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AIM revisited - corrections and clarifications

In my new book Becoming and Outstanding Languages Teacher, one of my themes was the idea that there is no need to be too dogmatic about language teaching methodology and that different approaches (within a principled framework) can lead to success for learners. So much depends on generic teacher qualities and the quality with which any approach is delivered. With that in mind, the final chapter featured descriptions of three quite contrasting approaches: AIM (Accelerated Integrated Methodology), TPRS and the bilingual approach developed by Barry Smith and used at Michaela Community School.

For the input for the section of text about AIM I asked Pauline Galea, a well-known advocate for the approach in Canada, if she would write a "case study" for me, which she kindly did and which I included, with some editing, in the final text. I also added my own evaluation from my reading (although, as it happens, there is scant research evidence specifically in support of AIM).

Pauline has since asked me to clarify and correct some items which she says give a wrong impression of certain aspects of AIM. It is worth noting that AIM is not just an approach, but also a commercial product so its founder Wendy Maxwell and Pauline, a leading advocate, are keen that no wrong impressions are given. I am happy to elaborate on that here. In my text I wrote:

“The main focus of the work is short plays that students practice along with songs, grammar raps and word games. They learn to recite entire plays using gestures to support the work.”

Pauline has asked me to clarify:

The short plays, which become increasingly longer and more difficult using less repetition, are a context for learning the essential vocabulary, pared down language. The main focus of the Whole Group Activities is to teach vocabulary in the context of the play but more importantly, in the context of real situations that are acted out during this block of time. For example, during TLA, as outlined in the teacher guide, I will collect hats, coats and shoes and use these as props to teach possessive adjectives, (VoilĂ  mon chapeau/soulier/manteaux!), interrogative, (Est-ce-que c’est ton soulier? Ou est son soulier?), and so forth. The Whole Group Activities are much more than practising short plays, songs, grammar raps and word games, and learning to recite a play.

I wrote: "There is little or no explanation of grammatical rules". 

Pauline says:

This is in fact incorrect. AIM does in fact teach explicit grammar rules.  AIM has a three-step process for leading up to explicit grammar teaching. The way AIM differs from traditional models is that grammar is taught implicitly, then explicitly..." 

She then copied me a description of a three step process to grammar and error correction whuich I largely reproduce below:

Inductive Teaching and Error Analysis 

AIM uses a three-step system that scaffolds and builds the understanding of grammar in a natural way – one that reflects the way that we learned our own first language and blends this with specific strategies to accelerate the learning of second language students. Once a student begins to write extensively, the teacher takes sentences containing common errors made by students and helps them analyse these errors. What results is an in-depth understanding of how the language works. information arrived at by student’s own reasoning (and is more likely to be retained over the long term). Students are often able to self-correct when they realize they’ve made a mistake sometimes the mistake is simply a ‘whoops’ and they really are give students a choice, a chance, and time, to correct themselves. students learn to ‘feel’ what sounds right through constant teacher feedback.

Error correction should first take the form of a total question. “Je dois va aux toilettes.” ask student: “Est-ce qu’on dit: ‘Je dois va OU je dois aller aux toilettes’ ”? Self-correction Cues gradually take away the total question and replace with silent cueing as students become more competent in recognizing errors e. silent gesture to the students ‘pense’, ‘piensa’ – students then reflect and ‘think’ about what they just said by signalling the gesture to them you are ‘asking’ them to gesture to indicate to students that they should have used the past tense ake ‘time out’ of an activity and look at mistakes as a group: when students are doing a speaking task in pairs or groups, monitor the students and listen in on what they’re saying and make a note of the mistakes that you hear; whether they are pronunciation, grammatical or lexical collect a selection of their errors and then stop the activity write a selection of the mistakes on the board and ask students how they might correct them. The student is able to identify that there is an error, make the correction accurately, and describe the rule that applies.

Pauline also took issue with some of my own evaluation of the approach which I copy here without comment (apologies for any formatting issues): 
1. “…the emphasis on choral responses…”

While we do a fair amount of choral speaking, there is an equally strong emphasis on the gradual release of responsibility, where students are encouraged to apply language learning spontaneously and independently in various situations. This is achieved via TLSE, (Teacher Led Self Expression), gestural mirroring and other scaffolds which are important AIM strategies. Choral responses are not occurring for the entire lesson (only 1/2 to 2/3 of class time depending on which level of AIM the class is at and which kit is being used). Choral responses are important but there is a huge emphasis on individual responses/speaking in paired and group work!

2. “…low priority given to formal grammar and vocabulary learning…”

There is a huge priority given to vocabulary learning. Vocabulary is presented as the Pared Down Language which Wendy created after significant research and after careful consideration of the importance of specific vocabulary. Vocabulary is not presented in thematic units! There is also priority given to formal grammar teaching and, in fact, many the resources in higher level kits include specific grammar language manipulation activities. The difference between AIM and more traditional methods/resources is the order in which items are presented, as explained above.

3. “…and most notably of all, the stress laid on the use of gesture and the “play” as a key source of input and practice.

Gesture and “the play” are 2 of the 5 critical elements of AIM. The 5 elements of AIM are 1. Gesture approach.>2. Pared Down Language. 3. Drama, Dance, Music.  4. Language Manipulation Activities.  5. Independent and Creative Writing.The 5 elements are extremely important for the effective implementation of AIM. Gestures are a tool, kinaesthetic flashcards, that foster full sentence/idea/language responses and communication. They eventually go away! The play is a context for learning. It is important to take language used in the play and apply it to authentic contexts.
The 5 elements are extremely important for the effective implementation of AIM. Gestures are a tool, kinesthetic flashcards, that foster full sentence/idea/language responses and communication. They eventually go away! The play is a context for learning. It is important to take language used in the play and apply it to authentic contexts.

4. "studies show that many teachers incorporate these features to a greater or lesser extent, with some mixing up the AIM approach with more traditional activities"

Can you provide links to these studies? * It would have been better to leave that out as this is not our goal for this to happen and when it does it can seriously impact a teacher's success. While it happens, it really would not be something that would be good to put in print under an explanation of AIM.

5. “Teachers who enjoy the play-acting aspects of language learning would enjoy using aspects of the AIM methodology.”

We do not endorse the compartmentalization of AIM! Teachers who have only used gestures and done a play for example, have not been successful and will turn around and give a negative review of it. They will say that it does not work! Well of course it does not work if a teacher uses only 2 of the 5 elements! There is so much more to AIM than play acting!

6. “There is widespread belief that this approach suits younger learners best."

There are many teachers from many areas in Canada and the US who are using AIM very successfully with older learners so this statement is very misleading!

*  A good source for an objective view of AIM is here: (undated but possibly around 2009)

"At the request of an Ontario school board, Mady, Arnott and Lapkin (2007, 2009) conducted a comparative evaluation of AIM. In this study, statistical comparisons of Grade 8 students from six AIM classes and six non-AIM classes core French test package (Harley et al., 1988). Qualitative findings revealed that students and teachers in both instructional contexts were quite positive about their experiences.

The researchers observed a wide range of full and partial implementation of resources and elements that are central to the AIM approach across both instructional contexts" (my emphasis)

OF NOTE (from the same study):

"In summary, core French research to date has documented some instructional approaches used by elementary and secondary teachers across Ontario, and in other parts of Canada including: cooperative learning approaches; MPB teaching; and AIM. These studies have shown that teachers tend to implement their chosen instructional approach in different ways. Student proficiency outcomes also appear to be affected as much or more by the teacher as by the approach they are using."

"Evaluations of instructional approaches (or “methods”) like AIM are inconclusive with respect to students outcomes, but suggest that every teacher exercises his/her own agency in implementing strategies and ideas suggested by published materials and advocates for drama-based, MPB or other approaches." (my emphasis)

In conclusion, I am happy to publish here the corrections and clarifications requested by Pauline and sum up by pointing out that the goal of my final chapter of Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher was to show that various approaches can work extremely well in the hands of the right practitioner. I would never argue that one "method" is better than another.

If you are unfamiliar with AIM, then here is Wendy Maxwell's website:


  1. Thank you so very much, Steve, for your generosity in allowing us to clarify a few points - we really appreciate it! I thought that I would mention that Jim Cummins is a strong advocate for AIM, and has been aware of it since its inception. He has overseen a few pieces of research on it as well. He recently published an article in which he elaborates upon and clarifies some of the conclusions made in early AIM research - such as the one that you quoted above. I am attaching it here and do hope that you and your readers find it interesting!

    1. Thank you. I shall have a look at that document.

    2. It goes to show how hard it is to draw firm conclusions from research studies, particularly when elements of the AIM approach are used within other approaches.

  2. Yes, this is true! In order for research to be credible, it is so important to ensure that there is as little cross-contamination as possible.


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