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Informed Language Teacher

Just to let you know that I’m rather excited about a new project I’m embarking on shortly. I’m going to set up a website, working title “Informed Language Teacher”. This site will be a free portal for trainee language teachers and older hands who want to access some interesting research information to support and maybe improve their teaching.

It’ll work as follows. The site will comprise around a dozen pages or so,  each of which will contain links to readings, videos or podcasts about key issues in language learning and teaching. The result will be a sort of “one stop shop” to enable busy teachers to have an overview of research.
My themes will include: the big ideas of second language learning (e.g. how we learn, the role of input and interaction), lesson planning, grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, speaking, writing and assessment. I’ll include a page of sources about how to run a classroom, including the big issues of behaviour management and formative assessment. The conten…
Recent posts

“Ask the expert”

A while ago I blogged about the task-based activity “Ask and move”, where four ‘expert’  pupils, A-level or GCSE, each have some written information which the rest if the class have to put together by going round asking questions they have been provided with. To remind you, the point of the exercise is to be able to exploit information-heavy texts in a communicative fashion. Now, with small A-level groups if, say, under 10 students, the task becomes barely viable as there are too few questioners for the number of experts. So how about the following as a variation?

Instead if three or four experts, just have one. This could be the teacher or, perhaps better, one proficient member of the group. So, to remind you, this expert has a written text about your topic (sub-theme)  at hand. They have some time to study it, while the rest of the small group look at some questions you have given them.

The questioners then proceed to ask away, taking notes from the answers in the target language. (…

Building assessment into the curriculum plan

This is the fourth blog I've posted in recent weeks about curriculum planning, and this one, like the previous two, draws on the book Language Curriculum Design (Nation and Macalister, 2010). The subject this time is assessment and how this can be built into a successful curriculum. Gianfranco Conti and I have covered some similar ground in The Language Teacher Toolkit (2016) and Breaking the Sound Barrier (2019), but these important issues are worth spelling out again as many languages departments evaluate their curricula.

So I shall summarise some points referred to in Chapter 7 of Nation and Macalister (2010), adding a few observations of my own.

What is good assessment?

Assessment needs to be reliable, valid and practical. Let's look at these three aspects:

Reliability

A reliable test gives results which are not greatly affected by conditions which the test was not intended to measure. If the same person sat the test twice you would expect them to get more or less the same …

Adapting your course book

Many language departments continue to work with text books, often accompanied by ancillary digital resources. From what I understand, few teachers follow books religiously. Instead, they opt to adapt them to the needs of classes and their own preferences. But is there a proper rationale for how to adapt text books to best effect? In this blog, I'm dipping again into the Nation and Macalister book called Language Curriculum Design (2010). Chapter 11 looks specifically at this issue of adapting course books. I'll concisely summarise a number of the key points they make, adding my own comments from my own experience.



When teachers depend heavily on the text book

There may be good reasons for sticking quite closely to the course book. Nation and Macalister mention the following points:
The school of Ministry of Education requires the book to be followed closely. Reasons may be to standardise the quantity and quality of education or a lack of trust in teacher skill.Teachers may be i…

The dissecting a lesson compendium

The title of this blog sounds like an episode name from The Big Bang Theory, but no, all I've done here is put together in one place a series of blogs I've written over the last two years. These posts analysed specific lessons in detail, as I did in my book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher (2017). I'll give a linked title to each blog before briefly describing it. I hope these might be useful to teachers wishing to develop their planning and pedagogy skills. So here we go:

Exploiting narrow reading texts

This is a resource using the "narrow reading" approach for recycling language. You could use it with an intermediate class (GCSE). it's on the topic "How well do you sleep?" which offers opportunities for some useful communicative exchanges.

A speaking and listening task

This is adapted an example of a lesson from Chapter 3 of Jack C. Richards' book Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). The original lesson was planned by Diana Crou…

More on curriculum planning in MFL

Lots of schools seem to be involved in curriculum planning initiatives, most likely in response to Ofsted's latest inspection emphasis. On the one hand it's regrettable that schools are responding in this knee-jerk fashion to Ofsted, on the other it must surely be desirable that subject departments evaluate what they are teaching and why.

With that in mind, I have been reading a book entitled Language Curriculum Design by Paul Nation and John Macalister (2010). I am going to summarise the main points of Chapter 1, which is an overview of how to engage with curriculum design. This may give you food for thought if you want to evaluate your curriculum or set up a new course.

Bear in mind that these are general curriculum planning issues I am referring to here, not the detailed planning of, say, a unit of work, but these broad principles are important to keep in mind.

Their overall model of curriculum design is summarised in the figure below.

The outer circles (environment, needs…