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

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

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…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Five great advanced level French listening sites

If your A-level students would like opportunities to practise listening there are plenty of sources you can recommend for accessible, largely comprehensible and interesting material. Here are some I have come across while searching for resources over recent years.

Daily Geek Show

I love this site. It's fresh, youthful and full of really interesting material. They have an archive of videos, both short and long, from various sources, grouped under a range of themes: insolite (weird news items), science, discovery, technology, ecology and lifestyle. There should be something there to interest all your students while adding to their broader education. Here is one I enjoyed (I shall seriously think about buying tomatoes in winter now):




France Bienvenue

This site has been around for years and is the work of a university team in Marseilles. You get a mixture of audio and video material complete with transcripts and explanations.This is much more about the personal lives of the students …

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…