Skip to main content

Which skill is most neglected in languages classrooms?

Out of interest I posted a poll on Twitter with the question "Which skill do you think is most neglected in MFL/WL classrooms?" The four options were listening, reading, speaking and writing.

The responses (320 of them) were interesting and as follows:

Listening 47%
Reading 7%
Speaking 40%
Writing 6%

I have usually written that listening is the most neglected skill and this accords with what the respondents to the poll thought. I wonder if this is because of the way we perceive "listening" in language teaching and the way it is assessed.

One of the unfortunate by-products of the GCSE exam system in England and Wales, introduced around 1987, is that listening is seen as a separate skill, assessed separately and therefore to be taught separately. (For readers outside England and Wales, about half of our 15-16 year-olds do a high-stakes, national exam called GCSE which has always assessed (reasonably discretely) listening, reading, speaking and writing.)

This had tended to encourage teachers to divide up planning and lessons into these four skills. As a consequence, listening sometimes (by no means always) ends up being practised in the form of separate exercises or tests which typically consist of short snippets or longer extracts of recorded speech accompanied by various question types - true/false/not mentioned, matching, gap-fill, ticking correct statements and questions in English or TL.
In addition, teachers wisely spend a good deal of time doing practice exam papers to help their students prepare for exams. This reinforces the notion of listening as a test.

As Gianfranco has written in his blog, and as we wrote in The Language Teacher Toolkit, teaching listening therefore becomes testing with the emphasis on right/wrong answers and a certain degree of resultant stress for students. Students often express dislike for listening.

But actually, when you think about it, much of the listening students do takes place during classroom interactions when they hear either the teacher or a partner speaking. This can be enhanced by the use of well-chosen recorded extracts involving manageable, scaffolded tasks which need not be in the form of testing questions.

Don't forget (if you did) that teacher-fronted question-answer work and other forms of interaction are as much, if not more, about developing listening skill as oral skill. If we neglect such teacher-led work we deny students the chance to develop their confidence with listening skill and confidence over time.

Poor practice would be to teach some grammar, teach some vocabulary, do a few practice tasks then move straight to an audio recording of paragraph-length speech. Better would be to engage in lots if interactional activities, all carefully scaffolded, using the teacher's voice as much as possible, along with the voices of fellow students, before moving to short recorded snippets, then longer recorded sections which link with previously learned material.

Over several years this type of approach will produce more confident listeners. Of course, you'll never remove the stress of doing listening exams altogether. By their very nature (total concentration is needed, you only hear the material twice) listening tests will always cause difficulty. But if you let listening become a very large part of every listen by doing "multi-modal" tasks, to use the jargon, listening skill will develop more organically.

So I would argue that you should not worry about talking a good deal in TL to classes, as long as your talk is supported by all the aids needed to make your self understood. Similarly, allowing students to do well-constructed pair or group tasks and combining listening with reading and writing via transcription, gap-fill, reading aloud, note-taking, writing answers to oral questions and so on, will help develop confident listeners.

Do have a look at Gianfranco's blog for some great ideas on developing grammar through listening: gianfrancoconti.wordpress.com.




- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

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)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

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’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…