
In many cases it is the teenager and the young adult who expresses the wish to learn Slovenian, attends Saturday classes, and enrols for the VCE Slovenian.