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The F-word and a training session

1.  I'm talking about fun, of course. I just had a look at Philippe Watrelot's blog on education news in France and he refers to the claim that there is too little pleasure in French schooling, especially beyond the primary level. School is too boring. Work = boring.

Hold that thought.

2. I recently had a conversation with a former colleague who is a PE specialist working in higher education. He was having a lively debate with a colleague overseas about whether "having fun" could be a viable objective for a lesson. Should we have as a lesson aim "to have fun"? My friend thought you could, whilst his colleague felt it might be a desirable outcome of the lesson, but should not be an aim in itself.

3. We had a training session on "good to outstanding" yesterday. It was well-led and thought-provoking. We watched teachers on video and talked about what was good and what could be even better. Good bread-and-butter stuff. We should do it more often. The "fun" word was not used, but there was an idea put across that a feature of outstanding lessons is that students should be working with the teacher, with each other and that they should be happy in their learning. The really good teacher is often able to create this atmosphere in the classroom. Education is done WITH children, not TO them, was a phrase used.

These tenuously linked points make me think that, firstly, we try very hard in the UK to make lessons stimulating and relevant. We train our teachers rather well, have systems in place which encourage teachers to question their practice and to get better, and we often work hard on the details of running lessons where pupils want to learn and take pleasure in learning. Many teachers do try to create pleasurable activities, "fun" activities, if you will. Language teachers work especially hard at this, maybe because it is a challenge to make language learning palatable to many children.

So, if I can try and bring this together....

I'm not sure we should try too hard to make lessons fun. A really good (I am not going to use the Ofsted word) lesson should be stimulating, challenging, preferably enjoyable, led by a teacher who is firm, friendly and fair (FFF - I only learned this last night). There should a humane, supportive atmosphere, skilled interventions, pace, variety, structure where appropriate, maybe some humour, but the lesson need not be fun. The best lessons I have watched involve students helping each other, a good deal of communication between teacher and students, as well as between students. The teacher is checking knowledge, referring to objectives, building on prior skills and maintaining a safe and productive atmosphere. Lots of learning is taking place in a warm, cooperative environment.

I came out of our training session a fraction more certain about what a really good lesson is and taught a fraction better today. I wonder how much staff development there is in the French system. How often are teachers given the chance to watch others practise? How often do they have structured opportunities to consider best practice?

Do they need their own Ofsted to help raise the bar in the classroom?


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"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)

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"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)

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’( The point i…

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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…