Skip to main content

Three interesting reports

Dylan Wiliam tweeted these three studies about performance at KS3. I only have time to note a few points from the abstracts. You might find them interesting, particularly the reference to modern languages.

One finding:

Students were generally confident about their overall ability in Year 9 although there was some variation between subjects, with students being more confident of their ability in maths, science, sports and the arts than other subjects. They were least confident about their ability in modern languages. Boredom in lessons was reported by a substantial minority.

This does not surprise me and may simply reflect that language learning is inherently difficult given the demands it places on memory, attention to detail, mastery of grammatical patterns and oral/aural skills, not to mention the psychological challenges of speaking another tongue. It is a useful reminder to MFL teachers how difficult our subject area is and how sensitive we have to be to the fears of students. I genuinely believe that our job is one of the hardest in secondary schools. If you do not pitch lessons just right, handle students sensitively, reduce tension, create a positive and enjoyable environment, then you risk generating a negative attitude to the subject.

Here is another quotation:

Older students (autumn-born compared with summer-born) in a year group showed higher attainment and appeared to increase their advantage by making more progress over KS3.

I confess that I rarely take this into account when assessing a student's progress. It's a point worth remembering.

Time spent on homework, as reported by students, was a relatively strong predictor of better attainment and progress in all three core areas. Spending any amount of time was beneficial, but the strongest effects were for spending 2-3 hours per day after school.

This would, at first view, support the view that homework is useful. This is my view, despite the somewhat unconvincing evidence from some research, but one wonders about the causality involved here. A student who spends more time on homework may also benefit from other home advantages, greater general motivation and higher expectations. Is the greater time spent on homework a cause of higher achievement or a by-product of it? I still strongly support homework for modern languages because it gives the opportunity for greater practice and we know how inmportant practice is in the acquisition of a second language.

On pupils' "dispositions" in Y9:

- Attendance at pre-school (compared to none) had no influence on later dispositions in KS3.
- After background factors were taken into account there were few significant effects for the quality and effectiveness of pre-school on students’ dispositions in Year 9.

The key findings of these three reports are worth a look and highlight, not surprisingly, the importance of early years support and home background. They also indicate that the school environment is a key factor in pupil attainment including leadership from the headteacher, physical environment, support from teachers who care and resources.

Dylan Wiliam argues, of course, that teacher quality is the prime factor in student achievement and he could cite plenty of research to support that view. These three studies show, howver, that the school environment is not without importance.


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

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)

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…

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…