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Showing posts from April, 2017

What is cognitive load theory?

There is a lot of discussion in the educational world at the moment about cognition and in particular Cognitive Load Theory , so I thought I would look at this model and relate it to second language learning. Remember that I come at this as a teacher, not an academic scholar! How information is processed Cognitive Load Theory builds upon a widely accepted model of human information processing published by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in 1968. It describes the process as having three main parts: sensory memory, working memory and long-term memory (Figure 1). Figure 1 Researchers have added to understanding of this concept over the years, but the basic model remains the same.  Figure 1 shows how processing works. You receive huge amounts of sensory information all the time you are awake. Sensory memory filters out most of this information, but keeps hold of the most important items long enough for them to pass into working memory.  For example, in a crowded room yo

Tips for target language teaching

Here is a list of tips for using the target language (L2) we included in The Language Teacher Toolkit . Our popular 360 page handbook which includes model lesson plans for French, German and Spanish is available here . We would even dare to suggest that every languages department would benefit from having a copy. One school in England, Oundle School, bought a copy for each of their teachers. How nice of them! The book is liberally sprinkled with practical tips like those below, along with references to research, advice on pedagogy and discussion of issues in language teaching. v   Have some sort of sign or signal indicating when only L2 is allowed, e.g. a flag. v   Apologise to the class for using L1 to set the right tone and show you are one of them. v   Give rewards to students who never use L1. v   Make maximum use of gesture, realia and pictures. v   Set challenges, e.g. "I am going to talk to you for 3 minutes about my weekend in (L2). Write down notes in L1 and

Daniel Willingham's five step approach to self-improvement

For teachers in England and Wales, as you drive on to GCSEs and AS-levels, and exam leave and gained time beckon, it will soon be time to come up with performance management targets (slight groan?). I used to manage this in my department and, of course, had to come up with my own for my line manager. Teachers outside the UK might be able to make use of the ideas below. I recently read psychologist Daniel Willingham's best-selling book Why Don't Students Like School? which I recommend. In Chapter 9 he lays out a five step approach for getting and giving feedback which I thought could be used or adapted as a genuinely useful (as opposed to tick-box) performance management (PM) target. I know this because I saw colleagues adopt similar, if less structured, approaches to self-improvement. See what you think. I'll summarise Willingham's steps and suggest briefly how they might be adapted for MFL teachers. Step 1 Identify another teacher you would like to work with. (T

Tell stories

Introduction 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

Easy video listening for Y8-10

This is a sample resource from based on a video clip from the Frello site I recently reviewed. Help yourself. You could use this with a good Y8 class or possibly Y9-10, depending on the class. Qu’aimes-tu et que n’aimes-tu pas ? Video source: A.  Ecoutez Théo et remplissez les blancs en choisissant les mots dans la case lire         beaucoup          verres       méchants         aimes        préfère         manquent        bière        inutiles      viens       espèrent        balader        viens           raffole           pense Bonjour à tous, comment ça va, aujourd’hui? Je m’appelle Théo, je _______ de Lyon, en France. La question du jour est : qu’est-ce que tu _______ et qu’est-ce que tu n’aimes pas? Ce que j’aime tout d’abord. J’adore le sport, _______. J’aime aussi _______, aller au cinéma, au théâtre, me _______ dans de jolis endroits et boire des _______ avec des amis. Je _______ que c’

What if we have our whole approach to MFL teaching wrong?

Whenever I write about language teaching I try to maintain a pragmatic, open-minded view about methodology. This isn't always easy when you've been taught and trained in a certain way (for me the oral-situational approach based on a grammatical syllabus) and worked within an English system where the high stakes GCSE and A-level exams dominate the scene and, to an extent, dictate teaching approaches. Nevertheless I endeavour to present a range of methods as having value as long as they respect some basic principles to do with input and practice. I do this because I find it interesting and hope other teachers do too. I quite recently wrote two blogs about the Teaching Schools Council report on MFL pedagogy. They are here and here .To remind you, that report came out strongly in favour of a skill-acquisition approach to classroom language teaching. The emphasis should be on explicit, structured teaching of grammar and phonics, along with high frequency vocabulary possibly at th


Frello ("French Listening Lessons Online") was started up in July 2016 by two young fellows from Normandy who are making a business out of online conversation lessons. The useful part for French teachers and their pupils is the videos section of the site which hosts two sets of videos, at beginner and intermediate level. The short to-camera, very home-made video clips are hosted on Vimeo and come with transcripts and short interactive quizzes. The quality of the sound is adequate and the speakers slow down their language to a suitable level. The topics covered so far at beginner level include: likes and dislikes, food, countries, family, house, daily routine and clothes. At intermediate level (Foundation/Higher GCSE) topics include: who do you admire, breakfast, pastimes, childhood dreams, school and "Have you ever had your heart broken?" (!). More videos are being added all the time. The interactive quizzes aren't thorough enough for classroom use, but

A zero prep task to practise the perfect tense

I found this dead simple lesson idea in an article about grammar teaching by ELT writer Scott Thornbury. You could do this with an intermediate (GCSE) class or even a very good Y8 or Y9 class. Put the class into pairs and give them 5-10 minutes to ask each other in the TL what they did last weekend. You could first model the exchange with a more able student. Then give them a further 5-10 minutes to write down what their partner did. Make sure the class knows in advance that they will gave to write down what they heard. (By the way you could use the trick of giving the class a very specific time limit of, say, 8 minutes - Doug Lemov and others claim this more specific time adds a sense if urgency and I agree.) Collect the work in, but don't mark it. Then the next time you see the class display on the board a set of about 15 sentences you came across in their written work, some correct, some containing verb errors. Ask all the pupils to note down which ones they think are right, and

Bili: a great way to connect pupils safely with TL speakers.

I'm sure all language teachers like the idea of their students being able to communicate with speakers of other languages. With more obstacles being placed in the path of UK teachers wishing to organise exchanges, alternative ways of connecting (many more) pupils are very desirable. Charlie Foot at Bili (short for bilingual) has come up with an effective, secure way for classes and individuals to connect. Charlie is a former MFL teacher who set up this free service just a few months ago and is keen to spread the word. The Bili video explains it as well as I could. One key aspect is that you can set specific tasks for pairs of students or classes which allow them to show off their own native speaker skills as well as read and hear the target language. Bili is currently "live" and free in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and a school in Singapore. For teachers keen on this concept, some issues may be: Can I connect a whole class? (Yes) Is the system secure? (Yes

GCSE and AS-level French revision units on TES

This is just in case it's escaped your attention... Gianfranco Conti and I have produced two large bundles of resources for GCSE (8 units of 7/8 pages) and AS-level (7-9 pages). They are here : The GCSE pack has eight units of work with answers provided. The emphasis is on comprehension, vocabulary building and translation. We had the new GCSE in mind for these, but pupils would still find these resources very useful and approachable for Higher Tier. Topics covered are: TV, environment, school, ambitions, marriage, holidays, health and volunteering. each unit has pre-reading vocab builders, a set of short texts based on the narrow reading principle (recycling similar vocabulary and structures each time), pre-translation tasks and three graded translations into French. The AS/A-level pack has ten units . Topics covered are: family, cyber-society, contemporary French music, cinema, literature, personal identity, cultural heritage, the world of work, education and the wor

How do pupils listen and what might this mean for lessons?

I've blogged before about listening being the neglected skill in MFL lessons, as has my colleague Gianfranco. Indeed, Gianfranco gave an interesting talk on listening at the recent ResearchEd English and MFL conference in Oxford. In this blog I'm going to recap how the process of listening occurs and then look at some implications of this process for us as language teachers. My initial source is a chapter by John Field in a book called Debates in Modern Languages Education . John is one of the leading researchers in the field of listening in second language acquisition. Field has written: "...the listening lesson has been little discussed, researched or challenged; and there is a tendency for teachers to work through well-worn routines without entire conviction." (2008) Gianfranco and I are intending to write a practical book for teachers in the near future to help them with their thinking about teaching listening skills. How do learners listen? It's c

ResearchEd English and MFL presentation, Oxford, 1.4.17

Here are the slides I used for my talk on April 1st at the ResearchEd English and MFL Conference in Oxford. The title was "It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it." In the talk I argued for a pragmatic view of second language teaching methodology and suggested that, even though there are some general principles of effective language teaching, generic teacher skills may be more important than your chosen hybrid methodology. ResearchEd Oxford from Steve Smith