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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.



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