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The Professional Development Consortium in Modern Foreign Languages (PDC in MFL) gives teachers access to eight key principles of teaching and learning languages, which are based on research evidence. PDC in MFL was set up by researchers at the University of Reading Institute of Education and University of Oxford Department of Education and is made up of classroom MFL teachers, trainers and researchers in England.

Firstly, here are the eight principles as they appear on the PDC in MFL website:


Target language input is essential for learning but it can be made more effective if learners are encouraged to check the understanding of it by asking questions of what the teacher is saying or asking the teacher to repeat.


Learners need to be encouraged to speak spontaneously and to say things that they are not sure are correct


Less spontaneous oral interaction should nevertheless be of high quality. By high quality we mean including substantial student turns; adequate wait time; cognitive challenge [e.g. by requiring a verb phrase or subordinate clause]; appropriate teacher feedback; nominating students rather than waiting for volunteers.


Students should be explicitly taught strategies to use when faced with communication difficulties. These should be used alongside techniques for developing their oral fluency, such as repetition of tasks and chunking of pre-learnt words into whole phrases.


Learners need to be taught how to access a greater range of more challenging spoken and written texts, through explicit instruction in comprehension strategies and in the relationship between the written and spoken forms.

Principle 6 FEEDBACK

Learners need to develop their self- confidence and see the link between the strategies they use and how successful they are on a task.

Principle 7 WRITING

Writing should be developed as a skill in its own right not just as a consolidation of other language skills. For this to happen students should frequently write using the language and strategies they already know rather than resources provided by the teacher (e.g. textbooks, writing frames, dictionaries, etc. )

Principle 8 (underpins all other principles)

The principal focus of pedagogy should be on developing language skills and therefore the teaching of linguistic knowledge (knowledge of grammar and vocabulary) should act in the service of skill development not as an end in itself.

It looks like a reasonable set of principles since the key elements are input and interaction, which most scholars would go along with. Some might quibble about the omission of culture or the excessive importance given to grammar, for example, but this depends on your theoretical perspective. The final principle makes sense for those who believe strongly in skill-acquisition and it makes sense to me. The main instigators of the principles seem to be Suzanne Graham and Ernesto Macaro, so the slight emphasis on learning strategies is not surprising. How well does the website show off these principles?

The PDC in MFL website has a number of resources shared by teachers and which, I suppose, are meant exemplify the principles. They don't really. It's a bit of a hotch-potch of documents and PowerPoints (not vetted for error, by the way) sent in by teachers.

In addition there 13 videos featuring teachers and pupils in action. Topics include developing writing as a skill, higher level reading, practising French sounds, exploring sound-spelling links, developing spontaneous speech and using the target language.

An important aspect of the Consortium is the teacher clusters which have been set up. (I don't know how active these are.) The site says:

"MFL teachers are now meeting in the following areas:

Reading/North Hampshire, Portsmouth/South Hampshire, Brighton/Sussex
Cheltenham/Gloucestershire, Oxford, South Oxfordshire, Birmingham.
Another cluster is planned for Lincolnshire and Newcastle upon Tyne.

The aim of the clusters is to:

• create time after school to meet with local MFL colleagues and share in your professional development;
• revisit the PDC in MFL principles and use them as a basis for discussion;
• plan with your local colleagues how to apply one specific principle (or more) in your teaching;
• discuss and evaluate the outcomes together at subsequent meetings.

Meetings take place 3-4 times per year, hosted by the teachers or teacher trainers involved in the cluster. The work of the PDC in MFL is used as a basis for discussion but the teachers and teacher trainers have autonomy over the clusters and decide what happens in meetings."

I watched the video called "Le Dragon Toxique" with the focus on developing reading skills and sound-spelling links. I was left unimpressed, I'm afraid. Although the video only shows excerpts from the lesson, much of the time was spent talking in English and discussing strategies. I saw almost no actual use of language used for communication. The students didn't even seem hugely engaged either (despite the presence of a camera) - having pupils seated in groups did not help. Some were inattentive. When time on the curriculum is limited this type of lesson looks like time-wasted to me.

Hoping to find something better I looked at the video about practising sound-spelling links with a Y9 French class. At least there was some useful repetition work going on, but the pace was quite slow and the teacher was interspersing practice with English comments. To me this was no more than an average example to show teacher trainees. Was that the point? I cannot be sure. There was no flair. here and I can imagine that class switching off quickly.

The video showing the development of spontaneous language was more promising. The native speaker teacher used plenty of target language, pupils (working on a restaurant dialogue) seemed interested, but the group seating was a handicap once again. The best teaching needs eye contact during teacher exposition. There wasn't much here. Once pairs of students got underway there were signs of reasonable performance.

I'm a bit wary of being over-critical based on a few clips, but it does make me think that, although clusters and sharing of ideas is great, you have to offer models of brilliant practice. I didn't see any here unfortunately.

Wouldn't it be good if there was a bank of videos showing the very best teachers at work? There is a brilliant project waiting to be done!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Check out videos on Youtube of Alinia Filipescu, Blaine Ray, Martina Bex, Michael Coxon, Ben Slavic, and a Youtube channel called "TPRS Hangout" if you want to see some great language teaching with kids engaged and the target language being used extensively

  2. Thank you. Redaers will find these useful, even if they are suspicious of TPRS.


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