Skip to main content

Good to outstanding

Some discussion in the department recently on the question of what constitutes an "outstanding" lesson - OFSTED's adjective, not mine. Funny how we take on board an imposed term and assume it makes sense. It's all part of a national drive to increas the number of really good lessons. Maybe "really good" would be a better term - firstly because, by definition, an "outstanding" lesson should be a fairly rare one (am I being pedantic there?); secondly it is actually not that easy to define what a "really good" lesson is.

When we talked about this we came up with a number of features which might (I stress might) be part of a really good lesson. Interested? Well, here they are:
  • Enjoyment (not necessarily fun)
  • Large amounts of target language
  • Progress being made according to the ability of each pupil, which implies...
  • Differentiation
  • Participation of many
  • A cultural element
  • Variety of tasks
  • Pace
  • Challenge
  • Pupils recognising their own progress
  • A collective feeling of support for each other and from the teacher
  • Appropriate homework where relevant
I may have forgotten something, but that is pretty much what we came up with. We felt it was hard to define an "outstanding" lesson, but that we might recognise it when we saw it. There is also an element of subjectivity involved because we may have different views on how a second language is best learned.

We wondered whether the following could be called "outstanding":
  • A lesson spent translating sentences
  • Doing a dictation
  • Watching a foreign language film
  • Spending a lesson in the ICT room doing an interactive listening task with almost no teacher input
My guess is that we would not plan any of those lessons for an inspector even though they are all perfectly valid lessons which would further the progress of a student.

One problem with any generic set of descriptors for a good lesson is that they do not take account of individual subject needs. In a language lesson, notably the need for plenty of target language input.

Anyway, I reckon we should keep teaching lots of good lessons and hope that some of them are "really good". That would be a decent average in a job where we have too many lessons and too many pupils in each classroom.


Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Making words memorable

Most teachers and researchers would agree that knowing words is even more important than knowing grammar if you wish to be proficient in a language. As linguist David Wilkins wrote in 1972: "Without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed."One of the frustrations for teachers is pupils' inability to retain vocabulary for productive use. A good deal of research has been done over the years into how pupils might better keep words in memory. Two concepts which have come to the fore are spacing and interleaving.

Spaced practice

A 2003 review of the literature by P.Y. Gu reported that most studies show that students frequently forget words after learning them just once.  Anderson and Jordan (1928) discovered that after initial learning, then one week, three weeks and eight weeks thereafter, the recall success was 66%, 48%, 39% and 37% respectively. Other studies have produced similar results. Unsurprisingly, these researchers recommend, space…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…