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2016 here we go!

For my first blog of the new year, I am going to think aloud about plans for the year.

The book I have been working on with the indefatigable Gianfranco Conti is now all but finished and we hope to get it out via Amazon in the next few weeks. Our title is The Language Teacher Toolkit and it contains 24 chapters covering methods, target language teaching, developing spontaneous talk, classroom oral techniques, teaching grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading and writing. We also have chapters on motivation, behaviour management, technology, advanced level teaching, assessment/feedback/marking and differentiated teaching. Towards the end of the book we have done a chapter on evaluating and writing resources, along with a number of model lesson plans. We are really grateful to Steve Glover of dolanguages.com who has done a very thorough edit for us.

It's been a tricky balancing act selecting and recording research findings whilst offering loads of classroom ideas, but we hope we have got it right and that readers will find the book both interesting and, above all, very practical. It is not just aimed at British teachers and trainee teachers, by the way, so don't expect much in the way of reference to Ofsted, GCSE and A-levels. Nor have we been too prescriptive about methodology, although we have done our best to describe what might work best in secondary school classrooms.

Here is a summary of some general guidelines we came up with:

v  Make sure students receive as much meaningful, stimulating L2 input as possible. Place a high value, therefore, on interesting listening and reading, including extensive reading. As Lightbown and Spada (2013) put it: “Comprehension of meaningful language is the foundation of language acquisition.”
v  Make sure students have lots of opportunities to practice orally, both in a tightly structured fashion led by the teacher and through communication with other students. Have them repeat and recycle language as much as possible.
v  Use a balanced mixture of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
v  Promote independent learning outside the classroom.
v  Select and sequence the vocabulary and grammar you expose students to. Do not overload them with too much new language at once. Focus on high frequency language.
v  Be prepared to explain how the language works, but don’t spend too much time on this. Students need to use the language, not talk about it. Research provides some support for the explicit teaching and practice of rules.
v  Aim to enhance proficiency – the ability to independently use the language promptly in real situations.
v  Use listening and reading activities to model good language use rather than test; focus on the process, not the product.
v  Be prepared to judiciously and sensitively correct students, and get them to respond to feedback. Research suggests negative feedback can improve acquisition.
v  Translation (both ways) can play a useful role, but if you do too much you may neglect general language input.
v  Make sensible and selective use of digital technology to enhance exposure and practice.

v  Place a significant focus on the L2 culture. This is one way of many to increase student motivation and broaden outlooks.

In the process of writing I have enjoyed getting back into reading about second language acquisition and I am grateful to Gianfranco for some new insights into recent research about how the brain processes language. If you have not yet read his blogs, they are at gianfrancoconti.wordpress.com. Language teachers who link research with classroom practice are very rare on the internet.

As for frenchteacher.net, I am pleased to say that over 1400 teachers/tutors/departments use the site, including many from beyond the UK. My main focus for the site this year will be adjusting to the new GCSE and A-level specifications. I shall no doubt be adding resources which match the new topics and assessment styles. If I were still in the classroom, however, I would be thinking that the latest changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary. At GCSE, they are, on balance, a change for the better - CAs are gone (bon d├ębarras!), but translation is, in my view, a slightly unwelcome gatecrasher at the party. (No, I'm not anti-translation per se, just prefer not to see it in exams.) At A-level, the exam boards have come up with approachable topics, the new AS level is, thankfully, easier than A-level (that was not Michael Gove's intention) and the Individual Research project is quite exciting.

So, happy new year to you and have a great time in your classrooms, wherever you are.


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