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Progress report on the MFL handbook

So far we have about 20 draft chapters completed, most of which need some more work.

Chapter titles include teaching listening, teaching reading, teaching writing, classroom oral techniques, teaching spontaneous speaking, teaching advanced level students, differentiation, target language teaching, games, behaviour management, technology, subject knowledge and assessment.

We are trying to produce something very practical for modern language teachers around the world. This poses one or two challenges in terms of the language used and how the debates are framed in various English-speaking countries. You need to know to tell your mark schemes from your rubrics!

We are anxious not to be too prescriptive or too wedded to one particular approach, but I can reveal that we are leaning towards a pragmatic approach based on elements of skill-building (explanation with practice, rather like the traditional presentation-practice-production model so many teachers favour) along with an acknowledgment that target language input is crucial. We will be favouring explanation, practice, interaction, anything which gives students a chance of retaining vocabulary and improving their skill with grammar. We shall, predictably, argue against explicit instruction for its own sake.

We shall bandy around terms like synthetic, analytic, implicit, explicit, input, output, interfaces, listenership and even 'writership' (one of Gianfranco's terms).

Most chapters will include reference to the prevailing views from academic research together with abundant practical ideas for the classroom. It has to be said that most evidence from research is still provisional, but there is enough on which to base some sensible principles. We shall not shy away, either, from offering some of our best homespun wisdom to young language teachers starting out.

Our aim all along has been to share what we know about research and what we have learned from our own experience over many years. We are avoiding making the book too academic in tone, despite the fact that we both enjoy reading about second language acquisition research. There will be some references and ideas for reading for those teachers who find themselves wanting to explore the field further.

It is also important to us that inexperienced teachers have enough pedagogical and theoretical knowledge to be able to separate out the effective from the merely fashionable or gimmicky. We hope to get that across clearly in the book without, we hope, being patronising in content or tone.

At the moment we are considering publishing the book ourselves, perhaps using the Amazon publishing platform called CreateSpace, unless, I suppose, some publisher came along and twisted our arms once the text is complete. Does it work like that?

On a personal note I have enjoyed getting back into reading the kind of literature about language learning which I enjoyed reading for my MA about Stephen Krashen and the "input hypothesis" many years ago. The more I read, however, the less convinced I become about any one panacea approach to language teaching. Research in this field is so hard to do given the multiple variables involved. Brain research is also in its infancy and offers us little so far. It's interesting how relevant common sense still is.

Hopefully we shall have this project done early-ish in the new year. In the meantime keep looking at Gianfranco's blog where he likes to put to the sword practices he finds less than effective. He is much harsher than me.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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