Skip to main content

Learning strategies (5)

Here is the fifth and final post in the series about learning strategies. We look at a few revision strategies and make some general concluding remarks.


Helping students revise 

In languages, as for other subjects, revision before tests and examinations is a key ingredient of success. In many subjects students have a clear idea of what revision means, but in languages students often ask “How do I revise?” Unfortunately, from some students’ point of view, because of the cumulative nature of language learning, it is hard to improve one’s skills overnight, but there are some useful general strategies you can model for students which should improve their performance:

  Make use of practice test papers, often called ‘past papers’. Experience and research indicate that when students get used to doing similar types of test, they get better at them. This is partly because they get used to particular question types, but also because they encounter repeated examples of similar language items.
 Encourage the rote learning of vocabulary in themed clusters; we look at this in more detail in our chapter on vocabulary learning and teaching in The Language Teacher Toolkit. Some students benefit from using vocabulary learning apps.
 Many students make effective use of card filing systems in which they might record vocabulary or verb forms, for example.
 Encourage any independent listening and reading; you can recommend specific websites where students can access language at the right level. You can advise advanced level students to watch films, read online articles and listen to the radio using, for example, apps such as TuneIn Radio.
  Encourage students to use interactive grammar and text manipulation websites or apps such as languagesonline.org.uk or language-gym.com.
 Get students to write practice compositions and essays, firstly with help from the dictionary and model essays, subsequently with no support and to a time limit.
 Students preparing for oral assessment need to rehearse copiously with friends, adults, a language assistant or the teacher; they can record their voice too.
 Students of all ages benefit from testing each other on vocabulary in pairs.

Concluding remarks 

To recap, Ernesto Macaro (2006), in a review of the literature, reports the following claims about learning strategies based on evidence-based scholarship:

 Strategy use appears to correlate with various aspects of language learning success although there is a lack of consensus about whether the range, frequency and/or the nature of strategy use/strategies is the determinant factor.
 There are group differences and individual differences in strategy use.
 Strategy instruction/training appears to be effective in promoting successful learning if it is carried out over lengthy periods of time and if it includes a focus on meta-cognition, i.e. learning about learning.

One further point: it's a good idea to not only teach students the language, but also teach them about how languages are learned. Our view is that if you engage students in thinking about the process of language learning, they are more likely to see the point of any activities they do and engage in them more positively. In this sense, it is not too fanciful to claim that you are not viewing students as mere recipients of your teaching, but as active participants in the learning process. Encouraging students to get into your way of thinking about language learning can raise their interest in the process and their general motivation. If you are have a clear idea of how students learn most effectively and can model this to them successfully, they will be more likely see a structure and point to their tasks.

References

Macaro, E. (2001). Learning Strategies in Foreign and Second Language Classrooms. London: Continuum.

Macaro, E. (2007). Language learner strategies: Adhering to a theoretical framework. Language Learning Journal, 35, 239–243.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

The age factor in language learning

This post draws on a section from Chapter 5 of Jack C. Richards' splendid handbook Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). I'm going to summarise what Richards writes about how age factors affect language learning, then add my own comments about how this might influence classroom teaching.

It's often said that children seem to learn languages so much more quickly and effectively than adults. Yet adults do have some advantages of their own, as we'll see.

In the 1970s it was theorised that children's success was down to the notion that there is a critical period for language learning (pre-puberty). Once learners pass this period changes in the brain make it harder to learn new languages. Many took this critical period hypothesis to mean that we should get children to start learning other languages at an earlier stage. (The claim is still picked up today by decision-makers arguing for the teaching of languages in primary schools.)

Unfortunately, large amounts of rese…

Dissecting a lesson: teaching an intermediate written text

This post is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do yourself.

You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible.

So here w…